The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Monday, March 19, 2018

Falcon Heavy Test Flight

This was one heck of a test flight and a major accomplishment with a showman's flare! I don't know what was the biggest eyeful, a Tesla convertible leaving earth orbit or the synchronized landing of two booster rockets on SpaceX pads at Cape Canaveral. What a day that was! Now eagerly awaiting the BFR (Big "Falcon" Rocket).

Perspective: Dung Beetles and Us: Frederick Buechner Quote

I follow Frederick Buechner on Facebook. He offers up some powerful perspectives on Christianity. I found this particularly useful for keeping us in our place.

"Theology is the study of God and his ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study man and his ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise.

Have a blessed day and adjusted perspective. 

Hope for Spring

Three nor'easters down and another on the way. We're getting twitchy in the Northeast USA, and not just about news out of DC. So, we grasp at any straws that float our way on the snow melt saying spring is coming. The snow drops and crocus are giving us hope. So, I'm going to share. I do this every year. Reminds me I'm alive and warmer weather is coming. Hope it gives you hope too, wherever you are. 

Hobby Time: Wiring Complete

Last pictures until I have something really new to show. The wiring is now complete. This provides more satisfaction than I thought it would. Then again, I rarely do much wiring. The process is fascinating. You think you are doing one thing ... but that one thing is full of countless decisions you have not actually anticipated (in my case I've been around long enough and done enough DIY repair around the house to have all the tools required). For instance, how to corral all those wires once they are in place. Where do they go? Over the surface of the control board or beneath it. How are they held in place, wiring staples or cable organizers (I went with cable organizers and ended up using more than I had imagined. Now everything works and is squared away. As you can see, at least one old control unit (blue) will need replaced. It is an easy matter with this system.

For now, old fashioned straightforward wiring is working just fine. I don't see the wireless system in my immediate future. For now, lots of landscaping and modeling work to do. Lots more decisions to make. It will all begin with track tweaking and graveling. Onward! A whole lot more time spent not worrying about work, politics, the future, etc., etc. Wishing you all luck in your hobbying endeavors.

For more detail on the wiring, see: and Watch it evolve.

Compare and Contrast: R & D Senators on Gun Control

To set the scene: I wrote both Pennsylvania Senators in DC concerning gun control in the wake of the horrific gun massacre in Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I was very clear on my position (gun bans for all military grade weapons: automatic and semi-automatic ... and NO I refuse to get into the semantics debate the NRA has tossed up). Here are their responses. Point of etiquette: Senator Casey used the title I provided at his email's request while Senator Toomey did not. Point to Senator Casey there for me. Without further ado, enjoy: 

Senator Pat Toomey (R, PA)

Thank you for contacting me about national firearms policy in the wake of the recent mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As someone who has been a leader in bipartisan efforts to expand background checks for gun purchases and to stop terrorists, criminals, and the dangerously mentally ill from purchasing firearms, I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.
As you know, on February 14, 2018, America suffered yet another horrific mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. I was horrified and sickened by the senseless murders of innocent children, and my heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones. Sadly, we have seen a number of mass shootings in recent years, including the massacres in Sutherland Springs, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada. Like many Americans, I believe that Congress can and should take steps to address the issue of gun violence.
That is why I support legislation to improve and expand our firearm background check system in order to keep guns away from criminals, terrorists, and the dangerously mentally ill. In 2013, following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook and again in 2015 and 2016, I introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to achieve this goal. Our amendment had three parts. The first two parts were designed to make it more difficult for criminals and dangerously mentally ill persons to acquire firearms. Specifically, the first part would have improved state compliance with the existing NICS. The second part would have expanded background checks for gun sales to include commercial sales at gun shows or through the Internet. The third part of our amendment would have provided law abiding citizens with expanded opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
On February 28, 2018, I participated in a productive White House meeting with President Trump and a bipartisan group of legislators. At the meeting, the President expressed his desire for a comprehensive approach to strengthening our background check system and specifically indicated that we should use the Manchin-Toomey legislation as the foundation. Senator Manchin and I are working to secure support for our bill from our colleagues and we hope Congress will move quickly to pass it to keep the American people safe.
We must work together to forge a bipartisan together to forge a bipartisan consensus on gun safety, rather than talk past one another with partisan rhetoric. In my view, keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists, convicted criminals, and the dangerously mentally ill is not gun control, but a common sense public safety measure that is fully consistent with my strong support of Second Amendment rights. Please be assured that I appreciate hearing your concerns, and will keep them in mind as I work with my colleagues on various measures to address gun violence.
Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.
Pat Toomey
U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania

Senator Bob Casey, (D, PA)

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about gun violence. I appreciate hearing from you.

Multiple-casualty shootings are devastating families and ravaging neighborhoods on an almost daily basis around this country. Gun violence in the United States has reached extreme levels, with approximately 33,000 Americans killed by firearms every year. Among that number in 2012 were the twenty small children, just six and seven years old, and six adults who were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of that year.

