Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Kepler’s Ghostly Hand

Yesterday was interesting. I went to Best Buy in search of Brian Eno’s Apollo CD, not knowing A) it was 15 years old and B) that it wouldn’t be there. But I had read enough reviews at this point that I thought it belonged in my collection. As I searched, I did find Fresh Aire V – Voyage to the Moon by Manheim Steamroller for $11, and I’ve wanted that since college. I’d named one of my lunar projects from college Subvolva based on a note in this CD when my roommate purchased it. In the process of checking out the new age section, I also found Vangelis’ Mythodea, which is an homage to the Mars Odyssey mission from 2001 and Greek mythology in general. Apparently it was used for background music on a PBS special, but he music is so good it also came out as a concert DVD. I’d not heard the Vangelis one until now, and currently I’m on track 5 of 11 – it’s incredible.

While purchasing them I got a text message from my wife to pick her up. So in the car on the way home I’m explaining these purchases to my wife. “Fresh Aire V is based on Kepler’s Somnium, which was one of the earliest stories of space travel when written back in the 1600’s…” About this time I realize the tie-in to the Kepler Prize, which I don’t associate with Kepler so much as Zubrin, but now I guess I should. As my voice trailed off, my wife voiced the same thing, asking if I’d bought it for that reason. No, but I guess it is interesting that after looking for it on sale for 15 years, it would show up just now.

Mythodea is about Mars, but not Kepler, or so I thought. When opening the CD case there is a huge and seemingly meaningless quote from a scientific paper by Kepler on the elliptical orbit coordinates for Mars. It was so heavily footnoted it was very stupefying to read, yet here it was, taking up a whole page in the CD book for no apparent reason, rambling past footnotes that are no where to be found. In another burst of irony, I remembered Rev. James Heiser lecturing on Kepler at the Mars Society conference, and how the church has gotten a bum rap because Kepler was both fully accepted by the church and fully scientific in his conclusions. However, he made note that Kepler (or perhaps Newton, or both, memory fails me) had written books with all the illustrations footnoted in the back instead of in the text, because it was far easier to publish but far harder to read. So that explained all the footnotes, but what was it doing HERE? Before I answer, the bit about putting all the illustrations at the end is also a pain now for publishers, as that emphatic note by the publisher of our Mars papers proves out. They insisted we put all illustrations in the back of each paper and allow them to typeset them into place later. I suppose this makes some sense from an import prospective.

So why was it there? The last line mentioned musical resonances – the music of the spheres was thought to be actual music, with each planet’s orbit beating out a different rhythm and resonance. The ratios of orbital periods and rates corresponded to the relative string lengths or hole positions in musical instruments.

Track six now – beautiful opera – no lyric sheet or translations, with the CD or on the web. Painful. I’ll have to get the DVD just to see if it has subtitles.

So we arrive home, and the porch light is out, but I think I see a box. The globe had arrived! It’s beautiful – Daedalia Plania clearly labeled and covering a huge area. A book was also included, which I didn’t expect.

Earlier in the day I saw a news item from Europe’s Mars Express orbiter team that they had mapped where the methane and water vapor were coming from on the planet, and that it matched, implying that A) if it’s volcanic, then both water and methane are coming from the same outgassing events, so that makes sense as well as B) if it’s life, then life and water would be in the same place, so that also makes sense. Regardless, it was covering three large plains in the northern hemisphere (Daedalia is in the south, no overlap there). I noticed in the book that came with my globe that the crust of Mars is much thinner in the northern hemisphere, so that also makes sense.

In other words, the question is are there gasses that include methane boiling through the northern plains from the mantle through the soil, or are there nutrients identically boiling through the soil and feeding farting little Martian microbes in that very same area?

Ironically, there is a big chunk of the southern highlands that also lends itself to life, according to one of the lectures at the Mars Society. There are ancient magnetic fields still bound up in the rocks that could help protect exploring astronauts (not to mention give beautiful auroras every night) as well as any native life. Further, it corresponded with other deposits, though I forgot what they were. There is no overlap with this and the plains in the north, with a one pixel exception that has 75 percent of the maximum reading but is down in the lower region. I’ll eventually have to find out where that is for the novel if nothing else.

In the novel I’m toying with writing, Mars is secretly colonized in 1970 by a military operation using Orion spacecraft. Their bases are hidden, but tell-tale gasses are released, resulting in the current detections. Now I have a rough idea as to where to hide my characters.

I think I’m going to write Rev. Heiser and ask if I can get his papers from the conference in softcopy. I think somewhere in my Great Books collection I have a Kepler, but it would be nice to have historical context for it.

Dreams and Visions, Looking Up Versus Looking Down
I finished Zubrin’s novel First Landing Sunday. It was my first goal after the Mars Society conference. He has a devout Christian southerner and an elitist atheist on the crew fighting like cats and dogs through a lot of the text. I suspect he put them in not so much to express his own views as to provide ongoing conflict. The Christian is named Gwen. In the end, and at the beginning, she saves the day quite a bit. An almost grudging respect is given by Zubrin here, even while he blasts other Christians in other places.

One song from To Touch the Stars is called Queen Isabella, which starts out characterizing her as “more than a little deranged. A bigot, fanatic, and greedy for souls. To baptize the world was first of her goals. But she bet on a dreamer, that’s how the wheel rolls, and afterward all the world changed.” It then spends the rest of the song lamenting her passing, since no one else seems to bet on dreamers anymore.

Incidentally, did you notice the language used to describe Isabella? Does wanting to lead people to salvation really constitute all of that? Granted, this was 1492 in Europe, in a country that in the same year had FINALLY pushed the Muslims back out of Europe's western edge.

With his long historical interest, it appears Zubrin gets the fact that no major move in science has happened without Christian leaders authorizing the quest and Christian taxpayers footing the bill. It also appears no secular leader has dumped a lot of money into anything grand outside of the metropolitan areas; only the Christian has had the vision to appreciate sending humans to distant lands.

Let’s compare:

Teddy Kennedy – $14.6 billion – The Big Dig to mildly improve traffic in Boston at a cost of almost $2 BILLION per mile. Estimates suggest it will take 50 years to pay off the debt on the project. Incidentally, this was one of those bills that Clinton and Kennedy snuck through while congress was in recess – something Bush only did once with a few judicial appointees after conservatives begged him to for years. Clinton and Kennedy were so proud they called a press conference and signed it publicly. Incidentally, it was originally estimated to cost $2.6 billion for the whole thing. You’d think it would take some heat off NASA with their 100-400 percent markups.

George Bush - $5 billion - to return to the moon and Mars. This amount is to be added to NASA’s budget over a five year period, with the remaining balance taken from the shuttle and station programs afterwards when both are retired.

Note to Boston – if it’s too crowded, do what everyone else in the history of the world has ever done down to the smallest microbe with a flagella – if it’s too crowded, LEAVE.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Expecto Politicum!
My wife and I just concluded the Harry Potter series this morning on CD. Order of The Phoenix ends better and with more humor than The Chamber of Secrets, so I’m not disappointed as I was with that one. The only problem is she spends so many pages setting the stage for the ending that, dramatic as that ending is, you get the impression you’ve just paid a lot to see the biggest fireworks display ever, yet it took less than a half hour. It’s kind of like saving up for two weeks to have enough money for a parachute jump lasting ten minutes.

I suppose if I was given to wonder why conservative Christians were no longer opposing the series, I have my answer in the last two books. The media is as propagandist and petty towards the heroes as possible while ignoring the real danger of the villains. In Order of The Phoenix, the government has its head as far in the sand as Madeline Albright did over the North Korea and Al Qaeda. The overall Neville Chamberlain effect is very pronounced in both.

Cornelius Fudge in The Ministry of Magic is pure Clinton in his denial that the Dark Lord Voldemort is back, much as Clinton was with the rise of Osama and Kim Jung Il during the Nineties. He also spends his whole time attacking domestic opponents while all hell is about to break loose under his nose.

In these last two books, also note the French look shallow and silly, with none to few sympathizers with the dark side. I'm not sure if I can tack this up to further proof she is on our side, or the simple fact that she's British and the French always look rediculous from their prospective. Frankly, after reading the beginning chapters of Suprised By Joy by C. S. Lewis, I half wonder if part of the reason the British have a history of being so harsh and strict with children and by extension sailors and so on is in a fanatical effort to never, ever become like the French. The British child is beaten, chastized, publically humiliated, grows up, then takes one look at his French counterpart and decides it was all worth it.

The only thing that would have made the Harry Potter series more metaphorical would be if a bunch of witches were dancing in a sunwise circle singing “Give Peace a Chance” and claiming Dumbeldore was worse than Voldemort. For that you have to go to Seattle rather than Hogwarts.

The role of Dudley Dursley will be played by Michael Moore. Beatrix LeStrange by Teresa Heinz Kerry, Voldemort by George Soros, and so on.

With the recent word that 60 Minutes either faked memos condemning Bush just before the election or received fake memos and didn’t validate them very well, and standing behind it despite all the evidence, Rita Skeeter may be more real than one would think. Perhaps we should give out a Rita Skeeter award every month for the most malignant journalist or film maker. Every year would be too difficult, or not difficult enough.

In Harry Potter's world, things get straightened out with the politicians and the press, and attention focused on the real enemy. I find that harder to believe than flying broomsticks, personally.

Mars on My Porch
Each evening as I get home from work I pry my vision to see if a medium size box is on my front porch or a tag telling me to pick up said box is on my doorknob. I ordered a Mars globe two weeks ago from California and I’m still waiting for it to arrive. It will ultimately go behind the glass trophy on the glass bookshelf next to my desk at home. With the reddish backdrop, it will be possible to read the white on glass inscriptions on the Kepler Prize. Now with a white wall behind it, it’s barely visible.

Job Prospects
My contract back at the bank closes September 30 if not extended, so I’m job hunting. I’ve got two prospects at the moment, though one wouldn’t start until November 1. That one pays well. The other is pretty light in comparison. Both are consulting gigs of roughly six months. I do hate the lack of job security with being a consultant, but lately full time hasn’t been that much more secure. The light job they expect to go full time and it would be with a large company with a chance to move up with stability. We’ll see what bird ends up in my hand in the end.

I hope I’m past the idea of worrying about how God will provide or where he’ll place me, and often I feel that way. Perhaps I’m lazy in that trusting God in this circumstance is far easier and less work than worrying about my next and previous interview, fretting endlessly about mistakes that cost me something, and so on. Yes, there were mistakes in the last job search. But truth told, it’s better that they were made than not. I made more money in a better place than had I not screwed up. “God protects fools, drunks, and the United States”, Mark Twain said. I’m neither a drunk nor a nation unto myself, but being foolish seems to happen at least once each job search.

We also get to see what having so much Mars stuff on the resume does to an interview. It would be silly to ignore winning that award or presenting the papers, but at the same time, I’m sure it looks extremely odd. I keep reading the one paragraph summaries of “What is The Mars Society?” for that occasion, so I don’t come across as spacy in the negative sense of the word. We’ll see. Interviews should prove more interesting now, that is certain.

And Speaking of Patronus...
The link below is to the Hidden Harry Potter Patronus Generator. Mine is a Siamese cat if I enter my first and last name, or a Bengal tiger if my middle name is added. This is cute since I tend to identify with cats and have three. My wife always comes up otter. She’s very much the teddy bear, but in this case, she has the same Patronus as Harmonie Granger of the Harry Potter series – not bad, I suppose.


There is also a link for Your Harry Pottery Name – mine is Dean, my wife’s is Harmonie. She’s going to be thrilled, I think. Maybe.

Update: She's amused.

Here is the full list. Note – language warning.


Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A New Essay

Two weeks from today I do my Icebreaker speech for ToastMasters. This is my first "real" speech for our local chapter of 20 people at work. The current draft follows.

Blue Sky, Red Sky

“You’re not close enough! Give me that!”

It’s not an uncommon thing for a 17-year-old to hear from his father. But I hadn’t handled this particular piece of equipment for a few months and I didn’t trust my skill to go any closer. So I was too far away and I had to hand it back to my dad for the next pass so he could do it the way he wanted.

But this wasn’t a lawn mower or a power tool. I wasn’t parking the family car. I was co-piloting a Cessna 182 and we were flying 900 feet over the south edge of our farm at 150 miles per hour. I was supposed to come in at 500 feet so dad could check out the crops, but there were power lines a little farther south and I didn’t want to risk it. So after banking it on the left wing, turning three quarters of a circle, flipping it onto the right wing, and bringing it back West, dad took the controls and buzzed the house and North edge of the farm at 200 feet. Dad and I were always very close and this was probably the grumpiest he’d been with me all summer.

Dad had been a poor farm kid who grew up just down a gravel road from the farm where he raised us. When dad told us he walked three miles to school uphill both ways to a one room school house with holes in his shoes, he could point to the road along the back of the pasture and prove everything. With a steep valley in the middle, it really was uphill both ways. As soon as World War II ended, he became a test pilot and eventually a corporate pilot. He quit professional flying before I was born and was a banker my whole childhood. He built the hobby farm when I was seven as an A-frame chalet with pole barns in the back.

So I flew enough to be proud, and cleaned barns enough to stay humble.

I hiked in our woods behind our farm, plus another 500 acres of a wooded valley pasture beyond that owned by a neighbor. I grew up around aircraft and could name the pilots of many light aircraft that flew over by day. The stars are very bright downstate and I could name the planets and constellations at night.

When you grow up in aircraft, the sky is not an object but a place. I was fascinated with both flight and space and was drawing fairly complex spacecraft when I was twelve. I was also hiking farther and farther into those 500 acres and drawing maps. My dad once gave me an aerial survey photo that I photocopied at the library many times to use in planning each new adventure.

This was also the time when new missions to Mars and the outer planets flooded the Astronomy magazines with new maps and photos of distant worlds and artists conceptions of what a particular volcano or canyon must look like from the surface. As a child, I was doing my own explorations and even went so far as to take a World War II bomber altimeter dad had on a hike to determine how deep that valley was. It still worked. I loved hiking in winter because the barren plowed red soil looked more like the pictures of Mars that the Viking landers had sent around that time. My snowsuit was my spacesuit and the stars were bright, close, and familiar.
Luke Skywalker, being stuck on a farm in the middle of nowhere with a great pilot for a father and an occasional flight down Beggars Canyon, was more familiar to me than Chicago.

About this time I made two discoveries – I hate math and computers are cool. This rapidly changed the course of my life into computer science, and after learning I loved to write I ended up spending my professional career in technical writing. In High School I learned how to fly and soloed at sixteen.

I found my wife shortly after leaving college and becoming a technical writer. She walked in after her job interview where she was hired, in her business suit and makeup, looking gorgeous, and was introduced to our tiny all male Macintosh development house as our new intern. Her first act was to pull out a floppy disk and announce it contained sound clips from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. When she uttered those words, and held aloft those samples of my favorite comedy from when I was thirteen, my first thought was “That’s it; she’s mine.” After a couple of months we started dating, and nine monogamous years later we were finally married. My wife is supportive of my more adventuresome side, as was evidenced when we went hang gliding last Summer.

This past year has brought me full circle with that twelve-year-old. I was planning on buying a CD from a friend of mine at a science fiction convention, and ended up walking right past a book signing table for Robert Zubrin. Zubrin is the author of a study called Mars Direct, which dropped the cost of sending people to Mars from 300 billion to 20 billion, or close to the cost of the Shuttle program. NASA took notice and changed their reference mission accordingly, and the new Moon and Mars program has him as an advisor. He created a group called The Mars Society seven years ago to promote the idea, and he told me their convention was being held in Chicago this year.

I checked out the web site, and got honorable mention in an essay contest I’d entered. Later I entered a spacecraft design contest, and finally became a member last summer. I actually won the spacecraft design contest, beating out two university aerospace programs and two other independent teams, including one from England. I got a glass trophy a few weeks ago at the convention in front of 400 people. It was all the more shocking because I did 95 percent of the work.

My other prize is to go to the Mars Desert Research Station, which is a simulated Mars base in the Utah desert built by The Mars Society and used by themselves, NASA, and other researchers to study how various equipment and research methods work in the field. Sometime in the next ten months I’ll be placed on a two week crew, hike in Mars-like terrain in a space suit documenting research, maintaining equipment, and otherwise making the twelve-year old in me very, very happy.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?