This month marks two events in space history: the moon landing (on my birthday!) and the final shuttle launch (pout). Since July is so out of this world (yahuck yahuck), this month's Variation on a Theme is all about manned space travel.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, and the space race was born. Desperate to beat the Russians into space, NASA put together a crew of the nation’s most daring test pilots: the seven men who were to lead America to the moon. The first into space was Alan Shepard; the last was Deke Slayton, whose irregular heartbeat kept him grounded until 1975. They spent the 1960s at the forefront of NASA’s effort to conquer space, and Moon Shot is their inside account of what many call the twentieth century’s greatest feat—landing humans on another world.
Despite this immense fame, almost nothing is known about Gagarin or the exceptional people behind his dramatic space flight. Starman tells for the first time Gagarin's personal odyssey from peasant to international icon, his subsequent decline as his personal life began to disintegrate under the pressures of fame, and his final disillusionment with the Russian state. President Kennedy's quest to put an American on the Moon was a direct reaction to Gagarin's achievement--yet before that successful moonshot occurred, Gagarin himself was dead, aged just thirty-four, killed in a mysterious air crash. Publicly the Soviet hierarchy mourned; privately their sighs of relief were almost audible, and the KGB report into his death remains secret.
On February 1, 2003, the nation was stunned to watch the shuttle Columbia disintegrate into a blue-green sky. Despite the numerous new reports surrounding the tragedy, the public remained largely unaware that three men, U.S. astronauts Donald Pettit and Kenneth Bowersox, and Russian flight engineer Nikolai Budarin, remained orbiting the earth. With the launch program suspended indefinitely, these astronauts, who were already near the end of a fourteen-week mission, had suddenly lost their ride home. Out of Orbit is the harrowing, behind-the-scenes chronicle of the efforts of beleaguered Mission Controls in Houston and Moscow who worked frantically against the clock to bring their men safely back to Earth, ultimately settling on a plan that felt, at best, like a long shot.
Never before has the history of the Apollo Program been told like this. The Apollo space program led to the greatest achievement in human history: the United States sent men to walk the soil of another celestial body. But author Sara W. Howard, herself one of the first and only women to have ever worked on the Saturn V as an aerospace engineer, takes this famous story down from the heavens to the peons in the pits. In Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Moon, we finally hear about Apollo from the Earthly perspective. Howard tells us what it was like for the 400,000 people on the ground who together built the largest and most powerful rocket in history. Though the astronauts themselves were, of course, important to the mission, this story looks beyond the glitz and glamour of the stars and honors the men and women who made this vast program a reality.
One of the first astronaut memoirs from the space-shuttle era tells a thoroughly absorbing story. Mullane, an air force brat, flew 134 missions in Vietnam. In the late 1970s, he volunteered for the shuttle program, was accepted, and flew three orbital missions before retiring. His accounts of those missions are gripping. They leave one in no doubt that the shuttle was a somewhat imperfect instrument that somehow still performed marvels. Mullane also pays tribute to his fellow astronauts, a small community that suffered with every death or other loss to the "family" it constituted, and to his wife, who endured 40 years of the stresses of being a pilot's partner. And while this isn't an expose, Mullane makes it clear that NASA's corporate culture wasn't optimal for getting the results it sought. Despite the shuttle's apparent failures, the era when it was America's mainstay in space laid groundwork for the future, and further shuttle chronicles are needed and deserved.
Despite all the high-tech science that has resulted in space shuttles and moonwalks, the most crippling hurdles of cosmic travel are our most primordial human qualities: eating, going to the bathroom, having sex and bathing, and not dying in reentry. Readers learn that throwing up in a space helmet could be life-threatening, that Japanese astronaut candidates must fold a thousand origami paper cranes to test perseverance and attention to detail, and that cadavers are gaining popularity over crash dummies when studying landings. Roach's humor and determined curiosity keep the journey lively, and her profiles of former astronauts are especially telling. However, larger questions about the "worth" or potential benefits of space travel remain ostensibly unasked, effectively rendering these wild and well-researched facts to the status of trivia. Previously, Roach engaged in topics everyone could relate to. Unlike having sex or being dead, though, space travel pertains only to a few, leaving the rest of us unsure what it all amounts to. Still, the chance to float in zero gravity, even if only vicariously, can be surprising in what it reveals about us.
