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The Rovers I’m Not Naming

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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.  [1]  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:

Diligence

Reliability

Punctuality

Maturity

Tolerance

Composure

Sufficiently Caffeinated

Respectful Personal Hygiene

 

Introducing NASA’s next Mars Rover, “Fiscal Responsibility”

 

*   *   *

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?) .  [2]   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 ?!?!?!?     [3]

Not only it is a great product, the makers of Poo-Pourri are responsible for arguably The. Funniest. Product. Commercial. Ever.   [4]   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.

 

You’re not supposed to “see” the air, right?

 

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,   [5]  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.  [6]

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.

 

How complicated could such an invention be?

 

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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.”   [7]

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:

  1. pushing them in front of a bus
  2. running them over with a bus
  3. dropping a bus on top of them as they stand at a bus stop
  4. lacing their morning coffee with arsenic
  5. 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.”

 

“Did you see her – she’s actually dead!”
“Yes, but at least she’s not getting any more wrinkles.”

 

 

*   *   *

“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!

*   *   *

 

[1] 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….

[2] Foer example, the contraceptive patch was first available to the public in 2002 but had been in development and testing long before then.

[3] Aka, “The before-you-go toilet spray.”

[4] Yes, of course, that’s in my opinion. This is my blog; whose opinion were you expecting?

[5] Solving the world’s air pollution problems might be too ambitious for junior high, I reckoned.

[6] 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?

[7] As in, wrinkled skin.

The Speech I’m Not Policing

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Department Of The Optimism I Wish I Held

“His recent book Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis, could hardly be more timely.
And it has a fascinating twist, seeking links between how individuals deal with crises – with insights from his clinical psychologist wife – to how nations succeed or fail when confronted with a crisis.”

That blurb is from the description of “How It Can All Fall Apart,” a recent episode of Alan Alda’s Clear and Vivid podcast.  Professor, historian, and Pulitzer Prize-winning popular science author Jared Diamond (“Guns, Germs and Steel“) was Alda’s guest.

As with many podcast guests, Diamond had a new work to promote (the above-mentioned book, which just may join the ever-expanding pile of *read-this-and-you’ll-be-a-better-or-at-least-smarter-person* tomes by my nightstand).  What I found most captivating about the interviews Diamond has been giving is the cautious optimism he expresses about what positive awakening may arise from the COVID-19 crisis:

…if there is a solution found, a majority of people may finally realize that *global problems require global solutions,* which could result in the setting aside of political differences and working together to find solutions to problems from which  no artificial barriers of borders or international politics can shield us  (read: Global Warming/Climate Change.

I wish I could believe Diamond is right.  The USA should, of course, be a leader in this and other issues.  Instead, it may take our country many months – how long until the election? – to be able to fully get on board in this matter.  Chief Little Bunker-Bitch [1] I mean, that festering gallstone of a human being – okay; remember, we’re going for the spirit of cooperation – our pathetic excuse of a leader…  I’m sorry, world, but the truth is….

 

 

Ok.  How shall moiself  put this? If you know even a smidgen of #45’s personal, business and political history, you also know that the one comment any teacher would *not* write in the report card of his life is, “Plays well with others.”

*   *   *

Department Of Since You’ve Asked

Inquiring Minds:
“What is your diagnosis of the greatest problem facing humanity?”

 

 

All-righty then, to rephrase:

“What would you say is humanity’s biggest mistake, or weakness?”

Moiself:
Humanity’s *blunder grande* is our misplaced faith in certitude, vis-à-vis both our factual knowledge and our sense of ethics.   [2] 

Giving the probabilistic nature of our world (including our very existence as a species), strength and resilience lies in people who are able to see and act on the grays in life, instead of labeling everything either black or white.

Fly your gray banner; keep open to the possibility that you may be wrong, but don’t let this entangle you in the morass of uncertainty that some use as an excuse for inaction (“Since we can’t know for certain then we can’t know at all”).

Wow. That’s a lot of profundity for one keyboard to spew.  I need a beer.

 

“Don’t waste it on her; she doesn’t even drink beer.”

 

*   *   *

 Department Of Terms Worth Picking A Few Nits Over

I’ve written in the past (and given our current “cancel culture”   [3]  and the unfortunate, seemingly liberal-led trend of looking under every verbal rock for aggrievements, I will likely have cause to write again) of my disdain for people who criticize/judge/assume they know the opinions of other people who don’t use the “proper” or “accepted” terms in discussing social issues.

Moiself  deplores the censoring of ideas and the alienating of allies which results from when you focus on *how* someone says something, versus paying attention to *what* they are trying to say (i.e., confusing style with substance).  But, language is tricky. None of us can accurately claim to be an expert of verbal and written communications, which are the conduit between our forming ideas and our expression of them.

 

 

The choices we make matter, as do our words, which both express and influence our ideas and worldviews. I try to view each case separately recently, I’ve learned of a couple of centuries-old terms which moiself  thinks are very much worth changing, for the important reason of the terms’ subtexts.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for creating the 1619 project at The New York Times, which tracks the legacy of slavery.  In Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview with journalist Hannah-Jones, (which I referred to in a recent blog post as influencing my opinions about reparations for slavery), TG asked Hannah-Jones about why she uses the term “enslaved person” and not “slave” in her writing (my emphases):

“It was very important in the 1619 Project and whenever I write about this, to not use language that further dehumanizes people who every system and structure was designed to dehumanize.

