This weekend, in Titusville.

Despite living in South Florida for most of my life, I never managed to drive up to Cape Canaveral for a shuttle launch. When I saw that SpaceX and NASA were launching astronauts into space from Florida again, I thought it might be a good time to finally see a launch. Since I live in Orlando, the Cape is right around forty minutes away by car, so I took a half-day from work on Wednesday to go see the launch with some friends.

The first thing I was not expecting was just how bad the traffic would be for the crowds going into Titusville. It took more than 90 minutes to make that forty-minute drive, and when we got out of the car to move to a place where we could see the launch, they halted the countdown because of weather.

Such is life in Florida.

The first backup launch window was Saturday, so we tried again. This time we set out with a wider time window before the launch. We arrived in downtown Titusville and found parking with about three hours until the launch, so we grabbed a quick fast food lunch, and took a quick walk through Space View Park, which has some really neat stuff to read and see.

Space View Park, Titusville, looking east toward the launch site.

A short while later, we met up with another group of friends at Playalinda Brewing Company for a tasty drink before we went to sit and wait for the launch.

Downtown Titusville is super cute.

There were already people setting up with canopies and blankets and folding chairs, none of which it occurred to us to bring. It alternated between cloudy, raining, and sunny, and about fifteen minutes before the launch we moved to a closer vantage point, even though it was in a very thick crowd.

I took some video of the launch, but trust me when I tell you that the more official video is significantly better. Seriously, check out the first few minutes of the C-SPAN video:

From where we stood, roughly twelve miles due west of launch pad 39A, Crew Dragon was a tiny dot atop a column of fire. After about a minute, the sound reached us- the most incredible rumble of rocketry.

Being present for living history- the first launch of astronauts from American soil since the Shuttle program halted in 2011- was amazing, but seeing the crowd response and hearing that thunderous rocket first-hand, I’m tremendously glad I went to see Bob and Doug heading off to the International Space Station.

I don’t even mind getting sunburned while also simultaneously being rained on. Stupid Florida.

Here’s what it looked like from my perspective:

Did you watch the SpaceX/Nasa Demo-2 launch? What did you think?

19/52

There’s No Place Like “Home”

Last week, I found round trip airfare from Orlando to Atlanta for this year’s Dragon Con for only $136.  I posted it to BookFace, saying something like, “The moment when you spot an INSANELY good rate for Dragon Con airfare, but you don’t know if this will still be your home airport. ::sob::”

To my vast surprise, several people had a “wait, what?” type of reaction, and a few messaged me privately to ask if I was moving away from Orlando.  I mentioned in my new year’s post that I was contemplating a move out of Florida, and I’ve been talking incessantly about the possibilities with a few people, so it never occurred to me that so many of my friends would be in the dark.  (Clearly, I need to get more of them reading this blog.)

To address the question more directly:  I still haven’t decided for sure if I’m leaving Florida.   Or where I’m going if I do move.

It’s really difficult to break through the inertia of staying in one place for a while.  I’ve moved twelve times in the last ten years, but I’ve been in this one place for a little while now, and it can be difficult to pick up and go for the thirteenth time.

What I have decided with certainty is that when my lease ends this summer, I don’t want to stay put.  I don’t really like my apartment, for one thing.   Also, it’s fricking hot here.  And it would be significantly hotter in South Florida.

The climate here isn’t the only thing to be considered.   It’s been years since I lived in a place that “felt like home” to me. When I came back to the US after my time abroad, no part of South Florida felt quite right; I felt like a stranger in my own home town- more than I did in Germany.

I traveled back to Germany twice after I moved back, once for work and once just to visit.  During both of those trips, I had the uncanny feeling that I had only just left a few days before.  Aside from a few familiar restaurants closing and new ones opening, and aside from Jenny and Robert’s children getting taller, everything felt the same.  It felt like I had just left, and it felt like no time had passed at all.  I was incredibly comfortable there.  Not so with my return to the US – everything here felt kind of alien to me.

I’m not suggesting that I want to return to living outside of the United States- I absolutely do not. (Although if my job wanted me to be in the London office for a while, I wouldn’t say no.).  What I am saying is that when no place feels like home, it’s difficult to feel settled.  I genuinely don’t know where I want to be.

For where to go next, I have a few main considerations:

  • Is the temperature colder than Florida for most of the year? (Not bloody difficult!)
  • Is there cool shit to do?  Especially the music;  how’s the concert scene?  Is it a constant flow of activity there or do they roll up the sidewalks at 8pm?
  • Is there decent public transportation there?
  • Do I know anyone in the area? Friends or family?
  • Can I get a decent apartment there without blowing my spleen out on rent payments?
  • Is there a variety of delicious food options?

