Microsoft Band 2 and heart rate

2016-01-29 20.27.51I bought  Microsoft Band 2 a few weeks back ($200). I’d looked at the Band 1 a year ago and was a bit scared off by its extreme flatness; the Band 2 has a nice arch. I jumped on it.

This post is about heart rate monitoring accuracy, but before I go on, the Band 2 is quite a remarkable bit of technology. Comfortable enough to sleep in, not too large, clasp as magnificent (if less neck-saving) as my Shimano mountain-biking clips, vibrates with incoming phone calls and texts before my phone hints at intrusion, sleep tracking is pretty cool, the app and Web interfaces are deep and interesting… in all hard to complain. I’ve read a bunch of reviews and all the reviewers, doing their jobs, did find fault. But ultimately the good vastly outweighs the shaky. (The most shaky seems to be the UV sensor, whose utility I question anyway. But I live in Denver, where one doesn’t need a UV sensor to tell one to sunscreen up between dawn and dusk.)

So, the heart rate monitor. It works quite well. But it’s not as accurate as a chest strap. I have data as well as anecdotal evidence for this.

First, the data.

I went on a run around Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood Three nights ago, more or less a 10K as my daughter kicked around at the Bladium. I wore the Band on myleft wrist, a Polar FT7 on my right (plus chest strap, obviously), and to add a bit of spice turned on GPS and Endomondo on the HTC ONE phone.

The Band has GPS and heart rate plus my weight and age (170 lbs, 47).

The Polar has just weight and heart rate.

Endomondo has just weight and GPS.

Here’s what we got.

Band (from the lovely Web interface):

From the Microsoft Health dashboard

From the Microsoft Health dashboard

There are a couple of things to note. First is that during mile 2, at a 7’32” pace, I wasn’t probably averaging 126 beats per minute. If you look at the graph you can understand why. The Band, probably a bit loose (user error, OK), went out of contact/got unreadable. I was well over 160, maybe into the 170s during much of it. During mile 3, we cut out for a good while, though the heart rate estimate of 159 for the split is probably not too far off, though elevated because I’d killed myself in mile 2 and was on the high end coming into 3. Mile 6 is also quite perplexing, as I was pretty tired, but at an 8’49” pace probably not running quite 166 bpm hot. But maybe.

The Band said my average heart rate was 156 bpm and that I burned 794 calories.

Now for Endomondo on the phone:

Endomondo on the phone

Endomondo, using GPS and how much meat I schlep around our fair planet as inputs, pegged my calorie count higher (908). I started Endomondo slightly later than the Band and the Polar, hence the time and distance discrepancy. How it came up with a 5:09 max pace I don’t know, because I don’t recall having fallen down the stairs, which is the only time I achieve such velocity without some sort of mechanical assistance.

And finally, the Polar, which  knew heart rate and weight:

2016-01-26 19.48.562016-01-26 19.49.11

This post requires a lot of scrolling, for which I apologize.

The Polar and the Endomondo jibed as exactly as I’ve ever seen on the estimated calories (typically Endomondo is 5-10 percent more generous).

The Band probably underestimated the calories, largely due to losing contact with the wrist. It came in with a higher max heart rate (180 vs. 176). The average heart rate, according to the band, was 156. Pretty close, the discrepancy probably explained by the dropping out when I was running hot during mile two.

So here, the band looks pretty good, as long as one tightens it properly around one’s wrist.

But then a run today gave me pause. This was a slower-paced thing, with but one with a twist: at mile 4.6, roughly, I stopped at the westerly field-turf soccer field at the Lowry Sports Complex and did five sets of sprints (I play indoor soccer; call it training) — suicides, six yards and back, 18 yards and back, 32 yards and back. So 112 stop-start yards, times five. I didn’t wear the Polar and left my phone at home. From Microsoft Health:

MSFT Band-Jan 29 runThe striking bit is at about mile 4.6. Here we have complete connectivity on the wrist but strange numbers. While working far harder than the entire previous four-plus miles, my heart rate supposedly dropped 50-ish beats per minute. Between sets, gasping for mile-high air, it was telling me I was at like 135 bpm. Having worn the Polar on these runs, I would guess I was in the low to mid-170s. Perhaps the Band 2 gets in a groove, or is programmed to assume that this particular heart-rate pattern was too strange to take seriously. But something was clearly going wrong.

