My Blog

Our Italian Vacation

For those of you who haven’t heard, our trip to Italy did not go as planned.  On the second day, we were on a Hop On / Hop Off Bus taking us around Rome.  It was raining, so the next time the bus stopped, we decided to go down from the upper deck to the lower deck.  Unfortunately, I slipped and fell on one of the steps and broke my lower leg in two places, plus some radial fractures.

They rushed me to one of the Italian hospitals where I was admitted.  This was last Saturday.  They have a waiting list system here so I was given a bed and told they would get to me maybe on Wednesday or Thursday, although it might not be until the week after.  As a temporary measure, they drilled a hole through my heel, put a wire through it and then put a weight on the end of the wire.  The goal of all this was to keep the bones in my leg pulled apart so the broken edges did not clash together, which is where the real pain comes from.  Then, of course, you have to lay flat on your back day and night to make sure you don’t have any further aggravation of the injury.

Surgery was, thankfully, on Wednesday (only a four day wait).  It went well.  I ended up with a titanium rod inserted through my tibia (plus a couple pins to hold it in place).  The broken fibula apparently will heal itself as long as it has a nice strong tibia to support it.

To my surprise, I don’t have a cast.  Also to my surprise, my leg is very stiff (ankle and knee), and every time I get some mobility back in one part, I lose it just as fast in the other.  I have some crutches, the kind with the curved  grips around the wrists and I made excursions (hopping on one foot) to important places like the bathroom (a pure joy to be able to go yourself).

Marge has been a great help during all of this.  Providing me with moral support, canceling parts of our trip, arranging for faster return home, and much more.  We met some local people who have been terrific in helping with translation issues and transportation.  One of them even brought in some non-hospital food for us to share.

I was discharged on Friday night, and one of our new friends took us to the hotel.  He will pick us up Sunday morning and transport us to a new hotel closer to the airport.

Marge managed to get our flights changed to Monday, so we are just waiting for the flights.  She managed to get them upgraded to first/business class which is critical because I have to keep my leg elevated whenever possible.  The second I lower it in the direction of the floor, it fills with pain and starts swelling up like a sausage.  My doctor said he wrote this requirement into my treatment plan.  Do you think Blue Cross will cover it?

We have had several volunteers (Jerry, Ken, Dad and Roger) to help get us from Grand Rapids back home for which we are very grateful.  Not sure what that plan looks like but I know they were talking about it.

I am grateful for all the prayers and well wishes and good vibes being sent my way.  Thank you all for your support.  We both appreciate it very much.



Our Chariot Awaits…

Marge and I are joining Jeff and Peg for a Mediterranean Cruise.  We will be in Rome for 3-4 days before boarding the cruise ship for a 12-day trip that will take us from Italy to Greece to Turkey and back to Italy.

I tried to arrange a trip to see the ruins of Troy.  There are several trips offered out of Istanbul, but every one of them would fail to return before the ship sailed again.  Looks like my quest to explore Troy will have to wait for another time.

We also checked trips out of Athens that would take us to see Delphi (where the famous Oracle predicted the future in the Temple of Apollo).  Same problem.  We can find the tours, but none of them will get us back in time for the ship’s departure.  I have been there before, but Marge wanted to see this one.

But there will be lots of great places to see:  Rome, Colosseum, Vatican, Naples, Pompei, Herculaneum, Athens, the Acropolis, Mykonos, Santorini, Istanbul, Ephesus, and much more.  It is a good thing we have digital cameras now because I don’t think I could afford all the film.   😉

We will back in time for Trick-Or-Treating.


The Noveleers

I had the pleasure of attending one of the writing groups in our area. It has been fun to meet people who are serious about writing and getting published.

I also met an individual there, Bob Jackson, who has very similar interests to my own (fantasy, sci-fi, etc.). He has published one novel and has another scheduled to be published by December. We met and talked a few times and decided to create a new writers group for people who are working on fiction novels. We even created a website for it called “The Noveleers” (

The Noveleers Group now has four members.  We decided to meet every other Tuesday at the Norton Shores Library to review our work and strategize on publishing issues.  We had our first meeting this week.  I think this will be a successful means for getting our work published.

