31 January, 2011

Space Shuttle Columbia and the Future of the Space Program

While reflecting on the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger last week, I realized that Columbia's anniversary would only come a week later.
On February 1st 2003 the space shuttle Columbia was on its decent from a science mission in space when it broke up in the atmosphere. I was on my mission when this happened but I remember a member of the church bringing it up while we were eating at their house later that night. Even in a small town down in the Yucatan they follow our space program. After an extensive investigation it was revealed NASA had failed to heed the warnings of engineers who had pointed out on the that a piece of foam fell off the external fuel tank and nailed the shuttles wing on takeoff. All it would have taken was a space walk to asses the damage but NASA did not see how a piece of foam could punch a hole in a wing strong enough to withstand the incredibly high temperatures that the shuttle experiences on re-entry.

A rescue mission could have been conducted with the space shuttle Atlantis, which was preparing for a visit to the International Space Station. People started to question why NASA would make such compromises on such dangerous missions. My opinion is that it has to do with money. The agency receives about 0.5% of the national budget. That's about half a penny on the dollar. When you delay a shuttle mission it is costly and when you don't have much money you end up taking risks. Even space shuttle Challenger could have been saved. It blew up shortly after takeoff because of an O-Ring failure. NASA was urged not to launch the shuttle in such icy temperatures for exactly that reason but they went ahead anyway. As you watch this video you can hear the commander say "Roger.Go at throttle up." When he throttles up the challenger explodes.

With only 2 more space shuttle flights left NASA has contracted with Russia to carry our astronauts into space over the next 3 years. Under President Obama's new vision for space exploration, NASA hopes that the private space industry can pick up the workload while NASA works on developing a heavy lift rocket to take astronauts beyond earth orbit, something they have not achieved since 1972. SpaceX is a major contender for the replacement of a crew vehicle. They have already achieved 2 orbital flights with one making it safely back to earth on a re-entry test.

It is not the end for the US space program, it's just another step to creating something better. When the Apollo era came to an end there was a 5 year gap in US space flight before the Space Shuttle Columbia had its maiden voyage on April 12th 1981. As you can see here, this is the only time the external fuel tank is painted white for a launch. The memory of the incredible crew and vehicle Columbia will always be a reminder that space is dangerous. You cannot put a price on life.

Russian Space Shuttle Bruan

As you all know I am a space nut. I love rockets and space ships. What kid doesn't. A few years ago I learned that Russia actually built their own space shuttle. Although short lived due to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians were able to finish one of the fleet of orbiters they were building and 1988 it was launched into space. The Shuttle Bruan was flown autonomously (by remote) and landed safely after its mission from orbit. This would be the only time the Bruan would fly. It was then put in storage and in 2002 the roof of the building it was stored in collapsed, destroying the orbiter and the rocket it was attached to. The Bruan was actually superior to the American Space Shuttles because it was able to fly autonomously and it could carry a cargo of 200 tons. It also used powered flight during re-entry with smaller rockets attached to the back. The American Space Shuttles only work as gliders giving them one chance to land. Here is the Space Shuttle Bruan.

Learn About the Universe

This is a great video to show your kids. Gotta love the Animaniacs!

28 January, 2011

In Memory of Challenger

25 years ago the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on throttle up. I felt like paying tribute to the lives that were lost.

22 January, 2011

The Origin of Musical Influences

I’ve been doing my best to find a variety of new music lately but it seems that I have failed. Most of the music I listen to comes from recommendations by those who I trust. People who know me well will usually know what I will like. Sometimes I am surprised at some of the music given to me. It may even take some time to grow on me but in the end they usually win. Here are some of my favorite artists or groups and the people who influenced me into listening. This is not my whole list, but it's go give you an idea at the variety.

The Beach Boys-Dad: For my Dad, music was supposed to be fun. We would dance around the living room listening to Beach Boys records when we were in diapers. They continue to have an influence in my life because of my love for the ocean. Here is "I Get Around"

The Beatles-Mom: My Mom and Dad are from two generations. While my Dad would say that the British invasion ruined a lot of music and culture, my Mom would say that it gave new meaning to music. Here is "Help"

The Pharcyde-Tyler: This will always remind me of being a freshman in high school. I wanted to be like my brother Tyler and we would work out to the Pharcyde in the weight room at Ponderosa high school. No body can flow or has the background texture that the Pharcyde does. Here is the music video for "Drop"

Peter Paul and Marry-Tyler: Tyler may not know it, but when I bought his last computer from him I fell upon Peter Paul and Marry by accident. I heard the song "If I had a Hammer" and fell in love with the true meaning. Here is "If I had a Hammer"

Cat Stevens(Yusuf Islam)-Russell (Through Aaron) Russell first introduced me to Cat Stevens. At the time I was listening to all Rap and Hip Hop. This would be the first real variety in my music. I remember listening to his friend's son would sing along to Moon Shadow at the age of two. That was what got me hooked. Here is "Don't be Shy"

Rufus Wainwright-Russell: I remember Russell waiting for MTV to play "April Fools" so he could show me the music video. This man's flamboyant style made me appreciate the people who are not afraid to be themselves. Here is "Poses"

Michael Jackson-Everyone: I don't really know who influenced me into listening to Michael Jackson. I remember listening to the Thriller album on record over and over again. I guess it was a little bit of everyone. Nobody performs like Michael.Here is his MTV performance in 1995. Legendary!

Mika-Bobby: I remember Bobby posting Mika's "Grace Kelley" video on Myspace years back. It was some of the funnest music I had heard. It made me want to dance like crazy around the room. Here is "Love Today"

The Killers-Rob:He convinced me to go to a concert at the Lo-Fi Cafe when we were living in Salt Lake. I had no idea who they were and didn't know if it would be worth being crammed in the basement of a building with less than 100 people. Needless to say, they quickly became one of my favorite bands of all time. 10 bucks at the door.

Queen-Mandi: Who doesn't know of Queen. I didn't really listen to them much until I met Mandi. She had most of their greatest hits and watching her walk on those stilts during "Break Free" at her ballroom concert, I was hooked :) If I could have anyone's singing voice it would be Freddie Mercury's. The man was an incredible performer.