I’ve considered a number of possible destinations.  I’ve considered eastern New Jersey, with easy access to New York.  I considered Austin for the music scene, but moving from a swamp to a desert is not my idea of cooling down.  I also thought about Portland and the Pacific Northwest, or the Raleigh-Durham area, or Atlanta.   My work is completely remote, so I can theoretically work from anywhere.  In practice, it’s best if I stick to the same time zone as the main office in New York;  I am NOT a morning person and moving west would mean working earlier.

The top contender at present is the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area.  It ticks every box I just listed, and then some.   DC has easy access to three airports and the most useful part of the US rail lines.  It has a pretty useful metro system, and a constant flow of things to see and do.  The weather is a lot closer to what I actually want.  I’ve got a few friends and a really nifty cousin there.  Despite having no firm decision to move, I already have tickets to at least four concerts there this year.  I also have a fervid desire to go to at least five more events that were announced, but until I learn to clone myself that isn’t happening.

So yes, I’m leaning that way.  Still, the decision is not fully made.

Florida is not without its advantages, and I would be remiss to ignore the things I would be leaving behind:  An established social scene with a lot of friendships that I would miss.  Easy access to the theme parks.   Having sorted out which doctors to see in the area. (Finding new doctors is just a pain in the ass.)  Tijuana Flats and Publix.   Being only about a 70 minute drive from my sister, and only a few hours away by car for most of the rest of my family.   Being able to comfortably wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year.

But then there are the parts of living here that are less thrilling.  For example, the great social scene I just mentioned is largely centered around a bar scene, which means lots of beer intake.  (Some people would call that a plus, now that I think about it.)  Also, having to wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year to remain comfortable while still sweating is miserable and uncomfortable and kind of sticky.

And Orlando doesn’t feel like home either.

I don’t know if a new city will be any better, but I do think a fresh start would be really good for me.   I’m not worried about making friends in my new location, because I’ve moved to a new city sight-unseen a few times now, and I was able to find a tribe there each time.   For an introvert, I’m really quite friendly and sociable.

And hey, at least I won’t be sweating in January.

When is the last time you moved?  Was it a difficult change?

6/52

A brief history of my early digital life.

As far back as I can remember, Dad always got us into whatever the latest and greatest technology happened to be.

In 1980, we had a Tandy Color Computer (TRS-80) model one, with a whopping 4k. We even had a newfangled data cassette drive, so that we could record and play back programs off audiocassette. 

Back in the 1980s, there were computer magazines that had programs in the back that you could type in to make your computer do something. I’ll never forget the time that I was typing in a four-page BASIC program and I ran out of memory… Dad always said he meant to get the upgrade to 16k, but he never did get around to the upgrade.

1980 was also the year I talked Dad into getting us an Atari 2600 so I could play Berzerk. At least I think I talked him into it. It’s entirely possible he wanted it just as much as I did because I distinctly remember waking up from a sound sleep late one night to find Dad hunched over the controller, guiding Pac-Man through his dot-filled maze in the dim glow of the tv screen.

In the same time period, we also had a TI-994a, which had some program cartridges you could slide in on the right side. We had a couple of game cartridges and one or two other programs that I never paid much attention to.  There was one music program cartridge that played a jaunty little tune when you locked it into place, and I loved that thing even though all I ever did with it was slide it in to hear the song.

Dad also had a knack for getting us into trial services. Between the years of 1983 and 1986, Knight-Ridder and AT&T piloted an interconnected videotex machine called Viewtron in homes in South Florida. Dad was fascinated and immediately signed us up. This consisted of a box that you plugged into your tv with a little wireless chiclet keyboard (a big deal back then!,) and it dialed into a set of servers. There was weather, shopping, a digital dictionary and encyclopedia, and an early “CB Chat” system. I remember using it to research reports and projects for school, but the part I loved the most was the chat system.  Viewtron was ahead of its time, with all kinds of services that we take for granted now, and it folded after just a few years.

Flash forward to 1984, and Dad once again signed us up for something new and exciting- our family was charter subscribers to the new Prodigy dial-up service. Some of my earliest uses of something like e-mail were done in the message boards on this service, and I made my first “Internet friends” during this era. Alas, I lost touch with all of them when we left Prodigy a few years later, but it was still an interesting time.

In 1986, I got the first computer that was just mine- a Commodore 128. I used it for word processing, to write reports, and I dialed into BBSes with it, but mostly I used it to play games, and I loved that it used the same type of joystick as the Atari 2600. To this day, I still prefer one stick and one button for my gaming- the newer game consoles have far too many sticks and buttons and I can’t ever remember which one of the eight or ten buttons does which action.

My brother had an Atari computer in his room, an Atari 800 I think, and each of us spent time running a BBS on our respective machines for a while.  A BBS is a Bulletin Board System, and these were popular when computers used separate modems to dial out on a telephone line.  Most BBS setups had message boards, some games which were called Doors for some reason, and a few other things.  Some allowed the sharing of files, and some were set up as multi-node, which meant you could have multiple people connected and those people could talk to each other- this was an expensive setup because each node required its own phone line.  Another early feature of BBS life was FIDOnet, an early form of long distance messaging where the FIDOnet nodes would call one another and messages would be sent from node to node to reach users across long distances.   I loved running a BBS in the early 1980s, partly because I loved that sense of community, and partly because I loved being able to jump in and chat with whoever happened to be on my computer at the time.

