The legend grows ….

August 26, 2012

Having just seen the passing of a past space legend … an update on the future.

For just quick bites of news that I normally wouldn’t get, Yahoo is OK.  Every so often, they cover something cool like:

Space Elevator Project Shoots for the Moon

For anyone who has been around me long enough, you know that I am very proud that one of my old friends has a little slice of this endeavor, and in fact he is quoted in the article.  It led to one of the more humorous comments at the end of the article:

Peyton:  At first I read Ted Nugent instead of Tom Nugent as Research Director, I was thinking, no wonder their company went under.

Jakesulley (Cleveland, Ohio):  He would probably flip out on all the investors if they asked a question.

 

Most of the comments, like all Yahoo articles are by people who read the headline and jumped in feet first to comment further.  Nonetheless, I like to give free publicity and moral support to visionaries when I can.


Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

August 25, 2012

Christopher Columbus, Charles Lindbergh, and Neil Armstrong.

From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.

Both of those quotes were delivered by the character of Jim Lovell in the film Apollo 13.

The second one is really a statement of the advancement of science.  The literal millions of steps in theoretical and practical advancement that were needed over hundreds of years to culminate in sending a man to the moon.  There was nothing supernatural about going there.  It was the will collective will of people that got us there.

That first quote is there to remind us that no matter the advancement of technology, exploration is ultimately a human institution.  Does anyone remember Luna 2, the first human created object to reach the moon?  Even the fact that we have known at least for the better part of two centuries that Leif Ericson was the first European to reach North America, Christopher Columbus is more remembered because his story is a compelling one.  Robots can only rouse a certain degree of enthusiasm.  We know that Curiosity is getting ready to rove Mars today, but we’ve long forgotten about Viking, and Sojourner.  When the day comes for a human to walk in the rusty dust, that is a name that will inspire and not be forgotten.  Robots are financial risks.  Human exploration carries with it not only financial risk, but the drama of personal risk, and the commitment of forging another link in a sometimes morally questionable, but nonetheless highly regarded chain of individuals who were willing to step forward for any number of reasons and risk their person in the name of taking us all the next step forward.

I’m not sure, in terms of “firsts”, that we have had any legitimate links forged onto that chain since Neil Armstrong  took his historic walk with Buzz Aldrin back in 1969.  His landing was a high water mark for science, engineering, and exploration, as well as the history of the United States and of the world.  When the world or our country lacks Neil Armstrong-like people, I think we regress in some ways as a society.  Call them heroes or role models … maybe something as simple as an “inspirer” is more sufficient, but people like Neil Armstrong … hardly perfect, and most definitely in many ways an ordinary person, fit that role to a T.  I looked up a rare interview he gave back in 2000.  This quote might just sum him up (at least as he saw himself):

I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer, and I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.

Most explorers are held up as the most manly of men, the toughest of the rugged individualists.  Here, possibly among the greatest of explorers, saw himself as a geeky number cruncher who happened to be able to fly with the best of them.  Even the nerdiest can have the heart and courage of a warrior.  Armstrong was my kind of guy:  a teacher of science who was born and raised in the Midwest, who even was a member of the marching band (anyone who plays baritone in a marching band can hold their head high:  the first man on the moon was one of you).

To this day “walking on the moon” is a metaphor for doing something before anyone else.  But only one guy could actually make that claim in a literal and figurative sense all at the same time.

I’ve long given up hope that I will live to see the next great achievement in human exploration, which would be walking on Mars.  I haven’t given up hope that this will one day happen, but what was at one time considered such a sure thing now seems so far off.  I hope that maybe this is something that the generation of my goddaughter and nephew will get to witness in a distant future.  That would be good enough.


A Modest Proposal …

August 23, 2012

I don’t buy into the demonization of “enemy” nations.  North Korea’s people are victims of a government that is essentially mafiaesque. Cuba’s citizens saw enough of corruption and vice, and traded in an escape from that for totalitarianism.  Iran essentially did the same thing (replace “Batista” with “Pahlavi”).  It is Iran which has decided to strike a blow for modern civil rights.