The Darkness-Mandi: Before I met Mandi I had heard only one of their songs. I loved it, I just didn't really look into them much. While we were dating she was listening to "One Way Ticket to Hell". To my surprise it was the Darkness. Here is "I Believe in a Thing Called Love"

The Who-Colin(Through His Dad): Colin has Who memorabilia all over his apartment. He has seen them perform a few times in concert. I was curious about his passion for the Who so I decided to look up a few of their songs. They were way ahead of their time. Here is "My Generation"

Paul Simon-James (Through His Dad): Going to Jame's house in the morning to study for a test was even better when his Dad would come in the room and blast "Kodachrome" with the lyrics "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school". Here is "Diamonds on the Souls of her shoes"

Judy Garland-Anna (Through the Judy Room) When I was 18 I moved to Utah for a summer. I didn't really have friends to hang out with so I spent my time watching a lot of movies that I rented from the library. I became obsessed with musicals, especially ones with Judy Garland. I met a friend online who shared the same interest as I did and she introduced me to the world of Judy music. Here is a radio broadcast of Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" to the troops during WWII.

18 January, 2011

Deep Water Brian

Here is another short story I wrote for my creative nonfiction writing class last semester. It is based on an event that happened in my childhood. The names of the characters have been changed but those who read it will know it even if it is not entirely accurate.

Deep Water Brian

Brian was a good kid. He tried his best to fit in but his only connection with the outside world was through church. Kind of odd calling church part of the outside world but that’s where he made all of his friends, if he had any at all. He was pale, scrawny and had a nerdy part in his ugly brown seventies hair cut. He was my only home-schooled friend and therefore I assumed that all home-schooled kids were weird because they lived in houses that smelled of apricots and urine. His family made gum out of dried up toothpaste stuck to wax paper. Sometimes they would dress up like pioneers, paying tribute to their Mormon heritage. They spent endless days watching The Sound of Music pretending to be the Von Trap family. The hill they lived on was probably dead from the sound of music because it was mostly sung in minor. Depressing.

You could say I was somewhat of an in-betweener when it came to the weird kids like Brian, and the socially acceptable kids. I couldn’t quite get over the magic of being a child in the third grade so when my nine-year-old maturity level would down grade to a seven-year-olds, I was disowned by the cool kids and would have to hang out with kids like Brian whom I was picking on the day before. This didn’t bother me too much because I could freely play Peter Pan in the trees of his backyard without getting laughed at. I would swing between the branches, hanging on for dear life with my skinny little arms. The swords we played with were made of wood with gold colored jar lids slipped through them to give off magical properties when the sunlight reflected off the surface. The gold jar lids also protected our fingers from bruising and breaking while we swung at each other when bouncing on the trampoline, trying to fly away to the second star on the right.

Brian’s dad had a computer and if we were well behaved we were allowed to play Oregon Trail. We hunted more often than we traveled. (Goddamn bunnies. You’re so fast! Three or four bullets wasted and none left for the slow buffalo.) I can’t imagine what else his dad could use the computer for. Couldn’t have been any more important than hunting green digitally outlined animals. Sad thing is, I ended up really killing Brian’s bunnies that year. Well they died in my care and I felt responsible. Some neighborhood dogs ate their faces off. I saw their mangled bones sticking half way out of the bent cage walls. I shuddered when I saw them. They were like hairy shells, empty and soulless. Such a scary thought to be dead.

Being my friend did not have many perks. My toy collection consisted of broken GI Joe’s and toy cars I usually found while roaming the garbage-laden fields next to my dad’s car lot. If I had anything of value to friends it was the pool membership at Lindbergh. The Pool was the place to be during the summer and it was the only place my family could afford a membership to because they had ten kids to feed. It was in the shape of an L and had a diving board. I say, “Had a diving board” because some fat guy ended up breaking it off. There were no lifeguards, so adult supervision was required. Just down the hill from the pool area were BBQ pits and a basketball court shaded by trees. Ironically, this is where the grownups spent most of their time, out of sight from the children swimming in the pool.

I remember the day I invited Brian to go to Lindbergh with me. He had on the ugliest looking 70’s shorts, kind of a sky blue with a nasty orange colored stripe down the side. He wore a brown leather belt to hold them up. They were most definitely hand-me-downs from either his older brother or father. I don’t know why that bothered me; I always got my shorts from my older brothers, but at least mine had the mark of Vans Skate Boarding Co. His towel was equally as nasty. It had holes in it and was marked with stains, or perhaps it was just dirty. I think a washing machine could have saved half of his reputation.

We drove to the pool in the back of my brother’s Chevy S 10, which we deemed “The Cow Truck” because of the grey primer spots on the side. As usual, my gold lab who we named, Kitty, would cut across the field and meet us a quarter of the way there. She would run down the road and chase after us until we stopped and picked her up. There were times that we could go a couple of miles, stop, and about a minute later she would come around the corner. “Stupid smart dog. Now you’ll just have to sit there and watch us swim from outside the gate”.

When we arrived, I ran immediately into the bathroom. All of the excitement about jumping in the pool got the best of me. Although we had a membership to this pool, it probably wasn’t the kind of pool you would imagine needing a membership to. The light blue paint on the bathroom’s walls was pealing from years of disrepair. There were cracks on the concrete floor and the urinals were stained with brown rust running off the pipes. One quick pee and I was out. I didn’t have time to wash my hands. I was too busy dodging the wasps that were hanging around the garbage can.

You know that unwritten rule about not eating before going into the pool? My family never followed it. We started off by sitting down and having Tang and pizza. There’s nothing like a full belly before jumping into a pool, and when it comes to pizza, kids don’t lose track of how many slices they eat. I love to brag. I must have had four slices that day, a big meal for a scrawny little nine-year-old.

After finishing my feast, I ran up to the diving board. I could feel the wet and bumpy texture under my feet. This always caused a tingle in my hands and hips making me afraid to slip and loose my balance. I could almost pee again. I couldn’t quite get a bounce out of the diving board because of my weight, but a good run straight off the end was enough of a thrill. I kept myself in the shape of a torpedo, slicing through the water and sinking to the abyss of an eight-foot-deep pool. The tap of my toes would amplify through the water when they touched the bottom. I pushed off with all my might while cupping my hands and flapping my arms downward. I always tried to resurface like Ariel from the little mermaid, chest forward, head back, and a deep breath. What nine-year-old boy didn’t think Ariel was a hot?

