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Endings and beginnings August 14, 2010

Posted by Conventioneering in Job Get!, Uncategorized.
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I am not dead.

I am leaving my job at NASM.

this is not a bad thing! I am not leaving in a huff, I assure you. I am leaving because the spectre of graduate school is looming large on the horizon, and thus I must shuffle off this coil. By ‘coil’ I mean ‘life in Washington DC’. All in all I actually did have a very good time working at NASM, but there comes a time (the walrus said) to talk of other things.

I will attempt to post more.



In the meantime I am changing my profile.

Write every day no exceptions – No, you may not purchase the Hindenberg June 12, 2010

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One day, a kid tried to buy the Hindenberg from me.

It was a pretty slow day in the National Air and Space Museum book store, which meant that I was walking the floor, adjusting books and DVDs on the shelf. I start walking to round the corner to re-stock the space pens when a kid stops me.

“Hey,” he says. “How much for that?”

I look around and I can’t tell what the heck he’s talking about.

“What?” I ask.

That!” he says emphatically, once again failing completely to indicate what ‘that’ is.

“… I’m not quite sure I’m understanding,” I say. To me, it looks like he’s pointing into empty space, not at any book.

“That! That Nazi balloon!”

I finally see where he’s pointing, and it’s at the model of the Hindenberg.

See, there’s a model of the Hindenberg right outside of the bookstore. It’s one of the few examples we have at NASM of lighter-than-air flight (the Stephen F Udvar-Hazy center has considerably more). It’s pretty clearly one of our artifacts, given that it hangs outside the store and has a sign on the wall indicating what it is. To be more specific, it’s the model used in the film Hindenberg by Universal Pictures, and is on loan from them. I didn’t know that it was on loan at the time, but I did know perfectly well that it was one of our artifacts and therefore not for sale.

So, I looked back at the kid, a strange ‘are you kidding me’ smirk on my face, and asked,

“Are you serious?”

He nodded emphatically. “Yeah, I want that Nazi Balloon!”

“You mean the Hindenberg.”

“Whatever it’s called, I want it.”

“Kiddo,” I say, laughing a little, “I’m pretty sure that’s a little out of your price range. It’s one of our museum artifacts, you know. It’s not for sale.”

“So? I’ll pay you right here. I’ve got a hundred dollars, and I’ll give it to you for that balloon.”

Now I really am laughing out loud. I can’t help it; this is about the most absurd thing that’s happened to me today. “Dude, I can’t sell you that. If you want to buy it, you gotta talk to the museum director. Also, it’s probably a lot more than a hundred dollars. I can sell you a book about lighter-than-air craft though if you’re interested, and we’ve got some smaller models downst-”

“I want that one. How do I get hold of the director?”

I can’t believe this kid. “Go down to the information desk by Independence Avenue,” I say. “Tell them what you want.”

I dunno if he did, but he certainly didn’t manage to buy the Hindenberg, because it’s still there, outside the entrance to the store.

Write Every day No Exceptions – Why do we like sugar? June 11, 2010

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This entry was originally posted on June 6, but in the process of trying to delete an entirely different entry, I accidentally deleted this one. As that was completely not my intention, I am re-posting it, this time with a few minor edits. Sorry for any confusion this may cause.


The other day we had a book signing at the National Air and Space Museum. This is pretty common – we have about one a week. This one, however, was a bit unusual because the gentleman who happened to be doing the signing also had an exhibit: Michael Benson. Both the book and the exhibit were called “Beyond: Visions of our Solar System”, and involved an extensive collection of photographs taken by various probes and telescopes of the little patch of the Milky Way we call home. If you’re in the area, I can’t recommend this exhibit enough. It has some of the most spectacular photos I’ve ever seen of our neighboring planets, my particular favorite being a photo of two of Jupiter’s moons seeming to hover over the surface of the gas giant.

Michael had brought his young son with him – I think the boy was about nine years old. Like most nine year olds, he was bored. While I find book signings fascinating, this is because I get to talk the ears off of authors in a variety of field and talk to customers with a genuine interest in . To a nine year old, however, none of this has any relevance at all. In this case, the author was his dad, and why would you ever want to talk to your dad, the customers were all strangers and that cashier lady with the red hair talked too much about nothing. He busied himself by running into the store to see if there was anything interesting, failing to find anything interesting, and reading The Hardy Boys. He also kept asking if he could buy candy. Michael said yes, and I said yes, but I had to tell the kid that he couldn’t eat it inside the museum and had to wait till he left. This, of course, didn’t please him at all. He wanted that candy now.

This went on for a while, until about an hour before Michael was supposed to leave. At this point, we’d been there for a few hours, and the boy (whose name I can’t remember, unfortunately, and I wish I could) was getting truly antsy. I couldn’t blame him: I remember countless times that my mother stayed after at some theater event when I’d get utterly bored and want to leave. In an effort to get his attention, I said,

“Why don’t you go see some of our exhibits? They’re really cool!”

