Sunday, December 23, 2012

Getting Together to Game

The days have gotten long. Our lives our busy. Our friends and family are spread across this small planet of ours. Yet, we can still get together for a good game.

For some of us, during the Holiday season we think of joining round the table to play a board or card game. There are so many to choose from. Yet, how to do so when your gaming group is distributed across three time zones or more. Thankfully we live in "THE FUTURE" where all this can be achieved through asynchronous online play.

It is becoming more and more common for board games to have an electronic game equivalent. If you look through the iTunes* store you can probably find hundreds. While this is all well and good, only a portion of those were designed with online asynchronous play.

For any who may not understand what I mean by online asynchronous,  let me clarify a bit. The online should be self evident if you are reading this on the Internet. As for asynchronous, I don't want a game that all the players have to be online at the same time or on the same network. We are looking for games where I take my turn on my phone, then the next player in Portland gets a notification that it is her turn. She may be asleep at the time. So the game will sit in a holding pattern until she takes her turn. Once the gamer in Portland is done, play moves to the next up in North Carolina.

In order to better compile a list of games that meet these criteria, and run on iOS*, I have compiled a GeekList on Board Game Geek. Check out the list. Thumb it if you are a BGG member and find it useful. Know of a game that is missing? Either add it yourself if you are a BGG member, or let me know about the game and I can add it.

I'm "Moon Ranger" on Apple's Game Center if anyone wants to look me up.

*Sorry for those folks who use non-iOS devices. I have an iPhone and iPad, and many of my gaming group use iOS devices as well. Those implementations are the ones I am most familiar with.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Taking a Stand - National Coming Out Day

Be Yourself
Photo by Laura Burns

October 11 is National Coming Day. I am a straight cis-female, yet I still want to come out. I want to come out on the side of the GBLT community. I want to come out on the side of equal civil rights. Clearly and plainly, I want to make my views known.

Two friends of mine have a very happy marriage. The are a great couple and appear hetro-normative. The thing that is not obvious on the surface is that JR and Jared are queer. They come out regularly online so that their queerness isn't masked by their current life, since it will forever be a part of them. Both JR and Jared have put up posts about National Coming Out Day which are linked.

Yet, if JR and Jared had made different decisions, they may be happy, but they could not be married.

Earlier this year (2012), I was devastated to hear of the loss of astronaut Dr. Sally Ride. Sally was the first American woman in space. She was dedicated to educating and inspiring young people. She was also gay.

From everything I have heard about Sally Ride, she was a very private person, so nothing in her private life was well known. Her pancreatic cancer was obscured, as was her personal relationships. That said, I can't help but feel that if she was publicly out, her message of science education for the young would have been inhibited. Many would have considered that her sexual orientation somehow changed her ability to talk about science.

Her relationship of 27 years is longer than most marriages I know, yet it is not acknowledged legally. Her partner has no right to any of her government death benefits. I have no insight into how Dr. Ride's medical care was handled, but regularly homosexual couples are blocked from making medical decisions for their partners.

These are examples of loving committed relationships by people who were created differently.

We are all different in some way or another. Some of us in small ways. Some of us in big ways. I don't know of anyone who hasn't been bullied or teased at some point. So stop here for a second and think about yourself. Think about something that makes you, you. Yet you were criticized, or bullied, or even just told to repress that aspect of yourself. How did that make you feel? Were you made to feel bad about your glasses? Going bald? That you like baseball?  Now think about how much worse it is when you are asked to supress your fundamental nature.

"There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts." - Neil Gaiman

What are we losing when we ask people to suppress themselves? What has been broken forever? What discoveries are not made? What art not created? What lives lost?

The United States is a country with a separation of religions and state, there is no reason why civil marriage should not be legal. When we separated from Britian in 1776, we declared that "all men are created equal". It is time we start acting that way.

Over the years, the United States has taken a group and not allowed them to be equal. Unfortunately, the Bible has been used to justify the sub-humanization of women, people with dark skin, and homosexuals among others. As with other aspects of the Bible, this needs to be taken in context and re-evaluated when the context changes. The context has changed. The World has changed since the Bible was written. Society has changed. Science has broadened our understanding of biology and phsyiology (yet there is still a lot to understand).  This is discussed well in the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So", which is available on Netflix. It seeks to bring better understanding to the issue by following five families. The Trailer is here.

