Department Of This Is Why I’m Not In Charge Of Such Things
Dateline: Thursday (yesterday), 2-18-21, 12 noonish; watching coverage of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars.  There was plenty of time to consider the ground-breaking implications of space exploration for humanity while all the TV talking heads filled the time until the actual landing. Thus, I got to wondering: what is it about the names of these planetary probes – who gets to choose them, and what are the guidelines?
Spirit; Opportunity; Curiosity; Pathfinder; Perseverance
It seems NASA’s Mars program is partial to names denoting desirable/adventurous personality traits. The launch and landing stages of the probes are certainly WOW events. But I’m thinking of the decades of the less glamorous work behind the scenes to get these devices to those stages. What about honoring the less flashy but essential characteristics necessary for progress and harmony, when you’re working for years with a team of people, sometimes under stressful circumstances?
I humbly submit my nominations for the names of future Mars (or, Jupiter or…?) rovers:
Respectful Personal Hygiene
* * *
Department Of More Lists
I overheard a conversation in a grocery store between two employees, something about “…best inventions of the century.” We’re only one fift into the 21st century, but of course (as moiself discovered when I returned home and Googled the concept) individuals, news organizations and other companies have already started compiling lists.
Most of them overlap; “best” is of course a subjective rating; some of the entries, it could be argued, span both centuries (do you count an invention as being of this century on the date it became available to the public/was put into use, or the date when someone first started working on it?) .  All that considered, the more common entries include
* Smart phones
* Online banking
* 3-d printing
* CRISPR gene editor
* The contraceptive patch
* Augmented reality
* Blockchain platforms
* High density battery packs
* Online streaming
After scanning the fifth such list, I noted a glaring omission common to all of them:
Where was the inclusion of Poo-Pourri ?!?!?!? 
Not only it is a great product, the makers of Poo-Pourri are responsible for arguably The. Funniest. Product. Commercial. Ever.  If you have never seen this commercial, then you obviously have a more fulfilling and important life than I do need to inform yourself as to this cultural milestone of marketing:
* * *
Department of Bill Gates Please Save The World
“Gates isn’t just looking to cut future carbon emissions, he is also investing in direct air capture, an experimental process to remove existing CO2 from the atmosphere. Some companies are now using these giant fans to capture CO2 directly out of the air, Gates has become one of the world’s largest funders of this kind of technology.”
( “Bill Gates: How the world can avoid a climate disaster,” 60 Minutes 2-15-21 )
Three times in the past three weeks I’ve encountered the term direct air capture, used in relation to our global warming crisis. Each time, the part of my heart that is still 12-years-old jumps for joy.
Direct air capture (as per Wikipedia):
Direct air capture (DAC) is a process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the ambient air (as opposed to capturing from point sources, such as a cement factory or biomass power plant) and generating a concentrated stream of CO 2 for sequestration or utilization or production of carbon-neutral fuel and windgas. ….DAC was suggested in 1999 and is still in development….
Actually, a form of DAC was suggested by moiself, over two decades earlier than 1999. I, like, invented DAC. In your dreams, you may say. Well, literally, yes.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (Southern California, early 1970s) we had smog alerts several times during my 7th grade year, when the air quality got so bad it hurt to breathe, and PE classes were cancelled.
During that PE downtime I would think about why we weren’t doing our 800 yard run trials. Air pollution – not only do we have to stop adding to it, we need to get that existing gunk out of the air. What about some kind of sieve or filter – which work for liquids, so why not tweak the concept to strain the air? I would dream about it at night; I had dreams about enormous fan-type devices which would suck in air, filtering out the pollutants and spewing out clean air while compressing the particulate matter into bricks and other building materials which could be used for housing, road surfaces, bridges….
Yes, dreams, as in plural. It was weighing heavily upon my mind. For a period of several weeks I thought about it a lot, even confiding in my math teacher after class one day. I asked him if he knew some science teachers, maybe in high school,  with whom I could talk to about my idea. He laughed at me – not cruelly, but certainly patronizingly, and said that I had no concept about the complicated technology which would have to be involved – which would have to be invented – for such an undertaking. 
My school stopped having smog alerts and I stopped having those dreams. Moiself looks forward to not having to dream about such things, ever again, in the very near future.
* * *
The Commercial I’m Not Filming
Yours truly came across the following ad recently.
Imnagine that, an ad for yet another product or regimen to stop/reverse “the aging process.” 
Moiself fantasized about shooting a commercial for *my* secret tips to stop the aging process. Seven seems an excessive number, so I’ll cut it down to five. The commercial will open with scenes of people sending me money for my secret/sure-fire tips to stop the you-know-what process, followed by scenes of my anti-aging goon squad who show up at said people’s houses or surprise them on the streets, and stop their aging process via:
- pushing them in front of a bus
- running them over with a bus
- dropping a bus on top of them as they stand at a bus stop
- lacing their morning coffee with arsenic
- slipping a sedative in their dinner wine and setting fire to their house while they sleep
The final scene shows friends at the deceased’s open casket funeral, murmuring enviously to one another, “She doesn’t look a day older than yesterday.”
