Tag Archives: memories

Pixar, the Space Shuttle, and Kids’ Museum Memories

Went with the family to see Space Shuttle Endeavour and a Pixar-themed exhibit on computer animation at the California Science Center.

The 6YO loved the Pixar exhibit, which broke down all the steps to creating a computer-animated movie into separate hands-on centers where you could do things like…

  • Apply different textures and bump maps to an object.
  • Rig a character for movement.
  • Change the lighting of a scene (real or virtual).
  • Define a shape in a 3D grid and watching the computer rotate it (way too much time on this one).
  • Create your own stop-motion animation by moving an actual desk lamp.

The only way we got him out was to point out that the museum was closing, and we only had 10 minutes left to get to the touch pools he’d said he wanted to visit. As it turned out, the pools shut down about two minutes before we got there, but staff was willing to let him look at the starfish. And we did catch the last desert flash flood simulation of the day.

As for the shuttle…he wasn’t impressed. He insisted on taking the simulator ride, but the real thing? I guess it’s old news when the whole fleet’s already been shut down by the time you start hanging onto long-term memories. 🤷

Admittedly, a big aluminum hut isn’t as suitable a viewing area for Endeavour as open space in broad daylight, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. Though that might have been the fact that it was my first time getting up close. On the other hand, this time I could see both sides. Heck, I could walk under it!

There is a new building in the works, where they’ll be displaying it with one of the external tanks in launch position. I’m sure it will lead to plenty of cartoons and movies where someone goes to the museum, breaks into the shuttle and blasts off.

I couldn’t make the building line up with my memories of visits when I was younger, back when it was the Museum of Science and Industry. The only thing I could match up at all were the wall facing the Exposition Park rose garden, and some of the buildings by the parking lot (a sunken structure now, but I remember it being flat).

Then again, what I remember are specific exhibits more than the layout: a big math/physics exhibit, a chicken incubator, and a multi-screen cartoon about energy sources and engine types called “The Water Engine.” (Each screen has a character talking up internal combustion, flywheels, mag-lev, electric, etc. I still quote the Peter Lorre-inspired fuel-cell scientist saying “And then…we burn the hydrogen!”)

It turns out there’s a good reason nothing fit my memory: They tore down the whole building in the late 1990s, preserving only that one wall!

Fuzzy Memories of Duck Food Danger

Duck! When I was around four years old, I went on a field trip to a park with a pond, and we fed the ducks. Unfortunately the duck food included peanuts. I rubbed my eyes after handling it, and they swelled shut. Fortunately this was long before my food allergies got really bad, so I only had to go into the doctor’s office, not the emergency room.

It might be my oldest memory related to food allergies, though it was something my parents and I already knew about. (I’ve quite literally had this allergy as long as I remember.)

Last month I went with my four-year-old son’s preschool class on a field trip to a park with a pond, and they fed the ducks.

It was a little unnerving!

Nothing happened this time around.

It got me thinking, though. I tried to remember as much as I could about the incident. Since I was so young, I’m not entirely sure how much is first-hand and how much is just remembering the story as it’s been retold. Memory is a tricky thing, nowhere near as accurate or stable as we’d like to think.

I wrote down the fragments I do remember, then asked my parents to tell me what they remembered about it. It was interesting to see what did — and didn’t — line up.

I remember a wide, curved pond, encircled by a wide sidewalk, with dense trees on the far side. The day is overcast, possibly drizzling a bit. A red box sits on a post, a vending machine for the duck food.

My parents are pretty sure it was the Woodbridge neighborhood in Irvine, which has two artificial lakes. The breadth and curvature fit. I’m not so sure about the trees, and the distance across seems too far, but it’s a big enough area that some part of the lake might fit.

My dad also remembers duck food dispensers “like gumball machines” along the shore, so I didn’t make those up.

OTOH, it was a summer day camp, so I’m probably wrong about the jackets and weather…but then I spent most of this week in June gloom, so who knows?

I remember looking at my face in a mirror. Not what I looked like, though I’m told I laughed like it was the most hilarious thing I’d ever seen.

The odd thing is that I picture a wall-mounted mirror on a tile background, but my dad remembers a handheld mirror.

I vaguely recall a crowd of children walking around in jackets, with maybe two or three adults, and the feeling of itchy, swollen eyes.

I didn’t remember the paramedics or my dad taking me to the doctor. Though now I can dredge up a faint memory of a van and an EMT looking at me. I picture an awning connected to a building, like you’d find at the drop-off point of a hospital or entryway of a hotel, with yellowish or off-white walls and glass doors. I’m not sure that location makes sense, though.

And one mystery that had baffled me: Why were there peanuts in the duck food? Was it like trail mix? Was it some sort of pellets with peanut butter as the glue?

It turns out we ran out of food from the dispenser and started tossing in bits of another kid’s peanut butter sandwich.

That’s kind of weird, because this time around, when we stopped for a snack, the child who sat nearest to us had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

It’s probably just as well that I made sure not to touch my eyes after helping feed the ducks.

