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Monday, October 05, 2009

A Very Unusual Man Indeed

This past Saturday I met a man who is a member of one of the smallest, most special groups of people on earth. He has truly been where no human being had been before, and was one of the first people to do this extraordinary thing. This guy has been one of my heroes for pretty much literally as long as I can remember, and I've wanted to meet him (and his fellow travelers) ever since.

So here I am with Apollo XI and Gemini astronaut, Buzz Aldrin (Wikipedia), who landed on the moon with Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969. Sure, Neil stepped out first, and we all remember his great quote, but the Apollo program was a team effort - like all successful human endeavor, something that a lot of people seem to forget. Buzz and Neil didn't get there on their own. They couldn't even have done it with just CM Pilot Michael Collins who stayed in orbit, or with just the Mission Control team back in Houston; it took hundreds of thousands of people working directly and indirectly on the project, as well as over 100 million US Taxpayers to come up with the cash. It's important to remember that. There aren't really any solo heroes, ever.

Anyway, this guy walked on the moon. His footprints are still there, and barring any further human (or asteroid impact) disturbance of Tranquility base, should be visible there for millions of years. Those prints will almost certainly outlast anything else humans have built here on earth. They may outlast humanity itself. This is a big deal.

I was only 3 1/2 years old that day, but I remember - just barely - watching it on TV with my family. Even at that age I knew it was a big deal, everyone was excited about it. I've followed the space program ever since, and what I do for a living (I draw spaceships, some of the time) now is certainly as directly related to real space exploration as it is to fiction like Star Trek. To be honest, if I ever had a chance, I would move to the moon as a colonist with pretty much zero hesitation. That may change in the future, and of course it's extremely unlikely I'd ever get that chance, but if you said right now, "Jeff we have a place on the moonbase for you," I would say "let's go!" (Don't tell my wife, okay?)

Only 11 other people besides Buzz have ever done this thing, have ever looked up from that dusty, dry, barren surface back to see our home world hanging in the sky, small enough to block out with one hand, able to see from a distance all the life we know of simultaneously (well, half of it anyway). Of those 12 people, only 9 are still alive. Most of them don't appear often in public; Neil Armstrong is a notoriously private person. These are not people you're just randomly going to run into at the bus station.

Buzz, on the other hand, is fairly relentless in his public advocacy for space exploration and human spaceflight. He's written a number of books about his experiences as an astronaut and other parts of his life. He's currently on a book tour for his recent book Magnificent Desolation and a children's book, Look to the Stars. A couple of months ago, he was up at the Griffith Observatory, which is very close to my home, but we wound up deciding not to go for a number of reasons. Fortunately, we got another chance, as he came back and did a book signing at a shop in Santa Monica.

Some random odd things I have in common with Buzz: we were both born in New Jersey; we both have some Scottish ancestry; we're both baptized Presbyterian (he's way more religious about it than I am, heh); we've both had to deal with clinical depression; we have the same wedding anniversary, Valentine's Day. Neato!

So there I am with Buzz Aldrin. Because of the nature of the appearance, there was just no time for me to sit down and ask him the questions that I'd love to ask him. He was just saying hello and signing books. So I just pretty much said hello and had him sign some books. I did, however, bring him a small present: prints of two of my comics, both moon related (here and here). In the above picture, you can see them on the table in front of him. He was appreciative, and you know what? He gave me publishing advice, the name of his European publisher and where to contact them.

How cool is that? He's a classy guy. I hope he enjoys the comics.

Oh yeah, what would I really want to ask Buzz? The first question might seem like an odd one. I would like to ask him, as one of the few people who has truly been isolated from all the rest of us... well, can you feel all of us as one "thing" from that far away? I mean, think about it, no matter where you go on earth, or even in orbit on the ISS or Shuttle, you can't get more than a few thousand miles (in a straight line, drawn through the earth) from large masses of people. Even if you calculate it using the earth's diameter plus a LEO orbit, we're talking only about maybe 8300 miles. The moon is 30 times farther away than that. One would think that if there is some kind of "spiritual energy" coming from us all, that being surrounded by all that empty space and no other life within many millions of miles, you'd be able to feel it. And since Buzz is a pretty religious guy, he'd actually be the right guy to ask. Seems to me that he'd be very likely to be paying attention to that sort of thing. Even though there were only about half the people on earth at that point than there are now, wouldn't it be noticeable? Out of all the immediate experiences you'd feel on the way to and from the moon, that's the one I wonder about the most. And also what it's like to be in 1/6 G; I can imagine that would really drive it home that you are not "home" in any way.

Anyway, yeah I'm happy. It's really something to be able to cross lives, even in a very small way, with people who are part of some of the most important and interesting things that human beings have ever done. Check another one off the bucket list.

If you ever get a chance to meet Buzz or any of these extraordinary people, make the time to do it. It's worth it. Thanks for being awesome, Buzz!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Unemployment Week 1 Report

All's well so far! I've been taking the time to work on cleaning up my apartment and getting rid of old stuff that I don't need anymore, mostly. I've done the unemployment application and paperwork so that's all set. In the process of reducing expenditures by cutting out nonessential bills. Goodbye, land line long-distance service! Goodbye, housekeeper (that's a sad one). Once I'm finished watching last season of Battlestar Galactica, goodbye DVR and a big chunk of TV channels (I'm keeping the HD tier but losing the "variety" tier, which will unfortunately cost me the SciFi channel, boo).