I think when we hear the word “slave,” we think of slavery as being the essence of that person. But if you call someone an enslaved person, then it speaks to a condition. These people were not slaves. Someone chose to force them into the condition of slavery, and that language to me is very important, as is using the word “enslaver” over slave owner because these people didn’t have a moral right to own another human being, even though the society allowed it, and I think it needs to be active, that this was an active system of people choosing to treat other human beings as property.”

 

I think this change in terminology is adoption-worthy and will henceforth try to consistently to use those words.  If someone comments on it (“I’ve noticed you say, ‘enslaved person’ and ‘enslaver’ instead of ‘slave,’ and ‘slaveowner’ “),  then there is an opportunity for dialogue.

However, I will not turn into a member of the Speech Police, and hope that other Well-Meaning People ® act accordingly.  Joe Dude who seems open to the idea of reparations for enslaved persons is a potential ally; don’t turn him off if he starts to say, “I realize there is validity in reparations for descendants of slaves…” by jumping in with a correction, no matter how well-meaning: “Whoa, Joe – the proper term is, ‘enslaved persons….’ “

In these Twitter Mob Times ® it so easy to criticize *how* someone is expressing an idea that we often neglect to listen to *what* they are trying to say.  When it comes to style vs. substance, go for substance. Every Time.

 

“There’s the guy who said ‘disabled’ instead of “person with a disability’ – let’s get ’em!”

 

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Department Of The Things We Leave Behind For Others

One day in 1961, the famous physicist Richard Feynman stepped in front of a Caltech lecture hall and posed this question to a group of undergraduate students:
“If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?”

….we posed Feynman’s cataclysm question to some of our favorite writers, artists, historians, futurists – all kinds of great thinkers. We asked them, “What’s the one sentence you would want to pass on to the next generation that would contain the most information in the fewest words?”

(Radiolab, The Cataclysm Sentence,)

 

One of my favorite Feynman quotes. If you want to know what his “cataclysm sentence” was, you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

 

I thought about that question for several weeks after hearing that podcast.The answers given, by Feynman and others, could be rephrased as, What would you leave behind for others?  My cataclysm sentence, which needs some serious editing, would have something to do with embracing embrace curiosity; try to understand reality and do not be satisfied with stories that purport to assuage your fears about what you don’t know….

One day during one of my early morning walks, I put those What would you leave behind for others? thoughts on hold, and have yet to return to them.  I was crossing a residential street, mulling those profound thoughts, and I noticed two brown plops, and a brownish line of…ick…stretching from the center of the street to the gutter, and then up on the sidewalk, for a total plop-streak of about 20 feet.   Moiself  realized it was a series of feces droppings, from a doggie which was evidently on the move.

 

 

Not wanting to fall into the trap I just wrote about – making up stories for that what you don’t understand – moiself  nevertheless used my powers of deductive reasoning to come up with the most likely scenario: dogs, when they’re on their own or are being led by a human on a walk or run, stop to squat when they defecate.  Why was this dog in such a hurry that it could not do so?  It was either being chased by something…or being pulled by someone.  I realized that the speedy early morning jogger I’d passed earlier, on that very street, her leashed dog trotting a good ten feet behind her, was the likely source.

And it made me wonder about how many of the countless dog-accompanied joggers and cyclists I’ve seen consider themselves to be responsible owners and the kind of people who always pick up after their dog… Except, when you’re moving at those speeds, essentially forcing your dog to run with you, it has to “go” on the run,  [4]  and since it is trailing behind you, you don’t see what is happening….  And you run or cycle merrily along, blissfully ignorant of the shit trail you have left behind, for others to deal with.

 

Book ’em, Danno.

*   *   *

Whaddya think, is there some kind of life metaphor in all that crap?

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

You shouldn’t fart in an Apple store; they don’t have Windows.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Just One More And Then I’ll Stop, I Promise

My dad burst into my room and said, “Wanna hear a joke?”
He proceeded to fart for a whole minute, then said,
“Sorry; that was a long-winded story.”

Okay; make that, just two more.

After letting out a trumpet of a fart the toddler stopped, gasped,
looked up at her mother and said, “Did you just hear that elephant?”
She’s going to be a great dad someday.

 

 

*   *   *

May you be mindful of what you leave behind;
May you recognize and celebrate life’s gray areas;  [5]

May you have the optimism to believe that a world which produces fart-dad joke combos
can come up with a cure for a pandemic ;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] For those of us who love our country and thus cannot bear to use the given name of the man who shits all over it, this is one of the milder monikers we use.

[2] Aka, “right” and “wrong.”

[3]  As per dictionary.com, cancel culture refers to “…the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”

[4] I have seen  more than one dog, running alongside its jogging/cycling owner, stop to squat and then get jerked/dragged along by its leash, while its owner kept on going.

[5] Except for those involving dreadful novels with “shades of” in the title.