The Bleak Black Friday

Ok, here's a little bit of soap box, and a little bit of information for you. I've worked Black Friday in retail before, and anyone who has had to work it will tell you it sucks. A lot. Personally, I make sure I don't have to go to any store on Thanksgiving, making sure that stores have less of a reason to keep people from their families on the holiday.

Black Friday on the other hand, is a whole different story. It has become such a huge celebration of shopping that I avoid stores for my own sake. Stores are so packed it's not even worth trying to get in or out unless I absolutely positively need something. In which case I try to plan ahead for what I need so as not to get caught in that trap.

But let's get on to some numbers, and some real food for thought. In fiscal year 2012, shoppers shelled out a whopping $59 billion over the Black Friday weekend. NASA's entire budget for 2012 was only $18.7 billion. The American Red Cross operated in 2012 for $3.2 billion. We spent more on general shopping for one weekend than we did for humanitarian aid and even more than our entire space budget. For the entire year.

Now, I'm not saying having some good deals is a bad thing. But we've created such a shopping culture that it's more important to us to have a weekend of good deals than it is to help our fellow man or advance our sciences. What's even more sad is that many of the electronics people are buying wouldn't be possible without the very same space program we are neglecting. 

I simply hope that we can shift our attention to more important things, and let Black Friday just be a fun weekend of decent deals. As opposed to the single most important holiday to America. And if you think it's not a holiday, you're kidding yourself. It's more of a holiday than Thanksgiving is now.

Take a little bit to remember what's important to you. Is it the pair of skinny jeans you found on sale at JCPenny's? Is it that tablet or TV you really wanted that was on sale at Best Buy? Or are these things accessory to the rest of your life? Just take a minute, and think. Keep on shopping, but remember that money could be used elsewhere. That effort and man power needed to get you those deals could be used elsewhere. 

Like me or not, I hope it at least made you think. Remember: E Pluribus Unum.

Chasing Your Passion

Today I received my furlough notice from NASA. Since my job isn’t considered “excepted,” in other words, since no one will be injured or die if I don’t report for work, then I am to remain at home until recalled to work after the Congress passes and the President signs some sort of budget or continuing resolution to keep the government running. The fact that the government has shut down all non-essential operations should come as no surprise to anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock these last several days.

What may come as a surprise to many is the following statement from the letter I received informing me of what I can and cannot do during the furlough: “During the furlough, you will be in a nonpay, nonduty status. During this time, you will not be permitted to serve NASA as an unpaid volunteer.”

How many federal agencies, for that matter, how many employers have to tell their employees “I’m sending you home without pay for an indefinite period of time and you are strictly prohibited from doing any work for the company/organization on your own time and without compensation?” I dare say there are not very many people out there who would take forced, unpaid days off and continue to work for the company that sent them home. Except at NASA. And, yes, if it weren’t so explicitly stated, I would be one who would continue to work on my NASA projects at home, on my own time, and without compensation. I am sure I wouldn’t be alone.

The government shut down has taught us a few things about our government. Despite their shut down, society still functions. Because of their shut down, hundreds of thousands are without pay, while hundreds of millions save on their tax dollars. NASA is not exempt from these furloughs, and while the general public is saving on their overall taxes, our space program is all but stalled.

Why should any of these people furlough their passions because of politics? If there's one thing this whole ordeal has taught me, it's that there are many people out there who are seeking passion in all the wrong places. All of these scientists and engineers are forced to take time away from what they love thanks to politicians. I don't know about you, but if I ever had someone tell me I couldn't do a job I'm passionate about because a politician failed to do their job, I would find a new place to work.

If there is one message we should take from this, it's that perhaps our trust to run these programs should not be placed in an inefficient government such as ours. Not to mention, while all of these people are essentially out of work with no pay, the politicians are all still getting paid. Getting paid to shut down everyone else's work and dreams. Perhaps it's time to take a serious look at where we're placing our trust. 

We're all in this together. Let's stop letting someone else tell us what we can and cannot do.

E Pluribus Unum. 

The Impact of Space

NGC 6302 aka "Butterfly Nebula" image taken by the Hubble Telescope


The impact of our aspirations to look beyond our own planet have been heavy for human society. Ever since the first telescopes were invented and used we've gained a better understanding of how our solar system works. Not to mention, it led to the invention of the spyglass used by the public and private sector. 

Let's look at it in a more modern view. For example: How much does NASA effect our economy? Well, NASA's yearly budget for Fiscal Year 2014 is $17.7 Billion. Since 2005, NASA has potentially flowed $180 billion into the economy. How is that? Well, a lot of the technology developed by NASA for the use in Space Exploration is adapted to commercial products we use every day.

GPS, wireless communications, more powerful computers and the like are all indirect effects felt by NASA's pursuit of space! Many private companies value NASA's research. From helping Aeronautics by developing pressure-sensitive paints, to helping to develop better dietary information, NASA's work expands far beyond just their spacecraft and work directly. 

Even the Private Sector is helping on this front. Soon, Space Tourism may be real. Imagine being able to take a ride in a sub-orbital ship so you can see the Pale Blue Dot with your own eyes. My guess is it truly is a life changing experience!