I'm really glad I got all my debts paid off right before this happened. I literally made the last payment on the Camaro on the day I got laid off.

I've done some tweaks to the comic site in order to accomodate advertising. There's already a new banner ad setup at the top of the page, and I'll be adding an ad to the sidebar too. My webcomic friends have been recommending a few online ad networks that can provide actual income that would help me support and grow the comic, which would be great. I'm a bit conflicted about adding advertising, but I kinda have to try as many things as possible.

Meanwhile, I'm selling a bunch of stuff on eBay. Here's the list. Also, for some reason one item isn't showing up on that list, so here it is. There's videos and magazines and software, and there will be lots more. I'm trying to put at least 2 or 3 items up every day, with large batches going up on Sundays. If you see anything you like, or that you think a friend might like, I'd be honored if you'd put in a bid. :)

Tonight I will be at Wumpskate doing caricatures and sketch cards for the first time since early this year! It will be nice to be able to actually stay late, not worrying about having to get up for work tomorrow. That'll be a lot more relaxed and fun, I'll be able to take my time and do better work. If you're in Los Angeles, come on down and let me sketch you! Hope to see you there. :)

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Half-Expected, uh, Party?

It's a beautiful day here in Los Angeles, maybe a bit warm, but not too uncomfortable. It's sunny and the sky is clear and blue.

It's a nice way to start my first full day of unemployment. Yep, I've been downsized. Well, not exactly, it really wasn't a planned thing on the part of my company. Unfortunately, one of the two games we were working on got cancelled abruptly, and they haven't lined up any further work past the one that's still running, the just-announced Scratch: Ultimate DJ which will come out in the spring of 2009. Since most of the concept work for that one is done, with no new games ready to go there just isn't enough work (even with pitching new games) to keep on four concept artists, so Kevin and I were let go, along with about 10 others from various departments.

The company gave us some severance pay, and with that added to my accumulated vacation pay my final check is enough to hold me over for quite some time. Even with the new car payment, since I've paid off the Camaro and all but one of my credit cards, I don't have many bills that I can't cut right to the bone. The one card left doesn't have much left on it; I was going to pay it off this month because it would have been a 3-paycheck month, and I only budget myself for 2 paychecks a month (which is most months). Instead of paying it off I cut the payment back to $100 to preserve cash while still chopping down the balance.

With the severance and my savings, I'm not in any immediate financial danger. Unemployment will actually cover all of my most essential bills (rent, food, internet) and everything else can be reduced or eliminated. I suppose I'll miss the HD DVR, but once I'm done watching the last season of BSG from it (probably tonight!) I can lose it completely.

So if necessary, I can stretch for many months even if I don't see another penny of income - which simply isn't going to happen. I have skills and I have friends, so I'll get work of one kind or another soon enough.

Actually, for the past few weeks I've been working on cutting back my expenses anyway, in order to save more money for future things like the wedding and eventually a house, so I'm already in budgeting/cutback mode, which makes things much easier mentally and psychologically.

So, I'm unemployed. But believe it or not, I actually feel good about it. I honestly wasn't enjoying the work much lately at the company. I disagreed with some of the methods and processes in place there, and was frustrated a lot of the time at things which I perceived to be problems. I wasn't in any kind of a position to change any of these things or even express an opinion, so I just had to grit my teeth and deal with it.

Not to say that I was unhappy there all the time, the people I worked with are all good people who treat each other well and we had some fun, to be sure. But even so, I feel a lot lighter today. I wish it could have worked out better, and of course I wish everyone there the very best for the future.

I've been given the gift of time in exchange for a drastic reduction in income. Time is a rare gift to have handed to you, so I intend to make the most of it. With this gift of time, I have the opportunity to get a lot of things done that have been lying fallow, things like personal art, guitar playing, music recording, getting rid of stuff that I don't need, consolidating and storing the stuff that I do need but don't need laying around my place... even getting some exercise, working out. Having 11 hours a day handed back to me will let me do that for sure!

Anyway, so I've got some mixed feelings about it I suppose, but mostly I'm in a pretty good mood and I feel really positive about the whole thing. Certainly I'm not worried about "getting back on my feet," because I'm a long way from being knocked off them.

Bonus: all this free time means more Just A Bit Off comics! I should be able to do Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week, so come on back soon and check. If you like RSS feeds, you can click here and subscribe to the JABO feed, which shows the comic in your RSS/news reader. You'll always know when I update if you subscribe! If you haven't used RSS before, I recommend Google Reader!

If by any chance you'd like to help out financially, you could order a caricature or pick up something else from the Jeff Zugale Store. If you don't see anything you like in the store but have an idea for something you do like, please email me directly and I'll do my best!

It's all good, this is gonna be fun. It's still a beautiful day outside, and there's a lot of hours left to do stuff :)

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Monday, August 25, 2008

On Vacation

Right, so starting right now I'm going AFK for a couple of weeks for my vacation. I'll be in Cabo somewhere, in a pool that has a bar in it, with no internet access and no computer. It remains to be seen whether I can survive under such circumstances, but I believe the proximity to the bar will help a bit.

The comic will update as usual!

I will miss my hunny very very much. :\

Have funs everyones...