I have heard varying opinions on decorating one's office space. One side argues that personalization is unprofessional. It makes the environment too casual and causes a slow down in productivity. The other side argues that personalization creates a comfortable, home-like environment which fosters a sense of a happiness which spurs work activity.
I am a firm believer of the second position. Stark white walls do not make me think "work;" they scare me with their overly sanitized sheen. Bare cubicle partitions and memo boards are screaming for me to pin up a fun item or two. My desks always scream of a brightly colored desk set or silly personal item. In decorating my work space, I gain a sense of comfort and ownership. To me, office decorations says, "This is my space and I am happy to work here."
While my new office area is a work in progress, I have added a few personal items: a bright blue desk set, glass candy dish, a plant, two tiny stuffed animals (a gift from The Roomie), and a new glass penguin (an office pet courtesy of the parents). I have also pinned this Zits comic to my cubicle wall. My walls are still bare, but I may need to hang up some work related things. If I don't, that bare space is going to acquire a poster or two.
Most people spend HOURS in their office area. They should be encouraged to decorate their space. Every person is different and their work area should reflect their personality. If you try to force people to work in the same, cookie-cutter environment, you're going to have some unhappy employees on hand. A little knick-knack here and there is a good way to encourage a diverse, positive work environment.
So, my fellow cubicle dwellers, as long as you don't go overboard, decorate away.
In case you hadn't noticed, there is rather oppressive heat wave coating half of the United States. Washington, DC, where I am located, just broke it's record high temperature. Outside my window, a 120 degree heat index shimmers. And I am about to leave for an outdoor concert. I am nothing if not brilliant.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em... with these flame tights
On birthdays you (usually) receive gifts. You can receive more gifts if you give out your birthday (and e-mail) to retail/food/beverage companies. These companies then send you gifts, discount codes, and coupons.
While there is no one service that aggragates gifts from everywhere (someone on the intertubes needs to get on that), the following companies are usually awesome with the giving of things:
Sometimes it pays to be outgoing and friendly. In the first few weeks of my new position, I've talked to a lot of people, sometimes one-on-one and sometimes in groups. These sessions have proved quite valuable to my new role. Meetings have a bad reputation but there are not a four letter word.
While a lot of modern office work can be conducted via e-mail and over the phone, these conveniences cannot replace person-to-person contact. Meetings are often the bane of office life, but they do serve a good purpose. If you set your parameters ahead of time, and find a convenient time for those involved, then meetings can be one of the best ways to get things done. Meetings don't spring up out of nowhere, they have to be planned and scheduled. So, pick up the phone (or drop by an office), set an agenda, and get together in the conference room.
Dilbert makes meeting seems pointless. Many meetings can indeed be superfluous... at least for some parties. Before you hold a meeting make sure you need to. Once you have a valid reason and goal to contain the meeting's length and discussion, you can go ahead and schedule your session.
A good meeting:
Involves only the necessary parties
Has a set goal (or outcome)
Follows an agenda
And gives time for all parties to have input
Most importantly, a good meeting:
Is not busy work.
Never hold a meeting just because you think you should. Nothing good will come of it. Meet only if and when you have something to discuss. When you do things right, meetings can be an incredibly valuable tool.
I saw Harry Potter last night. (Tear.) Midnight marked the end of an era. It will be odd to never experience a Harry Potter book or movie release again. Alas. To honor this moment, I give you these burgundy tights. They may be sported by a Gryffindor fan during a Quidditch match.
This entry is more "I love this!" than actual advice. For the past week or so, I've been setting up my new office area. This means new desk, new chair, new computer, and, to my great joy, new office supplies. My new job is more "desk work" than my previous position. I find I need things like paperclips, a stapler, and highlighters. Joy!
I have an addiction to office supplies. I love walking into Staples, Office Depot, and the supply aisle of Target. Something about those rows and rows of new office tools makes me all warm and fuzzy. Yes, I was that kid that loved to go back to school shopping. I am able to restrain myself from purchasing unnecessary items, but when office supply circulars arrive in my newspaper, I can't help but look.
If I could manage to give advice this week, it would be this: A well stocked office is a well prepared office. When you have a sharpened Number 2 pencil and legal pad, you can take down anything.
The heavens have just opened up over my apartment. The rain is pouring down, and the lightning and thunder are providing quite a show. I must thank Mother Nature for watering my hanging flower baskets. That's one more chore off my To Do list.
On rainy days, tights look awesome peeking out of rain boots. The Roomie modeled this week for BOOLEAN a few months back. You can see those pictures in this entry.
