A Stormy Holiday

This year, I spent Thanksgiving on the job at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Because my daughter had the week off, we opted to have our family celebration at home on Monday before my work week began. Over the last dozen years, I’ve spent several Thanksgivings on the job. It’s not necessarily a bad way to spend the holiday. My co-workers and I get to share a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.

Of course we have diverse political views, so sometimes we find ourselves skirting those topics just like many families around the country. In many ways, those of us who work at the observatory are like a family, bound by a common passion for exploring and understanding the universe around us. Moving that mission forward is one of the things that makes working at the observatory on a holiday worthwhile.

Then again, working at a ground-based observatory, we’re subject to the wiles of the weather and this holiday weekend has proven to be a stormy one. Times like this do give us awesome sunsets like the one above, but not much time looking at the stars. We had rain, fog, and wind gusting upwards of 70 miles per hour. These are not conditions one should subject precision scientific instrumentation to. So, why do I have to hang around on nights like this?

First and foremost, there’s the chance the weather may improve enough for us to open. In fact, on my first two nights of this shift, even though the weather looked hopelessly bad, we did manage to get about two hours of data each night when the weather calmed and dried out briefly. Another reason I have to be available is that some of the instrumentation will be damaged if we lose power. On a remote mountaintop in the Arizona desert with 70 mile per hour winds and rain and snow, that’s a real possibility. If power goes out and doesn’t come back before battery backups drain, I may have to jump into action to start an emergency generator. What’s more, we have had circumstances where the weather has damaged buildings and I may need to take action to protect the telescopes or instrumentation.

Fortunately, our buildings and power systems are designed well enough, I don’t have to spend my entire night actually saving the telescope. So, while I’m waiting to see if my services are needed, I get a chance to do some proofreading. This weekend, I’m proofreading the novel Upstart Mystique by Don Braden, which my company Hadrosaur Productions will be publishing in early 2020. It’s a great science fiction novel about a group of colonists who are pulled off course and are forced to land on a planet they didn’t intend to settle before their ship is destroyed. The novel explores fascinating questions about human and machine intelligence.

I became a writer because I love to read. Hadrosaur Productions exists, in part, as a way to give back. The company allows me to seek out writers whose voices deserve to be heard and bring their books to readers. I know many people who read this blog are fans of my writing, but I encourage you to check out the works of the other people I publish as well. This holiday season, I’m especially thankful for writers like Greg Ballan, Joy V. Smith, and David B. Riley who have given me the privilege of editing their stories and I’m thankful to all the readers who are eager to find new, exciting fiction. As we enter this holiday season, please take a look at http://www.hadrosaur.com. I bet you’ll find a good book to share with the adventuresome readers in your life.

Working on the Holidays

There has been a lot of backlash lately against retailers being open on Thanksgiving in the United States, and I’ll admit, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Scrooge-like corporate executives who fear making a little less profit because they’ve given their employees some time with family. However, even if every retailer remained closed on Thanksgiving, there are a lot of people who would have to work, and I’m truly grateful for them. Some of those folks are pretty obvious, such as the doctors and nurses who work in the Emergency Room, fire crews, and utility workers. Will you be watching one of the big Thanksgiving ball games or perhaps the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Marathon? If so, be grateful for the people running the television stations and keeping the Internet up and running. Speaking of those games, there are the people who keep the stadiums clean, run the concessions, and sell tickets.

WIYN-2

As it turns out, Kitt Peak National Observatory does not close down for Thanksgiving either. The universe doesn’t take the day off, and neither do the astronomers who study it. This year, I lucked out and my schedule gave me the entire Thanksgiving weekend off work, which is a nice change of pace. I’ve had plenty of years where I’ve had to work all of the weekend or part of it. The photo above is from Thanksgiving 2013, when my daughter kept me company in the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope’s control room. The observer, Dr. Louise Edwards, was working remotely from Yale University taking spectra using the computer. Dr. Edwards communicated with us using Skype and it actually provided a neat opportunity for my daughter to interact with a woman who not only works in the sciences, but was featured on a Canadian postage stamp.

This brings me to one last group—those who work on the holidays simply because they enjoy it. I may have the weekend off from the observatory, but I’m in the home stretch of working through edits on The Astronomer’s Crypt and I have an exciting story idea that brings members of the Clockwork Legion and the Scarlet Order together that’s clamoring for me to write. Yeah, I’ll be making some quality time to hang out with family and friends, but you can bet that I’ll also spend some time working on these projects because, darn it, they’re fun. In fact, not getting a chance to work on these projects would almost feel like a punishment.

Another thing I enjoy is getting out to meet all of you. Because of that, I plan to be in Tucson on Saturday, November 28 at Bookmans on Speedway Boulevard from noon until 2pm for Tucson Writes. November is Shop Local-Give Local Month and Bookmans is celebrating by bringing in a number of local authors to sell and autograph their books. This is a great way to do some shopping for the holidays and get to know many local authors. I’ll have copies of all my novels there. If you’re in Tucson next weekend, I hope I’ll see you there!

Thankful in 2013

Verity at WIYN

This week, I spent Thanksgiving working at Kitt Peak National Observatory. My family was able to join me and we spent the holiday in one of the small houses on the mountain. We ate dinner at the cafeteria, where they served a modest but essentially traditional meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, and pie. I spent the night helping to observe material between galaxies in galactic clusters. My daughters came up to help me both on Thanksgiving and the night before. Here we see my youngest at the WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak as we were opening for a night’s work.

Earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to have dinner with my oldest niece and her lovely family. I was able to meet my grand niece and grand nephew for the first time. I would have enjoyed spending more time with them, but I am definitely thankful schedules worked out that we could see them.

I was curious to learn a little more how this holiday came about. Of course, the traditional story is that it started in November 1621 when the settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts celebrated their first successful corn harvest with the help of the Wampanoag tribe in the area. Governor William Bradford called for three days of Thanksgiving. As part of the celebration, he sent out a party to go fowling, to bring back game birds for the feast. Whether they actually had Turkey is anyone’s guess.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

What I was less familiar with was that George Washington made the first official Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring that Thursday, November 26, 1789 would be a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the successful end of the American Revolution and the ratification of the United States Constitution. Many presidents carried on the tradition of making Thanksgiving Proclamations, but it didn’t become a regular holiday until Abraham Lincoln made it so during the height of the Civil War. In Lincoln’s proclamation, he asked all Americans to pray to God and “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”

This year, with all the “black Friday” ads that have poured into my email box, I feel like Thanksgiving has become the preliminary event to an orgiastic weekend of shopping. It’s sure a far cry from celebrating a bountiful harvest or remembering those who strove to make the United States a great nation. It makes me glad I was able to spend the weekend on a remote mountaintop with my family and with astronomers I’ve come to know well enough they feel like family, and look to the stars and dream of the future.