This writing stuff is fun!

Writing a Novel

I started writing a novel.  I have you, my friends, to thank for it.  You’ve given me such nice feedback on my blogs about sky lanterns and building rockets, I’m encouraged to do more writing.

After thinking about it, I decided to try my hand at humorous fantasy, the kind written by Terry Pratchett, Robert Aspirin, and others.  My story is about a young god struggling to create his first universe while coping with the antics of his co-workers and an overbearing boss who is out to fire him.

I have about 50 pages written so far, and I like the way it’s turning out.  Marge is, of course, my greatest fan, and she tells me she likes it too.  🙂

I bought some books on fiction writing.  I also found several writers groups in Muskegon.  I’ve only attended one meeting so far, but I met some very interesting people.

The reason for this post is to see if you would like to help me with my writing.  I want to find 2-3 people who are interested in reading my stuff and giving me some feedback.  Do you like the story?  Do you like the characters?  What would you like to see more of?  What would you like to see less of?  That type of stuff.

If anyone is interested, please either reply below with a comment or send me an email.


The Short List

I love to travel.  I have two travel buddies (Jeff and Marge), and I have taken vacations with each of them for many years.  Jeff likes to travel to third-world countries, stay in the local hotels, ride the local buses, and mingle with the locals.  And he tolerates reasonably well my need to visit any and all ancient ruins in the area.  Marge likes to travel also, but she has much higher standards for the places she stays and how she gets around.  Between the two of them, I get to see everything from the soft underbelly to the upper crust.  Great trips.

What is on my short list of travel destinations?

  • Australia.  I haven’t met an Australian I didn’t like.  They are a fun-loving bunch, and I want to see them up close.  And they have an amazing country.  Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock, Sydney, Melbourne, and more are on the short list.  We will also make sure we include a zoo so we can see some of those cool marsupials.
  • Japan.  I really want to see Tokyo and Kyoto and some other places.  We will probably do a tour package so we can see everything on one tour.  Then, if we like it enough, we can go back for more.
  • Egypt.  Jeff and I have been there, but Marge hasn’t (and she doesn’t let me forget it).  So Cairo and the pyramids for Marge and the Upper Kingdom for me.  We are looking into river cruises.  I am a tad concerned about the unrest in Egypt, but day excursions from the river boat seem like pretty low risk.
  • Northern Greece.  I have been to awesome places in Greece (Athens, Sparta, Delos, Delphi, Olympia, etc.), but never got to Northern Greece.  Up there, I want to see the land of Alexander the Great.  I have seen so many of his landmarks, I want to see where it all started.
  • Sweden, Norway, Finland, Netherlands.  We meet nice people from these countries on our travels all the time.  I have never been there, and they seem like places you should see at least once before you die.

There are lots of other places to see.  Sometimes it is just a single place that interests me.  For example:

  • Machu Picchu, Peru.  The ruins there are very interesting.  I also feel like I need to see more things south of the Equator.
  • Crete.  I have been there a couple times, but didn’t get to see the cave where legend says Zeus was born.  I would love to visit it.
  • Troy.  I didn’t get to see the ancient site of Troy when we were in Turkey.  The roads were impassable because of snowfall, and I couldn’t find anyone who would take us there.
  • Moscow.  If for no other reason than being the capital of the “Evil Empire” that threatened us with nuclear annihilation.  I don’t know how much traveling around Russia I want to do, but I could be persuaded to explore deeper.
  • Alaska.  Although I hate the cold weather, I have heard wonderful things about Alaskan cruises for many years.  The scenery is supposed to be amazing.  This might be a trip I take with dad, who seems more interested in this one than either Marge or Jeff.

Yes, I know there are amazing places right here in the good old USA.  One thing about foreign travel is most of the places I go are not handicap-accessible.  So I figure I better get to see all these places while I have the ability and the energy to do so.  If/when I slow down and have problems with travel, there will still be lots of places here that I can see.