You can't convince me that by allowing my friends and family to join in loving committed relationships is going to ruin society. You can't convince me that allowing them to raise children in a loving home will ruin society.

I hope I can convince you that hatred of others will. Perhaps hatred is a strong word for some, but denying someone their civil rights based on factors out of their control is well down that slippery slope.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Stone and Shadow

Photo by Laura Burns
As I mentioned in my last post, in April of 2011 I had a photo exhibition at Constellation Books. The photos from that exhibition can be seen here. Well, this October, we doing it again. Appropriate to October, this exhibition, Stone and Shadow, features cemetery photos I've taken in Graz, Germany; New Orleans, LA; and Ashtabula, OH.

The photographs will be in Constellation Books throughout October, but we will have a special reception on October 26 from 6:00-9:00 PM ET. It will be a lovely eventing of books, beer and wine tasting, and munchies. One of the photos is above. After the exhibition is over, I'll post all of the photos on Flickr, but for now, if you want to see all of them you have to go to Constellation Books.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Travel Assignment

Photo by Laura Burns
I have many hobbies, occupations, things I do outside of my daily job. Photography is one of them. For me to call myself a Photographer sounds to me odd and strange and perhaps self aggrandizing. I mean if you ask me about f-stop, my eyes start to glaze and I go, “uh”. If you then ask me the details of my lenses, I will say “um” and look at my camera looking kinda dumb. It isn’t that I can’t figure all that out, it just I just haven’t had time to sit down to learn and apply the terminology. I’d probably take better pictures if I did. What I can do is play with the buttons on my camera and frame it and make it look pretty.

But then, if you ask my husband, I need to add something in front of that “Photographer” moniker. You see, awhile back I did a photo show at the awesome independent bookstore, Constellation Books. You can see some of the photographs I used in the show on my Flickr Page. My good friend, Lauretta Nagle, the store owner, sold several of my pictures. In addition, NASA has used one of my pictures for a poster to promote their social media sites and another picture has been used on’s Cosmic Log. For the latter items, I got photo credit, but no compensation.

If you add all this together, my husband feels I should call myself a “Professional Photographer”. I prefer to call myself someone who likes to take pictures, is pretty decent at it, and sometimes people like to buy those photos or use them in high publicity things. Does that work?

In an effort to ever improve my photography skills, I had the extraordinary pleasure of attending the National Geographic Traveler Photography Seminar: The Travel Assignment at the National Geographic Headquarters in DC.

Our excellent seminar hosts were Dan Westergren and Jim Richardson. They set out telling us that “photography is the language of travel” and to help us to create photographs that better tell a story showing us many fantastic examples.

What amazed me about the seminar, is how much planning and time goes into planning for  the pictures. Some of the photographers have researched over a year before going on location to find that perfect shot. Then, when they get there, they find a great location, then wait. Wait for something interesting to happen. Wait for the light. Wait for just the right shot.

Now they may take hundreds of pictures to get that one shot, but there is still a lot of planning going on. This is not the average tourist’s view of travel. Which is why there are so many snapshots, and fewer photographs.

Going along with this, you need to build a relationship with those you are trying to photograph. You aren’t going to have as much luck if you get a big lens and hang out in the corner and try an photograph people. Get to know the people, try to understand them and what they are going through. Try the food. Get a haircut. Experience the culture. Then once you know something about them, fade into the background and take their picture. It takes practice.

Without giving you a long series of photos, it is hard for me to explain some of the concepts they were explaining to us. One of the big ideas was to capture the sense of place with the photograph. Try to tell a story, or have the viewer ask questions. To try to explain a bit, I have included a picture of mine from Manchu Pichu, Peru I took earlier this year. While this picture doesn’t really show the classic view of the site, I hope that it gives you a feel for Peru.

There were so many other great tips. I have so many notes on portraiture, lighting, what to pack and also importantly what to do in the “real world”. Not everyone has time to research a project for a year and then spend a week at one site finding the right angles. One really cool idea they had was that when you go on a trip, give yourself an assignment. It gives you a focus and gives you a talking point when you approach people.