* * *
“One of the things that Teller and I are obsessed with, one of the reasons that we’re in magic, is the difference between fantasy and reality.”
(Penn Jillette, of the magic duo Penn and Teller)
“It isn’t automatic that if you learn magic you’ll become a skeptic of the supernatural,” said D.J. Grothe, president of the Virginia-based James Randi Educational Foundation, which debunks supernatural claims and was founded by Randi.
“But knowing magic does give you a leg up on how the mind works and how easy it is to be deceived. And from there, skepticism can be a fortunate result.”
(“Magicians say their craft makes them see faith as just hocus-pocus,”
The Christian Century, 10-27-11 )
I have long been drawn to the philosophy of modern-day magicians, even though the what-they-do part – the actual “magic” – doesn’t particularly hold my interest. It has been years since I’ve been to a magic show, and although I avoid Las Vegas like the proverbial plague (I think moiself is allergic to neon), if I were there, The Penn and Teller show is the one show I’d try to get tickets to.
Well, that and a show featuring Amazonian-stature women dressed as roosters. Because, you know, culture.
What interests me is (something which magicians themselves have pointed out) the similarity of “tricks” used by magicians and politicians and religions. Magic acts, religious leaders and texts, and extreme political ideologies are similar in that they employ physical and psychological methods to fool people into believing something that they otherwise would have/should have known is patently untrue ( The man did not pull a quarter from your nose…but gosh darn it, it sure looked like he did). Ultimately, magicians and demagogues and priests don’t have to fool people, because by using a combination of visual, oral, and intellectual illusions, they get people to fool themselves.
I recently tuned into my favorite podcast on communication and science, Clear + Vivid , and was pleased to hear that C+V host Alan Alda’s guest was Penn Jillette (aka “the talking half “of Penn and Teller). In Magic, Tricks, and Us, Penn explored this question:
When we see a magic trick, is the magician fooling us,
or are we fooling ourselves?
Jillette’s thesis is that “magic tricks” are a test of how we process reality:
“If you’re lying to somebody, they’ll catch you. But if you get someone to lie to themselves, you’ve got ’em. And that is what we’re (magicians) always trying to do: get people to make assumptions…because they’ll put up a wall around me, but if I can come around the edge, we can fool ’em that way.
He talks about illusions v. tricks, and how he prefers the latter:
“Tricks are ideas that you get someone to…to lie to themselves. Because the trick, instantly, deals with one of the most important subjects we can deal with, which is how we establish what’s real; how we agree on a reality. For me, doing magic is a playful epistemological experience. We are playing around, in a safe zone, with how we establish what’s true. We’ve seen what happens when truth is played with on a real stage, in the real world…and it’s horrific. If you come to see a Penn & Teller show and you say, if these two guys can make me think something that’s patently not true, what can people with a real budget, and a lack of morals, do?”
Penn, an atheist and advocate science and of reality-based thinking, briefly addressed criticism that atheists don’t accept or appreciate “mystery” in the world.
“Atheists are often accused of ‘not accepting the mystery,’ and it’s exactly the opposite. Atheists are very happy going, ‘Hmm, I don’t know.’
Reality-based thinking is actually more in love with mystery than magical thinking. When scientists said, ‘I don’t know,’ they had more love of the mystery than someone who said, ‘I do know, and it’s god.’
The three most important words of the scientific method are, ‘I don’t know.’ Those were not said until 500 years ago. Priests and rulers and kings, they always knew. Scientists came along and went, ‘I don’t know.’ Those three words are to me the scientific method.”
What spurs scientific investigation in the first place is recognizing and admitting what we don’t know, followed by harnessing the curiosity and freedom to investigate. We all benefit from the science that springs from admitting what we don’t know about a natural phenomenon, rather than being “given” incomplete, incorrect, or simply nonsensical non-answers (“Allah willed it;” “Jehovah did it,” “Pele/Isis/Jesus sent the plague/rains/tornado/volcanic eruption to punish/reward/bless/remind us….”)
“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.”
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”
( Richard Feynman, theoretical physicist, professor, and avid bongo player )
* * *
Pun For The Day
Harry Houdini used to use lots of trap doors in his magic act.
He’s stopped that now; he was just going through a stage.
* * *
May you appreciate the difference between questions that can’t be answered
and answers that can’t be questioned;
May you be careful what you wish for when it comes to “the aging process;”
May we all realize how truly cool it is that we have another rover on Mars;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Did you see it? The announcers did a great job of transmitting the NASA/JPL team members’ “Seven Minutes of Terror,” as you think about how butt-frostingly complicated such a mission is, and how many things can go wrong….
 Foer example, the contraceptive patch was first available to the public in 2002 but had been in development and testing long before then.
 Aka, “The before-you-go toilet spray.”
 Yes, of course, that’s in my opinion. This is my blog; whose opinion were you expecting?
 Solving the world’s air pollution problems might be too ambitious for junior high, I reckoned.
 Neither did he, of course. I often wonder if I’d been a 13-year-old boy instead of a girl, and come to him with the same idea, would he have encouraged me to study engineering and solve that problem?
 As in, wrinkled skin.