#SCTweetUp Follow Up


OK, I’m very late with this, but now that I’m posting again, I wanted to go back and finish blogging about the Space Camp Tweet Up about a month ago.

To start with, here are my pictures from the second day. (The pictures from the first day are here.)

First, let me begin by saying that you should follow @SpaceCampUSA on Twitter.

Now, the story —

They say that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

And that, certainly, is the root of my Space Camp tweet-up story.

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I was selected for the first ever Space Camp tweet-up. Crazy excited, to resort to incredible understatement. I’d been wanting to go to Space Camp for 25 years. Back in middle school, I would enter the essay contest every year, hoping to win a scholarship, always to no avail. (Apparently my space writing wasn’t up to snuff. Oh, by the way, I have an appointment with them today to do some writing for them. Apparently the last quarter-century has been good for me in that area.)

But, Space Camp always remained just beyond my grasp.

So you can imagine it was a very very sad day when I had to turn down the chance to go to the tweetup. It was going to be the same day as the STS-134 space shuttle launch, and I owed it to some people to go to that instead.

To add insult to injury, the launch scrubbed. I had to watch it much later on television.

But …

So did the tweet-up. Remember that ill wind I mentioned? The tornados that blew through Huntsville two days before the scheduled launch caused the tweet-up to be delayed, and I was able to get back on the list. Which made me a very, very happy man.

I’ve had the opportunity to do some very cool space-related stuff, from watching launches with astronauts to going on a Zero-G flight to talking to the space station. But so many of the things I got to do at Space Camp had this great “I’m finally doing this!” quality to them that made the experience even more special.

One of the first things we did, for example, was ride the Multi-Axis Trainer, a chair  mounted in concentric loops that all spin in different directions at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times I’d seen the MAT, and been jealous of the fact that I’d never gotten to try it. And now, here I was, strapping in. Awesome. (For the record, I didn’t get at all nauseated, but that’s typical. It has something to do with how quickly the spinning changes direction.)

While we were there, we also got to use the One-Sixth-G Chair, which simulates what it’s like to walk on the moon, using an elaborate pulley system. There was a bit of irony there for me — I’ve experienced “actual” one-sixth G during my reduced gravity flight, so I was probably one of a few people to get to experience the real thing before simulating it at Space Camp. What I learned is that it really doesn’t matter whether it’s real or simulated — I stink at being in reduced gravity. If the real moonwalkers had been as awkward on the moon as I was in the chair, NASA would have covered up that we ever landed out of embarrassment.

Also that night, astronaut Hoot Gibson came and spoke to us about — well, anything he wanted to talk about. Hoot’s a great speaker, and his talk was informative — I learned a few new things — and greatly entertaining.

The next day started with a tour of Marshall Space Flight Center, which was somewhat bittersweet for me. It was a little odd being back just over a month after I left, and I have to admit that I missed it a bit. They do some incredible things there, and it was an honor to have been involved with that.

Our lunch speaker was Tim Pickens, of the Rocket City Space Pioneers team that is competing in the Google Lunar X Prize. He’s a brilliant man, and RCSP is an incredible team doing brilliant things. Hopefully you’ll be hearing more about that on here at some point.

And then, it was time for our mission. For me, the highlight of the entire event. Again, I’d been waiting a long time for this.

OK, to be perfectly honest, I was slightly disappointed. I wanted to be in the orbiter. Instead, I was in Mission Control. Watching Apollo 13 one time, I decided that it wouldn’t be that bad being in Mission Control at Space Camp if you could be Flight, and say really cool stuff like Gene Kranz. But I wasn’t even Flight.

I was a prop.

Well, technically, I was PROP, the propulsion officer. And I did get to say some cool stuff. Heck, just going through the Go/No Go polling was enough to send chills through you. “PROP is Go!” Even if I wasn’t in the shuttle, it was still amazing to finally get to do a Space Camp mission.