One of the more interesting aspects of the seminar was when Dan Westergren discussed which of Jim Richardson’s photos were chosen to compliment Jim’s story “A Scottish Obsession.” Jim wasn’t always happy with  which ones were included in print version of the National Geographic Traveler magazine, but there were editorial reasons why each decision was made.  Of note, if you read the iPad version of National Geographic Traveler, you get more pictures and content

Since the Seminar was partially sponsored by Acura, we got a couple of extra perks. We got to take home the hefty book Simply Beautiful Photographs by Annie Griffiths (signed by the seminar leaders) and published by National Greographic. Acura and National Geographic are sponsoring a contest for those of us in the seminar. We have about a month to craft a picture featuring an Acura car in an interesting way, using the lessons from the seminar.

The prize is a $500 gift certificate to a top restaurant.

Does anyone have an Acura I can borrow?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Not Forgotten and Twitter

I haven't updated this in quite some time. In large part it was procrastination as defined by perfectionism. As in, I had plans to do a post early in 2009 that I have yet to do, so I haven't done anything. Silly, but the way my brain works at times.

Instead of doing that, I am going to update you on some cool news. I started a twitter feed specifically to tweet about the goings on in space, the space community and the space business. That feed is called @moonrangerlaura.

In the first week I got an amazing response, in large part to many of my fellow twitter friends who helped spread the word. I would love to list them all here, but I am sure I would miss some. To all of you, THANKS. Just when I thought everything was going great, it got even better.'s Geek Dad Blog created the list of 100 Geeks You Should Follow on Twitter. If you follow the link and scroll down the list you see names like Phil Plait (@badastronomer), Will Wheaton (@wilw), Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) and Astronaut Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike). At the very bottom of the list, you see @moonrangerlaura!

I was flabbergasted. I appreciate all of the support everyone has given me. If you are on Twitter and are interested in space, please give me a look.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008


I have a lot running through my mind these days. Thoughts of the present. Thoughts of the future. Thoughts of the past. I have not done all of the thinking that I need to, but I am beginning to realize a few things.

People seem to like me. This first thing is difficult for me to understand. I can accept it as I have repeated tangible evidence to that effect. This evidence still does not help me understand it.

There is a large gap in the way others see me and the way I see myself. It is strange how our capacity for self esteem is set in our elementary school years, and is difficult to change. Yet, life holds so much for us past that early time.

In the TV show Cold Case, there is one episode ("The Sleepover") about a young girl in middle school who doesn't fit in. She is the victim. At one point in the episode, the girl talks about how great life will be in just a few years. How popular they will be in college. How the "in crowd" won't matter much longer. Later the killer breaks down and confesses that she just didn't understand that you can survive those rough childhood years.

Cold Case is interesting in that in many of the episodes it shows people who strayed from the status quo. They did, or wanted to do, or planned to do, something special. Dare to be different. Take a man's job. Stand up for what is right. Work for change. In the show, these people suffer. They are killed. Yet, I don't find this depressing. The show does a good job of portraying the desperation of those who want things to "stay the same" while still celebrating the lives cut short. And, of course, they always catch the killer.

So where do I stand... and is that where I want to stand.

Everyone has to answer that question for themselves. There are little things and big things and nothings that all are part of the thought process.

To myself, I stand in a whirl-wind of un-realized potential and self doubt. I stand in fear, not of change, but of embarassment. Oh, and I have pittifully low self-esteem.

Everyone knows that I am shy, yet most people don't realize I am an extrovert. That is not a contradiction. The shyness comes from the fear. But what is there to fear? So people laugh, so you get reprimanded, so what. As Seth Godin says in the book Tribes, they don't literally burn people at the stake anymore in most of the world.

Despite all the self doubt, I know I have potential. I seem to attract people. I know my skills. The question I need to answer for myself is whether or not I am putting them to use appropriately. As I said, I have a lot of thinking to do.

I am not saying all of this to fish for comments or to get attention. (I am tempted to turn comments off on this post.) I am saying it, well to say it. And perhaps my words could help one other person to not fear. To step with me outside that warm comfortable zone to see what is waiting for us.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.
Always remember, you have within you
the strength, the patience, and the passion
to reach for the stars to change the world.”
~ Harriet Tubman

Today is my birthday. Despite the migraine problems I have been having recently, I have been smiling all day. I have gotten Birthday Wishes from all over the world and the internet via social media. Twitter, Facebook, Skype, e-Mail and the comments on my blog have been busy with messages for me. I am very touched and feeling very loved.

Above is this year's Birthday Quote. I have a shirt with it on the back. Whenever I am down I look at this quote and try to remember. I am a strong believer that one person can change the World. I hope that my existence on this planet will make it a better place. Every day, no matter how I feel, I hope to keep trying to make the World nicer for at least one person.