I swam to the side of the pool and pulled myself out to see what Brian was up to. I saw him sitting on the steps of the three-foot-deep end. I had been swimming all my life up to this point, so I assumed Brian had too. I ran to where he was sitting and jumped in the pool doing a backside method, a popular pose I learned from the cool kids at school. This motivated Brian to slide down into the cool water and walk out a little. He was too concentrated to talk much, and when I tried to splash him in the face he got pissed off. He even threatened to leave the pool. He wouldn’t brave going past the four-foot mark, and if the slant of the pool eventually got a hold of him, he would have to slowly doggy paddle back to the shallow end or make for the side. I hung out with him for a little while but only because I felt sorry for him. Pathetic wimp. Grow some balls and come out further. I couldn’t take much of Brian’s willingness to be a pussy so, I left him for more daring waters.

I would try to swim underwater from one end of the L to the other without coming up for air. I remember passing Brian, watching him continuously doggy paddle back to the shallow end. It seemed like he was having a hard time, but it couldn’t be all that hard could it? He was splashing like crazy, but his head was out of the water and he was making good progress on his way back.

Four minutes passed and I was getting bored with myself, so I thought I would regroup with Brian and play some basketball but I couldn’t see him on either end of the empty pool. I guess I was the only one left swimming. My family was eating by the gazebo. He probably wimped out and went over to the kiddy pool with the other bed-wetter’s. Nope, not there. I looked down towards the basketball courts; he wasn’t there either. Maybe he was actually using a toilet to go to the bathroom. I looked down in the water. Standing by the six-foot-deep end I saw a blurry blob in the shallow end of the pool. I yelled out “Brian” but of course how was he supposed to hear me if it was him 4½ feet under water? My first impression was, “He’s holding his breath,” but I was just trying to console myself. He wasn’t moving, and my knees went weak.

I ran and jumped in the pool calling his name in panic. “Brian!” It felt like an eternity flying through the air just to hit the water. No torpedo, just a big splash of panic. Swimming to the bottom of the shallow end seemed more difficult than I remember. I had to swim head first to get a hold of him. His hair looked soft and was ghostly waving around. I was afraid to touch him, and when I did we was so stiff. Bending his joints was like trying to open rusty scissors. I grabbed him by hooking my right arm under one of his armpits so I could get a hold of his chest. Kicking off the bottom of the pool, I was able to resurface to catch my breath. I was kicking my legs as hard as I could and paddling to the side of the pool with one arm. I was gasping for breath, trying to shout out my dad’s name, who was sitting under a near-by gazebo. Eating food with everyone else.

When I finally hit the side of the pool, the gulps of chlorine stopped and my dad was there to pull Brian out of my arm. My older brother Richard was there to help me out of the pool too. He pulled me over the side, and I sat there on my hands and knees trying to catch my breath. I remember my dad asking me what happened and all I could say was, “I don’t know.” My mind was in such a panic, there was nothing else I could think about except for, “Oh God, please don’t be dead!”

I had learned the process of CPR in cub scouts, but I had never seen it used in real life. How many people can say they have? My dad started by turning Brian on his side and scooping his finger inside his mouth to make sure he didn’t swallow his tongue. It was then I first realized how pale he was. How blue his lips were. He looked like a dead fish. My dad began with the chest compressions while my brother Richard blew air into his mouth. I could see Brian’s chest rising with every breath. You know that story about the rabbits? Brian became one of them at that moment. A shell, soulless. “Stupid Brian. What were you thinking? You’re so stupid.”

A few moments in, my dad decided to run across the street to call for an ambulance while Richard continued to administer CPR. Some bearded guy with long hair named Charles from across the street came over and helped Richard. He was an EMT so he knew exactly what he was doing. He kept saying, “Come on, Come on.” He seemed so calm. He had probably seen worse.

Over three minutes had gone by when Brian threw up right into my brother’s mouth. Chunky orange juice was all over his face, and I saw my brother spit up a bunch of it on the pavement. Brian was gasping for breath like someone had hit him in the stomach with a bowling ball. More orange juice and pizza spilled out of the side of his mouth and he was coughing and shaking uncontrollably. My dad wrapped him in some towels and Charles was trying to ask him questions. Brian was crying. It sounded like high-pitched hum, the kind you would hear from a whimpering dog. Kitty sat there watching through the fence, probably more interested in Brian’s crying than all of the people gathered around to watch the scene.

Sitting there, watching all of this my mind was a haze. Was he all right? Was he normal? I remember hearing stories of people who had drown and were brought back to life. They ended up having brain damage because they were under too long. Brian started crying out for his mommy. Even though we were nine-years-old, it was still Ok to call out for mommy in a time like this. The next best thing to mommy came. I could hear a siren in the distance. It was coming closer and even though Brian had been breathing for a couple of minutes, I felt much more secure that a machine with flashing lights painted orange and white was speeding down the street.

The ambulance backed up to the front gate and the paramedics ran out. They placed Brian on a plastic stretcher and strapped him down with white bands, including his head. It looked so uncomfortable. He had an oxygen mask put over his head. The plastic would fog and un-fog as he took his breaths. It all happened so fast. Before I knew it the ambulance was speeding away. Kitty was howling, trying to sing along to the tone of the sirens like dogs always do.

I felt kind of lost. My dad went back across the street to call my mom, to find out how to get a hold of Brian’s mother. My brothers and sisters were all crying beneath the gazebo. I could cry when I was made fun of, I could cry when I scraped my knees, but I could not cry when someone almost died. So I pretended. I sniffled and squinted my eyes the best I could. I put my face in my hands and rubbed my face to make it turn red. I was afraid that it wasn’t believable, but when my dad came back he saw me standing there by the pool and gave me a hug. That was when I really started crying.

My older brother, Tom, rounded up the rest of my brothers and sisters and drove them home in the cow truck. Dad drove Richard and I to the hospital to see Brian. Living in the small town of Eldorado we had to drive to the closest big city, Placerville, which was a good 15 minutes away. We drove through Old Town where all of the historic buildings were. For some reason this always put me at ease. I think it was because it reminded me of Christmas. I could imagine all of the lights strung up on the buildings and the snow blanketed over the town Christmas tree. It didn’t matter that it was the dead of summer. I could still see it all. It was my way to break away from what had just happened. Imagination was a kid’s best defense against fear.

