Huntsville and Pluto


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Ten years ago today, Pluto was officially reclassified, recognizing that it was less like our solar system’s eight planets than it was like the many, many small bodies populating the region beyond Neptune.

To put that in context, this year’s high-school freshman class has never been taught in school that Pluto was a planet.

If you’ve ever discussed Pluto on an iPhone, it wasn’t a planet when you did.

It’s exciting to think about how much our understanding of our solar system has increased in the last decade. And as a Huntsvillian, I’m proud of my city’s role in the story — “Pluto Killer” Mike Brown is a graduate of Huntsville’s Grissom High School, and Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center managed the program that sent the New Horizons mission to explore Pluto. We had a connection to both correcting a major misconception about Pluto, and to revealing the amazingly spectacular truth.

 

RELATED:

Pluto and Other Things That Aren’t Planets

Lackluster Secrets of the Pluto Time Capsule

Home Away From Home


So of course I would travel 4,000 miles from home, and go look for Twickenham and rockets. I’ve already written about going to “the other” Oxford and about seeing SLS in the London Underground, but one of the cool (and accidentally convenient) pilgrimages of the trip for me was getting our picture made with a Twickenham sign.

Early on and very briefly, Huntsville was named Twickenham — the “father of Huntsville” Leroy Pope’s namedropping nod to his famous poet cousin, Alexander Pope, one of the original Twickenham’s more famous sons. Since this was happening around the time of the War of 1812, pro-British sentiment wasn’t at an all-time high, and pro-Leroy-Pope sentiment wasn’t that great either, and the city was named for founder John Hunt instead.

The name has stuck around, however, and it still used fondly in talking about old/downtown Huntsville. As a fan of Huntsville history, I thought it would be neat to visit our city’s quasi-namesake. For logistic reasons, that visit was a selfie out the window at the train stop, but it was still a neat experience. (In doing some quick research, it looks like Huntsville is the only other place to have used the name.)

We also made a trip to the British science museum, which has a room dedicated to space. It was neat seeing an Apollo command module and some Saturn engines so far from home, but it was more interesting seeing the early-space-history stuff. London had a very different experience with Wernher von Braun and his V2 missiles than Huntsville did (one thing I wanted to do but failed to make happen on either of my London trips was to [knowingly] visit a V2 bombing site), and it was interesting seeing the difference in presentation. Honestly, what surprised me most wasn’t the more realistic depiction of the V2 as a war machine, but the graciousness with which von Braun was treated. They were far kinder about his place in history than one might have expected.

And, really, Iooking at the pictures, I think we’ve held up pretty well in the exchange — we’ve taken Oxford and Twickenham from them, and in return we’ve given them space ships. Not too shabby.

#iHeartHsv: There’s No Place Like Home


OK, so I’m finally allowed to talk about this! The Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched a new website for visitors to our awesome city, iHeartHsv.com, and Rebecca and I are regular bloggers for the site! Even if you’re local, it’s well worth checking out — an incredible resource of things to do in the Rocket City (Huge kudos to Jessica Carlton Kumbroch!), and I am SO very honored to get to be a part of it. I was born in Huntsville and have spent almost three quarters of my life here, but over the last three years, my relationship with “my own little postage stamp of native soil” has deepened in very cool ways. I’m extremely proud to have been picked as part of the voice of me hometown, and very proud to call Huntsville home. ‪#‎iHeartHsv‬, indeed!

Related Link: Can’t get enough #iHeartHsv? CVB launches new website for all things Huntsville-Madison County (from al.com)

Currently In Progress


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It’s been a little while since I’ve participated in the Rocket City Bloggers Year-Long Blogging challenge, but I thought the current prompt would be a good little overview in general. (And possibly a good exercise for me personally.)

“This week we want to know a little bit about you. What goals are you currently pursuing?”

Well, professionally, I’m trying to support a rocket getting built. For those that don’t know, I work in the strategic communications office for NASA’s Space Launch System, supporting program executives who are working to get us ready for launch in 2017 (and to enable missions beyond). It’s possibly the most fun I’ve had at a job, and as goals to pursue go, extending humanity’s presence through the solar system ain’t a half-bad thing to be paid to do.