I’m not entirely sure the crew would have survived the mission in real life; my pet peeve, for example, was that they never activated their auxiliary power units like they were supposed to. I’m pretty sure that would be a bad day on a real mission, but I’m not sure if they technically needed them on our simulation, which was a once-around abort. Also, the spacewalkers were basically doing a separate sim at the same time as the inside-the-orbiter, so from Mission Control, they basically got left in orbit. Still, I admire their dedication to the mission and their country.

A few things remained after that. We toured Aviation Challenge, where I crashed many simulated airplanes. I got to ride their centrifuge, but it only went up to 3G. (What can I say, I’m a G-snob at this point. It would be great fun for most people.) We rode Space Shot. We got to see the new Sue The T-Rex traveling exhibit, which was pretty cool.

And then it was done.

It was an exciting, exhausting, exhilarating two days, that was a complete dream come true for me.

The only downside —

The only downside —

Was that finally getting to go to Space Camp in no way, shape or form diminished my decades-long desire to go to Space Camp.

And next time, I wanna fly the orbiter.

Social Media and the Divine Disconnection



twabsence [twæbsəns] n. a break taken from use of social media, such as Twitter or Facebook (coined 2011 by Jason Sims and Mathis Sneed)


This post has no point. Sorry.

Or, at least, it has no conclusions. This is me working through feelings about a subject that’s too nebulous to have concrete thoughts on at the moment.

It goes back two or three years. I have a friend who quits Twitter and Facebook. A lot.

These days, you don’t even notice. You get a friend request from him, or see that he’s following you, or that someone’s saying you should friend or follow him. And you realize that he’s been gone again.

The part that’s odd to me is that, frequently, in the time he was gone, he’s become someone else; his user name is slightly different than it was the last time you followed him, indicating that he’s actually creating new accounts each time, instead of just returning to the unused one. Why, I don’t know.

But the subtlety of the way it happens lately is a change from the past. In the past, each departure would be marked with a long period of tweets or statii about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media.

That’s right — he was spending time on social media talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media (talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media [talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media {ad nauseum}]). The solution seemed simple — stop talking about it, and then you won’t be.

It’s not uncommon. Author Anne Jackson, whom I follow on Twitter, recently began a month-plus-long Twitter break, having just returned from another two-month break last month. One can look at her Twitter feed and see where it would be overwhelming. If I used Twitter like she does, I might sell more books. Promoting awareness has always been one of my weak suits, and she’s far better at it than I.

Also not uncommon, and very fascinating to me, is the social media Lent break. At least one good friend of mine has stopped using Twitter for Lent. Another person I follow has stopped tweeting after 5 p.m. for the duration.

Others are curtailing their social media use in other ways for Lent. It’s fun logging in on Sunday and watching them catch up on what they’ve missed saying.

I wrote on Ash Wednesday about Lent and what I was doing this year, but I don’t know that I got deep enough into one of my major issues with the way a lot of people treat Lent — they either give up something bad, or they give up something good.

Many people use Lent as an opportunity to give up something they really feel like they probably shouldn’t be doing anyway. And then, after 40 days, they go back to doing it. If it’s really something you shouldn’t be doing, don’t give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period.

Other people give up things that are actually good things, in order to give something up. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, the time is always right to do the right thing. If you should be doing it, don’t stop.

The better approach I’ve seen is to give up luxuries. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not needed, and their absence prompts an awareness, and that awareness can lead to the contemplative discipline that I think is at the core of Lent.

The problem there is that, again, there’s often little long-term beneficial take-away from it. People often choose luxuries that they believe they over-indulge in. So for Lent, they give it up. And after Lent, they all to often return to the way it was before. Because nothing has changed. Because the secret isn’t in being able to give something up temporarily.

The secret is in moderation.

Which brings us back to social media.

Personally, and this is just my bias, I disagree with giving up social media for Lent. The reality is, we live in an age when social networking is an important part of how we communicate. As Christians, we have an obligation to communicate. Our job is to share our gospel. In my opinion, at the point where we make ourselves less effective communicators, we fall down on our divine obligation.

I’ve had several people say they don’t use Facebook or Twitter or other social media because they don’t want what it is.

Well, what is it?