We drove down Cedar Ravine, and as we did, we passed by our church. I could feel God looking at me as we passed him by to drive a few more blocks to the hospital. Was he blaming me for being such a bad friend to Brian? Did he want me to repent for calling Brian stupid in my own thoughts? I decided to make a little repentance prayer so I didn’t feel so guilty when I saw Brian. “Dear God, please forgive me for calling Brian a pussy and a stupid and please make him Ok.” That was enough to ease the guilt.

I walked through the front doors of the hospital. There was a pregnant lady in a wheel chair being checked in to give birth. This all seemed routine for me. After all, my mother did have ten kids. The halls were white with a light green stripe down the side. I followed my dad until he told my brother and I to sit down on a bench nearby while he went in to talk to the doctor. It was the first time Richard spoke to me since the incident. “Dude, he threw up in my mouth. It was so gross.” I kind of laughed, but I quickly wiped the smile off my face when my dad came back out. “You can go in the room now.”

The doctor was standing next to Brian’s bed. It reminded me of the scene from ET where Elliot is laying in the hospital bed dying. “Are you okay?” I asked. He responded back with a “Thank you.” He even sounded like Elliot with that wheezy voice. He closed his eyes and just lay there breathing. He was hooked up to a bunch of tubes and wires that I had no idea what they were for. I went back out into the hallway and sat there with my dad. He kept telling me how proud he was of me.

We were there before his mother. I remember her coming down the hallway. She had wiry grey hair and ghost wide eyes that naturally gave her the look of being scared or worried all day long. There wasn’t much of a difference in her looks that day except maybe the way she expressed her mood through her movements. She hugged and thanked me over and over again. That’s all I remember of her. For years the thanking would go on every time I saw her.

Everyone around wanted to congratulate me. After a while, I began to question whether or not I played such a big role in saving him. All I did was pull him to the side of the pool. However, his mother thought it was enough to recommend my older brother and I for a life saving award presented through the Boy Scouts of America. There was quite a big ceremony. Charles was there, and for some reason I remember there being a few people there in orange service suits. They could have been the paramedics but I’m not sure. I was just stoked at the medals they presented us. It made me feel like I was in the army. Mine had a red outer ring with a gold colored center and it hung from a red and white striped ribbon. I’m sure my buck toothed grin stretched a mile wide when they pinned that thing to me.

Remember what I said earlier about the hero being nothing without the sword. Well that day I found out it was true. My medal was proof of that. It made me feel like a real hero. In my mind I placed myself in the final scene of Star Wars A New Hope where Luke and Han receive their medals. I imagined I was Luke Skywalker; my brother Richard was Han Solo and Charles was big, harry and bearded so naturally he was Chewbacca.

Everyone cheered but the end credits didn’t come. Did Brian and I end up as best buds? Did I learn my lesson about knowing who my real friends were? No. It was only a few years later that I had entered JR. High. Through those years a kid can’t be any fiercer in his adolescence. It must be in the hormones. You’re so afraid that you’re not changing fast enough that the only way to speed up the process is to become an ass hole like the eighth graders were to you. So, naturally, Brian would suffer for years to come. I continued to give him hell and may have contributed to him becoming an airplane-stealing criminal. But that’s another story. Just pretend that I’m still Luke Skywalker for now.

12 January, 2011

Pleasure Point

This is a creative nonfiction story I wrote for one of my classes. That means that things are a little dramatized and spiced up to give the story more appeal but for the most part, it is a true story. It's about how I got my understanding of the surf scene. I'm also going to attach a video of the trip that this story goes with. I have a few more stories I am going to post over the next few days, so stay tuned. I'm hoping that you will get to know me a little better through my work. Here it goes...

Pleasure Point

By: Jeffrey Dean Root

My Dad was a surfer and worshiped girls, cars and the ocean. In those days the men you had to compete against for women were Greasers in their hotrods, Cholos and their low riders and Sailors with their ships. Girls loved him, but not because of his car. I mean, he drove around in an old sedan delivery. They loved him because all he ever wanted to do was to have fun. My Mom still says, “He’s lost in the 50’s.”

My father’s past was never kept a mystery to me. He was always willing to bring me back to what he called, “The best years of America.” He started me off dancing to oldies records in the living room when I could barely stand on my own. We listened to bands like Dick Dale and the Dell Tones, Bill Hailey and the Comets and I swore my dad was Mike Love, the lead singer from the Beach Boys. It could have been his haircut, the way he danced, or the way he was such a cheese ball when he sang. He taught me the Surfer’s Stomp, a goofy dance he used to do at concerts that Dick Dale put in Southern California. You pound each foot twice, jump, do a one eighty and land, knees bent with your arms dangling while you sway to the beat.

If there was one thing he wanted to share with his children, it was his love and respect for the surf scene. He moved us to Monterey bay when I was just entering my early teenage years. It was my first time in the ocean, but I immediately bonded to it. By that time my father’s knees were not conditioned enough to stand on a surfboard, but he was never afraid to go crazy on a body board. You could hear him yell out, “Look at that wave break. Awe man that is beautiful!” And then he would run and hop out towards the ocean, feet splashing in the salty water, finishing with a dive, foam board outstretched and gliding through the air before he made his splash. His reunion with the ocean would later spark the fuel within him to light a fire big enough to get his feet planted back on a surfboard at 66 years old. Even his two heart attacks couldn’t keep him from going back out again.

It was when he showed me the film The Endless Summer, that I felt deprived of the long lost art of the youthful surfing journey. I watched as these men visited beach after beach, ocean after ocean and my dad gave his commentary saying, “I’ve been to that beach” and “Oh, look at that woody.” Yes, he would say “woody” as if he were referring to the woody wagon as an erection. I knew he had lived the surf life, exploring the beaches on the California coast, and I wanted to experience it too.

The years went by, California got too expensive and my family moved to Utah. I got married, got into more debt and rarely had time to see the ocean. Once a year I would travel to Southern California to see my friends and reserve one day for surfing. It was my once a year moment of Zen, and I cherished it all winter long, giving myself something to look forward to after six months of depression in the white snowy hell.

It was when I was watching the surf documentary Riding Giants that I saw the first big wave surfers talking about their experiences while living as beach bums in Hawaii. These guys lived in shacks, caught their own fish, stole chickens, and ate pineapples and coconuts. They traded the comfort of a warm bed for a cot or the soft sand. Why couldn’t I do that? Because I was married, had little to no money, and my 1974 Volkswagen Beetle would blow up before I left Utah County.

