January 2011


Twenty-five years ago I was working my first job after college at ITT Telecom in Raleigh, NC. I was in the test department, and we were testing a massive telephone switch (Signalling System 7, or SS7). It was crunch time, so management decided that we needed to test at all our facilities. They fanned our department out up and down the East Coast to make use of all our SS7 labs. I ended up going to Cape Canaveral with one of my co-workers. We were working back-to-back, 12 hour shifts. He had the 8:00am – 8:00pm shift, and I had the opposite.

As it happened, they had a shuttle launch scheduled on one of those days. I had witnessed three other launches previously, and I can tell you that they are indeed something to experience.

The first launch I saw was when my brothers and I went down to Daytona Beach for some R&R. My older brother was station at Robins AFB in southern Georgia, and my younger brother and I were still in college (but it was summer break). We stopped in to see a shuttle launch. I guess we were some eight miles from the launch pad, across the bay. When they lit it up, we could easily see it as it slowly lifted from the ground and then disappeared into the clouds. Then we saw ripples coming across the bay towards us. When the ripples reached us, so did the sound. It was pretty loud! I estimate that it took about 40 seconds for the sound to reach us, and at roughly five seconds per mile.

I had seen two other launches after that during my time at the Cape courtesy of ITT, but I was ready to watch another. I had just come off one of those dreadful 12-hour shifts, and the launch was scheduled for something like 9:00am (if memory serves). I stayed up, but they delayed the launch. Then they delayed it again. I gave up at 10:00am, drove to the hotel, and went to bed.

I woke up around 3:00pm, loaded up my toothbrush, and flipped on the TV “to see how the launch went.” My first thought was “Cool, I don’t have to wait for the story.” So there I was standing in a hotel room brushing my teeth less than 10 miles from Cape Canaveral when I learned that the Challenger had exploded. I slept right through it.

As was my habit, I went to a nearby IHOP. That was the only place I knew of where I could get breakfast in the middle of the afternoon. The mood there was pretty black. I expect it was all over the country, but I wasn’t all over the country that day – I was at the Cape. I thought a lot about it too, and concluded that these people had more of a right to be glum than any other community – this disaster threatened to cost them their livelihood. Their economy was built around NASA. I never felt more like an outsider than I did on that day. I was grieving too, but I was not able to share their grief.

I later learned that the Cape Canaveral community did not have exclusive rights to gloom. The place I work now – Concord, NH – also had special dibs on that right, for Christa McAuliffe was one of their own. The astronaut-teacher taught at Concord High School. I wasn’t part of this community in 1986, so once again, I find myself grieving alone in the midst of a grieving people.

Rewinding to 1986 again for an ironic twist, ITT shut down my division less than a month after the Challenger Accident, but NASA went on. I was again sleeping in the hotel at the Cape when my cohort from Raleigh woke me with a phone call – all our friends in NC had just gotten pink slips, and we were likely getting them too. No one at the Cape knew if the two of us had jobs or not, but it was pretty safe to assume we did not. We got a call from the boss later on confirming the bad news. They did fly us home again (which I actually worried about), and we did get a generous severance package (which I was not expecting). I hung around Raleigh thinking I’d get another job there, but that was a pretty stupid thought – ITT had just dumped 500 engineers on the job market there, and most of them had way more experience than I did. I moved back to Kentucky, and Va and I got married before I found another job (the napkins had already been ordered, with the date printed on them!) We spent the first month of our marriage there before relocating to Falls Church, VA where I had accepted a new engineering job at E-Systems (later bought by Raytheon).

Apparently there was trouble at one of my favorite haunts yesterday. We drove by this morning on the way to work, but I couldn’t tell where the incident took place. I might snowshoe out there Saturday and look around.

SpectraAccess came to the school today and got us hooked up with an antenna and modem. We now have much faster access to the Internet. As soon as I saw that it was working, I called HughesNet and cancelled our satellite Internet feed. This is sooo much better. With no satellite latency to suffer through, double the download bandwidth, no bandwidth cap (daily, monthly, or otherwise), it is about like going from dial-up to broadband.

Our new connection comes with a static IP address, so I will be able to remotely log into the servers at the school and make any necessary adjustments without driving out to the school. I have a very long list of things to do to the network now, including migrating to a new server, and repurposing the old one. I can move the card catalog off a PC at my house and onto a server at school. The possibilities this opens up are manifold!

Over the weekend, David and I went to Barre, VT for Pathfinder Leadership Training. It was a busy weekend. It started Friday with a snowstorm. I guess we got five inches or so. I decided to work from home until noon. By then it had quit snowing, so I cleared the driveway. We drove in to Concord because the citrus truck was due to be there around 3:00pm.

That in itself is somewhat notable. Normally, we do not order enough fruit to warrant a direct drop, and that was the case again this month. However, a school in Manchester and another in Westmoreland had ordered some, and we were all slated to pick up in Portland, ME (a 2.5 hour drive for me). But the fruit company looked at the map and since the three of us had 140 cases all together, and since they decided Concord was central to the three, they proposed that they drop the fruit here. I was not going to argue!