According to this story, a few days ago, 36 of Iran’s universities have barred women from registering for 77 particular college majors which are suddenly “unfit for women”;  this at a time when women were starting to gain admission to universities in greater number than men.  What majors are women suddenly barred from:

English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, engineering, science, and business management.  Oil Industry University declined to bar women from those majors, instead choosing to ban women altogether.

It seems, according UNESCO, that Iran actually had the highest female : male ratio of undergraduates in this quadrant of the galaxy, and that this move is simply a means to level the playing field for men who are apparently getting screwed by the gynocentric policies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei.

Before women start complaining (and you know they will … you just know they will!) it should be noted that in this sweeping move to improve the standing of men in a female dominated society, the same university directive also banned men from entering the field of nursing.  With that said, I think we should embrace the policies of Iran’s new enlightenment.


Put to the test …

August 23, 2012

I think there comes a time in some people’s life when they start looking at their parents and realize that they aren’t as wise or smart as they used to think they were.

I love my mom, but for a while I have come to not necessarily trust her instincts which tend to be overly optimistic or pessimistic, depending on the subject.

In the case of my brother, someone who has fooled us all before, mom tends to be overly optimistic.

We have recently learned that my brother was probably carrying on the affair that cost him his marriage (and my niece and nephew a semblance of a secure childhood) for years before he got married.  Needless to say that didn’t make me any happier about the fact that he and his lady friend continue to live in mom’s basement while my sister(-in-law) deals with kids who are progressively being exposed to less and less discipline and are now starting to even treat my mother poorly (and, oh yeah, has seen her life shoved up onto the rocks by a cool and unfeeling jerk).  I know that they are still young, but I am growing increasingly concerned about my niece and nephew.

When my brother got divorced, he and my sister(-in-law) sold their beautiful new home (a wedding present itself), and my brother got half of the money.  He recently purchased a new home in Oak Forest (Al, inform the folks that the neighborhood just went down a notch).  This was a good and necessary step since mo is still trying to sell the house.  What upset e was that y mother gave him a sizable loan to complete the transaction given that my brother’s employment status is shaky.

What further upset me was that in purchasing the house:

1.  He bought a big enough house so that his kids and her kids would have separate bedrooms (yes, she is divorced).  My mother advised my brother to be sure to not put the house in both of their names.  My brother didn’t do that, so now his girlfriend has her name on the deed to the house with him.

2.  I was greatly concerned about “what if the two of them get married?”  My mother assured me that wasn’t going to happen.

My brother called this evening.  They are going to the court house to get married in two weeks. “My next ex-wife” (his words, not mine).

 

Our phone conversation was civil, but brief, and he probably sensed a distinct lack of emotion on my part.  Predictably, my mom called a few minutes later and I was able to express myself a bit.  Not surprising, my brother was home, and for a moment of family peace I can only hope he wasn’t listening in to the conversation.

The good news is that due to a lack of funds, there will be no ceremony or reception, just a small party that I will likely be threatened into attending at some undisclosed date in the future.

My family has seen its share of divorce (my mom and dad were both previously divorced.  My maternal grandfather lived with us for 2 years after he divorced my grandmother.  My one cousin has a number of kids with I don’t recall how many women (but is getting married again next week).  Three other cousins have been through this, and we have seen the turmoil it wrecks on the kids.  I understand that some people get married and later find out that maybe it wasn’t for the right reason or they changed in ways they hadn’t anticipated or something like that.  It is sad, but that I can chalk up to the unpredictability of human nature.  Cheating on your wife for five years before you get married, and carrying that on through the birth of your second kid is not that!

I knew my mom was going to be wrong about this.  I F!@#$%^G KNEW IT!  Now I am going to have to deal with a very prickly situation that involves not wanting to be around my brother and I guess my sister in law.  Do I need to develop a relationship with her kids?  I don’t want to be rude to them, but why get close when my belief that this relationship working out is not really good.