Why do I bother sharing this? Subjecting you so much tedious scrolling? I think the Microsoft Band 2 is a really cool product, and do recommend it if you’re looking for a fitness band/almost non-Apple Watch. And the heart-rate monitor is a cool thing and works pretty well (when I’m not exercising and check out of curiosity, it’s always plausible). But there appear to be limits to how accurate this particular LED-based technology can get. The wrist is a good distance from the heart, and is especially subject to the very motions that are the point of exercise. The chest strap’s sensor, in contrast, hangs out like two inches from the myoelectric dynamo itself. With that, the Band just can’t hang.


My solar panels save their volume in coal every year

Stack of solar panels in a garage

Solar panels tend to generate substantially less electricity when in garages.

Given the success of the global climate talks in Paris, it’s time to post a hyper-local piece on our household’s greatest carbon-mitigation endeavor: our solar panels.

Specifically, I got a wild hair to compare the volume occupied by the stack of solar panels to the volume of the coal that wasn’t incinerated thanks to their non-garage-based efforts over the past five-plus years.

I can do this because, thanks to a wicked hailstorm in June, we needed a new roof, which in turn meant our solar panels had to come off temporarily. They’ve been off since late October now, collecting very little sunlight where I’d typically park in our two-car garage (Denver’s roof inspectors face a crazy backlog, which today’s ten inches of snow is not helping). But this allowed me to actually measure this block of solar panels and, out of curiosity, figure out how much coal they’ve spared.

Solar panels in garage

A garage is not known as an appropriate natural habitat for solar panels.

Our east-southeast-facing, 2.86 kilowatt system (thirteen 220-watt REC Solar modules) generated 20,597 kilowatt hours of electricity from the time it went live on July 21, 2010 through their removal on Oct. 14, 2015.

Local utility Xcel Energy’s 2014 fuel mix in Colorado was as follows:

18.90% wind
1.20% solar
1.70% hydro
0.00% biomass
52.70% coal
25.30% natural gas

Note wind number — big. Solar is way up from just a few years ago, too, but still a rounding error.

Focusing on coal, multiplying the kilowatt hours the panels generated by the percentage of coal in Xcel’s Colorado energy mix, the panels displaced 10,855 kilowatt hours of coal-fired electricity. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that it takes about 1.05 pounds of coal to generate one kilowatt hour of electricity, so that’s 11,374 pounds/5,170 kilograms/2.58 metric tons. (Note that, assuming coal is almost all carbon, burning it would amount to about 3.6 times that weight in carbon dioxide, thanks to the two Os hooking up with each of those liberated Cs).

Five cubic yards, in dirt form

Five cubic yards, in dirt form (courtesy Guins Yard)

Assuming 337 cubic centimeters of bituminous coal per pound (trust me), we get 135.4 cubic feet, or, thankfully, almost precisely 5 cubic yards of coal that wasn’t burned.

The panels themselves, stacked and parked in the garage, consume 1.07 cubic yards.

So: the panels have saved four times their volume in coal over their lifetime. They will, assuming they don’t degrade too much over their 20-year lifespan and that Xcel doesn’t continue to cut back on coal (this assumption, I hope, proves false) obviate their volume in burned coal — a cubic yard — every year they silently produce. That does’t count the roughly 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas they aren’t burning every year.

So good on ya, solar panels. And get on back up to the roof so I don’t have to keep scraping snow and ice from the car in the morning.

A couple of final notes:

  • I’m not sure if the EIA’s coal-to-electricity calculations include transmission and distribution losses or not. Looks like it accounts for about 6 percent of actual power generation in the United States, according to the World Bank.
  • The solar panels are not actually ours: they belong to Sunrun, which we pay $39 a month. This doesn’t count the $2,800 that vanished pretty much immediately after Sunrun’s IPO cratered from the $14-a-share at which we pre-IPO customers were so kindly offered to invest to the $7 range after hitting the NASDAQ (it has since rebounded somewhat). I find this a curious approach to building customer satisfaction, but the service itself has been great, and I still very much recommend them as a solar provider (just maybe not as an investment vehicle, but who knows).
  • Because Sunrun took ownership of the RECs (renewable energy credits) up front and most surely sold them to a utility who most likely used them as an excuse not to install renewable-energy capacity equal to that of our panels’ generation, it’s not clear that we technically saved any coal at all. (Because, the argument goes, had the utility not bought the RECs, it would have had to install its own renewable energy. But that’s a glass-half-empty view, isn’t it?)

In the Words of General Jack Galvin, 1929-2015

Jack Galvin, taken in his Fletcher  School office on October 18, 1999.

Jack Galvin, taken in his Fletcher School office on October 18, 1999.