Here we are, more than three decades (and dozens of new computer systems) later, on what would have been Dad’s 81st birthday. He used to say that he wished he would have paid more attention and learned more technology when we had all those computers in the house all those years ago, but I think he did just fine. 

I started a new job about two months ago, doing some pretty neat stuff with a great technology company, and I can’t help but wonder if my life would have taken a very different path if Dad hadn’t encouraged my fascination with technology so much over the years.  

What was your first computer?

Orlando Airport’s Hidden B-52 Memorial Park

Nestled on the outskirts of Orlando International Airport is a tiny little park, with a great big retired B-52 Stratofortress bomber in it.  This particular B-52 flew missions with the 306th Bomb Wing of what used to be McCoy Air Force Base from 1963 to 1974.  It was retired and set up at this park, the B-52 Memorial Park, which was dedicated in 1985.

Here’s a fun factoid – Did you ever wonder why Orlando’s airport code is MCO instead of ORL or OIA?  It’s because the airport is still using the original FAA airport code from when it was McCoy.

The B-52 Memorial Park is located on Bear Road, just past the North Economy Parking Lot, and if you didn’t know it was there, you might miss it-  it’s set back a little bit from the road.  Once you’re there, it’s pretty hard to miss though, because a B-52 Stratofortress is HUGE.

I had been meaning to check out this park for a while after I learned about it, and I finally managed to stop by to take some pictures last October, after I came back from a quick trip to DC.  I had parked in the North Economy Lot, so this was just around the corner from my car.

I couldn’t resist getting a shot for scale-  even the tires on this plane are huge.  Please ignore the stupid facial expression in this photo.

There are several sidewalks and benches around the plane, as well as an elevated viewing stand that looks directly at the nose of the aircraft.  At the base of the viewing stand, there’s a sign about the park itself.

It’s possible to walk up close to and underneath the aircraft, which is fascinating to me.   I’m still a ten year old boy at heart, and I love airplanes and trains and the like.

There’s also a tiny memorial to the faithful K-9 contingent of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, but it’s also easy to miss if you’re not reading all the signs.  It just looks like a fenced off patch of gravel.

The B-52 Memorial Park is open 7:00 AM  to sunset, and is easily found with the help of Google Maps. It’s also close to the ride-share waiting lot, so you will pass a lot of loitering Uber and Lyft drivers on your way there.

Are there any hidden historical gems close to where you live?

 

Dinosaur World, Florida

On the way back from a thing in Tampa in April of 2017, I had the chance to stop in at Dinosaur World in Plant City.   I’ve been meaning to write about it since then, and I am just now getting around to it.  (I know it’s been more than a year.  Shut up, I’ve been busy!)

This wonderful and adorable little attraction is just off exit 17 of I-4, a little bit east of Tampa.  I thought it was one of a kind, but I have learned that there are three of these parks, all owned and operated by the same family.  The park is filled with life sized dino sculptures by a man named Christer Svensson.  (I keep wanting to call him Christopher, but the oph is truly silent.)

The park itself is not terribly expensive, and it won’t take up more than a few hours of your day.  Even from the highway and parking lot, the dinosaurs are visible.

This next picture was actually taken inside the restroom.  I was super entertained that they even themed the bathrooms.

Wherever there are dinosaur sculptures, there are also educational signs explaining what you’re looking at.

::cute the Jurassic Park theme music::

Some of the dino sculptures are just freaking adorable.  There’s a mom-sized one to the left of this little fellow.

The walkways throughout the park are very nicely maintained, and there’s lots of shade.  It’s actually a very pleasant place to stop if you’ve been on the road for a while.

As with nature documentaries, however, there are occasional horror shows.

The T-Rex walk was one of my favorite bits, of course.  It reminded me of that bit in Futurama

There are also numerous photo opportunities throughout the park, which led to one of my favorite recent photos of me.

The sculptures are foam covered in fiberglass and then painted.  A few of them needed touch-ups to their paint but for the most part, the dinos were very well cared for.

There were lots of little showcases throughout the park of dino family groupings.

I particularly liked this one, because a) stegosaurus has long been one of my favorites, and b) it’s so cute when they stand up to get the tall leaves.

There was also a mastodon section, set away from the dinosaurs because chronology.

There was also a set of play areas for children, including a fossil dig and a boneyard that little dino-fans can climb through.  I think there was a picnic styled area where you could bring a lunch, but I’m not positive about that.

Near the main entrance, there’s a smallish indoor exhibit with a few animatronics.  None of the outdoor dinos moved on their own, but this group did.  It just made me miss Universe of Energy more.

Have you ever been to Dinosaur World?