This is going to make for some stressful coming weeks.


Two words

August 20, 2012

Hover

Bike

New Hover Vehicle Recalls 'Star Wars' Bike

All it needs is a little forest in the background, and we’ve got no holds barred Return of the Jedi speeder bike races.


Trivia Payoff

August 18, 2012

Across my few pub trivia competitions that I partake in over the summer, my teams have combined for a couple of hundred dollars.  Not bad, and pretty fun!

Last week I got called in to take the place on another team that competed down in Wheaton, which I found odd because I didn’t think there were any bars within 25 miles of the Wheaton city limits (Wheaton claims to have the most churches, per capita, of any town in the United States).  This is not a claim made without merit.  But I digress.

It was a two evening gig.  Thursday was the warmup evening;  the last night of their league.  Friday was the championship where the top teams from several bars get together and compete for a championship.  Thursday was held at an Irish pub, but Friday was held in a bowling alley (as a few teammates pointed out:  we finally get to bowl while doing scholastic bowl).  In fact, bowling was free all night, and for a $10 entry fee, you got a $10 gift card to come back to the bowling alley.

I chose to not bowl and stay focused on the game (quite a few teams were drinking heavily, and bowling, occasionally listening to questions.  Our team stayed pretty focused.  At the half, we were in sixth place, and knew we had to do some significant catching up.

Needless to say, we had a great second half, with everyone contributing, and we pulled out a one point win (we ended up with 157 points, so one point was a narrow victory).

For our troubles, we each got 2 days, 3 nights hotel, and half-price round trip air fair off of a list of 20 some odd destinations.  Sadly, Seattle, Cleveland, and the Bay Area are not on the list, but Vegas and Honolulu are.  Vegas is always a fun place, but I have never been to the islands … so I am thinking I may be finally getting some really fresh pineapple some time after my administrative certificate is done.


What if we really have nothing to worry about?

August 15, 2012

The baby boomers have really caused a bit of a mess in the U.S.

Forget the turmoil of the 1960s … this is a demographic issue.  The sheer volume of baby boomers is causing a lot of massive economic problems.  It is their generation that is accelerating pension drain, and social security (though that problem won’t see the worst for a while).  It is the aging baby boomers that are straining the health care system, and if you haven’t been on a desert island, the words “economy” and “health care” have been things lately.

But what if this debate is really over nothing?

The main thrust of these problems are projections based on the average life expectancy of Americans over the next 30-40 years.  The assumption being used by the actuarials is that life expectancy will continue to increase as it has for the last century, and that with more and more people living longer and longer, at least until the baby boomers are significantly gone, and the systems can replenish, we are all screwed (maybe not all equally financially screwed, but we will have to put up with caterwauling politicians and their supporters for a significant amount of the next century), and those systems likely won’t be intact enough by then to replenish (at least not without costing significant coin from tax payers to fix).

However, a study from Rice University and the University of Illinois at Chicago (yeah, I know, the school which constantly says “no, we aren’t the University of Chicago, and no, we aren’t the University of Illinois, and no, we aren’t the average of the two”*) provides some hope, if hope can be defined as massive amounts of cancer, and obesity related deaths.

These studies suggest that life expectancy in the United States may be peaking out and might be in for a fall off of sorts, and that this fall off could see a certain amount of economic gain if people die at a younger age and leave lots of money unclaimed in the pension and SS funds.

So, while it is nothing we should necessarily be sitting around crossing our fingers for, and I am not sure how much I believe this study which itself is making assumptions that significant treatments for several of these health problems aren’t relatively close, it is at least a small glimmer of hope that things may not be as bad as we are predicting them to be.

*A small joke at UIC’s expense … a friend who attended once noted that he got sick and tired of having to correct people about this.  He would say “University of Illinos- Chicago”, and people thought he was at stately University of Chicago.  Just say University of Illinois, and they thought he attended school in a cornfield.