Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How To Get Inspired

There is a lot of stuff going on. In fact, so many things are going on that it's basically impossible to keep track of everything. Besides the Presidential election, which is probably the least interesting thing out there, geniuses are busting their butts to make awesome stuff, rich people are wasting their fortunes doing magnificent things, and millions of people are getting up, going to work, having dinner, and sleeping, day after day after day after day. And all of it is amazing.

As human beings we have the capacity to do anything, and yet, for the most part, we fight. We're pretty good at fighting, actually, except for the part where someone has to lose. But take Richard Branson, for example. He just announced that he plans to explore the five deepest parts of the ocean. Want to know what's there? We have no idea, but if you want to learn, ask David Gallo:

You know what else? Reuters says, "Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB), one of the world's leading space technology companies, today congratulated NASA on the successful launch of five sounding rockets in a stream of launches that took place in less than seven minutes for the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) program." WHAT?! NASA launched five sounding rockets in LESS THAN SEVEN MINUTES. You're probably wondering what a sounding rocket is. It's a rocket with research equipment that takes measurements in suborbital space. That means, soon we'll have taxis to space!!!

Or how about this: Marcin Jakubowski has started an initiative to create a database of farm equipment that can be built at home. He calls it "Open-Source Blueprints for Civilization". You can access the eight designs created so far on his website, here. These could do amazing things for farming everywhere. I could build my own tractor!

Some guy is suing France, another man is on trial for murdering 17 people in Afghanistan, Soldiers are having trouble finding jobs because employers are afraid of PTSD, and scientists now think that billions of habitable planets may be floating about in the Milky Way. That means, we probably have neighbors. Awesome neighbors. Alien neighbors.

As humans, we now have the ability to dive into the deepest depths of the ocean, to research and learn without sending ourselves to space, to actually send ourselves to space, and to find and inhabit new worlds. And I bet you could ask that 17-year-old kid who built a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage, and he could build you a rocket that will get us into freakin' space for good. So we can build our own tractors. In space.

And still we fight.

One day, Earth will look like this for everyone.

And maybe, just maybe, we'll get inspired.
And fly away. Alligator Sky-style.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cows Are Diabolical-- a guest blog by Jonathon Gibbs

They look as innocent as babies in an advertisement for starving children. Large, moist eyes sit unblinking over lips as flat as the Midwest horizon. Flies buzzing about their heads fail to visibly perturb them, as if they are so resigned to their plight that theirlast, best revolt is to remain stoic and not give the flies the satisfaction of letting them know they are annoying. They are Zen-like in their tranquility. They appear placid as a mountain lake, self-possessed as a Clint Eastwood cowboy. They’d even be considered cuddly; chewing away the way they do, if they weren’t so darn large.

But these animals about which I speak are not innocents, like the children in those ads. These animals are fiendish devils. Unlike their Gangsta cousins, the Coyotes, they do not signal their malicious intent; they hide behind their calm demeanor like a snake underneath a rock outside a bunny farm. They are cowardly. They are cows. And they are evil.

Last week a Connecticut man was charged with rustling 18 Holsteins worth $60,000 from a Tiverton farm. That breaks down to $3,333.33. Despite the obvious – 3 is half of 6 and three sixes equals the sign of the Devil, and in this case cows being roughly half as smart as any one bureaurocrat in the Department of Agriculture, 333 is obviously the sign of the Devil in the cow world – I have other reasons for thinking cows are evil.

Let’s take last week’s alleged rustling. I say alleged because I think they weren’t so much stolen, as they were willing accomplices to the crime, runaways. It is even possible they set the Connecticut man up. Let’s look at the facts: Connecticut is a richer state with a better economy and its residents have a higher per capita income than those in Rhode Island, which translates to more feed for a cow. In this case, the man alleged to have stolen them was arrested but the cows were allowed to remain on his farm in Connecticut.

Sounds like a setup. Parent figure implicated and imprisoned while the child figure gets to stay home and have unlimited access to the stored food.Just sayin’.

For the unconvinced, I offer two more compelling reasons. Covering a story about a farm in Bethlehem, Connecticut as a reporter twenty years ago, I interviewed the farm’s owner as he went about his chores and learned about feed ratios, automatic milking machines and finally we got around to the artificial insemination part. He was saving the best for last. 

Now, to artificially inseminate a cow, you have this syringe-like device containing the thawed semen from some hot, random bull that who’s been coaxed into absentee fatherhood much in the same way David Crosby fathered a child with Melissa Ethridge.You take that syringe and introduce the business end to the cow’s uterus just in front of the cervix. Now, the cow’s uterus isn’t exactly handy in terms of accessibility. It’s about a yard or so away from where you are standing in place as the bridegroom. So your arm kind of disappears. The sperm is expensive and the road treacherous.

