Galahad - a Guiding Eyes puppy - stares into the camera as a two month old puppy

Not a tale of the search for the holy grail nor adventures with the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, my journey with Sir Galahad has much more humbler beginnings. Normally at this time of year, around my birthday, I’d look back at the previous year and contemplate the lessons I’ve learned and the adventures had. This year though, each of my adventures and lessons have one consistent theme - Galahad.

On July 18th last year I received a phone call that Galahad was on his way. I hung up the phone and immediately said to myself, “What’s a Galahad?!” Clearly I was not as well read as I’d like to be as at that time I was not familiar with the King Arthur stories. But let’s go back several months prior for a moment, where the real story begins.

In late 2012, for no specific reason, at least that I can remember, I signed up to be a volunteer puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB). What’s a puppy raiser you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like. I would take in a 2-month old puppy, that is preparing to be a future guide dog for the blind and visually impaired, and over the next 16 months provide the experiences, training, and exposures it needed on it’s way to becoming a great guide dog. Sounded fun and an interesting experience at the time - how little did I know what an experience it would be!

Holiday (left), Galahad (center), and Galaxy (right) with their new puppy raisers

A few months later I was sitting in GEB puppy pre-placement classes where the GEB Regional Manager and their volunteer staff attempted to teach us - there were two other new puppy raisers in my class - the basics that would get us through the first few weeks with our new puppies. Having completed the pre-placement classes, and shortly after completing my Master’s degree thankfully, that fateful day in July arrived.

Arriving at the house of the GEB volunteer who drove the puppies down from New York, where GEB is headquartered, I was greeted by three adorable eight-week old puppies - Holiday (black female lab), Galahad (yellow male lab), and Galaxy (yellow male lab)! Holiday was from a different litter but Galahad and Galaxy were brothers and even to this day continue to act up around each other, as one would expect brothers to do. After initial wet puppy kisses and the obligatory photos, I headed home with this little 12 pound ball of fur to start our journey together.

I have to give Galahad credit where it’s due - he was an excellent puppy, at least in the areas where you normally expect there to be issues. Not once, save the first night, has he ever woken me up in the middle of the night. And he was quickly housebroken with only a few minor incidents in the house those first few weeks. A special thanks goes out to the GEB Home Socializers who provide these special dogs a great start to life as early as a few weeks old.

Galahad in a 'Down' at his first puppy class doing his best to look like Superman!

But that’s not to say Galahad had the qualities you would expect out of someone with such a prestigious name. No, those first two months were certainly challenging! See, Galahad liked to nip at hands and feet with those little, razor sharp puppy teeth and chew on anything he could get his tiny mouth around. I quickly learned to wear socks at home and even those didn’t provide full protection as those baby teeth of his would go right through the socks. He also, as you would expect, had boundless amounts of non-stop energy. I’m pretty sure at that age he could have run a marathon and still had energy left over. But thanks to the great assistance of the regional GEB staff, along with my puppy partner (sort of like a mentor), Galahad quickly grew out of these behaviors.

This journey with Galahad wasn’t just all fun and games though. Each week, from two months of age to six months of age, we both went to class where Galahad learned new skills and I learned how to continue teaching him these skills outside of the classroom environment. From basic skills such as Sit, Down, and Come to more specific skills such as Close, Settling, and waiting patiently for his food, there was a lot for Galahad, as well as I, to learn over the past year.

Around November of last year, when Galahad turned six months old, four months after he arrived, we had our first “Walk and Talk”.

Galahad practicing settling in a crowded environment
The Walk and Talks allow for Guiding Eyes for the Blind to ascertain how Galahad was progressing as well as answer any questions or issues I had. While there were several areas that Galahad and I needed to focus on - he was a six-month old Lab puppy after all - he did very well and it marked two important occasions in our journey together. First, we no longer had to attend puppy class every weekend and instead only had to go to class every other weekend! Second, Galahad “earned” his GEB puppy jacket marking yet another milestone in his journey to being a future guide dog.

With his new puppy jacket, and as he showed steady improvement in his behavior, Galahad’s world continued to grow and with it the social exposures that will hopefully serve him well as a guide dog. From his first ride on the Metro, to adventures at the orchard in the Fall, and outings including to the National Air and Space Museum and Reagan National Airport, Galahad has certainly taken advantage of his time here in the Washington, D.C. area. He even took a trip to the White House, but sadly, First Dog Bo wouldn’t come out and play.