Sky Lanterns (part 3)

Perhaps you have heard by now of the Sky Lanterns that populated the night air above Pere Marquette Beach on August 5th?  You have not?  Well, let me tell the tale…

It was a night not much different from the night that started it all:  the night of the first Sky Lantern Incident (if you have not read that post, please read it first.)  Peg was the prime mover for this event, as she is for most things involving beaches.  It was to be another cookout on the beach, and Peg suggested we bring hot dogs, some extra firewood and maybe a few Sky Lanterns, just in case we felt brave.  This suggestion produced an immediate chill in my bones.  We had been lucky on our second sky lantern encounter, but Pere Marquette Beach was the site of our first near-disaster.  The place that almost marked the turning point of life as I knew it.

All day long as the beach party time approached, I had watched the wind.  The wind had proven on more than one occasion it was not my friend.  Several times during the day, I went out on my deck to observe and to measure its strength.  All day long it roared like a caged animal, frantically seeking a way out.  An email arrived from Peg saying she and Jeff were not going to bring their kayaks because wind and wave conditions were too bad for kayaking.  I knew the chances of finding a launch window in these conditions were poor.  But I brought the lanterns anyway.

We began gathering at the beach for our cookout.  The group slowly came together.  Old friends and new.  Arriving in separate vehicles and lugging bags and bundles of goodies and folding chairs.  Eventually, hot dogs, marshmallows, corn, chips, salads, and other munchies were laid out on the benches for everyone to enjoy.

Jeff had taken responsibility for making fire.  He brought dry wood and twigs carefully selected from his back yard.  He then called on his Boy Scout memories and conjured up a magnificent fire.  He even created a special pit for his fire to protect it from the wind, and he lit it without the customary use of Boy Scout water (white gas or kerosene), which naturally made him the envy of every guy present.  It is a testament to his skill that the fire burned well.  It had to because the wind was still showing great strength.  On this occasion, we had two former Scout Masters (Steve H. and Dad), but with Jeff’s skill, no assistance was needed.  Our meals were prepared and consumed with great gusto.  Afterwards, things quieted down.  And we began our vigil.  The one thing no one had talked about.  The one thing on everyone’s mind.  The sky lanterns.  And would they fly again tonight?

As dusk approached, the wind seemed to quiet down.  The paparazzi began gathering.  There were at least 6-7 of them in plain sight.  They pretended to point their cameras at the sunset, but I knew why they were there.  They had obviously been tipped by someone that we might try this again.  Secretly, I wondered who among our ranks had betrayed us.

The absence of the wind was puzzling.  Peg performed several high-tech wind measuring maneuvers with her lighter which confirmed this observation.  I know at dusk the wind often changes direction.  During the change, there is a brief calm.  This might be the launch window we were seeking.  It might also be another vicious trick.

Someone said, “You really did bring the lanterns?”  The question was asked with some temerity, and I thought I saw a couple of people wince when they heard these words.  I said I brought four of them.  Ardis, the bravest of the lot, blurted out that she had forgotten to bring her rubber gloves.  Marge had apparently planned the same thing, but also forgotten.  For a moment, I wondered if they planned to drive home to get them.  Not wanting to lose any momentum, I went to the car to retrieve the lanterns.  I returned with the four beauties I had selected earlier.  At the fire pit, I carefully removed the wrappings and set them aside.  I could feel their eyes on me.

But the time was not quite right.  Before I could approve a launch, we had to await slightly more ideal conditions.  This time, we would not just light a match and see what happened.  This time we would consider wind speed, wind direction, visibility, proximity of innocent civilians, and other important things.  Slowly, things seemed to come together.  The only negative seemed to be the growing number of photographers who would record our every mistake and publish it on the internet for all to see.

When I announced it was time for the launch, I found we had doubters in the group.  They still remembered our first failed launch attempt.  They wanted a new location.  A place far away from the Coast Guard Station.  I found myself heartily agreeing with this suggestion, so we trekked down to the water’s edge and prepared our launch.