“I don’t want to.”

At this point, both Michael and I started trying to convince the kid to go see some exhibits, and he kept stubbornly refusing. It’s hard for me to remember the exact conversation, but I seem to remember talking with Michael about the difficulty of interesting kids in this sort of thing. I could only shrug helplessly – as a kid, while I found my mother’s job terribly boring, I was endlessly fascinated by science and remember spending hours at this very museum (one reason why I can rattle off useless trivia about the artifacts at the drop of a hat). Meanwhile, the kid started asking about candy again.

“Look,” I said. “You have to be more curious about the world around you. You keep asking about candy and sugar, but have you ever considered why you like sugar? Why don’t you try to find that out? Why is sugar even sweet?”

This didn’t really help the situation, but luckily for the kid the book signing was over. I’m not sure if he ever got his candy, but the idea of ‘why do humans like sugar’ stuck with me. I’d be a very poor writer and wannabe scientist if I didn’t at least make a cursory glance into the matter.

Lucky for me, I live in the twenty-first century, which means I have access to this marvelous oracle named Google. Unlike the Greeks, I don’t have to rely on somewhat loopy young women in caves, and I don’t have to spend weeks digging around fruitlessly in the library trying to get an answer (not that I mind doing so, but this is ‘write every day no exceptions’, which means I don’t have much time.)

Before I began, I had my own hypothesis about why we like sugar, based on having read an awful lot of books on evolutionary biology as a kid. I figured that our primate ancestors really needed the calories, since one could never be sure where one’s next meal was coming from, and thus the ones that liked sweet things lived longer and were overall healthier animals, and thus had a higher chance of breeding. They were able to get the energy and nutrients they needed because something in them told them “oh man! That thing we just ate was awesome, let’s find more of that!” This continued to be an extremely valuable trait right up until we developed the ability to make our own sugar. Before then, people still didn’t always know where their next meal was coming from, and, again, the ones that had more access to delicious sweet things lived longer.

Along comes processed sugar. Now we can have delicious sweet things whenever we want! But like anything taken in excess, now it works to our detriment, causing us to consume massively more sugar than we need. Or, well, most of us anyway – I myself don’t particularly like the taste of processed sugar, and I know quite a few others who don’t either! I wonder if that might turn into a survival trait later on: people who eat too much sugar develop obesity and diabetes, while those of us geared to consume it only in moderation live longer, healthier lives and have the chance to attract more mates. But that’s neither here nor there.

Given that I write these essays on the train as I go to work, I don’t have much time to do in-depth research, so like I said, I just typed the question into google. I got a lot of health and fitness sites, but, as it turns out, the majority of the ones I read agree almost exactly with my hypothesis! To give three examples: FitnessMantra.info has an article on this, albeit with a lot of severely anachronistic references to running from dinosaurs (are there seriously still people who believe that humans and dinosaurs coexisted? I mean, really.). An article from LiveScience.com agrees, but with fewer dinosaurs and more references to actual studies (in this case, a glycoscinece study conducted by the European Science Foundation). Finally, there’s an article on sugar cravings from HowToThinkThin.com. Not bad for a five minute google search. I’d still prefer to find an actual scientific study rather than just blog posts and anecdotal evidence, but the fact that these articles all agree (and believe me, these weren’t the only ones; I got quite a few hits) suggests that my guess was at least partially correct.

There’s really no excuse not to have a curious mind in this day and age. Information is so readily available to us, why don’t more of us just ask questions?

Orientation and Training February 17, 2010

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Yesterday, I went in for orientation. This involved going to the Smithsonian Enterprises office, which is right by L’Enfant Plaza station. This time, there were other people about, ranging from about three who were my age to a few in their mid thirties and even late forties. The recruitment guy met us there, took our IDs, and then came back to usher us into the orientation meeting.

First, a note about names: in this blog, for the most part, I’m going to try to refrain from using anyone’s name in order to preserve their privacy.

Moving on…


How I Got the Job – Part the Second February 17, 2010

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A few days later, I drove out to Glenmont Metro Station to hop a Red Line train to get downtown for my interview, only to find that the parking lot was mysteriously closed. Exasperated, I turned the car around, and, somewhat foolishly, drove all the way to Shady Grove to catch a train. Really, I should have just driven to Wheaton, but that didn’t really occur to me at the time. Some days, I just don’t think.


How I got the job – Part the first February 15, 2010

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I’m a bit new to this blog thing, so forgive me for a moment while I collect my thoughts.

No, actually, that’s a complete lie. I’ve been on Livejournal since something like 2006, but Livejournal hardly counts. Livejournal is where you go to chat with your friends. This isn’t meant to be that; this blog is intended to be a Serious Examination of Things in My Life, and Also What It Is to be Employed at the National Air and Space Museum.

With Capital Letters.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

Anyway, I suppose the best place to begin with such endeavors is at the beginning. I was asked by a friend of mine, when I announced the news, “Wow, how did you land THAT one?”

Well, the truth is, I asked.