But alas, my journey with Sir Galahad does have an ending. One that is both a happy moment and a sad one at the same time. Two months from now, in October, Galahad will head off to New York, back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind headquarters, as he prepares to continue his ultimate journey in becoming a guide dog. Not every guide dog puppy becomes a guide dog though and the first step on that trek is the “In For Training" (IFT) test.

Galahad, relaxing, gazes into the camera

The IFT test allows the GEB trainers to evaluate if Galahad is truly ready and willing to become a guide dog, after all, it really is his choice on what he ends up doing in life. If a guide dog career is what his “choice” is and he ends up passing his IFT test, Galahad will begin more advanced training with the trainers at GEB. Even if a guide dog career is not in the cards, there are a multitude of other careers Galahad could choose including a drug detection dog, autism service dog, or even the GEB breeding colony. And if in the end, Galahad just wants to be a pet, there are a multitude of families and individuals just ready to adopt these well socialized and extremely well behaved dogs.

Yes, it will be a sad day when our journey together ends but Galahad is off to do bigger and better things, hopefully providing greater independence for a blind or visually impaired person. Was this journey easy? Let me be the first to say, not at all! There were times, especially early on in the first month, where I was tempted to call GEB and ask them to take Galahad back. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t excited that I’ll be dog-free soon. But would I do it again? Absolutely.

Galahad lays in a 'Down' on a cool Spring evening.
It has truly been a fantastic experience and an incredible learning opportunity. And who knows, maybe I’ll end up being a puppy raiser for another GEB puppy in the future. Meanwhile, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Galahad’s future successes and the success of his brother Galaxy, his friends from the local GEB region, and all those puppies being raised now and in the future by volunteer puppy raisers!

Be sure to follow Galahad on his Twitter account, @AstroPuppy, as he and I wrap up our journey and he prepares to head back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Also, for more photos, check out Flickr. Plus, if my journey over the past 16 months with Galahad has inspired you please consider either volunteering for Guiding Eyes for the Blind (there are many roles beyond puppy raiser!) or help by providing a tax-deductible donation!

(Photo credit: HI-SEAS/Ross Lockwood via Flickr)

This past week we celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. And in 16 years, according to NASA’s latest projections, humans will be stepping foot on another celestial body — Mars!

Meanwhile, today marked the completion of the second Hawai‘i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission. HI-SEAS, run by the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and led by Principal Investigator Dr. Kim Binstead is funded by the NASA Human Research Program and consists of four missions, ranging from four months to one year in duration. These missions are being used by researchers to determine the challenges that will face those who take our first steps on the long journey to Mars. Primarily focused on the psychological issues that will face crews on long duration, close confines space missions, there are also opportunistic research studies. From advanced clothing that is bacteria and odor-resistant, to cooking and food preparation using both freeze-dried and shelf-stable ingredients, to the use and capabilities of 3D printers, HI-SEAS strives to provide a high fidelty analog environment to study the challenges that will face humans as we venture further into the universe.

It has been my privilege and pleasure to volunteer for the HI-SEAS program since the first mission as a member of the mission support team, specifically what is referred to as First Tier Support (FTS). As someone who is neither a scientist nor (currently) an engineer, I know I certainly won’t be on any space mission going anywhere - Mars, the Moon, or even Low Earth Orbit, any time soon. Let’s forget the fact that I’m 6’ 5” tall and won’t fit into any spacecraft currently available. However, working in a mission support role for HI-SEAS, along with the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), I hope that in some small way I am helping pave the way for the future explorers that will make their way to Mars and beyond. There have been challenges faced in both missions, as I’m sure there will be in the coming missions, yet the lessons learned will surely help researchers and scientists create new methods and procedures to make future analog simulations, and even more important, real world missions, even better.

Welcome home Casey, Ross, Lucie, Tiffany, and Anne! Let’s keep exploring!

You just happened to lose the e-mail of embroiled ex-IRS official Lois Lerner? You expect the American public to believe that?

Yes, actually, you should. Let me explain…

If the Healthcare.gov debacle should have taught the American public and news media anything, it’s that the United States government isn’t the best judge of determining contractor capabilities when it comes to Information Technology (IT) projects. How much does it cost to build a website - mind you, one that didn’t work in the beginning? Well if you’re a federal contractor, CGI Federal in this case, it said it could do so for $76 million dollars and it actually cost them $111M with the government obligating $196M! (source: Washington Post). With that in mind, does it really surprise you that the IRS can’t recover e-mails of a top official?