Many years ago, I toured William Faulker’s Rowan Oak home in Oxford, Miss., and the tour guide said something I wish I could remember about how Faulkner used the telephone. Basically, the upshot of it was that Faulkner believed that the telephone in his house was not there for other people’s convenience, it was there for his convenience.

Amen, brother.

But we lose track of that. We carry a cell phone so that other people can get in touch with us. It becomes not a convenience, but an obligation.

Me, I believe that’s why my cell phone has voicemail. Leave me a message, and if I believe it’s worth my time, I’ll call you back. Otherwise, I’ll respond in a way that’s respectful of both of our time.

But I digress.

Social networking is no different. It is what you make it.

Facebook, in particular, is one of the most versatile tools to come down the pike in a very long time. For one friend, it’s about keeping in touch with classmates. For another, it’s about rescuing dogs. For another, it’s about promoting her writing. For another, it’s about playing games. And those are just personal accounts, without getting into pages and the like.

The flip side of that, however, is that, because there is so much it can be, it can become more than you want it to be. Let Facebook become how you play games and how you keep up with friends and how you promote your band and how you do whatever else, and it gets to be too much.

Moderation.

Twitter’s more focused, but even in the one or two things it does well, it can become too much. It would easily be possible to follow enough people who are posting enough that it would take all your waking time to keep up with it.

Moderation.

But the same thing is true of any means of communication. You could write letters all day. You could talk on the phone all day. You could read books all day.

Any of that would be unhealthy. But so would not communicating.

Moderation.

My challenge would be, don’t give up social media for Lent.

Develop a social media strategy for Lent.

But whatever your reason for taking a break, don’t take a break that’s going to return you to being overwhelmed after Easter or in May or after a month or whatever you’re giving it up for.

We share the Word by sharing our lives. And in this day and age, social media is one of the best tools we have for doing that. Every tweet doesn’t have to be about God for it to serve Him. It just has to build relationships. To make connections. So that those may let Him be seen in you.

If you’re a Christian, and you’re giving up social media for religious reasons, my challenge would be this — am I using this in a way that serves God or not. If so, don’t give it up. If not, then don’t just give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period. And ask yourself how it could be better used.

In moderation.

Did Steve Jobs Just Kill The Web?


Did Steve Jobs just kill the World Wide Web?

Maybe. Kind of.

You could make the argument that he didn’t because he was too late. At least you could if you were Wired Magazine. Back in August, Wired published a very interesting piece  titled The Web Is Dead. Love Live the Internet which argued that the Web is past its prime, due to a combination of two factors.

First, they said, Web traffic is increasingly coalescing around a handful of sites. Most notably, Facebook has essentially created a parallel Web, in which a huge amount of information is organized and accessed all through one site. When you go on Facebook, you’re no longer just seeing your friends’ statuses. You’re playing games and watching videos and reading news and any number of other things. All the benefits of the Web, without leaving the comfort of Facebook.

The other factor Wired cited was the growth of apps on mobile devices (and now tablets). On my computer, when I go to Twitter, on my computer, I go to twitter.com. On the web. On my iPhone, I use their app. Same content, without going on the web. A large number of my favorite apps are the same way — Amazon, TUAW, dictionary.com, Living Social, etc. I’m getting the web content, without ever going on the web. While the last point talked about how sites like Facebook are killing the Web, on my computer, I’m still getting there by going to Facebook.com. On my iPhone, I don’t even do that.

Which brings us to the Mac App Store.  The iOS version of the App Store has been very successful, and thus has given people expectations for how an App Store should work. And the Mac App Store is playing into those expectations. When I logged in for the first time, there was Angry Birds prominently displayed, just the way it should be in an App Store. And there’s a free Twitter client. One of the complaints I read the first day was that there was no Facebook app.

Really, why should there be? The app would be designed to run on your desktop or laptop, which is capable of running a full-featured browser, letting you access Facebook in a way that lets you do more than you can in the iOS Facebook app. Arguably, there’s no need for a Mac Facebook app.