Jim and Dad and I had attended the National Rocket Convention in Muskegon earlier in the week, and I was full of inspiration.  We learned all kinds of high-tech terms like “Prepare for Launch.” and “3-2-1-Launch!” and “Ignition Failure. Wait 60 seconds and try again.” and the all-important “Watch Out!” and “Duck!” and “Run!!!”.   We knew so much more now than we had at the beginning of the summer.  Back then, we were rank amateurs; now we were highly trained professionals.  We knew all the necessary terminology.  And we even had a successful launch under our belts.  That is why we decided to up the ante.

At the last successful launch, we sent up each new lantern only after 1) confirming the prior launch was successful, and 2) waiting until each lantern’s fire had flickered out.  This time, we would do a sequential launch.  With this in mind, we numbered each team from one to four.

Now, you mustn’t think a sequential launch is easy.  It requires that all the team members know their jobs and be able to complete their tasks in a timely fashion.  And, truth be told, there were some among us who had not yet been part of a successful launch.  That was why when Cindy asked, “Are we going to let go all at once?”, I made an executive decision and said, “No.  We are going to launch them in sequence!”  I knew we had to do a successful sequential launch, before we could hope to master a simultaneous release launch.  (See how easy it is to come up with technical terms?)

Team One was on deck.  My two most seasoned veterans, Ardis and Jim, were ready.  It was a good decision to lead with them.  No words were necessary.  They knew what needed to be done.  I offered a quick light, and they did the rest.  They took all their launching experiences and used it along with all the natural teamwork that comes from decades of successful marriage.  The launch was so flawless that I forgot to take pictures.

Remember in the last post when I said Jim showed great management potential?  By now, he was our greatest expert on optimum release timing.  He could sense positive buoyancy in ways the rest of us could only imagine.  When Jim said it was OK to release, you knew your baby was going for the moon!

As I turned around, I found Team Two was eager to go.  Steve H. and Cindy boldly moved into position.  I admired them for their courage.  They had never seen a successful launch and had only their memories of our failed attempts just two months ago.  Yet they were ready.  I lit the fire and moved back.  I took up my camera as Jim moved forward to assist with the release.  They worked together quickly and efficiently like the great team they are.  And soon the second baby was adrift in the darkening sky.

Team Three, consisting of the LeBel family, was the least organized of the group.  Marge still seemed worried about fingerprints.  Dad was sitting this one out.  I was trying to take pictures.  Cindy, flushed with her victory from but moments before, came forward to help.  As the fire was lit, and the lantern began filling with hot air, I could see the mile-wide smiles on Marge and Cindy’s faces.  This was to be the first all-girl launch ever.  They were picturing their names in the Guinness Book of World Records, the world tours that would follow, the instant fame and notoriety, and the TV interviews.  Steve H. and I will probably never know how close we came to losing them that night.  Not surprisingly, their launch came off without a hitch.

Team Four showed great initiative, and by the time I turned to evaluate and record their progress, Jeff and Peg had already achieved ignition.  It was quickly reported, however, that the wick was only burning on one side, and several attempts to achieve a balanced burn had failed.  Jim was brought in for a quick conference with the launch team, and they determined that if the release was delayed for a bit, they could still achieve a successful launch.  And that is just the way it turned out.  A launch to make anyone proud.

We remembered, somewhat belatedly, the lanterns were supposed to be sent up into the sky carrying a wish from the sender.  For me, I was too busy giving thanks for trouble-free launches to think of anything to wish for.  I hope others did better and their wishes come true.

And as I drove home that night, I felt the warm glow from work done well.  I also felt a slight quickening of my heart when I remembered the six lanterns that still remained in my closet…


Browser Wars

Did you know there are wars being fought inside your computer?  We call one of them the “browser wars”.  In this post, I am going to try to answer the questions ‘What are the browser wars?’, ‘How do you know when you are losing?’ and ‘What can I do about it?’.

What are the browsers?