Let’s get technical for a second, and in turn, explain how these “lost” e-mails are completely plausible. Many personal e-mail providers such as Google or Yahoo or Outlook.com offer large amounts of storage for your e-mail. This allows you to store large amounts of old e-mail without ever having to worry about deleting them. Remember the days of receiving an e-mail warning that you’re out of space? With most personal e-mail providers, this is no longer the case however for business, and most especially, the federal government, this still holds true.

From a business tools perspective, the federal government still almost entirely relies on Microsoft Office - to include Microsoft Exchange and Outlook. While Google or Yahoo have multiple large data centers with vast amounts of storage for your e-mail, federal agencies have much smaller, individual data centers with only a tiny portion of storage space compared to the large Internet giants. As a result, someone who has a government e-mail address (e.g. @irs.gov) will be limited by the amount of storage on hand to that agency. From my experience, 100MB (yes, megabytes) to 1GB is the range to expect for a federal government e-mail account.

So how does one deal with this minuscule amount of individual e-mail storage without running out of space? Simple. Microsoft Outlook provides for offline storage of e-mail in PST (Personal Storage Table) files. These allow a end-user to pull e-mails out of the e-mail server sitting in the data center and put them into a file that is saved on the end-user’s local desktop. I’m sure you can see what comes next. Now that the e-mail is no longer on the server, once said user’s PST gets corrupted or worse, their desktop crashes, it becomes next to impossible to recover the e-mail that was saved to an offline PST.

But you say, surely they had backups of these e-mails! Sure - but for only a small period of time. Outside of critical items, backups of the e-mail server would only be retained for a short period - maybe six months to a year - before the backup media was reused. Imagine the cost the federal government would have to pay to a contractor if they asked for permanent backup storage of all e-mails, documents, etc… And lest you think they’d be able to restore a backup of Lois Lerner’s desktop, let’s not kid ourselves here. It is highly unlikely they were doing any backups of end-user desktops. With over ten years of IT experience in the federal government sector, only in recent months have I found the first federal agency that does desktop backups - and it’s only specific folders at that!

So yes, Lois Lerner’s e-mails were lost. Mainly because the federal government’s IT infrastructure across most agencies still follows practices of the ’90s. Cloud infrastructure (e.g. Google Apps) are only just being considered by many federal agencies and even while under consideration, they’re hitting a brick wall due to both the lobbying of Microsoft and the long-term “experience” of senior acquisition officials with Microsoft’s suite of tools. Throw in federal contractors who low bid contracts and are not able to provide salaries that would bring in experienced IT professionals and you’re just asking for “lost email” problems.

I’m sure though the IRS provides the proper financial resources however for backups and retention of tax data. Now if only that was lost!

While on a business trip to the Space Coast this week I was able to stop by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and finally got to see the Atlantis exhibit. The last time I had seen Atlantis (OV-104), she was about to get shrink-wrapped while they built the exhibit around the orbiter. And wow, what a great job they did! You truly have to experience the exhibit to believe it. Sadly, the Space Shuttles are no longer flying but Atlantis is truly “home”! While on a business trip to the Space Coast this week I was able to stop by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and finally got to see the Atlantis exhibit. The last time I had seen Atlantis (OV-104), she was about to get shrink-wrapped while they built the exhibit around the orbiter. And wow, what a great job they did! You truly have to experience the exhibit to believe it. Sadly, the Space Shuttles are no longer flying but Atlantis is truly “home”!

While on a business trip to the Space Coast this week I was able to stop by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and finally got to see the Atlantis exhibit. The last time I had seen Atlantis (OV-104), she was about to get shrink-wrapped while they built the exhibit around the orbiter. And wow, what a great job they did! You truly have to experience the exhibit to believe it. Sadly, the Space Shuttles are no longer flying but Atlantis is truly “home”!

The Earth and Moon as seen from Saturn by the NASA Cassini spacecraft

Living without regrets for 12,045 days…

… or 289,080 hours

… or 1,040,688,000 seconds

… and counting!

Another year, another chance to increase the awesome. And what a year it has been! Once again, time for some retrospective on year 32 living on this wonderful planet Earth, and this past year has truly been inspirational.