The Sandy Hook massacre affected me deeply. The shooter used a military-style assault weapon with magazines containing up to 30 rounds of ammunition. Realizing that he chose this weapon because he wanted to inflict the most damage in the shortest amount of time, and that he would have tried to kill hundreds of children if he could have, led me to reevaluate how we approach gun violence as a Nation. After careful study, I decided to support legislation to close loopholes in the existing background check system, as well as legislation to institute a federal ban on military-style assault weapons and to restrict high-capacity magazines. I voted in favor of these measures, as well as efforts to close a loophole allowing known and suspected terrorists on the Terrorist Watchlist to purchase firearms, when they came before the Senate for consideration in 2013, 2015 and 2016. Shamefully, none of these measures has gained enough support to pass the Senate.

Since Sandy Hook, thousands of Americans have lost their lives to gun violence. We have witnessed some of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history at Charleston, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and, most recently, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman armed with a military-style weapon took the lives of seventeen innocent students and staff members, some as young as fourteen years old. In the aftermath of these tragedies, I have prayed for the victims, the survivors and their loved ones. I still keep them in my thoughts. But, their trauma and grief deserve more than sympathy. Their loss demands that we take smart steps to control the crisis of gun violence in this country.

I stand with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have transformed their grief into a movement for gun reform. These students, along with so many other survivors and advocates, refuse to accept the daily reality of gun violence and have demanded that Congress listen to their calls for change. On February 28, I led a group of my colleagues in calling on the Senate Majority Leader, who controls what bills come up for a vote, to schedule a debate and vote on sensible gun reform measures. You can view those floor speeches here: . I also held a town hall on gun reform on March 2 with students at Cheltenham High School in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The activism among students throughout the country has been inspiring, and I believe young people will continue to be a strong force for change in our response to gun violence.

I support the Second Amendment right of law-abiding Americans to own guns for hunting, sport and protection. However, as a public official and member of the United States Senate, I believe my colleagues and I have an obligation to enact commonsense reforms that will keep Americans safe and reduce the likelihood of gun violence incidents. I support a number of gun reform bills in the current session of Congress, including:

• S. 2009, the Background Check Expansion Act, which expands federal background checks to the sale or transfer of firearms by private sellers, closing the online sale, gun show and private seller loopholes.
• S. 2095, the Assault Weapons Ban, which would ban the sale, manufacture, transfer and importation of 205 military-style assault weapons, as well as ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. This bill would also ban “bump-stock” devices like those used in the Las Vegas massacre, which can convert semi-automatic firearms into guns that emulate fully automatic guns.
• S. 834, a bill repealing current restrictions on gun safety studies at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and directing them to study gun violence, just as they would study any other public health hazard. This data would help us better understand the problem of gun violence and how to address it.
• S. 1324, the Disarm Hate Act, which prevents individuals convicted of violent misdemeanor hate crimes from getting their hands on a gun. I introduced this bill after the 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, when a gunman with hate in his heart and claiming allegiance to ISIS walked into an LGBT nightclub with a military-style rifle and a handgun. He killed 49 people and injured 53 others. Four Pennsylvanians, two injured and two killed, were among the victims of this brutal shooting, the worst in the history of the United States at that time. If you have proven you will commit violent criminal acts based on bias against where someone comes from, how someone worships or whom someone loves, you should not have access to guns. It’s common sense.  

As we pray for the families and victims of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and as families across the country mourn their daughters, sons, parents and siblings whose lives are lost to the daily gun violence that pervades our streets, we must again commit ourselves to action. I refuse to accept that the best our Nation can do is simply enforce our current laws. It is not working. Too many families are devastated by gun violence, and too many others live in fear for their safety. We are a Nation of people who come together, roll up our sleeves and solve difficult problems. We can pass smart measures to reduce gun violence while fully respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. This problem is not going away, so we need to come together now. I will keep fighting to make our communities safe from gun violence.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future about this or any other matter of importance to you.

For more information on this or other issues, I encourage you to visit my website, . I hope you will find this online office a comprehensive resource to stay up-to-date on my work in Washington, request assistance from my office or share with me your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you and to Pennsylvania.

Bob Casey
United States Senator

I'm back: Senator Toomey goes nowhere near far enough. Senator Casey gets my vote (figuratively and literally). I appreciate his linking prayer with action, as it should be. Whichever stance you support, vote in November.

One further point: since the 1950s, flying cars have existed. It has, however, been considered unwise to give the average Joe and Josephine access to this technology. Given distracted driving rates, this is wise. Is it any less wise to keep weaponry capable of rapid mass murder designed primarily for war out of the hands of said average Joe and Josephine? I think not.  

Hard Sleeping Beagle Awakes!