The best known is Internet Explorer, which comes standard on Microsoft Windows computers.  It is the “Big Blue E” on your desktop or taskbar.  This is the one that lets you get to all those webpages out there.  But there are other browsers out there like Chrome (Google), Safari (Apple), Firefox, Opera, and others.  This is a quick picture of who the players are (and which ones are winning):

A few years ago, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was the dominant browser.  It was built into Windows and you almost had to use it.  But they got sued (and lost) to several companies who wanted people to be able to use different browsers.  That opened up the market to competitors.

Which browser do you use?

Which browser you use means big business to lots of people.  That is why they fight so hard to get you to use their browsers.  And, once you have chosen one, the war is not over.  There will still be efforts to get you to switch back or to yet a different browser.

You will find lots of people who want to install stuff into your browser.  The stuff they want to install are usually called “toolbars”.  These people include:  Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Alexa, and many more.  There are even toolbars that specialize in certain things like news, sports, weather, education, business, etc.  Why do people want to install their toolbars in your browser?  It’s because the toolbars can select which search engine you use, which websites you use, and many other things.  The toolbar makers make money when they can influence us to use their customers’ websites.

How do they get into my browser?

This is big business, and the toolbar people have lots of paid allies.  The biggest ally group are the software manufacturers.  They get paid to include toolbars with their software and encourage you to install them when you install their software.  You can usually avoid installing toolbars and other unwanted stuff by selecting “Custom Install” instead of the “Recommended Installation” (or some such wording).  In the Custom Install, look for boxes you can uncheck for all the unwanted software.  There will usually be at least 2-4 things you do not want.

Why avoid the toolbars?

The biggest reasons to prevent toolbars from getting into your browser are:  1) it makes your computer slower, 2) it represents potential bugs and site conflicts inside your browser, 3) they take up space on your browser so you see less of the website you want, 4) your searches may be directed toward their customers instead of giving you all the possible choices, and 5) some toolbars will track what you do on the net to build up user records for targeted advertising.

What can you do to get rid of the Toolbars?

The best thing, of course, is to stop them from being installed.  But once the toolbars have been installed, there still ways to remove them.  The most reliable is to go into the Windows Control Panel and use the Add/Remove Programs feature to uninstall the programs.  This is generally the most efficient because you see all the programs listed there.

Another way, sometimes easier, is to go to Internet Explorer > Settings > Manage Addons.  Here you will find the toolbars that managed to get installed on your computer.  You can disable them here.  They are not removed, but they shouldn’t cause any problems if they are disabled.

Don’t forget the Home Page War

Another battle is over who gets to control your “home page” setting.  The home page is the website you go to when you open your browser.  EVERYBODY wants you to go to their website first.  And there are lots of ways for them to change your setting (although they don’t usually do it without your permission).   There is a way to take back your home page and set it to any website you want it to be.  In the Internet Explorer, go to Settings > Internet Options > General.  That is where you find the website your browser will go to when you start it up (or you click the home button in the upper right of your browser).  You can type in whatever other address you want here.  That will become your new home page.

Which Browsers and Toolbars Do I Use?

I use Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer (usually called IE).  This is a very good browser, comes installed with Windows, and I really don’t have many reasons to change to a different one.  Since it is the #1 browser, all the websites make sure their sites work with the Internet Explorer.  The other browsers may have difficulty displaying certain websites.  The Apple browser, for example, does not accept Flash, which is used by lots of sites; this means you won’t be able to view or display Flash elements on website.  On the other hand, Chrome (made by Google) does a better job of displaying some of Google’s online documents than the Internet Explorer.  So if you use Google’s online document sites, you probably want to use their browser for enhanced viewing.

Personally, for toolbars, I do not use any.  I am not willing to give up an extra row of space at the top of my browser for things I do not use.  Nor am I willing to have my browser slowed down by all the add-ins that come with the toolbars.  Some of you may like them and find them convenient; it is a matter of preference.

I hope this has been helpful!

25 Things About Me

Several years ago, I was asked to describe “25 Things About Me” in an email and send it to a group of friends who had shared their lists with me.  I was delighted to read what my friends had written about themselves.  I felt like I got to know them better.  I never found the time to do my own list, but now I do.  So with apologies for being so late to respond, this is my list.  If you like this, I hope you will take the time to share your own list of “25 Things About Me” with me.

