Tag Archives: science

JPL Open House is Back!

OK, I admit it, I’m totally geeking out…

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, is bringing back their Open House this fall!  If you are a fan of the JPL Open House then you might remember that it was cancelled last year due to the sequester.  Fortunately, that’s behind us and this important and exciting public event will be taking place on Saturday, October 11, and Sunday, October 12, 2014, from 9am to 4pm.

Not familiar with it?  Well, let me tell you, if you live anywhere near Pasadena and are even a little bit of a space geek then you will absolutely love the open house (and if you are not a space geek when you arrive, there’s a good chance that you will be one by the time you leave!).  It’s a cross between a science fair and Disneyland.  If that’s not enough to entice you, then it might help to know that admission and parking are FREE.

There is almost too much to do in a single day.  So, you might want to consider coming on Saturday so that you can come back on Sunday to catch the things you miss the first time around.  The past few times they’ve had working models of various rovers cruising over rocks right as you enter the property (the place is huge and hilly, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes).  In the building immediately to the left, there was a scale model of the Curiosity rover and a welcome video showcasing the breadth of dynamic work they do at JPL.  To the right there was an outdoor display about the work of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.  I remember spending over an hour exploring these areas alone.

That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg!  You’ll want to be sure to visit the Space Flight Operations Facility, which serves as mission control for a variety of current missions, and the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, which features the clean room where everything from the Voyager spacecraft to the Curiosity rover were built.  There is too much to list, but highlights of the event include robotics demonstrations, current and upcoming mission showcases, and hands-on activities for the kids.

Here are a few tips.  Arrive early to ensure parking and shorter lines.  Bring drinking water, sunscreen, and some cash for lunch at one of the many food booths.  Wear comfortable walking shoes (as mentioned above).  Finally, not to lay it on too think, but be sure to bring your scientific curiosity and a sense of adventure!

 

Worthy of note:  If you’re not available the weekend of October 11th and 12th, then you might want to take advantage of one of JPL’s free public tours.

How I Lost 45 Pounds in Just Five Years!

Why should the title of this post impress you?  Clearly I haven’t discovered some “amazing weight loss miracle that will dramatically change your appearance in just weeks!” as so many diet plans tout.  So what’s the big deal?  Here’s the big deal – I’ve lost weight and kept it off.  I’m more physically fit than I’ve been in 10 years.  I’m the lightest that I’ve been since college.

So, this is my story.  Throughout my life, until I hit 30, I could eat just about anything I wanted and not gain weight.  In my 20s, people would give me warnings like, “Just wait until you turn 30, you won’t be able to eat like this then!”

Those people were right.  I kept on eating whatever I wanted and in my early 30s I started packing on the pounds.  I left my 20s at about 175 lbs.  At 6’1”, I was thin.  By time that I was 36 I had rocketed to 210 lbs.  That year (2009), I slipped on a tile floor and dislocated my left knee.  I had never dislocated a knee before and my orthopedist blamed it on both a genetic predisposition to bad knees, and being overweight and out of shape.

After a stint in an hip-to-ankle brace, my doctor put me into physical therapy.  The physical therapist’s office was full of mirrors and I spent many (ugh, too many!) hours in front of them.  I didn’t like what I saw.  I decided it was time to make a change.

Backing up for a second, I had tried the South Beach diet when I was 34.  I lost 12 lbs in three weeks, but as is often the case with fad diets, after getting off the plan I gained it all back… and then some.  This time, I went a decidedly different route.  I turned to medical science.  We’ve heard the medical advice for losing weight so many times that it sounds almost cliché – eat right and exercise.  Ultimately though, what I was committing myself to what was a radical lifestyle change.

Those two seemingly simple changes – improving my diet and exercising – would end up meaning myriad dietary changes and committing to getting off my butt for at least 30 minutes every-other-day and getting moving.  Some of the changes were easy.  Some took – and continue to take – serious discipline.

The first thing I did was set about educating myself regarding calories, saturated fats, sugar, and complex carbohydrates.  I cut out alcohol, sugary drinks, and fast food.  I added more lean meats and fresh vegetables to my diet.  And the hardest change – I gave up my bowl of chocolate ice cream before bed each night.  I started walking on my lunch breaks between three and five days a week.

