NASA job
I recently accepted a job offer to work at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL.  This is a bit of a dream come true for me.  I've been working in a similar field for a number of years now, and really the only reason I would leave my job is if I got an offer from NASA.  The offer came, I accepted; I start in a couple weeks. 

The process started a few months ago.  My wife had just gotten a new job and had a fairly good experience navigating the job market.  I decided to put my hat in the ring just to sort of test the waters.  I applied to a few NASA positions, not really expecting to hear back.  Sure enough I got some rejections, and I submitted more applications.  Eventually I got an email offering a virtual interview.  Despite it being in a geographic location that didn't particularly appeal to me (Alabama), I decided to at least go through the interview process to work on the skills that I hadn't really used since I interviewed for my current job nearly 20 years prior. 

Since it had been such a long time since my last interview, I did a bunch of prep work to get ready for some of the tough questions that often come up in interviews, like "Tell us about a time when [some negative thing happened] and how you overcame that" or "How do you deal with interpersonal conflict in a stressful job environment" and things like that.  I actually spent quite a bit of time and energy preparing which, again, I viewed at least as good practice for any other future job interviews that might come along. 

I put on a suit and tie and seriously considered not wearing pants because (a) the video only captured me from above the waist, and (b) it was a hot summer day in my house and I was sweating more than usual due to the stress of the interview.  The interview itself consisted of a panel of people asking me fairly simple questions about my work experience and things like that.  One of the questions was, "Why do you want to work for NASA?"  My answer was prepared and heartfelt:  If I could do the same type of work I'm currently doing (flight dynamics modeling and trajectory simulations) but for a different overall mission (scientific discovery and space exploration vs. military and defense), that would be extremely attractive to me. 

For a few weeks after the interview, I sort of agonized a bit.  I tried not to get too ahead of myself, but I wanted to be prepared for whatever answer came:  (a) rejection, (b) an ok offer that might be reasonable to decline, or (c) a great offer that would be foolish to reject. 

Then came the initial offer via email.  It was a pretty good offer.  Once they did some employment verification and whatnot, that offer became a very good offer.  They even invited me to counteroffer to account for things like moving expenses and whatnot.  I submitted a counteroffer, not expecting much from a government organization, and they came back with an even better offer. 

I had about a month to make a decision, and I agonized quite a bit more.  The idea of moving out of New Jersey was the biggest downside, not because New Jersey is particularly great, but because it's home.  We own a house here, we have friends and family here, we know where the best pizza places are.  And Alabama isn't exactly the most attractive place to live.  The prospect of selling our house, moving away from our home, and buying a house in a faraway southern state was a bit of a roadblock. 

I did some research.  I got some advice from friends.  I traveled down to Huntsville to check things out firsthand.  I did a lot of thinking.  I came back home thinking I would probably decline the job offer because it just wasn't the right time.  My wife was working on some things in her new job and she wasn't ready to leave.  My thought was that I'd decline this offer, then maybe try again in a year or two when we were more ready for such a big change. 

My wife, bless her heart, pointed out that my job offer was currently on the table, while her career goals were more long-term.  It would be foolish to reject the "current actual" vs. hoping for the "future potential."  Plus there'd be no guarantee that this offer would come around again in the future.  We were eating lunch at a local restaurant, and our conversation started with "I think I'll decline the offer" and ended with "I think I'll accept the offer." 

I was looking back at some really old emails, and I happened to find some previous times I had to applied to NASA:  once in 2007, once in 2008, and once in 2013.  What I hadn't realized at the time is that the positions I applied for were all essentially the same position, in the same group, at the same NASA location.  In 2022, I got that job, in that group, at that NASA location.

Killing bugs
I mostly try not to kill bugs.  When there's a bug in my house, I try to capture it and put it outside.  It ain't much, but it's honest work.  It's not that I'm a genuinely good or kind person, I just try not to kill things if I can avoid it.  I rescued an earwig the other day.  A giant yellowjacket the day before that.  If I find a spider, depending on its size and creepiness, I'll just leave it there. 

But if I find a mosquito in my house, I will fucking murder that thing in a heartbeat and then spit on its stupid corpse.  Mosquitos are vile, worthless beings whose sole addition to the universe is spreading disease.  Fuck them.  I'd kill a million mosquitoes if I had the chance.  A billion. 