Let’s just get it out of the way immediately. Yes, in my 31st year alive, I jumped out of a plane. And in my 32nd year, I went “over the edge” and rappelled off of a fifteen-story building! Not quite as high as the plane but it was just as exhilarating and who knows what I’ll do in this 33rd year to top it. Moreover, thanks to many of you reading this, I was able to raise over $1,500 for Special Olympics Virginia and met some truly inspiring individuals that have had more challenges in life than I ever will, yet consistently have an upbeat spirit, a smile on their face, and a way to make you realize just how amazing everyone is. If you haven’t seen the video of me going “over the edge”, check it out here.

Something that I never expected occurred in my 32nd year - I completed my Master’s of Aeronautical Science degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. After finishing my Bachelors degree, I never expected to go back to school but with my passion for space reignited over the past several years, well, there you go. No, I have no plans to become Dr. Joseph Gruber but who knows. Never say never and always live without regrets.

And who could go through life without great friends. From the “best vacation ever”, to include spring training baseball (woot!), with the most awesome and amazing friends money can’t buy, to never-ending adventures through DC DrinkUp and the “most interesting people in DC”, I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to go through life with these great friends! Heck, I got to meet not only Bobak Ferdowsi (a.k.a. NASA / JPL Mohawk Dude) but also the one, and only, Neil deGrasse Tyson (squee!). One can only imagine what kind of shenanigans we’ll get into in the 33rd year!

Speaking of friends, sadly, a lesson learned this year is to never lose contact with friends. Only a few months ago I found out that a friend had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away over a year ago. Over the course of the past few years we had begun to exchange only an occasional message on Facebook and I hadn’t noticed he had stopped posting messages. He was a great friend and I only wish I had been more of a friend than I was these past few years. Take it from me. Even if you’re no longer in the same town, at the same job, or even if you no longer hold the same interests, make the effort to maintain friendships. Good friends are hard to come by so don’t let them go stale and don’t wait until they’re gone to realize how good of a friend they were.

Well enough of year 32, let’s move onward to year 33! A year older, a year wiser, so I’d like to think, this past year has once again been truly memorable and AWESOME, and I can only hope this coming year is just as amazing! One word … Galahad.

Science and ArtWhile not a scientist and far from being an artist, I have come to have a deep appreciation of how both science and art allows us to feed our curiosity of not only the world around us but ourselves as humans.

Recently though, while at a National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) concert for “The Planets - An HD Odyssey”, it became instantly obvious how science and art breed upon each other. As this concert was just a few short days before the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover landing on Mars, NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, was on hand as a guest and after a few remarks played the infamous Seven Minutes of Terror video showcasing the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) of MSL on Mars. Having seen this video before I knew it was always exciting to watch from the sheer daring of what was to be accomplished. With tickets to the lawn seating at the Wolf Trap Filene Center, I laid back on the grass and under the night sky filled with the planets and stars, looked up at the projection screen to see MSL begin its entry into the atmosphere of Mars. Unexpectedly, just as the video started playing, the NSO began playing a (unknown) piece by Georges Bizet. As the excitement of EDL played out on the screens above, the mystery of the universe shone bright above us, and the music of the National Symphony Orchestra joined the sounds of the night, the science of what NASA was attempting to do coalesced in a way that my human mind had not been able to quite grasp before. As the night went on, the NSO played Gustav Holst’s The Planets, while images of NASA’s latest missions into the galaxy, as well as here of Earth, played on the screens, and the art, the music, allowing a part of the mind to comprehend what it wasn’t able to before.

So just how can art influence science, and vice-versa, science influence art? Where in science, fact is the greatest truth and one plus one equals two, art does not have the inflexibility that science does, leaving truth up to the heart and mind. An uncommon pair indeed, science and art. But truly, what is the basis for science if not curiosity and wonder? Do these emotions not also carry over into art whether it is literature, music, drawings and paintings, or theatre, among other methods of interpretation? Where the arts attempt to express how our mind perceives things, science allows us to search for those answers leading to even more questions and curiosity. One then ponders whether it is where science and art meet, this intersection of curiosity and wonder, that our human brains can finally begin to have a more intimate understanding of the world around us. Suggesting that science and art be brought together would be unwise though as it seems that it’s when art discovers the science mind and science discovers the artists heart that wonder can be found. We have seen repeatedly throughout history the unexpected fusion of science and art - from Leonardo da Vinci and his renowned paintings merging with his scientific ideas to modern times with Pixar combining science and art to create what no human hand has done before.

Next time you look at a piece of art, listen to music, or read a book take a moment to think how it might influence the science of the world around you. Moreover, by the same token, next time you ponder the mysteries of the universe you might want to look to art for inspiration for your curiosity.

Albert Einstein

"After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well."

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science."