John R. “Jack” Galvin, the son of a bricklayer who rose to become  NATO supreme allied commander of European forces and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy died on September 25, of complications of Parkinson’s disease.

New York Times and Washington Post obituaries both published solid roundups of a remarkable man and career. I’m sure his autobiography, which I’ve been anticipating for years now and just learned was published in April, goes into a lot more detail. Gen. David Petraeus, whom Galvin mentored, wrote the foreword.

Galvin was a rare individual: a humanitarian and humanist who climbed to the greatest military heights. A couple of years after I left Fletcher, the writer David Halberstam was in Colorado to receive the Denver Press Club’s Damon Runyon Award.  I approached him and mentioned having back in Medford at the Galvin home – he had spoken to class, and Galvin had invited a few students over the evening before to meet the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (for whom Galvin had been an important source in Vietnam).

Halberstam became animated at the mention of Galvin’s name. “What a great guy!” Halberstam said. “Can you believe he was a four-star? A four-star!”

Halberstam’s surprise wasn’t at Galvin’s lofty military accomplishments, but rather a comment on Galvin’s temperament and gentle bearing. The man didn’t come across like a “four-star.” There was none of ego or the self-import that so often comes with those who have achieved stratospheric professional standing. Galvin came across as intelligent, thoughtful  guy. As the Washington Post obit put it, he was “a prototypical warrior-intellectual.” A warrior-intellectual, if Galvin was the prototype, is a warrior who comes across as anything but.

What ultimately made Galvin different than most people, though, was that he cared incalculably less about who he was than about what he did. His career advanced in spite of a lifelong habit of doing what he felt was right from the perspectives of those his decisions impacted and that of his ultimate employer, the United States of America.

Galvin taught a course on leadership and management during his years at Fletcher (1995-2000); I was a student in the last of these. I took notes using a laptop – still an odd thing to do 16 years ago. With his passing, I it’s time to go through a few them and post some of the gems, in chronological order. If it’s not in italics, the words are his.


March 3, 2000

Followers set the terms of acceptance for leadership. Leadership is a mutually determined actvity. Leaders can’t act without followers. Stengel: “I couldn’t have done it without the team.”

In the Army, you can shoot people if they don’t follow orders—theoretically. We haven’t shot any people like that lately. . .

Think of someone:  Would that person shade the truth for the sake of their own benefit? Turn the truth a little bit? Do you have any reservations about how that person relates to people of whom he/she’s in charge? Does he push other people to lie/do things that lack integrity? Favor friends and cronies and give them advantages over someone else?  A manipulator? Who gets the credit? Do you have any reservations about putting yourself in his/her care? Would this person sacrifice others to get ahead?

How does this person really treat the person he or she is supposed to love? = the family? Is he very nice to people outside the family and very impolite and rough with people inside the family? Willing to admit mistakes? How fair is this person with competitors? How predictable/steady? How much does this person set a culture of integrity? Does he inspire groupthink? What kind of a code of ethics does the organization he works for have?

Galvin then related a story. He had once worked for two-star general Galvin declined to name (but was Keith L. Ware), a Medal of honor winner, for the U.S Army’s information wing. Galvin’s job was to analyze all media editorial content on what was being said about the U.S. Army. This general began changing stuff Galvin gave him. Taking out the negatives. The Justification: “These are hard-working people who don’t need any more bad news on Wednesday.” Galvin looked for another job, ended up worked in McNamara’s office writing the Pentagon Papers with Holbrooke and Gelb and others. “This general was killed in action in Vietnam later; a good man, but hadn’t thought it through very well. The generals needed that information.”

If you’re going to complain, do it in a positive way to enact a positive outcome.

If you are empowering people and doing a good job, then you should be able to move on without problem.

Can’t always make these family vs. work choices. Can’t always afford these choices. Middle management in particular. You want to get to a place where you can make these choices.


March 10, 2000

We do a lot of talking. Learn to be a good observer. See what’s around you. Listen to a random conversation; see how well or poorly they’re communicating.

One of the most satisfying things in the world is a good conversation with someone who has similar interests. It’s one of the smaller things but one of the finer things in life.

If you want to go up in the world—really up in the world—you have to be comfortable with the people that are up there.

With Margaret Thatcher, you are never at a social event. You are always working. Also, Margaret Thatcher always emphasizes every fourth word.

It wasn’t hard to listen with Margaret Thatcher. There wasn’t much else you could do.

In communications, there’s the carrier wave and the information riding atop it. “I don’t want to talk about that subject” is the carrier wave. The real message is usually, “We’d better talk about it.”