No! It was wrong to let life get in my way. I think everyone has a right to be selfish every once in a while and it was my turn. I was going to plan a trip up the coast of California and nobody was going to stop me. Of course, I had to run the idea by my wife, Mandi. After all, she was the breadwinner and I was the college student. Oh, and I would need transportation so naturally I would need to talk my sister Krystal and her husband Nate into going and it would give my wife a female to bond with. Also I would need to talk to my two best friends, James and Colin because they had places we could stay while we were out there. But besides that, nothing else would get in my way. I was going to do it…so long as they all said, “Yes.”

I told Mandi of the idea first. That wasn’t very hard. She had always complained that our trips were too short. She grew up in Hawaii and her family loved to travel. My family was too damn poor to go anywhere so I was used to the occasional Saturday trip to the Coloma River. She didn’t even care about how much it would cost. She would have thrown the whole trip on a credit card. That was easy. In fact, everyone I told was waiting for me to finish my proposal so they could say yes. It was really going to happen.

We all pitched in and made suggestions for places we wanted to visit along the way. Instead of staying in hotels we all agreed on camping. It was fun, cheap and most of us were experienced at it, everyone but James anyway. We made fun of him because he went out and spent $120 on a pair of Patagonia hiking shoes. It’s the kind of thing yuppies buy and James was no yuppie. He was just innocent and clueless. We gave him crap for that for a long time. After all, most of the trails we would be hiking on were paved or nicely carved. A pair of $14 payless sandals did me nicely.

We planned the trip seven months in advance so we were well prepared when it came time to head out of Utah to meet our friends in Southern California. I don’t officially feel like I’m going anywhere until I leave the hour-long bubble reaching from Salt Lake City down to Payson. Once the Payson exits are behind me I feel like the car has exited some giant force field and the outside world is only a desert’s drive away.

Driving across the desert on the I-15 is just like riding a boat across the ocean. Every once in a while you will see a small island but the biggest island of them all is Las Vegas. We were not at all attracted to the money, boobs and booze that enveloped the city. Las Vegas could have been reduced to an In-N-Out burger and we would have been just as happy. My father introduced us to In-N-Out by taking us to one that was still standing since the 50’s. I could have thirty sentimental minutes in the Las Vegas In-N-Out with my animal style burger, strawberry shake and fries and I was ready to get out of that hellhole of a city. Carrot Top billboards polluted the sides of the road. Why the hell was he wearing that stupid muscle shirt. I think the steroids went to his hair. All I could think of was, “Orange Ass head.”

Farting would become quite the ritual on this trip. My brother in law, Nate, showed no shame when it came to letting them rip! He would sit back with a cheesy wide-open smile on his pale face, rolling down the window, letting in the fresh, hot Nevada air. Mandi was highly objective but Krystal was always brave enough to join in. We bonded well with this ritual but mine never made any noise. They were all left cheek sneaks and killed everyone in the car. Nate suggested that something crawled up my ass and died. He may be right. Two-years I spent living in Mexico could be the cause for it.

After ten hours of driving through the night we arrived in Marina Del Ray at Colin’s apartment around 5am. Colin is a happy guy, like one of those people you would see on Kids Incorporated on the Disney Channel. He had the beds and couches already made up for our long morning nap. What a friend! James would later arrive waking everyone up singing along to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonne Give You Up,” while dancing around the apartment like an idiot. James always knew how to get a party started.

Although we would stay at Colin’s apartment for the rest of the day, we wasted no time heading off to the ocean. It was time to get our feet wet and Venice beach was calling my name. Venice Beach is renowned for being full of character. It has a skate dancing plaza, Muscle Beach where the body builders show off, burnt out hippies, side walk performers and an awesome business front consisting of the coolest clothing and incense/marijuana shops. The buildings are pink, green, yellow, any kind of pastel color you can think of.

I ran straight to the beach with my board leaving everyone else in the parking lot. The sand was as hot as coals. It felt good to know that it was only making me run faster to the ocean. I found a good spot to throw my stuff on the ground and wax the surfboard. I dug a hole in the sand to place the fin into and pulled out a well-spent chunk of Sex wax to spread on the board. I took a big whiff of the delicious coconut smell. I could almost take a bite of that chunk of wax but there was none left after spreading it on the board.

I looked out at the ocean’s waves breaking right into the pier, slicing through each wooden post. The afternoon did not have the best surf, but after a year of waiting, I really didn’t care. The waves could have been three feet tall that day so long as they could carry this 150 lb body and a nine-foot board smoothly across the beach line. James caught up with me and threw his stuff on the ground. He didn’t take the time to wax his board up. It was covered in nasty sand mixed wax with other small pieces of crab and dead-sea life that could stick to its surface.

We decided to run out together with our boards held straight to keep us aerodynamic from the ocean breeze, feet splashing through cold, murky looking water. I jumped on my board, belly lying flat, face up and arms paddling rigorously. The waves were breaking down hard leaving a lot of suds to push through. Not much of a break, which meant mostly white water rides. When I got out far enough I turned my board around. James and I waited patiently yelling out the occasional “Woo!” But the waves just kept on crashing as soon as they would form, leaving a big white wall of water to push us back to the beach. I finally got tired of waiting for anything good and I spent my afternoon riding suds, one after the other. Sure I had a good time but it was not really what I was searching for.

After about an hour and a half of riding suds I decided to call it quits to hang out with Mandi on the beach. There she was wearing her 1950’s style black and white polka dot bathing suit and a pair of white-rimmed sunglasses. The fact that this beautiful sex Goddess lying on the beach was mine lifted my spirits from the white wash I had just experienced. I cuddled up by her side as she baked away the winter’s white mark. We listened to songs like Surfer’s Stomp by the Markets while chatting with Tim and Rob, a couple of old friends that came by the beach to visit for a couple of hours. Tim was an old friend from high school who was working the LA actor’s job waiting tables. Rob and I had met in Salt Lake. He had renounced his membership from the Mormon Church and moved to LA to become a sex machine. We traded stories and spoke of our aspirations for life. It really wasn’t a bad way to end the day but I could see the ocean mocking me in the distance. Each wave crashed with such ferocity that it hypnotized me into a dead stare.