1.  I was born in Portland, Maine but grew up in Muskegon, Michigan.  My father worked for the paper mill and was transferred to Muskegon when I was 5.

2.  In high school, I wrestled in the 145 pound weight class.  I probably should have been at 165, but my friend Jim Krizan had that spot and the guy in the 154 slot (Bunny Lytle) was too tough for me to beat.  So I lost the weight necessary to get down to 145.  I remember during one of my extreme diets, I was so hungry I swallowed my toothpaste.

3.  My interest in computers started in 1980 when I signed up for a Radio Shack class.  I bought my first Apple computer that year.  I don’t have any idea how many computers I have owned since, but I am sure it has been over 25.  We have 6 now (plus two iPads and an iPhone).

4.  Investing has been a serious hobby for me for a long time.  After I retired, I realized there was no more income coming in.  That is when it became serious.  I have written many computer programs to help me buy and sell stocks every day.

5.  Technology has always fascinated me.  And, yes, back in high school, I was one of the kids with the pocket protector and a slide rule poking out of his pocket.  Of course, my dad is an engineer, so I come by it honestly.

6.  I had the first motor bike in my high school.  It was a little Honda 50, and I loved it.  It caught on and soon all my friends had them:  Jeff, Dewey, Dick, Jim, John, and more.  And, the fact that they were serious “chick magnets” added no less to their appeal.

7.  The four BEST pieces of technology I own:  my computer, my iPhone/iPad, my Garmin GPS, and my TIVO.  Nothing else even comes close.

8.  My favorite books are swords and sorcery.  I do read the occasional thrillers, adventure stories, murder mysteries, and horror books.  And before I retired, I made sure every 3rd book was what I called a “good-for-me” book (typically a book on management, marketing, sales, corporate culture, quality assurance systems, etc.).

9.  Marge and I will celebrate our 42nd anniversary this year (2012).  I remember my grandparents and then my parents celebrating their 50th.  It looks like one of those is in our future too!

10.  I have collected sand/dirt from places I visit.  Some of the places:  Stonehenge, Roman Colosseum, the Sphinx, the Great Wall, the Taj Mahal, etc.  My favorite places to collect the dirt are ancient and mysterious places.  I have a psychic friend who says she can “sense” all kinds of things from the sand/dirt in my little jars.  I was very impressed with her demonstration.

11.  My friend Jeff introduced me to some serious traveling.  Since then, we have visited places I had only dreamed of:  India, Nepal, Egypt, Greece, Thailand, Hong Kong, Turkey, Singapore, Brazil, and more.  Thanks, Jeff!

12.  Water is very important to me.  One of the hard things about living in Flint was the lack of water.  Our retirement condo is between Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake, and I get to see the water every day.

13.  Marge and I have been looking for a place to spend more time in the winter.  So far we have checked San Diego, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Tampa, Marco Island, Naples, and Miami.  We plan to explore the area north of Miami next.  I think we are getting closer to what we want.

14.  I loved every job I ever had.  I have no idea why.  Different people, different duties, different places.  I’ve been a paperboy, a typist, a dishwasher, a janitor, a window washer, a sheet metal helper, a truck driver, a waiter, a shipping and receiving clerk, a gas station attendant, a machine shop worker, and more.

15.  I usually go to bed around 12:30-1:30 am and get up around 8:45 am.  I am not now and never have been a morning person.

16.  After graduating from college, I got my “dream job” as a counselor, helping people.  The first few months were a terrifying time when I realized 1) college hadn’t prepared me for counseling, and 2) as a 22-year old kid, I wasn’t sure I had anything I could offer someone with real adult problems.  Fortunately, I had great co-workers, and they helped me grow into the job.

17.  I am a vitamin junkie.  I take a handful of pills every day.  Mostly they are nootropics, which are supposed to enhance my memory and mental functioning, and anti-oxidants which slow the aging process.  If I don’t live forever, I am going to be so disappointed.