Remember that you’re your own teacher; successful people are excellent learners. They are always trying to learn something else.

If you’re doing a job evaluation, at the beginning, launch it by asking questions about how things are going. As you move up, you’re not talking to peons anymore, but other senior leaders. You can learn a lot. People working for you have tremendous experience already.

In NATO and the U.S. forces, had 12 different four-star generals who worked for me. Many of them were senior to me, coming from other countries.  I was still in charge, and they recognized that.

But how do I go about telling this Norwegian four-star general that I thought something wasn’t well done? You could say it’s beating around the bush, but I asked him how he felt about it. How he felt it turned out. What did he think might have improved things.

Galvin erases a massive chalk-scripted “Please sit in your groups” from the chalkboard and sketches out an intricately planned ambush on the Ho Chi Minh trail. It failed because someone fired early. Galvin and a lieutenant colonel called in the captain who had been in charge. What went wrong?,  they asked. “Smith has 2 weeks left in ‘nam and didn’t want to get killed so he fired early,” the captain said. A very straightforward answer. Galvin and the lieutenant colonel did nothing for two reasons. First, the lieutenant colonel depended on straight information from the captain. And besides, I can understand that the kid was scared. So the message to the captain was: Tell me the truth and things will work out. Don’t tell me the truth and we’ll have a problem. And the second message was: it’s better that that captain handles the situation in a way that he sees is best.

If you don’t feel that people are basically good, you’re going to have some problems.

On reporters: They just interviewed someone else about having a lion as a pet, and now they’re talking to you. And they may not know much about it at all. They are happy if you lead the discussion. This is a matter of initiative; you want to seize the initiative if you can. You don’t want to run the show, but do want to exercise your own will about what will be said. You know more about the subject than they do.

Also: a little bit of silence is not a bad thing. They can make you say more than you want to say, which is what they want—to get you freewheeling, off your plan. Because they feel that something better comes out that way. If you feel that you’ve said enough, you’re probably right. And: if you answer too quickly, it sounds too pat.

The worst people in all of media are the headline editors. They hide in the building and don’t ever come out of the building, don’t care about you or their reporters. They just want a headline. Those are the only people in the media that I really don’t like.

When you’re writing, never use , ‘etc.’ At best, it makes you look lazy; at worst, it makes you look dumb.


April 7, 2000

Don’t get mad. You’re at your best when you ought to be mad and you’re not mad.

Getting mad is not the answer; getting over it is the answer.

When you get mad, you get self-righteous, start piling all of the things on your side of the see-saw, leaving the other person nothing.

It’s like crisis: you know that this is the time to get more soft spoken, make sure your mind is clear of garbage so you can see what’s happening, keep your eyes and ears open.

Why should it be lonely? Because I’m at the top because I’m better than anyone else? To me it’s rather a silly notion. If you’re at the top, you should be the most involved person at all in all kinds of ways.

The top is one of those places where you don’t have time to be lonely. But there are times when very, very tough decisions have to be made and standing apart is important.

Whenever you find yourself saying “I’m going to make a decision and that’s it. . .” If you see this happening, let the little voice say, “What the hell am I doing?” and see if there isn’t another way.

People with integrity get ahead, and those who don’t fall behind. Given a zillion exceptions, that’s the way it works.

Never give up, never surrender your ideals. Never surrender yourself.

When hard days come—you can’t give up. Keep on going. You do what you can do. You stay by your principles to the best that you can. But you will make mistakes in life, and sometimes, if you’re like me, they can be very, very costly. It doesn’t do me any good to say, ‘anybody else in the same situation would’ve made the same mistake.’ You have to take responsibility for the mistake. You have to recover the organization—as well as the person—from that mistake.

If you’re not making mistakes, are you not living a life of challenge? Are you growing? When you’re down, say  “Hey, I’m down today, but not down forever.”

A couple of years ago, I asked Henry Kissinger to be our commencement speaker, and he said ‘yes.’ And a couple of months before the date, he said, ‘no.’ He’s felt bad about that, a I’ve done what I can to enhance that. [Kissinger visited Fletcher at Galvin’s invitation in May 2000]

Everybody says [Kissinger] has a big ego, and he does, he’s got the biggest ego you can ever run into. But he can laugh at himself in a nice way. I was with him in Frankfurt, and we went to a small dinner – about this size, about 90 people. There was a short introduction. Kisinger got up and said thank you, I’m glad you didn’t take to much time on the introduction, but actually, a few superlatives would have been alright.


