Thursday, February 24, 2011

Last Space Mission For Discovery

Today will mark the 39th and final time that the Space Shuttle Discovery will launch into orbit.  Fueling began this morning in preparation for the scheduled 4:50pm launch.  If you are working today, fear not because NASA TV will be broadcasting all day.

If you are curious as to what the astronauts activity will be over the next days, take a look at this schedule.

Here is the schedule for today: 
10:15am: Docking coverage begins
11:00am: Pre-launch press conference
11:30am: Full launch coverage begins
4:50pm: Launch
5:45pm: Post-launch news conference

After Discovery, NASA has two more shuttle launches scheduled before retiring the fleet.  Space Shuttle Endeavor is scheduled for April 19th and Astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of recovering Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, will be onboard.  The final flight, Space Shuttle Atlantis, is scheduled for June 28th.

Always fun to watch!


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why Should A Solar Storm Concern Me?

If a strong enough solar storm hits Earth you will not be able to read this blog because your internet will not be working.  Your cell phone and GPS won't be working either.  Your electricity will not be working because the power grid will also be shut down.  

For how long?  No one really knows.  Days, months, years?  However long it takes to repair & replace it.  Some estimate between 4-10 years and at a cost of $1-2 Trillion.  Although, in a catastrophe such as this...why would anyone care about worthless paper money more than just helping rebuild society for the greater good?

That giant fireball in the sky is 93,000,000 miles away and is very very large.  To get a better perspective on the size of the sun, let's compare it to Earth.  If you had a beach-ball and a grain of sand, Earth would be the grain of sand whereas the sun would be the beach-ball.  A solar storm consists of eruptions of charged particles and blobs of plasma from the sun which are hurled towards Earth at 530 miles per second.

The sun has a cycle where roughly every 11 years it goes from a period of low solar activity to a period of maximum solar activity.  Our star is starting to wake up and solar activity is ramping up with maximum activity predicted sometime around 2013.  A recent solar flare happened this past Tuesday reaching Earth on Thursday causing communications disruptions in Asia.

Do you have your bug-out-bag prepared?


Monday, February 21, 2011

An Alternative Race Fix In Lieu Of Formula 1

Some of you may have heard the bad Formula 1 season opener in Bahrain.  The race has been postponed, probably cancelled, as Bahrain withdrew from hosting the Grand Prix due to rising unrest and Government protests in the small island country.  If you are like me you need some type of motor racing to watch NOW since there won't be an F1 race until 25-March in Australia.

Here are some alternatives that can get you by for now:
1- WRC: FIA Wold Rally Championship Racing
2- NASCAR: National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing
3- MotoGP: Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing

One could argue that the WRC is the ultimate test of a driver, even more challenging than Formula 1.  WRC Rally Racing dates back to 1973 and doesn't take place on traditional racetracks like other forms of motor racing.  Instead, rally racing takes place on public or private roads on a number of different surfaces including: asphalt (tarmac), gravel, snow, ice, dirt, and could be a combination of them all!  An international field participates each year and it's always enjoyable to watch.  Like NASCAR there are usually some pretty horrific crashes so if that's your should enjoy WRC.  Give it a watch if you haven't seen a rally race before, the next one is 3-March in Guanajuato Mexico.

Stock car racing is American history dating back to the 1920s and 1930s.  During prohibition the drivers would run bootleg whiskey and evade law enforcement thanks to their smaller, faster cars.  If that's not reason enough to give NASCAR a look I don't know what is!  Now I know the perception that's out there and the thoughts that it's boring, they just drive in circles, and anyone could do it.  Most of those assumptions are false.  Coverage has gotten so good that it is like watching a video game rather than a televised sporting event.  The cars travel at speeds at upwards of 200 miles per hour sometimes just INCHES apart from one another.  Most people in the United States can barely drive 60 miles per hour on a multiple lane highway so I don't think it's fair to dismiss NASCAR without giving it one more chance.  The first race of the year was yesterday and the next one to watch is 27-February in Phoenix Arizona.

