Department Of Roads Not Taken
Dateline: May 1. A social media post caught my attention: several pictures of our friends’ daughter, who attends a university overseas. She and her fellow undergraduates, clad in their distinctive red academic gowns, were preparing for one of her school’s traditional activities: the May Dip.  Everybody into the North Sea!
It was all so gorgeous. Romantic, even. I visited the school’s website, and was entranced by the many pictures: of the academic gowns (students can chose to wear them for formal occasions, or all the time); the other traditions of the centuries-old institution (you gotta love an event called, “Raisin Weekend”); the beauty of the campus and the landscape…. Some of the pictures on the school’s website had moiself thinking, “That place *has* to be the inspiration for Hogwarts.”
My vicarious joy for my friends’ daughter’s college experience surprised me when, later that afternoon, it resurfaced in the form of an unexpected spasm of a wistfulness at the realization:
҉ There are some things you cannot do over. ҉
Not complaining. I was able to attend and graduate from college – an opportunity denied to many around the world. I received a good education (and, for the most part, had a helluva good time) at the college which was my #1 choice, one of the top schools in The University of California system, (which was at the time) the highest-rated state university system in the nation.
Still, contemplative pangs plagued me the next few days, and I felt drawn to revisit that overseas college’s website, and do the what-if ? thing. Speculating on alternative realities. I shared these speculations with friend LAH and son K, who joined MH and I for dinner Sunday night. Did they ever have similar thoughts/feelings, even regrets, such as wishing they had sought an adventure by going to university out of the country, or ___ fill-in-the-blanks?
The adventure that entices me now is one which never occurred to me to pursue at the time I was applying to colleges. Sure, I’d heard that some universities  had semester-study-abroad programs, but to do your entire undergraduate degree oversees? No teacher or guidance counselor ever mentioned that to me; I didn’t know that that was an option. And, realistically, it wouldn’t have been, for moiself.
Despite my high GPA and SAT scores in the 90th percentile, what with my family’s finances I would’ve needed a full scholarship to do four years of college abroad. Given my mindset then (and now), I *never* would have taken out a student loan. My parents were able to pay for one year of college; I put myself through the rest by doing something that isn’t possible for students today, given the exponential rise in the cost of a college education over the past 30+ years: While being a full-time student I worked approximately half-time hours at various student jobs  during the academic year (and full time during the summers). Working at a student job, even finding a job, is not always an option when you are a “foreign” student.
MH, LAH and K’s responses to my “do-you-ever-look-back?” questions/speculations were generally…nah. Like me, going overseas for college hadn’t occurred to them (although, with the encouragement of our Swenadian  friend, K investigated a few Canadian universities and made an on-campus visit to one of them). And, as MH reminded me, the young woman whose European college adventures I was so smitten with is the daughter of two scientists/academics, who have traveled much overseas (ofttimes with their offspring) and who have more knowledge of/exposure to those kinds of academic possibilities. K did express mild regret at not being more adventurous at the college he had chosen, in terms of getting more involved in intramural sports and games, and exposing himself to different kinds of art….
Not in that particular way. 
… and music and other activities which were out of his comfort, or even interest, zones. I would have liked to have heard daughter Belle’s answer to the same question, and may pose it to her, when I next see her in person.
Moiself came to the conclusion that these longings are my subconscious reminding me that I need to get out more. Preferably, out of the country. MH’s and my second vaccine doses are next week, and I’ve been having dreams of having the opportunity to, say, sip New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc  in an Irish pub while listening to a Canadian using a Spanish bagpipe  to play Celtic music….
* * *
Department Of Surprises That Shouldn’t Be Surprises
The light. As in, Hey, there’s so much more of it!
Yes, this happens every year. Lighter in the morning; lighter in the evening; here comes the summer solstice. Still, I am, once again, surprised by and appreciative of the phenomenon.
* * *
Department Of Answer This Burning Question, Please
What is a Mom Joke, and why is that not a thing?
We all (think we) know what Dad Jokes ® are, right? Quintessential examples:
What kind of noise does a witch’s vehicle make?
What time did the man go to the dentist?
Me: “Dad, make me a sandwich.”
Dad: “Poof, you’re a sandwich!”
Why is there no Mom Joke category? Is it because Dad is the ultimate Mom Joke?
* * *
Department Of Pleasant Thoughts To Meditate Upon Before You Go To Bed
Just when the general public seemed to be paying attention to our excessive (and usually/totally unnecessary) use of hand sanitizers and “anti-bacterial” soaps and wipes, enter, COVID-19 and “germ” hysteria. I wonder how many super bugs have been incubating during this pandemic?
* * *
Department Of Other Things I Think About At Night: The Mars Problem.
“No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” 
You might not even think there is a Mars Problem ® (except inside my tortured brain). Read on, you glutton for punishment, thoughtful person.
In order for people of all nations – including the folks who live next door – to be enthused about missions to Mars, and to feel that the gazillion hours of research and the gazillion $$$$ required to do so are time and money well-spent, what do we need?
Thanks for asking: we need to send humans to explore Mars (and other planets and/or moons), not just more probes.
We’ve already had a glimpse of the future of space exploration, which will entail a mixture of government and private funding – it won’t all be NASA or other governmental agencies. Even the corporations and gazillionaires willing to entertain such a partnership also need motivation (other than their self-aggrandizement). And psychologists and behavioral scientists have figured out that human activities are what attract the most human interest (and thus, human investment).
Yep, manned space exploration is horribly expensive, and dangerous…as were earlier explorations in their day. Homo Sapiens evolved as explorers. The reasons we have for exploring our solar system correspond to the reasons that prompted our ancestors to risk “sailing off the edge of the earth” to explore new (to them) oceans and lands on Earth. In sending a manned mission to Mars, we would be continuing a tradition, exercising a defining “trait” even, of human beings: exploration.