But because of the success of the iOS app store, there’s an ingrained expectation that there should be one. And if one were created, theoretically, it would be the optimum version of Facebook — a version of Facebook freed of the mobile-device limitations of previous apps and of the browser-compatibility limitations previously on desktops and laptops. And then not only would there be the option of leaving the web, there would be a reason to.

And this isn’t true just for Facebook. A year from now, will I end up editing my blog from the Mac WordPress app because it’s better than WordPress.com? And will I be getting my weather from the Weather Channel app? What web sites will I stop visiting because there are better ways of accessing their content?

There’s a bit of irony here — for the last few years, the trend has been that everything is moving toward the web, and that web applications will replace desktop applications; that I’ll be doing my word processing through the web instead of using a native application.

If the best analyses are to be believed, two years from now, I’ll be reading Facebook in an app while I’m doing spreadsheets on the web, streaming movies on to my laptop while controlling my computer through the TV. I’ll also be washing my clothes in the stove and cooking dinner in the bathtub.

Just so long as my Garmin GPS music player is compatible with my flying car.

</web>

2010: Time, Improv and Space


Here are the most commonly used words in my Tweets during the year 2010, via tweetcloud:

For comparison, here’s my 2009 cloud:

Continue reading

For The Person Who Has Everything


(Bagged and Bored shown here is only a working cover; actual cover can be seen on Amazon.com)

The holidays are coming, and if you’re anything like me, you’re struggling with what to get that person that’s so hard to buy for, the person who has everything. Well, here’s your big opportunity to get them something that it’s pretty much guaranteed that they don’t have, unless they’re Richie Younce. Or Lain Hughes.

First, of course, there’s Homesteading Space,the book I co-authored with astronauts Owen Garriott and Joe Kerwin. Homesteading Space is the story of the Skylab space station from the point of view of the people that made it happen, and is written to give readers an idea of what’s it’s really like to live and work in space.

Of course, since Homesteading has sold thousands of copies, it may be that the person you’re wanting to buy for already has a copy. For that person, you can get them another copy of Homesteading, just in case. (Heck, on Abebooks.com, you can even pick up a signed copy for only $350.) Or … you can dig a little deeper into my oeuvre with David Pogue’s The World According to Twitter,for which I wrote 13 words, or one word, depending on how you count. (I get nothing from the sale of this book, of course, but it is pretty entertaining.)

But those are both books that are pretty mainstream; real books, published by actual publishers, that you could buy at your local Barnes & Noble, as long as your local Barnes & Noble is in Huntsville. Let’s talk about the stuff that they’re really unlikely to have. For that person, there’s Bagged & Boredand Mayor Of Awesometown,the first two collections of the Hatbag comic strip I create(d?) with Lain. The collections are full-color, and each include a year’s worth of the strip, plus all sorts of bonus stuff. Amazon even has the “Look Inside” feature turned on, so you can check them out.

And, then, for the person who has everything, including an appreciation of really bad books, there’s the best bad novel ever written, The Leonardo Code (The Broken Triad – Book Two),which was team-written on my old blog by me and some friends. There’s flying robot death monkeys, nanite-laced mind-controlling ribs, a hidden paramilitary bunker under Graceland, enough celebrity cameos to earn us several cease-and-desist letters if anyone but us ever read the thing, and much much more. And the cover looks perfectly legitimate sitting on your shelf. (You can read a preview here.)

Talking Up Space


I’ve been a bit quieter than usual here lately, and part of the reason is that for the last couple of weeks, a decent number of my spare brain cycles have been going to support an exciting project we’ve been involved in at work.

I’ve written before about the fact that my coworker Heather got approval to write an official NASA blog about her work as an education writer. The blog recently reached the end of its first pilot phase, and is currently undertaking a rather cool project — a live downlink with the International Space Station.

After the space shuttle Discovery launches on its final flight next month, Heather will talk to a member of the crew while the shuttle is docked with the space station for about 20 minutes. Live downlinks are a rare opportunity, so it’s more than a little neat that she’s getting to do this.