Rounding out the top 3 isn't another four wheel auto racing outfit but instead is a two wheel motorcycle racing championship.  MotoGP is the best of the best, a premier World Championship of motorcycle racing dating back to 1949.  MotoGP motorcycles have rapidly evolved since then with current bikes topping out at 217 miles per hour!  One could say that MotoGP is a Formula 1 class of motor racing only with 2 wheels instead of 4.  It's always interesting to watch even if you are not into motorcycles because you will witness things that boggle the mind.  The 2011 season is about to kick-off and the season opener is in Qatar on 20-March.

Hope this helps Formula 1 fans!


The Fourteen Trillion Dollar Elephant In The Room

Fun-fact:  It would take you over 31,000 years to count to 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion).  Our current National Debt as of typing this is more than fourteen times that amount.

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance the government's reckless fiscal policies. - Then Senator Barack Obama in 2006 on the Senate Floor

It's easy to stand on the floor of the Senate spouting rhetoric about debt and not do anything about it when not that many people are looking to you for answers.  When you are the captain of a sinking ship however, and refuse to do anything to help save the lives of your passengers, that's another story entirely.  Our President is spending money with no regard for the average American, which ultimately has to pick up the tab.

Most of today's debt accumulated over the past 6 years.  When George W. Bush was inaugurated on January 20th, 2001 the national debt was $5.7 Trillion.  In January 2005, when President Bush was starting his second term, the national debt stood at $7.6 Trillion.  When President Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20th, 2009 the national debt stood at $10.6 Trillion.  Today it stands at roughly $14.16 Trillion.

These numbers are almost comical because they are so unbelievable.  Think about this for a moment…the government has added $8.46 Trillion to the national debt in the past 10 years.  This represents a $25,582 increase in what we owe.  That's right, "We The People."  The current debt now stands at $45,582 PER citizen, each and every one of us.  If you count only taxpayers, that's $127,804 per taxpayer!  How is this even possible?  Where does the Federal Government keep getting money to spend?  They get it from the very agency they created in 1913, the Federal Reserve, which prints our US Dollars and then loans them to the Federal Government at interest.

The dollar of 1913 is worth about 2 cents today.  When you create money out of thin air with nothing to back it one concern would be inflation.  Regardless if you are not seeing a tax increase written in black and white, if your dollar of yesterday is worth less tomorrow that is the same thing.  This debt is not sustainable, we should all be outraged at everyone in Washington for allowing this to happen.  They are stealing from us via inflation.

I will leave you with two quotes from Congressman Ron Paul of Texas from his book, End The Fed.   If you haven't had a chance to read it, or are unfamiliar with the power that the Federal Reserve wields at our expense, I highly recommend you read the book.

History will show that Greenspan, during his years as Fed chairman (1987-2006), planted all the seeds of the financial calamity that erupted in 2007 and 2008. For the same reason a disease cannot be cured by more of the germ that caused it, the inflation and debt accumulation of the Obama years will not inflate our way out of it. This depression will likely last and last. If the depression lasts a decade of more, its length cannot be blamed solely on Greenspan. That blame will be placed on the current Federal Reserve Board, Congress, the President, the Treasury, but above all on Keynesian economic policy, the same philosophy that gave us the Great Depression of the 1930s. - Ron Paul, End The Fed, page 94. 

Politicians must justify their existence in managing the affairs of the state. They first create the problems and then they are delighted with all the activity in expanding government and solving the very problems they created. - Ron Paul, End The Fed, page 110.

In the time it has taken you to read this blog, the Federal Government has spent another $7,000,000.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Only 18 More Days F1 Fans!

photo by: Mark McArdle
One of the most exciting years of racing in Formula 1 history was 2010.  There was no clearcut champion until the very last race in Abu Dhabi.  I was very happy that Sebastian Vettel clinched the drivers championship becoming the youngest world champion in F1 history but at the same time I realized that it would be a very long time until the teams fired up their engines again.

The wait is soon coming to and end!  The 2011 season is about to kickoff with much anticipation and the world watching to see if Sebastian Vettel can continue his dominance of 2010, during which he claimed 10 pole positions.  He narrowly won the drivers championship with 256 points ever so slightly edging out rival Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso who finished with 252 points.

Bahrain is the location for the first race of the 2011 season.  Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is closely watching the protest situation unfold in case a decision has to be made on delaying the race.  He has stated that it is up to Bahrain to make the call on whether or not it is safe to hold the race and that a decision will be made in the next couple days.  Let's hope that they can forge ahead with plans to hold the inaugural race in 18 days because I don't know if I can wait any longer!  