I got a call from the coordinator at Manchester saying they could not be there for the drop off. I stupidly agreed to unload their order for them and hold it for a day. I was expecting Westmoreland to show up though.

Anyhow, the truck did arrive around 3:00 in spite of the snowstorm, but our plow guy had not hit the parking lot at the church yet. So the driver refused to pull into it. Instead, he parked at Sam’s Club (next door), and we unloaded his truck into Ken’s truck – twice. So even though they delivered it to Concord, I still had to unload a truck twice. And on top of the, Westmoreland was late, and Manchester wasn’t going to show up at all. So our crew unloaded 140 cases twice. Then the guy from Westmoreland showed up, and we helped him load his van. That’s a lot of work just so we can sell 27.5 cases of citrus.

We labelled our boxes, and then David and I hopped in Melissa’s van (she’s one of my Pathfinder staff) and we drove to Vermont for the leadership weekend.

That went pretty well. The highlight was when a guy presented what his club had been doing over the past year. His club decided that they would write a bi-monthly newsletter and send it to the 1,300 soldiers in the Vermont National Guard who had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s 2,600 stamps, by the way – every month. They raised money to cover that. But that’s not even close to the most impressive thing they did. They also committed to helping out the soldier’s families back home.

Vermont is a small state, and Barre (which is where they were located) is right in the middle of the state. They can drive to any corner of VT in two hours. When soldiers deploy, their salary goes from whatever it was (and average of $50,000) to $20,000. That’s a pretty big pay cut. And there is often no one at home to pick up the slack. Who cuts the grass, fixes the car, takes the trash to the dump? Often it’s the soldier’s wife, but often, she is already overwhelmed. So sometimes stuff just doesn’t get done.

Enter the Central Vermont Regiment Pathfinder Club. They approached several businesses (including Sherwin Williams & Aubuchon Hardware), and got them to agree to provide paint & materials to do home repairs. They sometimes drove two hours (each way) every week to cut one woman’s grass (a 30 minute job). They fixed cars. They hauled trash to the dump. They finished siding a house. Their director was putting in about 30 hours per week doing this for 10 months until the troops came home again in December.

They raised over $200,000 dollars in cash, goods, and services. All I have to say about that is “Wow.”

Saturday night we ended up playing basketball until 11:30 pm. Four teens against four old people (I count myself in that group). We spanked the teens. The score was roughly 20 to infinity. 🙂 I am still paying for that though. I am very sore, but I’m sure none of the teens are, so one could rightly ask who really won that.

We drove back to Concord after lunch. Va met us at the church, and David went home with her, while Beth stayed at the church with me to keep me company while people came to pick up their fruit. At 7:00pm, we went to Taco Bell, grabbed some food to go, and headed home. I went to bed around 9:00 exhausted.

Thermometer reading -14F

Va has asked me to remake a felt board for her. I built one for her six years ago, and it is showing its age. The main problem with it is that someone splashed some glue (or something glue-like) on the main felt surface. Also, the felt has been pulling away at the bottom. So I brought it home tonight, and I asked Va to get some new felt for it.

I am going to replace the base (which is just an X made from some 4×4’s with a one-inch dowel standing in it). The new base will be a cabinet with wheels on the bottom so it can be moved around more easily.

I need to finish this project tonight, or at least get it to a usable state. Va will need to use it on Saturday, and tonight is the only time I have before then to get it done.

Nancy Nichols
Nancy Nichols passed to her rest last night. It came suddenly and I can hardly believe she’s gone now. Nancy was one of the spunkiest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. She was always passionate about whatever she did.

About five years ago she fought cancer and won. Then she was diagnosed with cancer again a couple of months ago, and had just started chemo (again). Then last week she was in a car accident which landed her in the hospital. It did not seem to be serious though. Then we got word that she had an infection. Then we were told she was unresponsive. And then this morning we got the unexpected news that she had not made it through the night.

Nancy had gone on a couple of mission trips, one to Ghana, and another to Peru. She retired last year as a registered nurse. She was one of the first people I met when we first attended the Concord Adventist Church. Back when I lived in Northern Virginia, I had to come up here for a couple of days every couple of months. I had enough frequent flyer miles built up that when I had to come up in June 2003, I brought the whole family up here with me for a working vacation. When we showed up for church, it was almost empty except for Nancy and Emma Haggett (who died last August). Almost everyone else was was at the annual Camp Meeting in Freeport Maine. But Nancy and Emma both made us feel as welcome as could be.

I invited Nancy to teach the Bones, Muscles, and Movement honor to the Pathfinders a couple of years ago, and she agreed to do that. She also financed the registration & membership dues of more than one kid who wanted to join Pathfinders.

She was always delightful to hang around with. Funny, always ready to help out, sometimes irreverent (in a good way) and not one to beat around the bush. You always knew what she was thinking, and it was usually a riot.

Nancy had the habit of giving names to the things she had that gave her trouble. Her computer’s name was Ichabod. She also had names for her vehicles, but I can’t think of what they were right now. She had a prayer list a mile long and on the church mailing list would frequently ask for updates on people for whom she was praying.

She had a heart of gold. I’m going to miss her!

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