These tights would look spectacular no matter the color of your rain shoes.
The more I look at these tights, the more I want them. Hmmm... I do have a gift certificate to use....
Send you BOOLEAN pictures and links to BOOLEANgroup@gmail.com
TITLE: Crash Course in Reference AUTHOR: Charlotte Ford STARTED: May 26, 2011 FINISHED: June 6, 2011 PAGES: 143 GENRE: Library Science
FIRST SENTENCE: This crash course is written for the "practicing librarian" working in a small public library - for that dedicated individual whose life path may not have presented the opportunity to acquire an academic degree in Library & Information Science, but who is eager to understand more about librarianship and wishes to master the skills it takes to provide excellent library service.
SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] This introductory book is a basic review of reference services in public libraries. It includes tips on locating resources in both print and online formats, makes suggestions for purchases and maintenance of the reference collection, reviews the ethical aspects of providing information to all patrons, and provides information on how to join a network of reference librarians who can assist you when you cannot find an answer.
A basic explanation of reference services for those with little formal LIS training working in small rural libraries or others who have been working in other areas and wish to brush up on their skills, this author provides an introduction to reference services including search strategies.
THOUGHTS: This book was better than my reference class. If you need an introduction or refresher on reference, this book is excellent. Sure it lacks depth, but this book contains enough lessons to help you "fake it til you make it."
Ford covers everything from basic definitions, to the reference interview, to reference sources. Each chapter covers a section and includes well-chosen examples. The various sections also end with questions to get you in the reference frame of mind. Her writing style does rely heavily on library jargon, but assuming you know what that means, this book is very easy to read.
This books covers everything you need to know to survive when you weren't ever expecting to be a reference librarian.
After I've dealt with a horrid customer service phone tree system (coughComastcoughExuseMecoughXfinitycoughRebrandingDoesNotHelpcough), I find myself dreaming that I could skip the whole process and speak with a human. A plain ole, average human. Nothing more, nothing less. Just sentient life on the other end of the line. To achieve this goal, I tend to scream "Operator!" into the phone or mash the "0" until I get a breathing being on the line.
Dial a Human! makes the process of speaking with a homo sapien much easier. Pick your company, call the number, push the right buttons, and get a human.
TITLE: In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing AUTHOR: Matthew E. May STARTED: May 5, 2011 FINISHED: May 26, 2011 PAGES: 216 GENRE: Non-Fiction
FIRST SENTENCE: [From the Prologue] On Sunday, June 10, 2007, nearly twelve million television viewers in the United States tuned their sets to HBO to watch the final episode of the hit series The Sopranos.
SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] What made the Sopranos finale one of the most-talked-about events in television history? Why is sudoku so addictive and the iPhone so darn irresistible? What do Jackson Pollock and Lance Armstrong have in common with theoretical physicists and Buddhist monks?
In this thought-provoking exploration of why certain events, products, and people capture our attention and imaginations, Matthew E. May examines the elusive element behind so many innovative breakthroughs in fields ranging from physics and marketing to design and popular culture. Combining unusual simplicity and surprising power, elegance is characterized by four key elements—seduction, subtraction, symmetry, and sustainability. In a compelling, story-driven narrative that sheds light on the need for elegance in design, engineering, art, urban planning, sports, and work, May offers surprising evidence that what’s “not there” often trumps what is.
THOUGHTS: I like it when a book teaches me "things." This book impressed me because I learned a shload of new material and facts without feeling overwhelmed. May's text is simple, well-thought out, and fascinating. For a work of non-fiction, this was a remarkably easy book to fall into. The pages flew by and, in the end, I almost wished there were more.
May's book is structured so that each chapter builds off the previous one. This means that at no time did I feel overwhelmed or lost. Everything made sense because May spent just enough time explaining his rational and research without entering infodump territory. (Congrats on that!) May's text draws from various areas including science, popular culture, and business. May then shows how "elegance" can be found in each - creating a lesson in simplicity.
As an author, May treats his readers as equals. He never talks down or bothers to over explain. That happens so rarely in books that I want to applaud him. Thank you for treating me like the smart person I am! May lays his information on the page and lets his readers decide what they want to do from there.
Elegance has also caused me to question my usual manner of work. I plan and plan and plan and keep on planning. I think it may be time to step back a little and see if I can do more with less. If May's goal was to get his readers to rethink how they work, than he has succeeded.