The next morning we woke up and headed out to our first camping spot. It was a short two-hour ride North on the Pacific Coast Highway. The scenery is just amazing. On one side are the beautiful green mountains and the other is a blue ocean that goes on forever. One could never experience claustrophobia feeling as free as I did while riding next to the ocean. Life is so wide open. I squinted my eyes, looking at ships in the distance, sun reflecting heavy off their metal surfaces as they dropped below the horizon line.

We were all very excited when we pulled into Morro Bay. This small town is a fisher’s port and many of the restaurants are made to look like boats. The seafood is as fresh as it gets and the people are very laid back. The town is known for a lone, round giant rock that sits out in its bay. The rock is a couple hundred feet high and serves as a bird sanctuary.

None of us had seen any photos of the campgrounds so we didn’t know what to expect. When we arrived all we saw were rows of campsites separated not by trees but by paved parking. We knew that this meant no privacy. Kids were running everywhere and people had left their home only to pull out their flat screen TV’s, eyes glued to the screen as nature was ignored. It was a depressing campsite and the only time we spent there was when we had to eat dinner and go to sleep.

I was curious to see what the surf was like so we all jumped into one car and headed down to the beach to watch the sun set. James kept our spirits high by leading us in Tony the Tiger’s Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes song.

Just show them you’re a tiger.
Show them what you can do.
The taste of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes,
Brings out the tiger in you. And You!

As we neared the beach I was happy to see surfers cutting waves but when I realized what area they were in I knew that these guys owned this beach. They were riding pretty far out from the shore but close to the rocks that rose out of the water next to the giant round rock. I sat there admiring them for having the balls to pull off such a stunt. I had no insurance and I hadn’t done enough with my life yet to crush my head on a jagged rock.

As I wondered what the waters of Morro Bay would bring me in the morning, we strolled along the beach as James sang, “Here comes the sun,” but changing the words to, “There goes the sun,” as its clear golden orb, cluttered with birds, dipped slowly below the horizon line. Mandi pulled me close to share what is still the most beautiful sunset I have ever experienced. It’s too bad that camping on the beach was prohibited. My dad had told me how incredible it was falling asleep to the oceans lullaby. Who wouldn’t want to fall asleep on a beach with their lover cuddled close.

Morning came and I decided to go for a little jog. I love running in areas that I am not familiar with. It’s like speed-reading a book just to get the idea of what the story is about. Book Report: I saw a giant swamp area, large trees and a golf course. When I was warmed up we ate breakfast and headed into town to rent two more boards allowing us to be as selfish as we wanted to be with our time in the water. The board I rented looked like it was painted back in the 80’s. It was 2/3rd yellow and 1/3rd hot pink. Sadly they didn’t have any better-looking fiberglass boards in stock so I was stuck with the pansy board. I was really tempted to just purchase one but the load of camping gear on the roof of the car said otherwise. It’s sad really. In this town you could buy a slightly used but beautiful long board for just under $300. That’s a steal!

It was a nice sunny day but the wind was blowing cold. All the men threw on their wetsuits except for James. He wanted to show off his manliness by wearing nothing but a rash guard and some shorts. Krystal and Mandi stayed out of the water to keep warm and take photos of the guys. This is something I was adamant about after not seeing any photos of my old man on the beach when he was younger. And it’s no wonder my mother would constantly find photos in the garbage can. My Dad was too lazy to open up a box and go through it all the way before he decided that everything in it was trash. I figured that my own children would be just as curious with my past as I am with my father’s.

The water was absolutely frigid but shrinkage was the least of my worries. I ran out into an endless battle against hammering waves. This time it was more violent. These waves had a great force that would bring the water high up the beach. The water got so high that we had to move our place on the beach a good twenty yards back. There is nothing cool about saying “I rode great white water today”. This time I just learned to say, “Screw it” and tried to make the most out of it. The only thrills I got out of those waves was their speed and the way they knocked us on our Asses. Time after time I could see Nate yelling as he ate sand when the wave broke on him. The undertow at that spot didn’t help either. It felt like the giant rock was acting as a magnet, pulling us closer and closer as we tried to fight the current.

In all, we surfed for about five hours that day. James jokingly referred to Nate as Lobsterman because he was bright red from sunburn. Mandi looked pretty miserable all huddled up in a chair with her sweater over her face. The most entertainment we got on that beach was watching Colin’s dog “li’l Dude” trying to eat the flies that swarmed over the seaweed in the sand. Colin, James and I ended our day at the beach playing catch with a baseball, a ritual that has become all but extinct for the common American. If only people knew how relaxing it is. If I couldn’t ride a decent wave today I was going to throw the perfect ball. Wrong! I hadn’t thrown a baseball in years and it ended up just flying over James head or going too low and hitting the sand before anyone could even catch it. It was just not meant to be.

Well I knew that we wouldn’t be surfing for the next couple of days so Camping at Big Sur actually lived up to its expectations. On the way up we stopped by Elephant seal beach. We laughed as the Elephant seals belly rolled and bounced off their fat to make their way up to the beach. Their long noses hung back and jiggled, as they would face off with other seals in the water. The Big Sur Campgrounds was a sigh of relief. Trees surrounded our campsite, and although they messed up on our reservations by not getting us the site we requested, they did load us up with free corn, potatoes and firewood. There were no noisy kids running through our sites and if people had TV’s the trees blocked their brightly lit screens.

We made good use of its on site facilities by washing a load of wet clothes from the beach while we played some basketball. Dinner was especially good because of all of the food provisions we had acquired from the staff at the office. We all just wanted to relax for a day after getting our asses kicked by the ocean.

The next morning we took a beautiful hike out to a beach that reminded us all of the Goonies. There were multiple rock formations that formed out in the water. Channels had been carved through the years by erosion. The waves would explode through the channels and settle into the tide pools. We collected shells for keepsakes and pried red, purple and orange starfish off rocks to get a glimpse of their suction cups. We found sticks to poke sea anemones, watching their dark, circular bodies close up in defense. Li’l dude made friends with another dog. We were all just happy to be exploring.

