Your Pluto-palooza Party Guide

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The basics:

http://www.nature.com/news/pluto-fly-by-a-graphical-guide-to-the-historic-mission-1.17927

Detailed timeline of flyby events:

http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2015/06240556-what-to-expect-new-horizons-pluto.html

Where to follow progress:

ETA: schedule of media events at http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-announces-updated-television-coverage-media-activities-for-pluto-flyby

Also, The Science Channel is going to do a flyby special on the evening of July 15th.

 

Party goodies:

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Participate/community/Plutopalooza-Toolkit.php

This is an awesome desktop app for Pluto and other NASA stuff:

http://eyes.nasa.gov/

…And then life throws you a curve ball

I guess… back in November? I started to experience incredible pain while sitting–in my neck, in my back, in my left shoulder. Some of this is arthritis, some is muscle strain from arthritis. I’ve been experiencing arthritic twinges in the knees, back, and neck for a few years now. But I’ve never had any trouble sitting for long periods of time. Then the pain got exponentially worse to the point where I couldn’t sit and write comfortably, and I have to do pain drugs to get through my work day. I have an expensive ergonomic chair at work that I can sit in most of the day, if I get up frequently and stretch out.

For a while, it was more comfortable to walk than sit. I would take walks when I was in too much pain. Then a bad squat at the gym inflamed the tendon in my right knee. I still walk, but I can’t overdo it.

The one lesson in all this (besides hours and days and years of sedentary pursuits are bad for you, kids, especially with crappy genes on both sides, because, horse-barn door?) is that I’ve had to change the way I do things. I am writer, and a computer programmer. None of that has changed. It’s just the way it’s done that has change.

No more writing kicked back on the recliner. I now sit upright at a table like the rest of them, although this has its limits. I have also been experimenting with voice recognition input, which is great for one-liners on Facebook, or for making notes to myself, less good for composing, to say nothing of editing.

I have stopped living off “healthy” TV dinners and started cooking anti-inflammatory fare. Cooking, btw, not all that much fun with a gimp knee.

Pain is a strange thing. I always considered myself pretty stoic, but the pain I’ve been experiencing–inescapable, debilitating to normal, everyday activities–can turn me into a harpy. You just discover this wounded animal side to your personality.

If pain is the rich soil of the seeds of creativity, can we make lemonade?

Sure, just stop mixing your metaphors.

Space Geeking

I am terribly behind in my space geeking. Life has thrown me a couple of curveballs, and there’s been a lot of cool space stuff to fall behind on geeking about.

(1) Lunar Mission One: A kickstarter campaign by a private British group, Lunar Missions Ltd, to send an unmanned robotic landing module to the South Pole of the Moon and drill deep into the rock for a scientific analysis of the the geological composition of the Moon.

http://lunarmissionone.com/

 

(2) Hayabusa 2 launched on December 3rd. It is a Japanese asteroid sample return mission targeted at asteroid 1999 JU3. It is due to arrive in July of 2018 and return to Earth in 2020.

http://global.jaxa.jp/
http://b612.jspec.jaxa.jp/hayabusa2/e/index_e.html

(3) Orion! NASA’s new reusable spacecraft intended for future manned space missions (part of NASA’s plans to return to the Moon, and their Asteroid Retrieval Mission) had its first unmanned test flight on December 5th. It did two orbits around the Earth, then returned safely.

http://www.nasa.gov/orion/

(4) New Horizons, NASA/JPL’s mission to Pluto, woke up last Saturday from a two-year hibernation in preparation for its arrival at Pluto this coming July. It will stay “awake” from here on out, and hopefully get some awesome pictures of the Pluto system before its fly-by. Then it is off to explore another Kuiper Belt Object.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons/on-plutos-doorstep-new-horizons-spacecraft-awakens-for-encounter/

Moar space robots!

It’s taken ten years to get there, but early Wednesday, November 12 Central European time (from about 1 AM to 8 AM, which is about 5 PM to midnight Pacific time), the European Space Agency will land a craft on a comet. Their Rosetta spacecraft got to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko three months ago, and has been in a weird jagged “orbit” around it ever since. Now its attached lander, Philae, is being prepped to detach from it.

All the pre-flight stuff is going to happen when I’m busy at a conference next week, and the actual flight and grand finale landing, if it is successful, will happen in the middle of the night. Good luck to the ESA. #cometlanding

Two videos related to this. The first is more cutesy space stuff, but it’s also part of a rather brilliantly accessible series of cartoons promoting and explaining their mission.

The other video is a short art film the ESA collaborated on that I believe is a promo for a longer, upcoming science fantasy film, “Ambition” about the life-creating chemicals and water of comets:

Oodles of Mars Comet links

PIA18611_fig1

Image credit: NASA JPL

This morning, I’m really flummoxed that I don’t have that telescope Santa keeps promising me for Christmas. I was out ogling the early morning sky, and it was possible to see comet Siding Spring near Mars then, hours before its closest fly-by (2:27 PM EDT, 11:27 PM PDT, 18:27 GMT). That’s day time in North America, and yet the real irony belongs to Australia, where the comet was originally discovered last year. The comet closest fly-by won’t even be in their sky at all. The Deep Space Network dishes in Europe, the US, and Puerto Rico can watch.

