Mid-Life Crisis Trip
Entry 20: Deep-fried twinkies and powwows
Fri, Aug 11, 2006
We're beginning to enjoy this whole "cheap or free" lifestyle. One of the free things we found is a presentation by Prof. Jim Bell called "Postcards from Mars." He's one of the lead investigators for the Mars Rovers (the two little robots wandering around on Mars taking pictures).
We were at a PlanetCom festival in 1999 when the Mars Polar Lander mission was supposed to land and among other things, listen to Mars. There were all kinds of NASA people and science people (and Robert got to pee with Buzz Aldrin) and tons of media and even Bill Nye the Science Guy (always surrounded by 50 or 60 kids).
Unfortunately, they lost contact with the lander on Friday and everybody spent the rest of the weekend holding out hope ("maybe it didn't have enough quarters to phone home"). But it was never heard from again.
So it was really nice to attend a lecture about the rovers, because, as Jim Bell pointed out, "they have just entered day 926 of their 90-day mission." These babies were supposed to go maybe half a mile, and have gone four miles and are WAY past their warranty period.
Some of this is luck (it turns out that the wind periodically blows the dust off the solar panels so the rovers can keep their energy up) and some is over-engineering. The Spirit Rover has a dead front wheel, so it can only drive backwards. It's holed up for the winter when the sun is really low and is waiting until the summer driving season. The Opportunity Rover has mechanical arthritis in the instrument arm, so they can't really extend it any more, but it gets by.
Coolest thing we didn't know: The instrument cover on the Spirit Rover includes two pieces of aluminum from the World Trade Center.
Second coolest thing: The daytime sky on Mars is red and at sunset turns blue—exactly backwards from Earth.
Nobody knows how much longer they'll last, but you can check for pictures and mission updates at: http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html
Sat, Aug 12, 2006
We don't know if this made news anyplace else, but four pipe bombs were found in the Salem area. They didn't explode on their own and nobody was hurt. The current theory is that they were all attached to cars and two of them fell off.
The paper this morning is advising everybody to check underneath their cars for pipe bombs if they've been parked anywhere "for some time."
Robert's thinking maybe he'll just take the scooter everywhere...
We have driven about two hours east to a town called Siletz, which is hosting a powwow. Because Robert will be working with Indians soon, we figure it might be a good idea to gather information.
A powwow is a gathering of Indians from different tribes where they get together to dance their bahooties off. They have competition dances and also just "everybody get out in the middle and dance for a while" dances.
Dancers and drummers and vendors come from all over to these gatherings. Mostly they are about community and reinforcing Indian cultural identity. And dancing and drumming to raise good feeling among participants and spectators.
The dancers' regalia (NOT costumes) is amazing to see. Although there are styles particular to a tribe or region, dancers borrow styles freely from one another so they can catch a judge's eye. The colors knock OUR eyes out, anyway (although it does occur to us to wonder what it costs to dry-clean some of the outfits).
For a report on the food, we turn to our gastronomical expert, Robert. Well, not so much a gastronomical expert as "a guy who'll eat just about anything, once."
Here's his report:
Robert's looking forward to working with people who understand the value of a good meal.
Sunday, Aug 13, 2006
Today's free thing is the Polk County Fair. If we'd come yesterday, it would have cost six bucks (plus parking) but today it's all free, free, free. On the way in, we pause to watch the junior rodeo's team roping competition. When you see the professionals do it, it looks so easy—just throw the rope around the steer's head and stop him, so your pardner can rope his feet, and presto—you're done!
When you watch eight-year old kids do it, you begin to get an appreciation for how hard it is—especially when you realize these little kids are WAY better ropers and riders than we'll ever be (granted, that doesn't take much). The steer isn't too cooperative, either, as it doesn't seem to want to be roped and keeps running away and sidling along the fence.
We also look at the crafts barn and check out the bunnies and chickens and—LOOK!
We've heard about these, but never had a chance to try them! Woohoo!
Okay, so here's how the Deep Fried Twinkies are made:
Our tester's report: "Sweet. VERY sweet." It's warm and gooey and—sweet.
But also good, in that "damn the calories" sort of way you expect from Fair Food. Even Laura, who doesn't care for desserts managed to power through about a third of it.
And after only one, we have no desire to try the deep-fried Snickers candy bar.
Thurs, Aug 17, 2006
It's officially been too long for Robert since he's had anything work-related to do. Yes, it sounds fun to just lounge around and wander off to visit tourist spots. In reality, after about two weeks it gets really really boring (and you start running out of good tourist spots).
Laura has never really quit working, since she's running various autoharp festivals and working on different projects. Robert, however, has been getting more and more antsy.
Laura suggests he needs to get a hobby. "I already have a hobby. Working."
Good thing work starts up next week.
We can't live three blocks from the state capitol building without going on the tour of it. During the tour, we learned many informational-type facts:
We find out about that golden statue on the roof of the capitol building (actually we knew about it two weeks ago, because one of our readers went and did a bunch of tedious research about it, so that we didn't have to—we have the BEST readers!).
The government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that everybody who joins VISTA has to go to a "training" session. Our training session is in Provo, Utah, where they are flying us (at your expense) for four days.
All we know about the training is that they can still kick us out of the program if we don't behave properly. We have therefore dubbed this the "Must-not-roll-eyes training."
To stay sane, we may channel our frustration into extra trip-logs. So don't be surprised if a few more turn up. They'll probably have a fairly high snark content as well.