April 21, 2000

If West point taught me one thing, it’s how to make a decision when you don’t think you have enough information.

But then: sometimes, waiting is better. If you look back, about half the time the problem would have gone away.

Don’t let the mission slip, where you find yourself doing something else, and not the mission.

There’s a political part to every decision. How do you then put the information out, of a) What might happen? and b) Get these people in with you on this. Have them participate. How can I motivate people to help me with this? How can I build consensus/market the decision? How do I make some friends that I don’t have now? How do I keep everybody on my side?

Remember that very few decisions are a final decision.

In the aftermath of the first Gulf War, Saddam had driven some 450,000 Kurds into the mountains of northern Iraq, where they had become trapped. Galvin, as SACEUR as well as CINCEUR (head of U.S. forces for the European command), visited and found horrendous conditions. I did whatever I could that was legal to get the Kurds out of that situation. At some camps, 31 a day were dying. Kids, mostly. I would bring this up and say, “Are we going to let them all die? Or are we going to get them out of there?” So sometimes the rules were twisted a little bit, but the rules were made for another time.

Listen, I was in trouble with this several times before. When the San Salvador earthquake hit, I had a medical hospital in Honduras. I sent a planeload of doctors and nurses. State Department wasn’t pleased. Got so mad, they said, ‘you pay.’ So I went back to the Department of Defense and they were happy to pay it. Wanted to be seen as being in the act, too.

What if you’re a major military commander with resources near a major disaster? Are you supposed to call Washington and have your coffee?

Commander’s Intent: what would my higher do (if out of contact).

Sometimes I wonder how I ever got to the top.

 What actually happened: remember those punch cards? They lost mine. That was the year my career took off.

 On handling adversity: Nobody gets through this world without a tragedy. You’re not the only one, although it seems like that. If you can help relieve them, then you do. And when it’s beyond your own ability, you try to learn from that.

That adversity has a far, far deeper impact on your capacity, intellect, and ability than the good times do.

When you feel like you can’t call, just don’t know what to say, then you should. Because when it happens to you, you want to hear a friendly voice. “I don’t know what to say to you right now, but I’m pulling for you.”

I think it’s important to always consider yourself an apprentice. You may be a great professional and know lots of things, but it’s a sad thing when people stop learning.

Try to keep the child’s delight in novelty for as long as you can.

Language skills teach you a lot about your own articulateness, learn about other culture, makes you versatile, which is vital if you want to make decision in an environment when there are so many to make.

Careers have their ups and downs.  What’s hard is that people write memoirs that make it look like a straight line. They leave out things they’re not proud of, that don’t enhance their figure. And that’s too bad, because they make as many mistakes as you and I make.

On Success: When you look back at your grandmother or grandfather, you don’t look at them and say, ‘he was a great businessman.’ you say, ‘he was a wonderful person,’ he was unique, he cared.

When you get to the nirvana of leadership people work for you because they think you’re right, because they would feel sad if they let you down, they follow you because they admire you.

Read, read, read, read, read. Across a vast scope; it can be anything. Write, write, write, write, write.

I did unusual things: I went to Columbia University to get a masters in English. I was an infantry soldier. We’re just supposed to grunt. I Wrote about 80 articles – about different things, about tactics and stuff. Then I got jobs writing for the highers. That put me in the front office, so I saw how that worked. And then I had to go talk to other people, built the network. Ended up suggesting speech content. Did that twice for the Supreme Allied Commanders when I was a colonel. Eight years later I was a four-star general in that job.

It was a palimony pony of a career, all speckled.

It’s hard to say, but the thing is not to look for some sort of a golden path to success, but prepare yourself. Read more study more, build your networks, be someone interesting to talk to at a cocktail party.


April 28, 2000

Leadership isn’t doing things—it’s getting other people to do things. It’s influencing.

It’s concerned with change. Concerned with action.

We came from a tiny creature. Our tendency is to hide, as it would. Not to act.

When you leave here, your main point has to be your story. Who are you?

When interviewing job candidates: Where do I rate this person on the winner-loser scale? What is their promise? I can listen to a lot of things that tells me what you did in the past. What I’m interested in is what you can do with me now and in the future.

You want to have an interesting story. I grew up here, I have these values, I have these goals in life that I want to achieve, and I think that your organization can help me achieve that, and I can help the organization in the process.

Don’t be too modest about things, being a wallflower when your job is to show who you are. You don’t want to seem too self-deprecating. I heard someone say this as “self defecating” recently.