When everyone started to walk back to the car, I saw Mandi sitting on a big rock next to the ocean. I walked up to her and I noticed that she had tears streaming down her cheeks. She asked me if I would just stay there and hold her for a while. I looked back and saw that the rest of the group was already out of sight. I told her that we should probably stick together with the rest of the group and when I said that she became angry and started to cry some more. That was when I realized why she had asked for the moment. It was her birthday. We had plans to celebrate it on the last day of the trip so I had forgotten about the actual day amidst all of the action. I felt like a jerk and I immediately took her in my arms and said I was sorry. She just pressed closer to my body and stared out at the ocean. After a few minutes she looked up at me and said. “Thank you. I’m done.” That was all it took. I realized that in that moment she had found what she was looking for on the trip: a moment alone with her husband by the ocean.

When we returned back to the campsite and I kept on trying to figure out why I had not had my moment yet. What was it that would make this trip unique for me? Mandi further had her day be brightened when Colin and James surprised her by dancing up the hill singing to the Beatle’s “Happy Birthday.” They were lightly drunk and holding a tray of cupcakes with lit candles. She was overjoyed that my friends decided to celebrate her birthday on the actual day rather than postponing it till we reached our last destination. She gave everyone a hug and had a smile on her face as wide as the ocean. I was so happy for her. It was really her day.

The next morning we took time to stop off at the Big Sur Bridge on our way to the beach house in Santa Cruz. I had seen how beautiful the bridge looked in photos and I just had to see if it was as surreal. The bridge arched high over the white sandy beach below. It clung to the two sides of the canyon that was filled with green vegetation. The foggy morning air covered half of the bridge making it look like a pathway to the clouds. Yes, it was just like the photographs I had seen and well worth the stop.

We passed only ten minutes away from my hometown of Salinas where James parents still live but we decided it wasn’t worth an extra stop because they would see us for a day in Santa Cruz. Memories of the area flooded my head. The old surplus army store and the Moss Landing Power Plant still sat by the ocean right where I left them. The sinking road that ran over the San Andreas Fault was still just as fun to speed over. As we entered the neighborhood of the beach house we passed by the liquor store where James had bought us all cigars and a Playboy magazine at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. Heading towards the beach house I saw the bench at the end of the cliff where we all smoked our cigars. It was good to be there.

We hung around the house for a little bit just trying to get settled in for our final three-day stay. The nearby beach was always good in the afternoon to do some body boarding because the nearby cove created a wave that would collide with a second wave creating a V shape headed towards the ocean. Even Mandi was bold enough to go out in the water when we pulled out a full body wetsuit that was waiting for her at the beach house. She rode those waves all afternoon. She told me that she had wanted to go into the water the whole trip but didn’t want to ruin my time with my friends. If only she knew that I would have been happier with her out there than anyone else.

We took a trip down to the Santa Cruz Beach Board Walk, one of the last remaining amusement parks on the beaches of America. The crown jewel of the boardwalk is The Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster from 1924 that is still operational. It was a must for all of us and even though its age would make it sound wimpy, The Giant Dipper does not disappoint. Just knowing the track itself is over eighty years old is enough to make one wary and excited at the same time. We had a great time playing miniature golf on a pirate themed, mini golf course. The cannons on the giant pirate ship would boom as you tried to make your shot. We pretended to be buccaneers, sword fighting with our putters, metal clanking as we plundered our way through the course.

On our way back to the beach house we blasted Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” a song that would affect the way I was feeling that night. There is a line in the song that goes, “I used to rule the world. Seas would rise when I gave the word.” This is how I felt about the ocean during our trip. As a teenager the ocean seemed so easy to tame. The truth is, I never really took the patience to wait for a good wave. I picked everything; I just didn’t realize it until the trip. I thought back to The Endless Summer. Those guys spent the whole summer looking for the perfect waves and all I saw was two hours of the best parts of their trip. Even my dad picked the best moments of his life to talk about. Who would want to watch a movie about guys bitching and moaning because the surf was bad? Who would want to listen to their father talk about what a loser he was growing up? It was all making sense. Whether or not I would find any perfect wave the next morning did not even faze me. I realized that being with the people I loved and staying in a place that made me happy was going to be worth the trip. I could edit out all of the boring parts later.

James, Nate and I woke up early the next morning for the last day of surfing. There is a legendary surf spot in Santa Cruz that every California surfer knows as Pleasure Point. We debated about hitting that beach because it was loaded with the pros that make the cover of surfer magazine. O’Neal himself has a house overlooking the point. Finally James just said, “Screw it. Let’s just go. If we get in anybody’s way, we get our asses kicked but it could be worth it.” So we grew some balls, threw the boards on the car and headed for East Cliff Drive.

We drove up close to the edge to get a good look over the side. We were in luck. There were no more than ten surfers out there and they were hanging pretty far out to catch the big waves. We parked our car nearby and grabbed our boards. It was cloudy, but the low fog made the surroundings feel mystic. There is a sign at the top of the cliff just before you head down the stairs to the beach. In big yellow letters it read:


These were my kind of people.
Green moss covered the slimy rounded rocks and a large tree sat at the tip of the point, branches over hanging the cliff. We all took a nice long stretch, for we knew it would be our last time in the water on this trip. As I looked out into the ocean I saw no waves. It almost looked like a lake. The surfers were waiting patiently and knew there was a reason for it. I slowly walked waist deep into the cold dark water, laid belly first on my surfboard, and paddled slowly out to sea.

11 January, 2011

Intelligent Design: Bad For Science and Faith, Guest Blog by SteveP

I got this off of my friends blog. It is a rare look at belief in God and evolution and debunking creationism. Enjoy.

I am pleased to introduce Steve Peck,

Steven L. Peck is a high school drop­out from Moab, Utah and Asso­ciate Professor of Biology at Brigham Young University where he teaches The History and Philosophy of Biology and Bioethics. His does research in theoretical mathematical ecology, philosophy of biol­ogy, and insect stuff. When he grows up he wants to be a novelist or a poet or create sentient robots (all about equally likely). Until then he blogs at ByCommonConsent, and runs a Faith/Science blog (sciencebysteve.net) where he extols the virtues of mixing theology and Darwinian evolution. He lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah with his wife Lori. They have five children and 2.95 grandchildren.