Say perhaps to drugs
I saw a guy a while back with a t-shirt that said, "Say perhaps to drugs."  It was at a concert where drugs are commonly found, so it wasn't that out of place.  I saw it and laughed, then went about my day.  But the idea stuck in my brain like a virus. 

I was a child in the 80s and 90s during the "Say no to drugs" campaigns of the war on drugs.  So the phrase "Say no to drugs" is permanently etched into my subconscious whenever the topic comes up.  In some ways I think that's a good thing, because kids have a hard time with nuance.  It's simpler to teach kids to avoid all drugs at all times, instead of teaching them about pharmacology and dose-response curves

But as I got older, I noticed that people use all kinds of drugs all the time.  We consume caffeine for energy.  We smoke nicotine for stress.  We drink alcohol for fun.  We take acetaminophen and ibuprofen for pain relief.  We take allergy pills and stomach pills and sleeping pills.  We take antibiotics and antivirals and anticoagulants and anticonvulsants.  A drug is defined as "a chemical substance, typically of known structure, which, when administered to a living organism, produces a biological effect," which really begs the question:  What isn't a drug?  Sugar surely counts.  Doesn't pretty much all food count?  Music, nature, and sex, while not chemical substances, surely produce a biological effect, no? 

No one actually follows the advice of "Say no to drugs."  Or more accurately, we only follow it in regards to certain drugs, which some government agency decided to classify as illegal for unknown or perhaps questionable reasons.  Certain drugs are illegal because they're addictive and harmful, like heroin and methamphetamine.  But surely not all illegal drugs are in the same boat, like psilocybin and mescaline, which can be enjoyed safely and recreationally. 

So anyway, I think "Say perhaps to drugs" is a great statement from a philosophical standpoint.  It's clearly in opposition to the "Say no to drugs" idea of "all people should say no to all drugs."  But it's also not saying "Say yes to drugs" in the sense that "all people should say yes to all drugs."  It's taking a passive stance somewhere in the middle by saying, "Maybe some people should perhaps say yes to some drugs sometimes." 

License plate covers
I can't for the life of me figure out how those shaded license plate covers -- which are marketed as a way to protect your poor fragile license plate from the harsh elements, but are clearly meant to obscure your license plate from police and speeding/red light cameras -- are even remotely legal.  I'm guessing they're either (a) not as effective as people think, i.e. a cop will get your license plate number when and if he/she actually pulls you over, or (b) completely useless because camera lenses are polarized or something like that.

QR code disappointment
I always get a little excited when a poster or a menu or something tells me to scan a QR code with my phone.  I always think something fun and exciting will happen, like there's some hidden information I'll be learning by using my high tech pocket device to analyze a mysterious symbol.  And then it's just a link to a website of the place I'm currently at.

Website redesign with Python

Oh hi there, I just completely redesigned my website from the ground up.  When I originally wrote the backend for this website over a decade ago, I pretty much just cobbled together some things I found on the internet and hastily added functionality as I saw fit.  It was pretty messy code with almost no comments, and there was markup mixed in with logic.  Miraculously, this served my needs for quite a number of years with really no issues.  But during that time, if I wanted to add functionality, it was a bit messy.  And the same goes for visual design.  If I want to change how things looked, I had to wade through a bunch of code to find the relevant bits of HTML markup.  Also, all the code was written in an old version of PHP which my web host has been charging me extra to support.  So I decided to embark on a little project. 

I rewrote the entire backend in Python, from scratch.  I chose this language for a couple reasons, the main one being that I've been using it at work and I like the idea of dual-purpose things.  And I said "from scratch" because this wasn't a simple "translate from one programming language to another" thing.  The two languages operate very differently, and I've gotten better at writing code, so I wanted this to be written well.  Modules instead of single files, markup separate from code, testable functions and documentation throughout.  The other reason I wrote it from scratch was because my web host (and a few others I tried) had major problems installing anything, including frameworks like Django and Flask

This led to my next major change:  Switching web hosts.  My longstanding prior web host used a fairly old version of Python.  Basic functions that are included in all modern versions of Python were nonexistent.  So I looked around and experimented with a few until I settled on DreamHost, which I originally migrated away from after an unfortunate billing incident.  I also switched to them as my domain registrar, which took a ridiculous amount of time and headache to complete. 