Some rule changes to look for this year:
- Drivers can now adjust rear wings from the cockpit.
- Pirelli takes over as the sports sole tire supplier.
- Gearboxes have to last 5 races this year instead of 4.
- Team orders are now allowed - (keep an eye for possible shenanigans from Ferrari).
The twelve teams are as follows:
1. Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Mark Weber of Australia.
2. McLaren, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button of the United Kingdom.
3. Ferrari, Fernando Alonso of Spain and Felipe Massa of Brazil.
4. Mercedes GP, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg of Germany.
5. Renault, Nick Heidfeld of Germany and Vitaly Petrov of Russia.
6. Williams, Rubens Barrichello of Brazil and Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela.
7. Force India, Adrian Sutil of Germany and Paul di Resta of the United Kingdom.
8. Sauber, Kamui Kobayashi of Japan and Sergio Pérez of Mexico.
9. Torro Rosso, Sebastian Buemi of Switzerland and Jaime Alguersuari of Spain.
10. Lotus, Heikki Kovalainen of Finland and Jarno Trulli of Italy.
11. HRT, Narain Karthikeyan of India and TBD.
12. Virgin, Timo Glock of Germany and Jérôme d'Ambrosio of Belgium.  

You should be able to catch most races on Speed Channel or FOX.

Who are you rooting for in 2011?


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Trade Unions - America's Indoctrinating Squad

Teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically is the definition of indoctrinate.  I was going to use brainwash instead but it just isn't the right fit.  It might be a stronger word and sound better as a headline but by definition brainwash means to make someone adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure.

The concept of a union isn't a radically different belief or even one that should be feared.  What is a problem and a complete utter failure in the United States is the current law we have on the books regarding trade unions.  It has allowed unions to become powerful machines, with the help of government, to coerce business owners.  In return for government assistance which puts a majority of the power in the hands of the union, not the business owner or its employees, unions continue to indoctrinate its members to show unwavering and unquestioning support of both the union and the political party in its pocket...mostly Democrats.

John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods, outlines this problem quite eloquently.
He is quoted as saying:

It's illegal in the United States for there to be company unions — special unions which are formed and controlled by the employees and managers of the company to represent their interests and collectively bargain on their behalf. These type of unions are legal in many countries such as Japan, but are illegal in the United States. Instead the law requires that all unions be outside unions. I believe this law should be repealed and that company unions should be as legal as any other kind of voluntary association.

Read the above quote carefully, and then re-read it.  Think about what it actually means for YOU, the employee.  Are labor unions that you are paying dues to really doing anything for you?  Why do you need an outside agency to dictate anything between yourself and your employer?  Are they smarter than you are, therefore better at collective bargaining?  When has a middleman ever been good for you when making a business transaction?  Don't we usually want to cut out the middleman to ensure we are getting the best price?

The only good news is that trade union membership is on the decline.  But don't worry, they are still thinking up new ways to expand their power and keep taking money out of your pocket.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

St. Louis Cardinals - The Cheapest Team In Baseball

Would you turn down $300,000,000?

Looking at that number it is an insane amount of money.  It's a Powerball jackpot just sitting there with your name potentially on the "Pay To The Order Of" line.  Now to get this money you can go about it in a number of ways, but in Albert Pujols' case he happens to hold the title of "Best Player in Baseball" and that is his justification for the paycheck.

The Saint Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols failed in negotiations to reach a deal to extend his contract.  Albert could potentially become a free agent in November and the bidding war will begin.  There is no question in my mind that someone will pay him his asking price, I am just hopeful it is the Cardinals.

The Saint Louis Cardinals have a history of being a notoriously cheap franchise.  Any Cardinals fan knows this from the lack of quality pitching we've had over the past decade.  Saint Louis is a baseball town where we consistently sell out games, spend a ton of money on merchandise and support the team without question.  This time however I may have to re-think my continued loyalty if in fact they let Albert walk.

The Cardinals have the money to pay him so it's not that Albert Pujols is being greedy, it's that the Cardinals are simply continuing what they do best which is being cheap.