“Oh, There’s a Snake Under My Cot”

Orange County Historian Phil Brigandi writes about the first time he ever saw a rattlesnake bite in his many years at Lost Valley Scout Reservation. It reminded me of an experience I had one year that my Boy Scout troop went there for summer camp. This would have been around 1990, maybe 1991 or 1992. I don’t remember the exact order, and all my patches are in storage, but I must have been 14 or 15, and it was at least my fourth summer camp and at least my second at Lost Valley.

There are two kinds of campsites at Lost Valley, or were at the time: One type had simple wooden cabins, which held two bunk beds apiece*. This was the other type, with canvas tents. The canvas made up the roof and walls, and was tied to a metal frame with a plywood floor. (Note: this arrangement is not sealed.) Two cots lay on the floor. Scouts would typically lay out their sleeping bags on top of the cots, and stow their gear underneath.

The site was in a wooded area of the camp — mostly evergreen trees — below a hill, in the Camp Irvine section. Looking in from the road, there was a large rock formation to the right, which I remember a lot of us scouts would climb onto. (It’s the 13th point of the Scout Law: A Scout Climbs Rocks) To the left, the land stayed flat at least as far as the next section of road. Straight back was a fairly steep hill which led up to more campsites and eventually the dining hall, if you were willing to go off-trail and cut through another site. Judging by the map, it looks like it was probably Indian Wells campsite. Edit: My dad points out that the stones had been grinding sites for the local Native American tribes, which may have been the source of the name.

My tent was toward the back. One night** as I was getting ready for bed, I set my canteen down before closing it and accidentally knocked it over. I quickly set it upright, then got down with a flashlight to look at the puddle of water spreading back under my cot, and see if I needed to move anything out of the way.

Looking back at me was a rattlesnake. It had apparently set up its own camp under my bed. I said, surprisingly calmly, “Oh, there’s a snake under my cot.”

“That’s nice,” my roommate, Geoff, who was already half-asleep, mumbled. Followed a few seconds later by, “WHAT!?!?”

I think he went to get an adult while I kept my distance and watched the snake. Or possibly the other way around. Or maybe we both went for help. I definitely recall one of those audio relays of boys saying, “There’s a snake in Kelson’s tent!” Someone went to contact camp staff, and the snake crew showed up. (Chances are pretty good that Phil Brigandi was among them.)

Keep in mind that it was dark. It was several hours into night, and the only light came from flashlights and propane lanterns.

Edit: My dad, who was there as a troop leader, adds a little more info:

They used the opportunity to make a point that little rattlesnakes are more dangerous than adults, because they’re less skilled at releasing their venom in small doses. (Otherwise, the snake has no venom for a second strike, in case it needs to fight another enemy.) So little rattlesnakes inject you with everything they’ve got.

Our biggest concern of course was that we didn’t want the rattlesnake to get away while we went and got the snake control guys. (Otherwise, you’ve got the trouble of wondering where it’s GONE!) Of course, nobody was going to try to catch it or anything, so the basic idea was to leave it alone but keep the lights on so we could keep an eye on it. We all counted ourselves lucky when we got back and found that the snake was still where we’d found it!

They don’t kill rattlesnakes when they find them, just relocate them. (Rattlesnakes play a part in the local ecosystem, after all.) Their equipment consisted mainly of a stick with, IIRC, a loop of rope on one end, and a large wooden box. Normal practice involved trying to pick up the snake with the stick, depositing it in the box, closing it in the box, then taking it out somewhere farther away from any people.

There was a problem, though: The snake was too small to pick up. It just kept sliding through the loop. Finally someone (possibly my dad, now that I think about it) picked it up with a shovel and put it in the box. They closed it up, may have loaded it on a truck, and that was the last I ever saw of the snake.

*It was in one of those cabins that I once rolled off the top bunk in my sleep and woke up on the way down, before I hit the floor. I don’t remember it hurting at all. I just climbed out of my sleeping bag, climbed back up, and went back to sleep.

**I think it was the same night that I took my camera and a tripod out to one of the large meadows and experimented with taking pictures of the night sky. I got some fairly decent (for a first-timer) shots of Sagittarius, Scorpio, and the Milky Way, which I’ll have to see if I can find sometime.

Back in Space!

NASA Returns to Flight as Discovery Reaches Orbit.

Rather than getting my hopes up, I’ve been taking an “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach to this. And now, we’re finally back in space!

Here’s hoping the shuttle will be able to tide us over until the next-generation ship is ready. IMO we should have had another type of launch vehicle five years ago at the latest. That way Columbia never would have gone up, or if it had, we could have kept the newer fleet flying and just grounded the shuttles.

On a more personal note, I’m reminded of the time I went to see a shuttle landing. My mom took me and my brother out of school for a day, and we drove up with a family friend to Edwards Air Force Base where we set up camp with a zillion other people on the dry lake bed. We slept in the car, and the next morning everyone tried to get as close as possible to the chain link fence that marked the edge of the public viewing area.

Somewhere in a closet, I’ve still got a roll of slides from that landing. Of course, they had us so far away from the runway that I could barely catch the shuttle with a telephoto lens. I made an 8×10 print of the best slide in my grandfather’s home photo lab, and the shuttle was barely 1½ inches. [Update: I finally scanned the photos.]

And the shuttle that I watched land? It was Discovery, and it was the first flight since the Challenger disaster.

Now if someone can just convince NASA to give Hubble its 120-zillion mile checkup instead of just throwing it away…