The comet will scrape by Mars at a distance of 82,000 miles. That’s a third of the distance between Earth and the Moon. Comet Siding Spring originates from the Oort Cloud, a cloud of comets that surrounds our sun at a distance almost quarter of the way to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

There are spacecraft in orbit of the planet Mars from the US, the European Space Agency, and India. They will all be ducked behind the far side of the planet during closest comet approach. But as they swing back around, they might still get a bit of comet dust on them. This has the potential to be very, very bad. A tiny spec of comet junk flying at enormous speed could punch holes right through an orbiting tin can like Earthling’s Mars satellites.

Hopefully, though, all they’ll catch are some cool photos.

The rovers on the surface of Mars will be safe due to the Martian atmosphere, but alas, the poor little guys will also experience closest fly-by during daylight hours.

Mars and Siding Spring will become visible again in North America after sunset this evening.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-best-seat-in-the-house-for-sunday-s-comet-flyby-is-mars1/

http://www.space.com/27403-mars-comet-fly-by-orbiters-to-duck-and-cover-behind-planet-video.html

http://earthsky.org/tonight/comet-siding-springs-near-collision-with-mars-on-october-19

http://mars.nasa.gov/comets/sidingspring/

http://www.universetoday.com/115430/watch-live-as-comet-siding-spring-flys-by-mars/

http://www.livestream.com/eurospaceagency

http://live.slooh.com/stadium/live/comet-siding-spring-swings-by-on-a-close-approach-to-mars

http://www.livecometdata.com/comets/c2013-a1-siding-spring/

 

Things

I am looking forward to some parts of Christmas–spending time with my family, eating good food. But the gift-giving parts, not so much. Not that I have a problem spending a little dough on my loved ones. But this year especially, I am not looking forward to being on the receiving end.

Back in January, I made a New Year’s resolution to declutter one item a day for the entire year of 2013, and I am pleased to say I’ve kept that resolution. A lot of it was finding ten things to tie me over for the next ten days, then ignoring the resolution for a week and half. And sometimes, I would count four identical items as one day’s item, while other times, I’d put the multiple identical items I wanted to ditch on different days, depending on how likely it was I’d fall behind in my resolution.

But yeah, December is a third over, and I’m finished for the year. You wouldn’t know it to look at my place. I kept all my crap tucked away where no one could see it, so visually it hasn’t changed all that much. But if you were to walk into the Good Will down the street from my place? It would be, like, House of Me.

What really has changed is my feeling about “stuff.” I don’t want “stuff” for Christmas. The thought of it just viscerally turns me off. I want tickets to a show, or a gift card to a spa, or something else experiential. Enrich my life, don’t clutter my house. My sister-in-law, bless her heart, got me some random stuff for my birthday that sad to say is going to end up in the Good Will box. I just have no use for it whatsoever, but I don’t want to insult her by saying so. If I must have stuff, the annual trading-of-the-Amazon-gift-cards is A-Okay with me. I will purchase eBooks.

This may suck some of the fun out of Christmas. The Sculptor and I always play Santa for each other and fill each others’ stockings. How many of her stocking stuffers ended up in the GW box after last Christimas and/or on the kitchen counter at work for other people to eat so I could maintain my girlish figure? Yeah, I’m kind of Scroogey that way now.

Not sure I will play 365 things next year. I was actually stunned I could always find stuff if I looked hard enough this year. I probably could find 365 more things if I put my mind to it, but it can be exhausting at times. What it did do was change the way I look at the importance of “gotta keep this in case I need it” and “gotta buy this!” And it makes me value the stuff I hung on to all that much more. So I’ll carry one thing into 2014: a new attitude.

I want candy

My life since graduate school: I am a child in a candy store, the one who is told she cannot eat anything until she’s finished her chores.

I have a job, but beyond that, few responsibilities. I am single and childless. I don’t belong to any organizations (anymore, used to be a thing with me). I have a few family obligations, but nothing that taxes on a daily basis. My family (including my GF) gives me lots of space. Even in my job, I am left pretty much alone as long as I get the work done. Sure, sometimes that work is demanding.

But it is safe to say, that for the most part, I do what I want when I want.

Which means there is a candy store of experiences waiting for me to just try them. What’s the candy? Sometimes, it’s a wonderful television program. Sometimes, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Sometimes, it’s feathering this little nest I’ve built for myself. Sometimes, an interesting friend. Sometimes, it’s literally a piece of candy.

But I’m not allowed these things until my chores are finished. So of course, I sneak off and I eat the candy, and then berate myself. No candy until your chores are done.

And what are my chores?