Top 3 German Beers - Oberteil 3 Deutsch Biere

Both Germany and the Czech Republic claim to be the beer capital of Europe.  Having recently visited Munich and Prague I can tell you that they both know how to serve up large amounts of beer just when you need it most.  If you're a man go ahead and get the 1.0 Liter sized beer, don't even question it.  I found larger beers more common in Munich than I did in Prague.  Beer is more expensive in Munich compared to Prague but the quality is MUCH better.  I would give the nod to Munich as being the beer capital of Europe where evidence of beer brewing dates from the year 815.

The Germans are ingenious in most things that they do and beer is no exception.  Beer is part of Germany's way of life and culture.  Current quality can thank the Reinheitsgebot, which is a German Beer Purity Law that states that only water, barley, and hops can be used in the production of beer.  The law was enacted in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria and many brewers still pride themselves on abiding by it.

Without further delay I would like to present the Top 3 German Beers:
1- Augustiner Bräu Edelstoff
2- Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse  
3- Paulaner Original Münchner

Augustiner Bräu Edelstoff
Dating back to 1328, Augustiner Bräu has the distinction of being Munich's oldest brewery.  I've had the pleasure of drinking countless liters of this beer, I couldn't get enough.  The style is a Munich Helles Lager and alcohol content is 5.6%.  Being in Munich and having Edelstoff fresh from the wooden barrels simply cannot be beat.  The two places to go in Munich to enjoy this beer are Augustiner-Keller, and Augistiner Großgaststätten.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse 
You know you found it when you spot the monk on the bottle!  The best wheat beer I've ever had.  Franziskaner is a little bit of a new kid on the block compared to Augustiner, only dating back to 1363.  They do however claim to be the oldest "privately-owned" brewery in Munich.  The style is a Hefeweizen and alcohol content is 5%. The place to go in Munich to enjoy this fine beer is Zum Franziskaner.

Paulaner Original Münchner
Founded in 1634 Paulaner is the youngest of the three, but it is still 142 years older than the United States.  I also enjoy Paulaner's Hefeweizen but I can drink far more of the original.  It was my beer of choice during last years Oktoberfest.  The style is a Munich Helles Lager like the Edelstoff but the alcohol is much lower at only 4.9%.  The place to go in Munich for Paulaner is Paulaner im Tal.

Hopefully reading this got you excited for the weekend...or for my alcoholic readers, later this morning.

Until next time,

Monday, February 14, 2011

Move over Rosetta Stone, here comes Google!

Am I the only one that loves awesome applications for my iPhone, that are FREE?

On the 8th of this month the geniuses at Google came up with another "must-have" application for your iPhone.  If you've ever used Google's web app for translation you will be familiar with how the new iPhone app works.  The Google Translate app has the same features as their web app but as Google points out, there are "some significant new additions designed to improve your overall translation experience."

Speak to translate


Speak to translate is a very cool and convenient feature that allows you to verbally input the words that you wish to translate.  Currently the app supports voice input for 15 languages.  Keep in mind that you can still translate a word, phrase, or sentence(s) into one of more than 50 languages.  I've tested English and Russian with success.

Listen to your translations


Listen to your translations is an option for 23 different languages.  Simply put: it allows you to hear the word, phrase, or sentence(s) you translated through your speaker or headphones.  So if you aren't sure how to pronounce what you've just translated, this solves that.

Full-screen mode


Full-screen mode is just that, it allows you to utilize the entire screen and zoom-in on your translations.  This is beneficial because you can show someone that you are communicating with what you are trying to say.  I used the web app in Czech Republic with success but this would have been much better!

If you haven't already, go download this application from the iTunes store.  I think you won't want to put it down once you start playing with it.

See ya next time!

Best Regards,

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What Everyone Ought to Know About

My blog, of course!

Did you know that enough beer is poured every Saturday across America to fill the Orange Bowl?  That's a lot of beer...let's just hope it's not all Bud Light!

My name is Mike Urban.  I live in the midwest of the United States and love to travel.  I have a personal goal to visit every country in the world by the end of my life.  So far I've crossed 22 countries off the list, only another 181 to go!  I have strong opinions on a number of topics that interest me:
  • Cars
  • Politics
  • Technology
  • Travel
  • Sports
I will cover these topics with passion and great attention to detail over the coming months and years.  Comments are welcomed and appreciated.  Feel free to email me, murban [AT] gmail [DOT] com.

If you helped contribute to the filling of the Orange Bowl yesterday, I'll see you tomorrow!