18.  I used to build rockets when I was a kid.  With very few exceptions, they all exploded.  My mom used to refer to them as “sticks of dynamite with fins glued on.”

19.  Worst car buying decision I ever made:  1970 Barracuda.  I bought it because I thought the turn signals were cool.  Paid the asking price for it.  Never even took it for a test drive.  Best car buying decision I ever made:  1973 Matador.  I researched Consumer Reports, compared lots of cars, carefully examined features, took test drives, and even negotiated a much better price.

20.  Deep inside, I still think of myself as a kid.  It is only that damn mirror and the occasional ache and pain that keeps threatening my Peter Pan delusion.

21.  I really like retirement.  But I hate how little I seem to accomplish.  If I work at it, though, I am sure I can get over it.

22.  My only recurring dream is a flying dream.  Whenever I have one, I am happy for days.

23.  I don’t like spicy foods.  I will just have my taco chips plain, thank you.

24.  I became a Psych major mostly because I didn’t want to work as hard as the math and science majors.  I sometimes wonder how things might be different if I had been willing to study harder in college.  I’m sure I would have ended up in some sort of management position, regardless of where I had started out.

25.  Whenever I feel the need to get organized, I stop by the library for the day.  I have always associated libraries with studying and being in one eliminates the distractions and keeps me focused.

Whew.  That’s 25.  Thank you for indulging me.

Now, will you share some of yours with me?


National Rocket Competition Comes to Muskegon

Hello, Everyone.

I have talked with a number of you about attending this event.  If you haven’t figured it out, I am excited about it, which is the reason I wrote the postings on Rocket Building and have been dusting off some of my old Estes rockets (these are store-bought and they almost always work).

I hope everyone is able to attend.  All the information I have at the moment is posted below.  I will put more on here as I learn more and/or find things we need to know.

Hope to see everyone there!


WHAT:   The Muskegon Michigan Area Rocket Club (M.M.A.R.) will host the National Rocketry Contest here at the Wastewater facility. This is a week long event that goes from Saturday, July 28th through Friday, August 3rd.  They said the “sport launchings” will begin on Saturday and go throughout the week.  The “competition launchings” will be Monday through Friday.  The competition flight hours will be from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.  There will be rocketeers from across the country. This is a great opportunity for families to see some exciting rocketry.   I was also told Mr. Estes (of Estes Model Rocket company fame) will be attending.  For full details on this event, visit the National Association of Rocketry Annual Meet Website:    The National Association of Rocketry’s main website is:

OUTING:   I am organizing a group outing for everyone interested in attending this event.  I talked with the President of the local club, and he suggested Wednesday, August 1st would be a really good day because, among other things, they are holding the G-Force Egg Launches.  The winners have to demonstrate the egg they launched was not broken either on the way up or the way down.

WHO IS INVITED:  Everyone is invited!  If you didn’t get an email from me, please excuse the oversight.  You are invited anyway!  Please fill out a comment form below to tell us you are coming and any other details you want to add.  Hope to see you there!

WHEN:  Wednesday, August 1st beginning at 10 AM.  The events end for the day at 4 PM.  My recommendation is to rendezvous at the entrance at 10:00 AM.  They expect around 150 contestants plus visitors and other club members, so it shouldn’t be a big crowd.

COORDINATION:   I will be out of town from July 24-31, but I have access to email and cell phone.  We can also communicate with the postings below to let everyone know who is coming and any special arrangements.

ADMISSION:    Admission is free to anyone who wants to watch.  If you want to launch rockets while you are there, there is a $25 charge (and you have to bring your own rocket).

WHAT TO BRING:  Come as you are!  If you have a rocket, bring it.  I have some Estes rockets I built a few years ago that I plan to bring.  Vendors will be on hand for motors. Experienced rocketeers will be available to assist with launching. The club provides launch equipment.  I am going to bring a couple foldable chairs and a cooler with some pop and some muchies and stuff.