As director of Comic Science Improv, I’m pursuing the goal of entertaining more people. We started the process of forming the troupe almost a year ago, and we’ve come a long way since then. We’ve had some great shows with awesome audiences, developed several new games,  and added some amazing new players. Now we’re just trying to get the word out on what we’re doing so we can share it with more folks. If you haven’t been to a show (or haven’t been lately), come see us on July 5 at Acting Up! Academy on Whitesburg Drive in Huntsville. If you have, tell people about us! And still come anyway!

As a Huntsville storyteller, I’m pursuing the goal of becoming more active in that role. My work as a tour guide at the Huntsville Historic Depot sort of got me started down that path, and I was incredibly privileged to get to take part in the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll last year, portraying Alabama’s second governor Thomas Bibb. Last week, I led the Historic Huntsville Trolley Tour for the first time, and I’ll be doing it again on a few Saturdays through the rest of the summer, starting next week. I’m also working hard to get ready to start leading Huntsville Ghost Walk tours. For an avocation that basically evolved accidentally, it’s an incredibly good fit, and I’m loving it. I’ve always been proud of my hometown, and I’m greatly enjoying learning more of its history and getting to share it.

As an author, I’m mostly passively pursuing the goal of publishing my next book next year. At the moment, “Bold They Rise,” a history of the early shuttle program, is with the editors, so from here out it’s mostly a waiting game that will be interrupted occasionally by sporadic brief periods of frantic activity. I’m not looking forward to those, but I’m looking forward to getting those done. Beyond that, I have an idea for my next next book I want to write eventually, but I’ll most likely wait until this one is one the shelves before picking that one back up.

As a writer, I guess I’m pursuing the goal of blogging regularly, but obviously I’m not taking it terribly seriously. I’m also somewhat working on developing my online brand a little more, but that’s just so not my strong suit. A lot of my writerly focus is on my work for Mud & Magnolias magazine, which lets me relive my Mississippi journalist glory days in a way that’s way more fun and way less stressful than actually newspapering was.

As a Pampered Chef salesperson, realistically, I think I’m pursuing the goal of winding down my business, so if you have anything you want to order or are interested in hosting a party, let me know soon!

As just some guy, ya know, I’m pursuing the goal of trying to get some things in order in my life, including, in particular, my house. And I’m trying pathetically to lose weight again.

Beyond that, I’m mainly just pursuing the goal of trying to simplify my life, not overcommit, and get back some free time. To be honest, it’s not necessarily going that well.

Comic Science Improv Is Building Momentum!


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It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything about Comic Science Improv, despite the fact that I’ve been meaning to.

Originally, I was going to maybe post about how we were on TV, and embed that video, but since then, we’ve launched our website, and you can see all of our media coverage there, along with some great videos and bios of our players and more.

Much more exciting is our last show, during which we packed the house at Acting Up! Academy where we perform on the first Friday of each month. In my seven years of doing improv with Face2Face and Comic Science, I’ve never seen a show with the attendance that we had earlier this month.

It’s very rewarding seeing people who had never been to an improv show a few months ago coming back to see us and bringing and referring their friends. It was so much fun watching them watch us, seeing how eager people were to give suggestions and how much they were enjoying the scenes.

But far more rewarding was watching the players. We’ve been through some transitions since we started a little over half a year ago, with some old Face2Face faces moving on and some new folks joining us, and it’s amazing seeing how this group has evolved into an amazing team. Everyone is doing incredible work, and is working together incredibly. I am so very proud of their performances, and love watching how much fun they’re having with each other.

We’ve got three shows coming up in March:

On Friday, March 1, we’ll be back at Acting Up! for our regular monthly show. It’ll be the last show there at our introductory price of $5 before a small increase next month. Kids 8 and under are free. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, March 16, we’ll be at Angel’s Island Coffee for a show starting at 7 p.m. Because of the smaller size of the venue, tickets will only be available online, so buy yours before it sells out.

On Wednesday, March 27, we’re going to be doing something a little different, participating in a multi-act comedy show at Crossroads in downtown Huntsville. A couple of clean stand-up comedians will open the show, and we’ll close it out. The show will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket information and venue directions are on our website.

Come join us, and we hope to see you soon!

I’d Rather Be A Hammer Than A Nail


So here then is the latest entry in my chronicles of playing dress up.