There are sound economic reasons for sending probes (or robots), vs. humans, to Mars. I won’t take issue with the naysayers, except to say my own version of nay.
Regardless of whether “life” (or even enough usable mineral resources to, say, to make a tin can) can be found beyond our own planet, Mars exploration would boost our citizen’s pride in their country, spark renewed interest in the science and engineering necessary to achieve such a feat, and help lift the U.S. image abroad (Uncle Sam is in need of a face lift, after the worldwide embarrassment that was the #45 administration).
Alden Munson, a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, noted that,
“A lot of the warmest feelings people have had around the world have had to do with the space program. It’s hard to put a value on that.” 
We need humans in space because what interests most humans *about* space is humans *in* space. The whole world would be rooting for the first earthlings on Mars, just as they did for the Apollo moon landing. And we’ll want (and need) the rest of the world to get involved in research, designing, tracking, and maybe even the funding, of a manned Mars mission. The human appeal – yes, even (or especially) re the dangers involved – tugs at our intellectual and emotional strings in ways that seeing a robot or probe – as cool as that is! – does not.
Also, human explorers can do things that robots/AI devices cannot, including playing hunches, making last-minute decisions in emergency situations, and noticing objects and phenomena that can turn out to be significant, but which missed the programmers’ viewscreens, so to speak.
The most important factor of any manned space mission is the human factor. Our behavioral science knowledge points to the fact that the most difficult part of any space exploration will likely be the crewmembers, getting along with one another, in the years-long mission (at least 7 months there/7 months to return, and a stay of…months/years?).
Thus, the rigorous psychological profiling and testing required for astronaut candidates.
So, we come to (my version of) The Mars Problem.  Moiself be thinking: you need a crew with a mix of temperaments, interests and skills. You don’t want carbon copies, not at all Type A/gung-ho Marines on the one hand or all introverted science geeks on the other hand; you need a mix of diverse but also stable personalities. A mission as fraught as going to Mars will involve years of commitment, not only to the training beforehand, but to get there, stay there, then return…or, not? Many of Those Who Know What They Are Talking About ® suggest that mission-to-Mars astronauts who volunteer for the program should assume that they will not return.
““How can you leave forever?” “What does your family think about this?” “Your husband’s O.K. with you leaving him?”
These are the questions I’m peppered with when I tell people this is a one-way trip. And these are reasonable questions, perfectly understandable, and they deserve well-considered answers.”
(Sonia Van Meter, Mars 1 candidate, “Why I’m volunteering to die on Mars” )
This kind of trip will be unlike any before it. Not just crossing an ocean to a land you heard of (no matter how stormy the seas, you can stick your head out of the porthole for some fresh air) and much farther than humans have ever attempted. Thus, you need a crew who are, essentially, willing to volunteer for a suicide mission. Are well-adjusted humans really capable of this (even though we who will volunteer will say that we are) ?
Other than someone who’s already under a death sentence  (“What the heck, my oncologist gives me another seven years”/”I’ve nothing to lose – Huntington’s disease will get me in a decade”), who’s gonna think this is okay? What kind of person is willing to say, this is somehow worth it, to die for this mission? What kind of person could prioritize that ‘”mission” abstraction over the reality of the loss that will be experienced by their loved ones – spouses and children, family and friends – who will be 34 million miles away?
How does being able to parse that death/loss/grief v. mission equation mesh with being psychologically healthy? So, you’ll need a crew composed of people who are intelligent and skillful…and are in denial about statistics and reality in terms of their chances of survival…or who simply don’t give a flying fuck.
My conclusion: For such an undertaking, you’ll need a sane, insane crew.
Just wondering out loud.
As should be obvious by now, moiself fully supports a manned mission to Mars. In my younger days I’d have considered volunteering for it, but only, if I’d been unencumbered by family and friends – people who loved me. I would have volunteered if I’d had no one who loved and/or cared about me…which would have meant that I was, what? An isolated jerk. Just the kind of person you’d want to share limited space and resources with for a couple of years, eh?
OK, all y’all who think you are smarter than moiself – Elon, for the last time, put your hand down and return to your desk! – figure it out and get back to me.
* * *
Punz For The Day: Space Exploration Edition
Did you hear how NASA recruited the first cow astronaut?
They told her she could land on the mooooooooooooon.
My astronaut friend divorced her astronaut husband. She calls him her SpaceX.
* * *
May you enjoy the extra light, whether or not it surprises you;
May you be loved enough that you would never volunteer to die on Mars;
May you be inspired – but not haunted – by roads not taken;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 At dawn on May Day, after staying awake all night, students run into the North Sea as they are serenaded by madrigals sung by the university’s Madrigal group.
 Those tended to be the wealthier/private schools, or so it seemed.
 Including typing other student’s reports and term papers. I charged those engineering students – for some reason, their reports were always a last minute/emergency thing – twice my per page fee when I had to work past midnight.
 Longtime readers will recognize that appellation as my friend the Canadian, married to a Swede.
 I’m not a beer drinker; thus, no Guinness or Harp for me. It seems that the pubs of Ireland have some sort of deal with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc distributors, because that is the wine I found in every Irish pub MH and I visited, when we were there four years ago.
 That happened to us, in the wee town of Kinsale.
 No money, no space travel. The phrase comes from The Right Stuff, a movie about the beginnings of US space exploration…. “Buck Rogers” was a space-traveling comic strip character in the early 20th century. (The Free dictionary)
 It would be a similar problem re a mission to Europa, or another planet, but for discussion’s sake, I’ll stick with the closest target: Mars.
 Which, you’d think, would disqualify them on medical grounds.