Since this is a project for the blog, we’re bringing an education focus to the event, and we’re doing that by working to involve students in the interview. To accompany the blog, we’ve established Twitter and Facebook accounts that we’re using to get student opinions. Due to government restrictions we didn’t have time to get waivers for, we’re doing that primarily in the form of letting students vote on which areas they’re most interested in hearing asked about. Even so, it’s a very rare opportunity for the student public in general to be involved in an event like this.

It’s a really neat project, and Heather’s doing some great stuff with it (and I’m having a lot of helping).  I encourage you to go check it out and follow and like and vote and subscribe and retweet and share, etc.

Unified Dave Theory


Andy Kaufman: You don’t know the real me.
Lynne Margulies: There isn’t a real you.
Andy Kaufman: Oh yeah, I forgot.
— Man On The Moon

When I first heard that exchange in the commercial for the movie Man On The Moon, it resonated with me, a lot. I very much felt that way about myself. There was no real me.

A friend of mine posted those lines on Facebook the other day, and it reminded me that I needed to write the post I’d been planning, on how I found myself through social media.

I considered it one of my strengths as a reporter, how easily I could fit into what ever situation I was in. I noticed it in college; I could have a great evening enjoying kitschy Japanese cinema with one friend one evening, and be someone else entirely with another friend the next. In newspapers, it gave me the ability to be “one of us” working with a variety of sources; I just sort of fit wherever I happened to be.

Four years ago, if you knew David Hitt, who you knew would depend on where you knew him. There was the upstanding, proper guy you would meet at church on Sunday morning. The knowledgeable space geek you would encounter at work. The clever wit at improv rehearsal.

Around the time that movie came out, I did feel like there was no real me. All of the things I was were true, but none of them was the truth. None of them overlapped with the others, and none of them was more me than the others.

I got married, and the person I was with my wife became the “real me.” Who I really was was the person I was at home every night. I was that person more than any other, that person seemed less like an expediency than any other, so that was the real me. There were still several versions of me — work me and church me and whatever else still existed — but I knew which one was “real me.”

And then I got divorced. Which had two major impacts on the idea of the real me. First, I lost that grounding. Without a wife, the real me couldn’t be the person I was with her. Second, I lost that identity. The real me was married. He was her husband. He was her niece’s uncle. Key elements of who the “real me” was just evaporated.

Today I have a better sense of self than I ever have. What happened between then and now? Three things:

First, and most importantly, I’ve gotten to know myself better. I have a better sense of who David Hitt is to identify the various traits that are intrinsic to who I am. I’ve come to have a better sense of who God thinks I am, and those things are, without question, the real me. Whatever He thinks, chances are, He’s right.

Second, my participation in Face2Face Improv has had a huge impact on me. Making a fool of myself on stage has made me less self-conscious; doing it well has made me more self-confident. I’m more willing to be myself in any situation, which lets me break down the walls between different versions of me and carry traits over. The traits that become more universal are the things that define the real me.

But — and this is the one that’s most fascinating to me — then there’s Facebook. And Twitter and my blog and so forth, but I think it started with Facebook.

On Facebook, there’s only one me. And that one me is friends with people from every part of my life. My family. Fellow church members. Members of churches I used to attend. High school classmates. Improv troupemates. Coworkers. College friends. My counselor. Former employees of former employers.

And that one me shares updates about all different parts of my life. Most of those pictures above have been my profile picture at some point. They’re all different versions of me, but they’re all me — the author, the iPhone addict, the improv troupe member, the hiker, the NASA education writer, the church member, the Ole Miss alum, the loving uncle, the actor.

The thing that Facebook does that changes the rules is bring those things together. Back in the day, the people who went to church with proper, respectable David wouldn’t see him making a fool of himself at improv the night before. The people I work with wouldn’t see me hiking the Walls of Jericho. Nobody but family got to see Uncle David. And things like broken engagements didn’t play out for the entire world to see.

But now, everybody sees everything. Improv people don’t just see improv David; they see the guy that geeks out about seeing shuttle launches, does a whole lot of writing trying to figure out this God thing, enjoys spending time on a mountain, and occasionally gets to do cool things like hang out with astronauts.

And those things — the combination of all those things — that now everyone gets to see are me.

The real me.