The final major change is that I adopted the Bootstrap framework to hopefully make design and layout easier and more accessible.  I've always "designed" my website my hand, which isn't saying much because I tend to stick with black text on a white background.  But I've always had trouble with sizing and spacing on different screen sizes, so hopefully this will alleviate that. 

All in all, this was a year-plus effort (not full time) and an interesting excursion for me.  I'm still tinkering with things, so there is some missing functionality and broken links, and the layout on mobile looks atrocious.  It's a work in progress. #technology

Defense budget over time
Just a heads-up:  The budget for the United States Department of Defense will likely exceed one trillion dollars by about 2040. 

I used data from here, plotted it in Excel and added a treadline with forecasting. #money

Weight Watchers diet experience
I turned 40 recently, and I decided I wanted to lose a few pounds.  My wife had done Weight Watchers a year ago and had a good experience with it, so I decided to give it a try.  The thing about my normal "diet" is that it's not hard to point to the foods that have caused me to gain a little weight over the years:  pizza, bacon cheeseburgers, alcohol, etc.  I work out regularly, but as the adage says, "Losing weight starts in the kitchen." 

So I signed up for Weight Watchers and started tracking my food intake.  Instead of tracking strictly calories or even fat/carbs/protein, Weight Watchers uses a points system which assigns you a certain number of points per day, with each meal or snack deducting from that point total.  Except that certain foods count as zero points, such as vegetables, fruit, lean meat, eggs, and a few other things depending on your particular plan.  Fatty foods, pretty much all carbs, and alcohol count as points, depending on their type and amount.  What this means is that you're incentivized to eat a bunch of zero-point foods while carefully choosing where you spend your points budget.  For example, a whole grain wrap for a chicken burrito costs about as much as a beer, so if I want to eat well, I might have to skip the beer. 

This was not a starvation diet.  At no point was I ever really hungry.  There were times when I was unsatisfied, but I was able to find some foods like apples and carrots that took away my cravings. 

The points system sounds like it won't work because you're not directly tracking calories, but it sort of works like magic.  It's a little annoying to have to trust a system whose internals you don't fully understand, but at the same time it's mentally easier to understand the cost of a 4-point beer in a 20-point program versus a 130-calorie beer in a 2200-calorie diet.  The math is just simpler. 

Long story short, I lost two pounds per week for about two months straight, and I'm down 18 lbs and counting. #lifestyle

Active mind wandering
I've been doing a lot of hiking recently, and one thing I like to do is let my mind wander.  Usually when I'm walking or hiking or doing some activity that doesn't require brain power, I listen to music or podcasts, or I think about what I need to get done, or how to solve a problem I've been working on.  But lately I've been going out, leaving my electronics at home or in the car, and just letting my brain do what it wants.  It's kind of a cool sensation, almost like observing my brain in third person.  I can see an idea appear, and I just let my squishy computer go with it.  There's no objective or end state or anything I need to remember or write down.  It's just low-level mental processing, turning the gears and cranks, for no other reason than it's enjoyable. #psychology

Quitting caffeine
I quit caffeine as of a few weeks ago.  I had been drinking up to 8 cups of coffee per day (only 2 scoops of grounds though) for the past few years, and I had developed a slight sweating problem.  I'm not completely sure the two things were related, but I had been thinking about giving up caffeine anyway.  I don't like the idea of being dependent on something.  What if I'm somewhere where I can't get a fix?  And really that's what caffeine has become for me.  It's long since stopped being a morning pick-me-up or anything like that.  It's a substance, that if I don't ingest on a daily basis, I'll get a miserable headache and feel like garbage. 

I'm really not sure what to believe about the health benefits of caffeine.  I've heard it can be good.  I've heard it can be bad.  My thought is that our ancestors existed just fine without it.  Plus it's certainly not an essential vitamin or mineral or anything like that.  There's nothing in coffee or tea or any caffeinated beverage that's necessary for our bodies to function, that we can't get from eating regular food.  We can live without caffeine. 

So anyway, I slowly decreased my coffee volume consumption while also slowly decreasing the strength of the coffee itself.  The last couple weeks were a cup or two with more than half decaff grounds.  AND YET, when I quit completely I still had a stupid headache and felt crappy. 

Now that I'm caffeine-free, I'd like to say I'm sleeping better and feel great.  But honestly I feel exactly the same as I always did, albeit a little less sweaty. #food

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