What he looks for: poise, confidence, articulateness, straightforwardness, a sense of competence, wisdom, knowledge, judgement, energy, drive, commitment, conviction. What kind of an ego? Colin Powell talks about needing to be able to handle big egos, which often come with success. Big egos are a warning sign to me – what deficiencies are these covering up? I also compare that with your contemplative side: are you a thinker and a doer? A cogitator and an agitator? How’s your ability to see interrelationships among things. A test of intellect. You can’t be too smart to do a job. I was always trying to send people back for more training, and I was an infantryman. How quick on the uptake, how smart, how worldly.

Creativity. You’re trying to understand somebody’s comfort level with change. How much to-the-point is this person? Is this a rambler, who wanders off into outer space every time you ask a question?

How well-informed? How does this person manage eye contact? Some people come in and stare.

“Going by the book”: people don’t do this so much as by follow the example of the leader. They will tend to follow your action and seek the exemplary part of you. They want you to serve as example. In crisis, a mythology builds around the leader. Make giants of leaders because we want them to be that way.

You have to realize that you’re always onstage, that everything you say is taken as important.

They’d always have me go into buildings first. “after you, sir,” but I wouldn’t know where we going, so I would walk confidently into the broom closet.

Leaders can believe this stuff an lose control of their egos. Yeah, sure, my ego swelled. I would begin to get that feeling sometimes, you know, “Yes, there is god, but I’m at his right hand.” But most of the time, I knew I had a role to play.

But also, I had the tremendous advantage of starting as a private in the army. I would drink out of Styrofoam cups. They would say no no, not for you sir. Please use the china. I’d say no, I was a private and I know where they wash the china.

They’re not building you up because they’re polishing the apple, but because they want you to be a special kind of person.  I would walk by and say, gosh, the grass really suffers this time of year. And they would go out and paint the grass.

Having started as a private gave me great respect for sergeants.  And I come from a blue-collar family. My father was a bricklayer, and I used to work with these people. He was also a plasterer. All I wanted to be was a bricklayer when I was a little kid. When I would take the tools and pretend to plaster or lay bricks, he would take the tools away from me.

In Wakefield, in the paper, you will sometime still see: “chimney by Jack Galvin.” (his father). Gives me chills.

Everything you do in an organization should carry the organization forward, and you have to start looking at it. Bureaucracy occurs when you forget the mission of the organization, when you start talking about the housepeople, or start thinking about your own self.

Have you had rest? Have you had enough to eat? If you’re tired, your courage wanes on you. Not just in combat, but in negotiations, where you have to take a hard stand, you need to get rest. A great ploy in negotiations is to keep you from getting enough rest.

Body and mind come together, and courage is a function of the mind.

You don’t want to stay in a career because of some sort of sedentary approach to your life. Find a job that you like! You’re going to spend 8 hours a day doing it. I don’t mean liking it in that I went in with joy every day. I liked it because it made things better. It’s about making the world better, serving.

Don’t be afraid to admit that there are things you still need to learn. Does it mean you’re backward?

Try to maintain your curiosity across fields.

Kids don’t mind feeling dumb about something; you do, though. You lie to yourself. It takes some practice to be open-minded and to watch yourself. It takes some self-analysis.

Most of the time when you ask a question, you also convey the answer that you want. “Is your job coming along well?” This is a way to shut off information that is becoming ingrained.

That’s what’s interesting about the military: all the little things are swept away in regulations. Dress. Who salutes who when. And that leaves you free to work the bigger issues.

You have to be able to give them your intention and let them figure it out. Train them and train them so that they have the confidence to know what to do when they’re out there and it hits the fan.

Basically, ethics has a lot to do with how you feel about fellow human beings.

You learn a lot about other people when you need them. I came from a broken home—mother died very young—I learned very early that I needed people, and I really needed them bad. My first letters, to my aunt Florence, saying, ‘Could you call me this afternoon? please call me.’ And it’s often a very lonely place.

Throughout my career I was always either studying a language, writing books, writing articles, collecting my experiences.

On his own faults: I’m impulsive. I once threw an entrenching tool at a sergeant, meaning to scare him but if it hit him, that’s OK too. While I was in Ranger school. I was tired, I was upset. . . I could have been thrown out of the army. Held a small, informal court among officers and NCOs and decided not to report it.

The Vietnam experience did a lot to calm me down and teach me that, if you want to get something done as a leader, you don’t want to do it yourself.

In the memoir, these are the sorts of things I’ll talk about.

