WHERE:  The event is held at the Muskegon Wastewater Facility

DIRECTIONS:   From Muskegon intersection of US 31 and M-46 (Apple Avenue) go east 6.9 miles to Maple Island Road and turn left (north) to go 2.2 miles to entrance of the Wastewater Facility road. Turn right (east) and go 2 miles to the launch site entrance on the right. The club MMAR sign will be there.  GSP site coordinates:  N43 degrees 15′ 44.4″,  W 86 degrees 0159″ 4′


Rocket Building 101

When I was a kid, I had a chemistry set.  My parents thought it would be educational, and for a 10-11 year old kid, I suppose it was.  But after I’d made all the crystals and stinky stuff,  I yearned for more.

That was about the time the kid across the street introduced me to carbide.  This is a little rock with an unusual property:  when you spit on it, it bubbles like crazy (kinda like spitting on an Alka-Seltzer).  And if you hold a match to the bubbles, they ignite.  This got me very excited.  But when I went home to my chemistry set, I was disappointed to learn carbide was not one of my chemicals.  Reading the manual more closely, they explained that my set only included “safe chemicals” that do not explode.  That is when I knew I had to go outside the system.

After making discreet inquiries about this carbide stuff, I found a kid who had some.  He was willing to trade me a small supply for 4 steelies, 8 puries, and 10 of my best cateyes (marbles).  It was a high price, but I was determined.

When I got them back to the lab (my chemistry set in the basement), I began experimenting with my new purchase.  I found if I contained the gas and let it build up a bit, it ignited with a very satisfying “boom.”  To do this, I used very high-tech equipment consisting of a tin can with a hole in the side that I made with a hammer and nail.  My experiments suggested the best nail hole should be near the opening, about 1/2 inch from the rim.

As you know, you can’t really count on results you get in the lab.  If you are going to do proper testing, you have to field test it.  Fortunately, I had a large driveway for that very purpose.  My required components for the test included:  a wood board (launch pad), a tin can with a hole in the side, a carbide pellet, matches, and spit.  I carefully put the pellet on the pad, spit on it (being careful to get generous amount of spit so as to fully cover the pellet).  I then covered the bubbling spit-pellet with my tin can and waited impatiently until the can fillsed with pellet gas.  Then I held a lit match next to the little hole in the side of the can.

This produces a really great little explosion, which blows the can straight upward for several feet.  Several repeated trials convinced me I was on to something.  Unfortunately, my supplies were running low.

At this point, I could have gone to talk to my parents, but I hadn’t really talked with them about exploding things.  And, after all, the chemistry set manual proudly proclaimed there were no exploding things inside, which suggested grownups might not approve of exploding things.  And, at this point, I was not willing to expose my plans to risk of ruin.

Fortunately, I was by far the best marble player at Lincoln School.  Only Fred Herring could sometimes beat me, but not often.  So, armed with a few more marbles, I went out to increase my wealth.  And I knew all the tricks.  As soon as my challenge was accepted, I would immediately say, “Triple Kings! Last all times!”, which guaranteed me the coveted right to go last for the duration of the game.  Lots of kids, knowing my reputation, wanted to play “For Funs”, but I didn’t give in.  It was “For Keeps” or nothing.  And, of course, we all agreed that “Trades” were allowed because if you lost the game, you certainly didn’t want to lose your lucky marble, so you were allowed give up a similar marble of like quality.  And, with every kid who would agree, we would put an extra marble or two in the pot to increase the stakes.

In four more days, I had what I needed to go back to my supplier.  He was happy to see me.  He’d even laid in a new supply in anticipation of my return.

A few more days blowing tin cans into the sky led me to some disappointment.  The amount of satisfaction you get from popping a tin can up in the air has a diminishing rate of return.  After 30-40 times, the launches seem to blur together.  I recruited Keith Anderson, my brother Larry, and Jeff Stibitz into the launch team.  It was fun to share the experience with others, but, eventually, I knew I needed more than just blowing a tin can into the air.

I knew I needed something that could go higher and faster.  I needed more power.  I needed to have a rocket if I was ever going to achieve greatness.  Nothing else could reach the heights to which I aspired.

Fortunately, my wait was not a long one.

(Continued in Rocket Building 201.)