(I am a biology professor and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and am committed to its teachings and beliefs. I take particular delight in being raised a ‘Mormon’ who was taught that education and knowledge are among our highest ideals. Many are surprised to find that I am also an evolutionary biologist. I am also a member of the Society for the Study of Evolution the United States’ leading evolutionary science organization and have published papers in its journal Evolution. I have published numerous scientific papers on the topic of evolution believe that it is the best explanation for the diversity of life we see around us. Evolution is at the heart of the biological revolution that has transformed everything from genetics, and medicine, to drug discovery and managing antibiotic resistance. As the great 20th Century biologist Dobzhansky said, ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’ As a biologist, I could not agree more. Few people realize that BYU, the university sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, has a number of faithful evolutionary biologists. As a point of fact, evolutionary science is taught at Brigham Young University just as it is at any other accredited university. Intelligent Design has no place in BYU’s science curriculum. And I do not want it to be a part of my children’s science education. I would not mind it if were taught as part of a course in comparative religion, but as a science? Never. Let me be clear about something else. Intelligent Design is not about an Intelligent Designer, it is a fundamentalist Christian (largely) make to get fundamentalist beliefs taught in the schools.

Let me be blunt. I find nothing of value in Intelligent Design for both scientific and religious reasons. First, why it is bad for religion. Intelligent Design posits that evolution cannot explain the origin of biological complexity. This is nonsense. Evolution is the best explanation for complexity. The purveyors of intelligent design argue that complex structures like the eye cannot be explained by bouts of mutation and selection, they calls this irreproducible complexity, however, the truth is the eye has been explained exactly in those terms, by many evolutionary thinkers. The argument is tantamount to saying that skyscrapers are impossible to build because there is no crane large enough to construct one. The truth is the crane was part of the building as it was raised and finally dismantled when it was no longer needed. In the evolutionary history of life, this happened again and again. We see the remnants of these ‘cranes’ all over the place. The history of life is full of things being used and retooled, then lost. A whale’s leg being turned into flippers. Or consider bird feathers from hair, first being used in thermal regulation then being co-opted for flight. So set aside the notion that evolution cannot explain complexity. It does so magnificently.

However, this is not what bothers me about the Intelligent Designers’ designer. Recall that intelligent design makes no religious claims about a God (mostly, to distance itself from young-earth creationists), it claims only that the universe has an intelligent designer. But let’s look a little more closely at the designer they are proclaiming. The designer they envision is really quite a bumbling ner-do-well—a limited dabbler who has to keep sticking is finger into the pot to get things going. The designer in Intelligent Design is more like a grand tinkerer. No grand designer here who can create a universe that unfolds, develops and grows. No, the designer in Intelligent Design cannot seem to manage that. He has to keep nudging things in the directions he needs them to go, making course corrections here and there, fixing errant processes that can’t seem to stay on task, backing up and starting over when things go astray. The designer in Intelligent design seems more reminiscent of one of Harry Potter’s classmates in a potions class, who has to keep adding a bit of this and a dab of that trying to keep the potion just so. I find this version of the designer unappealing and nothing like the God who I envision. I often ask my students which of the two computer programmers is the greatest: The one who creates many video games, but which require constant intervention and fixes, endless updates, and repeated patches, or the programmer who has created a program from which the command ‘Go’ creates spontaneously a myriad of video games of infinite variety and depth? You pick.

Am I talking about a deistic god who set things in motion and then steps back to leave it alone? Heavens no, I think God enters into the world often and directly, but mostly by influencing his children through their consciousness, inspiring and directing them to fulfill his purposes, sending messages and messengers when needed.

My next complaint about the Intelligent Design fiasco is its pretense to science. Exactly, what makes it a science is not clear. It offers no testable hypotheses. It has established no research program. The theory of evolution has offered testable hypotheses that have been confirmed again and again. The theory of evolution says that we should find certain things in the fossil record, the genetic code of our genes, the distribution of plants and animals on the earth. We find those things (Do not be detracted by supposed missing transitional forms. Fossilization is a rare process and we expect to find few transitional forms.) What is amazing is evolution’s prediction that life unfolds in a process of change and development. Consider the recent lovely fossils coming out of China detailing the evolution of flight in birds from bird-like reptiles. It follows just as evolution says it should.

My last complaint about Intelligent Design is it sets religion and science against each other. It puts forward a false dichotomy in students’ minds that suggests that evolution and faith are incompatible. It makes people of religious faith suspicious of science. When students genuinely think that science and religion are incompatible, one of two things typically happens. One is they embrace science and since it is incompatible to religion, religion is abandoned. The other is that they maintain their faith but remain suspicious of science and cast doubt upon its methods and findings, inclining themselves to superstition and pseudoscience. I have to wonder if the reason science education in the United States is falling behind other countries is because misinformed people of faith have been dissing science to the point that many students are choosing other paths. Faith and science need not be enemies. I embrace both fully and without reservation. My religious convictions are part of who I am. My science and faith reciprocate and inform one another. They are part of the way I understand my place in the universe. Intelligent Design does nothing to promote the search for understanding and cooperation between these two vital ways of knowing. It is a darkening of the mind on every level, both religiously and scientifically. Please do not let it be taught to my children as a science. It is bad for both religion and science.)

07 January, 2011

It's A New Year

Well it's a new year and already I've seen some changes. I am no longer with facebook so hopefully that will lead to more blog posts. This semester I have math 1010, which means after this semester I'll have one class left before I never have to take math again. I'm in an Anthropology class that will challenge me to put the study of subculture into practice. I'm thinking about observing the smokers hangout that is located outside of the library. Maybe I can play along by bringing my grandpas old pipe and blow bubbles out of it. Or better yet I can dress up as a Hobbit and smoke some longbottom leaf. I also have a British literature class that I'm not really looking forward to but it's required so I might as well read about what influenced the writers in their time. The most interesting class I have is Critical Introduction to Literature. We are going to read a broad range of subjects including Queer Theory. Yes, that's right, we are going to even watch movies like Toy Story and evaluate the male bonding relationship of Buzz and Woody. Don't be offended, it has nothing to do with homosexuality.

This is my blog and if you get offended by my posts, then don't visit. Just so you know I do not censor comments if I do not agree with opposing opinions but I will continue to debate until a resolution comes. Most people will probably pull out of the debate before I do. That's OK.

Here are a few photos from New-years eve and one a few of the ice on the front of my Rambler. This is going to be an interesting year.

02 January, 2011

Disneyland and California Adventure video

Here is a little video I made of our adventure at Disneyland. Enjoy