A Late-Breaking Review


I was hanging out at the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park craft center a couple of weeks back, scrolling through emails as my daughters glued colorful glass shards to pale pine cigarette boxes, when an email came in. Subject line: A review of Jars to Stars.

We were outside at a picnic table, under a sort of tarp-awning, at the time. Tall clouds traded off with sunshine. I looked up at the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park over Alpen Inn, the lodge where the girls and I were spending a couple of days during the last week of summer vacation, and then to the psychedelically painted, life-sized elk statue beyond the fence. My first instinct was that there must be some mistake.

You see, I published “From Jars to the Stars” in late 2010. It was now mid-2015. How could this be?

As my nine-year-old fretted about her mosaic design (the speed with which my 12-year-old daughter completed hers amplifying her anxiety), I opened the .pdf, which Quest: A History of Spaceflight publisher Scott Sacknoff had kindly attached. I scrolled to the bottom first to see who’d written it up, and was surprised to see the name David DeVorkin, an eminent Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum historian.

It happens that DeVorkin’s work was essential to the early chapters of the book, which chronicle the early days of what became Ball Aerospace. He had had the foresight in the early 1990s to do oral histories with some of the key players. A couple of them had died by the time I came along in the late 2000s; others’ memories had faded further. And anyway, he, being an actual space/astronomy historian, had much a better grip on what questions to ask than I would have had.

The review, while not without valid criticisms, was enthusiastic. So I’m now doubly indebted to its author.


Pluto Man

Items from the New Horizons launch press packet, which have been hanging out in a Southwest Research Institute folder for nine-and-a-half years.

Items from the New Horizons launch press packet, which have been hanging out in a Southwest Research Institute folder for nine-and-a-half years.

You may have heard: NASA has a mission flying past Pluto tomorrow. New Horizons. The thing’s been in space for nine-and-a-half years. I was there at the launch, covering it for the Boulder Daily Camera. Wrote probably 15 stories about the mission, several of them from Cape Canaveral. It was my first and only live space shot. I can still feel the Atlas V in my gut if I sufficiently still myself.

It is my second-most-favorite-ever space mission, after Deep Impact, around which I based a book. I wanted to write a book about New Horizons, too. The focus would have been about its principal investigator, who is a big boss with a PhD. Alan Stern, based at the Southwest Research Institute offices he had founded in Boulder, a remarkable dude. We sat down for lunch maybe three years ago and talked it out. He was game. I pitched it as “Pluto Man,” though that’s a pretty narrow view of the actual man, in retrospect. Alan was very nearly an astronaut, served as NASA’s head of space science (this after the New Horizons launch) and has become a major player in NewSpace. That’s jargon for Blue Origins, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and their ilk. So there’s much more going on with this man than just Pluto.


Good that New Horizons didn’t launch on a bicycle.

The pitch didn’t achieve orbit, you could say. I talked to Alan again and proposed a Kindle Single, maybe 30,000 words. That seemed to be going somewhere until it didn’t seem like it anymore. I wondered if, having found it difficult to find a market for a book about a lot of interesting people in the space business, it might be a similar challenge with Alan Stern and New Horizons. And then I sort of let it go, knowing that Alan and his team would be getting no shortage of attention as their craft approached Pluto. I do kind of regret it now.


New Horizons schwag included lots of pretty stickers.

But then, Michael Lemonick’s story in the June 2015 edition of Smithsonian, “One Man’s Lifelong Pursuit of Pluto is About to Get Real,” is along the lines of what I’d have put together, and tens of thousands of words shorter.

New Horizons is an amazingly cool thing, truly as exciting as any robotic space mission we’ve ever done. I mean, it’s traveled 3 billion miles over nearly a decade just to get to the point. We know so little about the place — when Ira Flatow asked Alan on the most recent Science Friday how much we don’t know about Pluto, he responded in the converse, saying we could fit what we do know on a couple of 3×5 cards. Given that Alan co-wrote a book about Pluto, this was more media savvy than statement of fact. But compared to any other of our solar system’s non-Oort bodies, the dwarf planets of the Kuiper Belt remain the least understood. And the photos already coming back — well, to put in perspective how much better they are than what we’ve had heretofore, check out this, which was, until New Horizons’ approach, the best we had ever mustered:

Hubble's view of Pluto, taken in 1996. Note that Alan Stern and Mark Buie, both on the New Horizons team, were credited. So Stern will have been responsible, more or less, for every decent image we have of Pluto.

Hubble’s view of Pluto, taken in 1996. Note that Alan Stern and Mark Buie, both on the New Horizons team, were credited. So Stern will have been responsible, more or less, for every decent image we have of Pluto. Also note that the crisper, bigger renderings aren’t what Hubble saw; Hubble saw the blobs in the corners up top.