I know, you've seen these before ... but, this is our dog and I for one had some fun doing this! Not original, but darned entertaining to create. Daisy is an elderly beagle. She needs a pill. The lunch meat delivery system works best as beagles (all beagles) are food obsessed. As you see here, the pill nearly escapes its fate, but not quite. She was sleeping deeply to take this long to react to the scent of beloved lunch meat!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Hobby Time: Wiring the Railroad Switches

Have you ever watched on of those "how to paint" half hour shows where the host/artist declares you too can make a beautiful scene simply following my never fail steps ... only to discover the process takes a suspiciously large leap in the last five minutes with a great deal of unmentioned shadowing, lighting, etc. that you just aren't going to be privy to. You feel you've been left hanging. 

You can have those experiences with model railroading instruction too, as I've discovered first hand. It's nobody's fault. Some things you just have to figure out. I'm going to pass along a few things I've learned.

I'm using left and right hand railroad switches from Atlas as I had three of the five switches used at hand for years. Sure, I could have picked up some fancier units, but I'm not that concerned. 

So, to wire the switches to the switch units with the blue buttons, here's what's needed. I decided to use these small  butt splices to connect the threadlike wire with something a little more substantial. Stripping some of the plastic from these fragile wires was challenging. I've had this electrician's tool for years. To remove the plastic coating from roughly 1/2" of wire, gently (very or you'll cut the wire) place the wire between the jaws, applying very little pressure, twist the tool several times (very gently) to nearly cut the insulation, then pinch the wire at that point between thumb and forefinger, using your thumbnail to apply pressure at the near cut, and you'll be able to remove the insulation after a few attempts. 

You'll need the next portion of the electrician's tool to crimp the ends of the butt splices to each of the wires connected. You'll want to buy extra splices as you are going to screw up a few times, crimping the splice with the wire slipping out unbeknownst to you before crimping. 

Everything else is simple wiring, following the straightforward instructions on the back of the switch unit packaging. 

One thing to know, if you're joining multiple switch units together, make sure the screws on the connectors are tight. I didn't between units two and three and when wired at first the switches didn't work. It was a short-lived scare that a little screw tightening remedied. 

Good luck! 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Hobby Time: Progress with Wiring

It was a momentous day, March 3, 2018, on the railroad. The power units are wired, the track complete and the first of five switches wired to work with the flick of a switch. Considering I wired the switch with one wire that had snapped and needed reconnected, I was amazed it worked properly. Where do the manufacturers of N Scale switches find wire that thin in the first place?

I had to use a back up power pack as one unit died (the challenges with working with some old equipment). In time, a new power unit will need to be purchased, but for now all the track works properly and there is power to spare. I'll take it. 

If you find your engines have trouble transitioning from one track to the next, you may need to adjust the short track between the switches to get a better connection. Worked for me and the shift was minute.

The switch units are pretty small. Getting the screws in place requires serious concentration. To be honest, working with the mini screws and wires, I felt like King Kong trying to fasten the clasp on a bracelet of Fay Wray.

It is surprising how many decisions have to be made on the fly to make this thing work. That I didn't expect. The most satisfying was realizing the table would be better organized if the wires were run up from beneath the table top. For a moment I worried about whether I should drill holes in the control table top or not. Then I asked myself who built the table? I did. Who was it for? Me. So, WHO gets to decide whether to drill holes in the top or not? Again, ME! Liberating.

Enough for now.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Exploring Twitter: So Many Questions

Question One requires a little background. I have had a Twitter account for a long time, but only used it to spread these posts a little further. Needless to say, while it has been useful in that way, it's not best use of Twitter. So, I'm trying a little harder to use Twitter to share with others, check on news, etc.

I quickly ran into something that rubbed me the wrong way. Someone I know began retweeting some of the material I found interesting to share. Sounds fine, right? Well, not so much from my perspective as this person was using my material to post a point of view 180 degrees opposite from mine. In my way of thinking, that is rude and nothing more than spoiling for a fight or bullying. I've been checking Twitter etiquette sites. The article I'm sharing here has material that seems pertinent under Sharing Opinions and Twitter Wars.

So, am I just too old school for the Twitter Wild West? Am I just a fragile li'l snowflake? Let me know what you think ... but politely please. I've had enough rude for a while. Thanks!

Here's the article:

More questions to come ...

Hobby Time: Control Table Built for N Scale RR

The control table built for my door top layout measures 29 1/2" h x 2' x 1 1/2'. This gives me room for the power packs, the switches (yet to be wired and installed) and work and storage space. Putting in a shelf at 12" h both stabilized the lets and gave me much needed storage space. The table is lightweight and free standing. Mobility will be limited by the wiring extending to the rails and switches. All the lumber can be purchased for under $50, using good pine. Until working with this layout, my work with wood was extremely limited. I find the work rewarding and enjoyable.

Good luck with your hobby endeavors!