In terms of educating myself about calories, I utilized an app for my smart phone called MyFitnessPal.  I credit this app for helping me understand how many calories I should be eating per day and helping me grasp what I was really seeing when I looked at the labels on food packaging.  I recommend checking out MyFitnessPal or something else like it (hey, it’s not like I own stock in the company or something).  You won’t need to use it forever.  Soon, you will learn how much of which foods you can or should eat; basically committing the information from the app to memory.

Exercise was a bit of a challenge for me.  I didn’t want to do aerobics and my now bad knee hurt when I ran.  So, as I mentioned, I walked.  It helped, though I’m certain that if I would have resigned myself to something more strenuous right from the beginning then the change would have been more rapid.  Still, I committed myself to a workout routine that I could adhere to and that – I believe – is the important thing.  First just do it.  Then just stick to it.

It only took me about eight months to go from 210 lbs down to 185 lbs.  That averages out to losing 1.28 lbs per week.  That’s not too bad.  Doctors say that you should not try to lose more than 2lbs a week.  This is because people who lose weight more quickly than that are more likely to gain it back.

That was where I got stuck.  I hovered between 185 lbs and 180 lbs from early 2010 through late 2013.  Basically, I had done all the better I was going to do with the diet and exercise routine that I had chosen for myself.  Frankly, I didn’t want to eat any better and I didn’t think I could work out any more.

In the late summer of 2013 I revisited my orthopedist to see if there was anything that could be done about the chronic pain, snaps, crackles, and pops in my knee.  This single doctor’s visit would end up being what set the stage for finally getting off my weight loss plateau.  My doctor’s advice about the pain and noise was simple:  ignore it.  He said as long as it doesn’t dislocate a third time (oh yeah, it dislocated again in 2012 when I was playing a too-strenuous sport for a guy who just walked a couple of times a week), then I should just work through the pain.  He asked me what I would do if I could do any kind of exercise I wanted to.  I said that I would start running.  He said, “Then run.”

And so I did.  After a few months of walking more often on more strenuous paths to build myself up, I felt confident start a running routine.  I run every-other-day.  I use the RunKeeper app to track my progress and I freaking love it (I don’t own stock in this company either, so use whatever you want, but it’s fun and encouraging to track your progress).  Full disclosure:  Sometimes the knee gets to hurting and I need to walk for a few days.  But mostly I run.  And mostly I feel great.

Today, I’m down to 165 lbs… and I’ve plateaued again.  I’d like to make it down to 160 lbs, but that is going to mean either running more or eating even better.  I’ll let you know what happens when I decide to commit to either one of those things.

So, there it is.  That’s how I lost 45 lbs in just five years… and you can too!

The Blog About All of It

Geez.  I’ve spent far too long – years – thinking about blog ideas and bouncing them off of people to see what popped.  Once, I was going to write a blog about mammals… all mammals all the time (it was going to be called either “Matt’s Mammals” or “MammalMania,” I couldn’t decide).  Then it was going to be a blog about better living through science (that one was going to be called “Factual Advantage” – get it?).  For a while, it was going to be a blog about making the leap into writing as a career (called “Writing with Both Feet”).  Most recently, it was going to be a blog that promotes public enthusiasm for “humanned” space travel & space outposts (entitled either “Let’s Go Boldly!” or “Peeps in Space” – the second name applying to both people and sugar-coated marshmallow chicks in space, of course). 

Last fall, I became a stay-at-home Dad.  Since then, several folks have suggested that I blog about that.  The idea appealed to me, but I saw a couple of drawbacks.  First, there are a veritable ton of Dad blogs already saturating the interwebs.  Second, I wasn’t sure that I had all that much new stuff to say about it other than it’s lots of fun, I feel lucky to have the chance to do it, and I am tired all. the. time.

Recently, I had a couple of folks that are fans of my ramblings tell me, “I really enjoy your writing.  Honestly, you would write about anything and I’d read it.”  Eureka!  I finally had the theme for my blog… all of it.

So, here’s my blog about all of it.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I hope to enjoy writing it.

 

(Be daring and leave a comment; it’ll make me feel like I’m not blogging into the virtual void.)