I’m going to stop now, before I start repeating a bunch of stuff Emily Lakdawalla has already said far more professionally.

I kept my media kit back in 2006, from which I’ve scattered photos about this post. To add length to accommodate them all, I’ll add my favorite of my New Horizons stories, mainly because of the lede. I loved that this brilliant, successful space scientist on the eve of his second-greatest career moment (his greatest happening tomorrow, upon New Horizons’ flyby) was wearing a ring his dad had bent and welded into shape from a NASA lapel pin.



Space exploration project was a long shot

Daily Camera, The (Boulder, CO) – Friday, January 20, 2006

Author/Byline: Todd Neff Camera Staff Writer
Section: News
Page: A01

Part of the New Horizons education and public outreach offerings included a growth chart. My kids didn't hit the bottom of the chart at the time, being  3 months old and two-and-a-half years old at the time. They're 9 and 12 now.

Part of the New Horizons education and public outreach offerings included a growth chart. My kids didn’t hit the bottom of the chart at the time, being 3 months old and two-and-a-half years old at the time. They’re nearly 10 and 12 now.

In the days leading to Thursday’s successful launch of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, Southwest Research Institute scientist Alan Stern wore a bulky ring crafted from a NASA lapel pin, a 10-cent piece and a steel bolt stretched and shaped to hug his finger.

His father, Leonard, 74, made it for him.

“It’s kind of hokey, but I wore it for good luck,” said Stern, the Southwest Research Institute scientist from Boulder leading the largest scientist-led mission in NASA’s history.

It took more than luck to bring New Horizons to the launch pad.

“I never thought it would get here,” said Ed Weiler, the NASA official who approved New Horizons on Nov. 29, 2001. “New Horizons was a mission with a history of meeting impossible requirements repeatedly.”

Weiler is now head of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., which did environmental testing on the spacecraft.

For more than a decade, at least three Pluto missions – Pluto 350, Pluto Fast Flyby and Pluto Express – had gone nowhere. Weiler pulled the plug on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-led Pluto Express in September 2000. Its projected costs had ballooned from about $500 million to roughly $1 billion.

Three months later, Colleen Hartman, then NASA’s Solar System Exploration Division director, concluded that a Pluto mission had to happen by early 2006. As of Feb. 3, Jupiter’s orbit would no longer provide a gravity assist, delaying Pluto arrival by as much as five years.

In addition, Pluto reached its closest point to the sun in 1989 and already was receding on its 248-year orbit. Each passing year increased the risk of Pluto’s atmosphere freezing and collapsing into a nitrogen frost that snows onto the planet’s surface. That would pare back substantially a Pluto mission’s scientific bounty, and the planet wouldn’t warm again for more than 200 years.

Weiler agreed, and Hartman’s group released a detailed call for Pluto mission proposals within a month; that step typically takes six months. The spacecraft would require a suite of miniaturized, energy-efficient instruments with few, if any, moving parts. It would need to be prepared for the chilly rigors of the solar system`s outer reaches. It also would need a nuclear power source and a major-league rocket.

The craft’s nuclear power source – needed for missions venturing too far from the sun for solar panels to work – presented another challenge.

As many as 40 federal, state and local agencies had to sign off in record time. Hartman, now a top official in NASA’s science mission directorate, credits long hours at NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House and elsewhere.

“When we approved (New Horizons), we knew that a lot of people would pull for a mission to this blessed little planet, and that they wanted to make it happen,” she said.

Stern would agree. At the post-launch news conference Thursday, he thanked the thousands of people who contributed to the effort in various ways.

But Stern’s leadership was vital. Glen Fountain, the New Horizons program manager at Johns Hopkins University`s Applied Physics Laboratory, which built New Horizons, said Stern had a vision of where the project needed to go and what had to get done.

Fountain alluded to Stern’s habit of giving team members pencils sharpened down to a stub.


My Alan Stern “persistence” pencil. A prized possession from which we can all learn.

“This little pencil is about persistence – that`s the key. You do not stop. You keep going,” Fountain said. “Alan had that vision for years. He brought that vision to the team.”

As for what his vision was, Stern closed with it in his 1998 book, “Pluto and Charon.”

“To see the solar system’s ninth sister as she really is, we must go to her. And amazingly, our species has developed the will, and the way, to do just that,” Stern wrote. “So guard your secrets while you can, Pluto! We are coming.”