Here is to one more circuit of our star and the celebration of life. Cheers.

"One man can make a difference and every man should try."
~Either John F. Kennedy or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New Day

Yesterday I voted. Last night I stayed up late to watch the results. While I was annoyed by the coverage, I was happy at the outcome.

Today is a new day in the United States. I am encouraged and excited for the future of this country. It is good to feel, at least for a short time, proud of the elected leader of my country. While I don't agree with all of Obama's ideals and policies, I do feel that he is a better choice for this country at this time.

Time will tell, and I am sure that there will be disappointments and there is a big mess to clean up. I hope he is up for the challenge. I hope the space program stabilizes and gets a strong direction. I hope the new First Lady keeps the National Book Festival going. I hope the kids enjoy their new puppy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Happy Birthday NASA!

On 1 October 1958 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) came into existence.  The creation NASA moved the exploration of space from the responsibility of the military, to the responsibility of civilians.  If this had never happened, the world would be a much different place. It changed the mindset of space exploration.  It became a place where anyone could dream of living and working in a place without borders.  Space became part our everyday lives, often in ways we never expected.  Civil space enables the revolution in private space that we are witnessing now.  Space is gradually becoming accessible to the every-human, fulfilling dreams held in our hearts since we first saw the stars.

Happy Birthday NASA.  You have inspired the dreams of generations.  You have your faults, but despite what anyone says... NASA, you have changed the world.  A toast to you and the next 50, 100, and 150 years and the further exploration of the unknown.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tropical Storms

2008 is an auspicious year... it is the year of Tropical Storm Laura. Laura has formed in the Atlantic and is making her way towards Ireland and Great Britain. It is not clear yet whether or not Laura will become a hurricane, but she is dangerous. Europe beware.

Friday, September 12, 2008


I am currently in beautiful England for some JWST work, but while I am away, the event of the year is happening at NASA GSFC. If you are free this weekend... yes, Saturday, September 13... you can visit NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for Launchfest!

It is rare that Goddard opens its gates to the general public. There will be booths about our projects, including the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) as well as entertainment, food, and lots of fun. You know that if I was in the country, I would so be there.

Below is the flier from NASA. Consider working it into your plans for the weekend and showing our interest for the exploration of the universe.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dragon*Con 2008 Schedule

Tomorrow we leave for Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia. This year my lovely husband and I will be guests. I am on the Space track while Cmar is on the Science track. We make a brief showing on the Podcasting track as well. My official schedule is below. Now off to packing....

International Space University & Project Phoenix: A Lunar Biological & Social Archive
Description: Phoenix: A Lunar Biological and Social Archive was a team projects from the International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Program 2007. This talk introduces ISU and discusses archiving human knowledge on the moon in case of catastrophe on Earth.

Time: Fri 01:00 pm Location: Forsythe

Making Space Relevant
Description: Is going back to the Moon passe? Why aren't people as engaged in space exploration as they used to be? Could it be that space exploration is considered irrelevant? Join us to discuss how space exploration can be & is still relevant.
Time: Sat 11:30 am Location: Forsythe

Aliens You Will Meet Puppet Show, Live!
Description: It will be made of felt, fur, and awesome. (Obviously, not the description stolen from the program.)
Time: Saturday, 5:30pm, Rockdale (Hilton)

Stellar Women: Looking Up and Speaking Out
Description: Our esteemed panel of women are not only involved in space and astronomy, but also community outreach and education. Come and pick their brains about their experiences and plans for the future.
Time: Sun 10:00 am Location: Forsythe

The First Light Machine: James Webb Space Telescope
Description: Defined as one of the world's 9 largest science projects by the Discovery Channel, the James Webb Space Telescope is a 6.5 meter telescope set to launch in 2013. Hear an overview of the project and the current status from a project engineer.

Time: Sun 01:00 pm Location: Forsythe

Space Flight: Robots vs Humans
Description: How should we explore the universe? Send humans with all their fralities and tons of extra oxygen, food, water, etc.? Or should we stick to robots who are cheaper, faster, and if they die the world doesn't violently object? Come join this lively debate and put forth your own views.

Time: Sun 05:30 pm Location: Forsythe

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Deadline Extended

The deadline to send your name to the Moon aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been extended to July 25. Don't miss your chance and sign up here: