before Lightyear there was another Buzz

Buzz Aldrin stepping onto the Moon, 1969

The second person to set foot on the Moon, “Buzz” Aldrin, is a living icon. The late Neil Armstrong and the Command Module pilot, Michael Collins are the other two legends of Apollo 11, whose feat of landing on and returning safely from, the Moon are celebrated today. Had it not been for a clear challenge, originating between two competing ideologies, the “West” and the Soviet Union – which first successfully put a man into space, the technology we take for granted would have come around a lot later. Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z have cell phones, cable television, and solar panels today, due, in part, to the science that sent mankind into Space, filtered down to the rest of us. The motivation for Governments may have been political, but undeniably, people are dreamers, builders and adventurers, too. Mankind advanced from stone tools to building the first flying machines in 100,000 years. From barely leaving the ground to launching orbiting satellites: less than sixty years. And from orbiting rudimentary satellites to putting people on the surface of another world and returning them, safely, in less than ten. And in the last half-century? We should be. in Star Trek parlance, “beam me up. Scotty!” by now.

When a human being first set foot on the Moon fifty years ago today, I was five days short of ten years old. When I ask my children today what they scientific achievements remember from the time when they were ten, space flight is not among their first memories. Movies and television, created with the technology inspired by the science and engineering of the Space Program, they recall.

Star Trek, Star Wars, and a host of other fascinating stories involving travel to other stars have filled the human imagination with possibilities. But the first grainy images on a television set of Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin setting foot on the Moon, was the reality that people working together, around the globe, could achieve impossible dreams. We are starting to finally see private enterprise invest in next-step ventures. We have man-made objects moving through interstellar space. In the last half-century the amazing feat of people living and working in orbit, the probes that visit distant asteroids or Pluto or travel in interstellar space have garnered less attention than someone’s latest inappropriate Tweet.

We need a challenge to unite millions to travel into a new Frontier. It is time to send adventurers, dreamers, and builders out again. In the rallying cry of that Disney character, Buzz Lightyear, in the Toy Story movies,

“To infinity and beyond!!”

Home, a quarter-million miles away

immigration kon and tiki

One of the major issues in North America and European countries today is immigration. Politics and basic economics drive the debate, regardless of which side one supports. Perhaps it is worth considering – by all parties – for thousands of years, new arrivals brought talent, art, foodstuffs, and skills in navigation, or farming, or just hardiness. There were no aid agencies or politicians, and the adaptable survived. Across vast distances and different continents, it is no wonder that these were first undertaken by sailors, military men, and adventurers.

Long before I became a Sailor, I recall reading the adventure of Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian zoological researcher and explorer. It was then twenty-five years after an impressive 1947 voyage his team made across the Pacific Ocean. Compared to the modern warships in which I traversed the Pacific Ocean, Heyerdahl – and by experiment, pre-Inca natives, constructed a thirty-foot boat, of reed and balsa-wood. With a banana-leafed thatch cabin and a single-mast, six men departed South America. If modern man, in a post-war world might feel exposed – a hundred miles at sea, no sign of land and no birds in the sky, what were the first explorers possibly thinking. I thought this with experience of riding a ship 530 feet (161m) at the waterline, feeling the speck he was in comparison to the ocean.

Thor Heyerdahl’s point in the mid-Twentieth Century was to test that people might have settled Polynesia not from Asia, but from the east – South America – fifteen hundred years ago. A second settling might then have come from North America- British Columbia – by way of Hawaii, five hundred years later. Through radio-carbon dating, sweet potatoes which originate in Central and South America, were subsequently (1991) found by archaeologists in thousand-year old sites in Polynesia. (Since 2005, scholars debate which group came first – Polynesians to Hawaii or Hawaiians into Polynesia).

If you have not read Thor Heyerdahl’s account, Kon-Tiki, and you have a bit of the ocean-adventuring spirit, I suggest adding this to your list. I intend to revisit his story. Perhaps while eating a sweet potato.

maybe I shouldn’t

 

32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;  – Proverbs 1:32

Another blogger I follow published a story of a workman in a farming community who ignorantly, but purposely, set a blaze to burn cut brush in very dry conditions.  It was a day with a light breeze.  And it was next to fields that provide this blogger’s animals’ feed.   Another quick-reacting farmer cut a fire-break that minimized the destruction that would have been – to the surrounding fields and forest.

My wife recounted by phone to me mid-day a terrifying encounter on a highway with a fool speeding behind her by inches, screaming, throwing the “finger” around, and swerving around and slamming on brakes.  Worse still, he was taking pictures of her with a cell phone.  A maniac on a mission to kill himself or others.  She was shaken but unscathed.  And her passenger, returning from a cardiac treatment, safe as well.  And the often-maligned law enforcement officers were not present to intercept “road rage”.

A train operator in a large metropolitan center on the U.S. East Coast was distractedly using a cellphone while a train was traveling through an area too rapidly to navigate a turn.  Of course it crashed.  Because the automated speed-control feature of the track had not been installed at that time.  In the IOT (Internet of Things),  we are not yet at the future our futurist movies depict.  But then fallible humans design them.

A Navy ship with a highly-advanced navigation console, but relatively unfamiliar operators and overly confident command authority, collided with a commercial ship. It resulted in death, destruction, and ruined lives and careers.  This week, a social media post by a popular American television star, blatantly and undeniably abhorrent, resulted in firing and the show’s cancellation.  A  fool’s big mouth resulted in lost jobs for all those behind the scenes.

Ignorance, the root and stem of all evil. – Plato

People are often responsible – or irresponsible – for many problems that beset us.  Many times, of course, the things that plague mankind including influenza or wildfires, earthquakes or volcanoes are beyond human control.   But then, building a community on an active earthquake fault or on an island (Hawaii) created by an active volcano is by human design.

These behaviors and consequences are reasons to find comfort and instruction in the Proverbs of the Bible, wisdom of the ancient Greek philosophers, or other contemplative authors.   Human behavior has been the same for thousands of years. Only the technology has changed.

Technology… is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971  via http://www.quotegarden.com

Quotes courtesy of http://www.brainyquote.com except where noted

Dust

Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, died this week.

Lots of people are voicing condolence.   Maybe people know of him due to the 2014 movie , Theory of Everything, that many who don’t understand his grand theories know his name.  A very intelligent being nonetheless, and one of the most celebrated brains who had ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).  (As an aside, I thought Eddie Redmayne portrayed Hawking in stunning fashion in that movie.)  Not having read any of Hawking’s work, I nevertheless learned a bit about him.

He went to the grave an atheist.   Yet his religion was ‘science’, which for all the debate from atheists about facts versus myths,  is still human observation of the universe and its interplay on physical objects. With every passing decade, a “fact” gets refined, or refuted, or re-interpreted.  A deduced certainty – weather, tides, or planetary body is still victim to an “uncertainty principle”.   Of course, we have launched satellites and people into space, but these have finite parameters.  We cannot create an organism from a vacuum.  Science still cannot define origins.  It cannot define why – in our own solar system – life evolved to the scale it did from gas and dust.  It does not explain the origin of the gas and dust.  And science does not explain human thoughts.

Stephen Hawking for all his contribution to science wanted to determine a grand unifying theory for the universe.  It eluded him.

Some atheists who really examine evidence and limit their biased presupposing, have admitted that they just don’t know.  Those who believe what that grand unifying theory is,  and have empirical evidence – also from human experience and perspective – in their lives, will continue onward.  I do not pretend to know why some very intelligent scientists  and scholars do not embrace belief in God,  while other’s look at the same evidence and hold an awe for a Master Engineer at the center of everything.

Hawking may now return to dust from which he formed.   Sagan may be “star stuff”.  And it all may be a futile cycle of randomness that anything exists at all.    But what if Eternity is … a corollary of the Grand Unifying Theory?  And all that scientific dust….

1_mClp0CFXBTDUpGyVhT6hmg

 

USNS Paltroon

I am trying my hand at some nautical fiction this month

April 20, 2021

As far as the world was told,  late in November 2017,  a rocky asteroid,  a visitor from interstellar space passed through the solar system.  But that was not entirely accurate.  It actually struck the Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean in a hundred thousand-square mile area northeast of Midway Island.  That was not the unusual part – it decelerated before entering the atmosphere and landing in the ocean.  Our surveillance satellites, as well as the Russians and Chinese – and Elon Musk’s SpaceX (under secret contract with the US Government) were temporarily (electronically) blinded before “Oumuamua” entered the atmosphere.  So the approximate area is calculated and not confirmed.  It is almost three miles to the ocean floor in that area so finding even a large object is no easier than the search a decade ago for that missing airliner somewhere in the Indian Ocean. 

Now a Russian submarine we aren’t supposed to be able to track, we know vanished after it entered the search zone a day ago.   My ship is scheduled to enter the same search box tomorrow morning at 0600.

To be continued…..

from sails to “the Force”

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
-Arthur C. Clarke,  via brainyquote.com

Today I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi.  But this is not intended as a review of a movie that has been seen and reviewed by others.  My thoughts run to (technological) life imitating (science fiction) art.   Here’s what I will say about the movie: I enjoyed it.  Humor, blasters,  evil empires, love and courage.  Okay, so some of the plot does mimic a progression that I saw in the original trilogy.  And the feel is different from those original Star Wars  (non-remastered, CGI -modified rework by Lucas) films I saw in the 1970s  and 1980s.

I started thinking how science fiction,  particularly Star Trek and then Star Wars, have given us a world where we have satellite-beamed entertainment,  video-communicators in everyone’s pocket (Iphone and android),  and space travel that is so routine, few are awed anymore.  Yet we all yearn to visit other planets, other stars and engage with whomever is “out there”.  How many were fascinated by the flyby of Pluto, and the still-communicating Voyager satellites entering interstellar space.  We have started to change our view of aliens from those wanting to eat us to visitors.

What lists can you come up with of the science fiction later becoming science fact?   Mine starts with writings from a hundred-fifty years ago.

  • From the Earth to the Moon,  Jules Verne (1865) a vessel in which men travel to the moon.

Science: Sputnik, Soviet launch a man-made satellite into orbit.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. Arthur C. Clarke (1951)  Origins of man. Finding alien technology and a depiction of space travel (10 years before it became reality) with a supercomputer pilot to Jupiter

Science: NASA space program ( Project Apollo, 1963 -1972) overcoming technical hurdles and developing tools and systems to travel to the Moon, land and then safely return to earth.

  • Star Trek  ( TV series, 1966 -1969) Drama and adventure at faster than light-speed. Stories on the difficulty of maintaining unity in the galaxy.  Racial diversity, Love, loss, greed, lust, and alien civilizations.

Science: Apollo – Soyuz, Skylab (1973 –  1979)  Initial efforts at cooperation in space,  long-term habitation in space orbit, and coexistence on Earth.

  •  Star Wars  (1977).   This story of good versus evil,  love, journey to discover one’s identity and high-tech shoot ’em ups, started what became one of the world’s top-earning movie franchises in history.  Planet-vaporizing weapons and plasma-laser light-sabers.

Science:  the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983 (called mockingly, Star Wars).  Intent was to develop – particle beams, lasers and  missile defense systems

  • Star Wars movie trilogy  and Star Trek movie/ television  franchises, (1980s -2009)  Food synthesizers, medical diagnostics, hibernation, and transporter “beaming”

Science:   naval electromagnetic rail gun, launching projectiles at supersonic speeds  (since 2007)

Science:  quantum teleportation experiments and transporting particles in 2017 (“beam me up, Scotty!”) With quadrillions of calculations needed to beam Kirk about,  the technology is still in a galaxy, far, far away.

 

climate elementary (school)

the debate

Many people, myself included, refused for a couple decades to acknowledge that people could really affect the weather.   My religious beliefs hold that God is in control of all things, yet God did put Adam as steward of the planet.  Whatever your belief,  in my lifetime, I have witnessed barely breathable polluted air over Southern California,  rainy years, drought years, colder and milder winters,  hotter and milder summers.  Hurricanes.  Tornados.  Floods.  Climate change is the topic that every schoolboy in the industrialized countries of the world has had stamped into their consciences in recent decades.   Everyone from politicians in California to European “Green” parties demand humanity stop using resources that are “proven” to destabilize our climate and pollute the planet.  For the last twenty years, politicians debate and people divide into camps.  But does anyone really know a solution?

“something must be done”

pelosiThere have, as yet, been no realistic nor popular solutions proposed nor any process enacted.  One nation refuses to hinder their industrialization by employing technologies they cannot yet afford to mitigate pollution.  Other nations have no solid infrastructure to enact regulation.  In the First World, taxation is the first response to climate change, but hinders any real discussion or experiments at solutions that are not “lobbyist”-championed projects. (Several of these have all-but-embezzled millions of tax dollars.)  For those of us who work many miles from our homes,  lack of public transportation to get there is at odds with the government actions to dissuade personal vehicle use.  (Population in most cities outside California is many factors more dense so personal vehicles are less efficient than mass transit.)

climate impacts humans

Geologically, human existence has been a blip on the clock.  It is still unclear whether volcanism, sun spot activity, and tectonic forces are responsible for the oscillations in weather over millions of years.  Weather changes created Ice Ages and in-between glacial periods caused sea level change. Drought, lasting decades and even centuries,  put pressure on feeding ancient populations  and caused ancient civilizations to decline.

hohokam-canals_hohokam1-courtesy-arizona-historical-societyTwo in the Americas,  Hohokam and Anasazi civilizations were very advanced, yet may have faded – centuries before European visitors – due to extended periods of drought.

A volcanic eruption of Santorini in the Mediterranean was a primary factor the successful Minoan civilization faded around 1500 BCE.  From the Bible and other texts, years of record crops followed by drought and famine in the Middle East occurred.   Yet history teaches us that human beings in sufficient numbers can alter the environment as well. The millennia that Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Roman and Greek people cut the “cedars of Lebanon” for ship timbers and structures has all but eliminated them.  copper-t1.

In northern Michigan 7000 years ago ancient ancient people mined copper; tailings and debris left behind tell the stories before 19th Century mining began there.  But the growth of the world population and the demand for resources have caused more debilitating changes in many aspects on the planet.    In more recent times,  denser populations along the coasts – the heavy industrialization using coal, oil and natural gas for energy first in the Americas and Europe, then Asia and Africa have had unrestrained and inefficient (heavily polluting) consequences.  After several decades, each region in turn developed a conscience about limiting “acid rain” and early deaths from lung diseases and cancers.  Before  government management in the Americas, clear-cutting forests and mining were damaging what we later preserved through government intervention.  This is still rampant in Brazil and the Amazon Basin.

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Amazon deforestation  

Strip mining that ruins the land and the chemicals used to extract metal poison groundwater in many developing economies.  Of course, the topic that give California Jerry Brown the largest headache,  is burning hydrocarbon fuels for energy,- releasing billions of tons of chemicals that were deposited over millions of years within the last  century or two.

 

 

it’s elemental

Fire

Less than two months ago, the Sonoma region of California became an inferno.

171206124100-02-ca-wildfire-405-exlarge-169
Ventura, Los Angeles county, December 2017

This week, another tragic environmental calamity is occurring not only a couple of hours north of me in northern Los Angeles but forty miles north of my home, the Lilac fire,  in the hills at the edge of San Diego County.  Wind-propelled wildfires have consumed the lives, property, and dreams of hundreds of residents,  displaced thousands more. and killed dozens of stabled horses in the last days.  Ten years ago, my third of the county was being turned to charcoal by wildfire.  Coordinated effort of thousands of firefighters, military and civilians have managed to keep human casualties few while battling the environment.

Perhaps the Government and the governed can put down their acrimony long enough to work through “defensible space” in residential areas.  Tangible efforts such as clearing wider swaths of highways near open country might prevent vehicle-caused brush fires.  Remove diseased and non-native species of trees and plants, many of which are very flammable, by dedicated planned cutting and clearing.  Allow natural clearing through regular controlled burning.

Earth

170908-mexico-earthquake-4-ew-326p_e9ba9d74ca848450704463d0efc087fc-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000
Mexico 2017

Living at the tectonic boundaries of continents, Asia-Pacific and western North, Central and Latin American residents, earthquakes, and the infrequent volcanic eruption destroy  property, kill people living in un-reinforced structures, and wreak havoc. The residents of central Asia suffer a major quake every dozen years of so. A decade or more ago, a major earthquake severely damaged eastern Japan, and one previously induced tsunamis from Thailand to India. Volcanic eruptions occur over a geologic timescale, so it is often ignored by people from Indonesia, to Naples, Italy, to some Caribbean island residents who live on their slopes.

For those who live at tectonic boundaries, nations can provide technical expertise with construction, but it will be up to the affected nations to employ these methods and materials.  While many nations do not have infrastructure, others have corrupt or ineffective leadership in their economies.

Water

22live-strom-1-master675
aftermath of Maria, Puerto Rico

Hurricanes or cyclones or typhoons, and tornadoes are either more damaging now – or are more reported in the twenty-four hour news cycle.  El Nino or La Nina cyclic ocean heating or cooling contribute to heavy growth of fuel for fires in wet years in the western US, then in dry years contribute to tinder-dry fire conditions;   hot winds blowing toward the Caribbean from western Africa mix to become tropical depressions and then storms that churn into the Caribbean,  the Gulf of Mexico or Eastern seaboard. For this hemisphere, it is a roulette wheel every June through September where storms will make landfall.   Hurricanes in 2017 have ruined large swaths of the Caribbean,  and flooded southeastern Texas.  For other hemispheres, cyclones or typhoons  have often killed many and displaced thousands in the Philippines, and coastal Indian Ocean countries.

Nature has a way of mitigating hurricanes through dense miles of mangrove swamps;  humans building in flood-prone regions, building over land that would absorb or deflect flooding has had devastating effects.  Home owners who have properties along the beaches where hurricanes have come ashore frequently make a choice to live there, yet the debris that piles up and down the coastline is environmentally damaging and take a long time to remove.  With storms such as that which struck New York in winter, or Houston, or Puerto Rico and the eastern Caribbean this year, there may be more frequent and stronger storms in future years.   Sea walls, restored wetland, stronger levees, stockpiled supplies and more durable materials are some of the things that people can demand.

Wind

160508054202-fire-storms-twister-van-dam-lklv-00024715-exlarge-169
Texas, (courtesy CNN)

From westerly ” Santa Ana” winds out of the deserts of California that dry out vegetation in the forests and hills every Fall (and sometimes Spring through Fall), to the tornadoes that develop in the Central and Eastern United States when cold air masses clash with the warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico,  to hurricanes,  wind is a major force to be reckoned with.  As part of the whole climate debate, people want to use wind to generate power yet curse it when it accelerates fires, lift roofs off schools, blow down trees or sink ships at sea.  As a natural force, wind is not going to be stopped by human will.  However, more intelligent design for buildings may mitigate storm damage.

I am so exhausted listening to everyone blame climate change for the problems in the world.  It is not the weather “why” I care about.   It’s how the world population – as a whole – intends to alter in meaningful ways the slide to more unstable and unpredicable  future.   As long as there is President Obama-style unilateral initiatives  or Congressional “legislation”  or California bureaucratic fiats without real adoption in the new industrializing regions of the world – there is no leadership.    However social media page “Likes”, group-think, hysteria and the resulting inaction is a poor gift for future generations.