I’ve already written about being a Civil War general, a MASH surgeon and an astronaut for the museums I work at. My latest “pretend” adventure — blacksmithing.

And this time, “pretend” is in quotes. After my work acting as Buzz Aldrin as Huntsville’s EarlyWorks children’s museum, I was asked to come do some work at the third museum in the group — Alabama Constitution Hall Village.  The Village is a living history museum, where visitors can learn more about what life was like in the city 200 years ago. But here, the workers don’t just talk about their subjects, they demonstrate them. I didn’t just pretend to be a blacksmith, I actually forged some nails for visiting students.

That said, I have a long way to go before I could say that I was a blacksmith, in quotes or not. I gained a real understanding of why it would take years to go through the apprentice to journeyman process. Nails are probably the simplest things you could make, and while mine were functional, they weren’t what you would call “good.”

Still, it was a crazy lot of fun to get to play with the toys. It was a very unique experience, and I was blessed to have the opportunity to do it.

And, it resulted in possibly one of the manliest moments of my life. Curious to learn more, I decided I wanted to step beyond just making nails and experiment with the process. There was an example of a knife on display in the shop, and one of the students asked about how it was made. I explained the process as I understood it, but, then, when I had the shop to myself, I decided to try the technique myself, focused mainly on beating the metal flat into a blade-like shape.

I succeeded in making a knife-like thing that you could use, although you probably wouldn’t want to. But at one point in the process, I actually had a decently sharp blade on it, which unfortunately was dulled in the process of finishing it.

But while it was still sharp, I stupidly decided to use my thumb to see how sharp it was. Stupidly not only because it was a sharp knife, but also because, even though it wasn’t glowing anymore, it was still pretty hot. I discussed with people a couple of times later during the day whether the wound looked more like I had cut myself or burned myself.

The best answer we came up with was that I had cut myself and at the same time cauterized the cut, using a burning hot knife I was in the process of forging myself.

Pretty cool, huh?

As much as I look forward to finding a better-paying, career-driving job again (hint, hint, world), I despair that I will never again have a job where I’ll be able to say that. Museum work can be fun.

Still the Rays of Youth and Love


Today also marks the anniversary of the death of my HHS classmate Beth Ladner, who died exactly one year before graduation. I’m not posting about that this year, but have in years past.

I grew up in the shadow of Huntsville High School. I have memories of driving past the school as a child and being fascinated by the senior wall, which stood atop the school and each year was painted with a design by that year’s senior class.

When I started sixth grade, at a Catholic school in Florida, some students were discussing where they wanted to go to high school, generally a debate between the supposed merits of the local Catholic high school and the public high school they were zoned for. When they asked me, though, I knew my answer — I wanted to go to Huntsville High School.

And I did. We moved back later that year, and I went on to attend Huntsville High. My class was the last to decorate the senior wall.

And, twenty years ago today, I became a Huntsville High School graduate.

It’s amazing to think about, that it’s been so long. The class is preparing for our twentieth reunion this summer; the first time we’ll assemble that we will have lived more of our lives after parting ways than before. I don’t know that I’ll be able to make it, but I do hope to catch up with some classmates while they’re in town.

The passage of time is driven home more by the fact that, since the last reunion, our Huntsville High has ceased to exist; the building we attended was torn down in 2004. I’ve substituted at the new building a couple of times this year, and while it is definitely still a Huntsville High, it’s not the same Huntsville High.

I’ve also subbed at almost all of the other Huntsville high schools this year, and it’s driven home what I already knew — I’m proud to be a Huntsville High School alumnus, and blessed that’s where I attended.

The anniversary has been looming for a while, as a reminder of aging, as a challenge to take stock of my life. Despite all that’s happened in the last 20 years, I’m definitely not where I would have wanted to be for this milestone, and I’m working hard to take that as a challenge rather than a discouragement. This too shall pass.

My brothers both were home-schooled during high school. It was an incredible and very positive opportunity for them, and I’ve had the discussion over the years over whether I would have wanted to have done anything differently.

But my life was shaped by the fact that I was in that place at that time. Newspapers were such a logical fit for me, and yet I really don’t know that I would have ended up there if I had not gone to Huntsville High School. My time there had an incredibly foundational impact on me, and always will have.

My Huntsville High School may have been torn down, but it still lives on in me.