Writing. That’s my chores. “The great American novel.” That should be one of the pieces of candy, the most delicious, enticing candy in the store. Instead, it’s the thing that the mom-voice in my head is telling me to finish before I can taste one little delicious piece of life.

So of course I’m always rebelling by watching TV, working on some personal project, or eating. And then berating myself, bitterly. In an endless cycle.

Self-beratement doesn’t work. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. All it does is turn the best thing in my life into a cudgel I use to bludgeon myself with.

Are blogs the new journals?

I saw this article recently in my writing blogs:

Are Blogs The New Journals?

It’s been ten years since I kept a “proper” journal. You know, the kind you write long-hand into a private (note)book? Actually, I was in a journaling slump even the early ’00s, so it’s been more like twelve. I’ve kept a journal since I was fifteen (even earlier than that, but in a fit of teenaged angst, I threw that earlier one away). So I believe with conviction that blogs are not the new “journals.” A contemporary form of ongoing letter-writing correspondence, perhaps, but not a contemporary form of the journal.

If any blogging platform comes close to journaling, it’s Dreamwidth/Live Journal, which in my experience is more intimate than your average blog. People talk more about their personal lives, their highs and lows. But blogs and “online journals” are social media. They allow you to interact and form communities. I remember when I first heard about Live Journal from some ATPo friends ten years ago. I was flabbergasted. They keep their journals ON LINE? It seemed the height of exhibitionism to me.

Because at the time, journals were, for me, a private space where you wrote your innermost thoughts, didn’t censor, poured out emotions you wouldn’t reveal any other place, engaged in self-indulgent naval gazing, and kept the metaphorical pressed flowers of your daily life preserved for later nostalgia or mortification. Assuming you could even pick up that volume 20 years later without wanting to kick your younger self in the shins.

Journaling isn’t better or worse than blogging, it’s just different. You blog for attention and validation, in part, and you risk criticism and rejection. It’s the school yard, the neighborhood coffee clache, the backyard barbecue. A journal, on the other hand, is just You, and sometimes Your God (my mom, forex, thinks of her jouraling as a form of prayer. Self-indulgent whining at God kind of prayer, but cathartic for that very reason).

There is a gray middle ground, of course. I sometimes write private entries in my Live Journal that are more like my old journal than a blog entry. But I do censor myself in those entries a bit in the paranoid fear some security bug will sweep through LJ and make them public ever so briefly. But I don’t often just journal with a notebook and a pen like the old days anymore. The only time I still feel compelled to write in a notebook that is totally disconnected from online blogging and emails is when I’m hiking and feeling kinda spiritual. Computers and the woods don’t mix for a lot of reasons.

Holy Yikes! Self-publishing and Tax Law

I published a book last year. I made some dough on it. Not a lot, but enough to generate two 1099-MISC forms from Amazon and Smashwords.

This week, I went to the TurboTax website to do my taxes. 1099-MISC with an amount in box 2, it told me, is either property rental income or business income. Plz to be proceeding to fill out a Schedule C.

I have a business?

So I start in on the schedule C. Business name, business address, business type code. This all seems rather silly. I write fiction from a chair in my living room. Some day, God willing, I might be a self-employed writer, but not right now. I have the proverbial day-job, a full-time job in an urelated field that brings in the majority of my personal income. Now onto the deductions. Oh, yes, I paid some money to get a personal website put up to promote my writing and book. Enter the expenses on that.

Suddenly, my refund, which was not itty-bitty due to mortgage interest, doubled. What. This can’t be correct.

Now, ask some people, this is all perfectly legit–especially if Turbotax lets you do it leads you down the garden path right through it. But I’m not keen on the idea of being audited. So I spent an hour plus today waiting in the queue for TurboTax’s free CPA chat. Schedule C is correct, says my Free CPA. “But it’s not a business,” type I. Free CPA disappears for a moment, then gives me this useful info dump:

“There is quite a bit of law on the distinction between a hobby and a business; but basically you have to record hobby income and you are allowed to deduct the expenses to that hobby, as long as they do not exceed the income. Some of the factors the IRS and the Court looks at as to in the distinction are:

(1) The amount of time you spend at this hobby or business can be a determining factor. If you have other trades or businesses, or if you have employment with someone else, it may be obvious that the activity in question is a hobby because you may not have sufficient available time to devote to the concept of making this activity a business. An example of this was a case in which an attorney was found to be in the business of gambling because he concentrated on his betting activity more than his law practice and his intent was to make a profit.

(2) Your intent in this particular activity also weighs heavily in whether or not the activity is a hobby or a business. intent is usually determined by considering other factors. Do you keep records as though this were a bona fide business? Do you spend sufficient time to show intent to make a profit? Do you advertise? Do you do other things that are characteristic of a person who’s trying to make a living at this activity?

It’s not a cut and dried decision, but if your activity is a business, your best defense of its business nature is to treat it like a business.”

Yeah, legally a hobby, for now.

So I return to Turbotax, enter an expenses write-off equivalent to my sales, and wipe my hands clean.