The farmer, or mid-husband as I called him, was up to his shoulder in mid-husbandry while telling me how you can tell where the proper placement is because the uterus tissue is soft and spongy while the cervix is hard and firm. What happened next is a good cautionary tale as to why one should probably concentrate on one’s task at hand. (And wrist, ulna, radius, elbow and humerus, for that matter.) Because the cow got spooked. Or something. My guess is her evil nature got the best of her. In any case, she began to shimmy and shake from side to side, making the earth move for the poor farmer.

He got lifted briefly off his feet and as the cow shook like jelly, his arm was turned to applesauce. That cow’s genital tract cracked every bone in his right arm.

After his son got him out and onto the ground, where he lay holding his arm and moaning, you know what that cow did? Turned her head and looked over her shoulder and him and shook her head up and down. Didn’t smile. Didn’t have to. I knew she was laughing inside. Then she went on chewing her cud.

The other thing makes me know cow’s are evil is when I was young, a cow – or at least a piece of one – broke my heart. Our neighborhood butcher sold not only the usual cuts of meat: flank, shank, ribs and the like; he also sold the more uninviting pieces: hooves, brains (called sweetmeats for some incomprehensible reason), intestines and tongue.

It was the latter that captured my adoration. My mother brought one home in its white butcher paper, unwrapped it and when I saw that pink appendage on the red linoleum counter top, it was love at first sight. It was careless love, yes; it was doomed interspecies love, yes; it was love of raw tissue only, love of something unattached or unencumbered to any semblance of intelligence or even a central nervous system. But it was love.

I took that piece of cow tongue everywhere for as long as the affair lasted. Next door to play with Nancy Lorenson and her swing set. To the basement where we played with my toy soldiers. I’d shake her up and down to make her mime. That ungulate could undulate. And that tongue went to bed with me, sleeping under my pillow. We talked all night. That tongue and I, we were tied. We were tasteful buds, both on the path to salivation. Or at least I thought we were.

You all know how such stories end. She left me. Five days and something spoiled her love for me. Left, without a note, nothing. No kind words about how it was for the best, or whatever. Not even a tongue-lashing. Just gone. My mom did look as if she knew something but she never let on. The cow’s tongue broke my heart, and there’s a part of it that’s still broken.

But this isn’t about me, or my heart. This is about what these fast-food, artery-clogging, fat-implanting beasts are doing to us, Homo sapiens, as a species. We need to unite against these creatures before it’s too late, and we all have a steak in this. If it were not for Louis Pasteur, they would have poisoned us all already. They are execrable excrement creators who conspire to leave us clouded in malodorous methane gas that threatens to kill off all life on earth. Would I be surprised then that a herd of cows would frame someone for stealing them when it was really they who stole away for a better life on the other side of the fence? Heck, no. 

Cows, I say, are heinous, malevolent creatures.

Nothing a cow would do – and it's mostly nothing they do – would surprise me.

Jonathan Gibbs, while he would write out the ingredients on a cereal box for pay, mostly edits books and writes copy for digital and print publications, grants, and freelance news stories. He is also involved in a variety of public relations work. He has several children’s stories available and is working on a novel. You can read his blog here.

And you can read my previous post about cows abduction here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How Much is the Universe Worth?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently asked this question in a speech: how much would you pay for the universe? He was referring to the recent funding cut that NASA took. He states that if one penny of each tax dollar went to fund NASA, we would surpass our wildest space dreams in a matter of a few decades.

One day, this concept is going to be one of those things that we talk about nostalgically, that people use as writing prompts for historical fiction novels. Right now, we think like this:

Can you imagine living in a country where women don't have the right to vote?
Can you imagine living in a country run by slavery?
Can you imagine living in a country where drinking alcohol was banned?
Can you imagine living in a country with vast tracts of unexplored land?
Can you imagine life without cars, or televisions, or phones, or heaven forbid--electricity?

And 67 seven years from now...

...Can you imagine living in country that wouldn't fund space travel?

And I will be 89 years old, cranky and obnoxious, living in a nursing home that orbits the moon, being interviewed on HoloSkypeOrbital by a 3D replica of my great-nephew who wants to do project on the history of space flight.

"My mother remembers them walking on the moon!" I would screech. "My mother watched the Challenger explode on a black and white TV! They didn't have space travel for real until I was about 52, even though NASA started hiring astronauts when I was only 23! Do I remember life without space travel? Of course I remember! My brain's sharp as a tack--do you even know what a tack is?"

"Let me tell you this, boy," I would interrupt as he sputtered to ask another impertinent question. "There's nothing more torturous than having the technology to do something but having those putrid politicians REFUSE to help do it! We were in an economic recession, them trying to tell women what not to have babies, worldwide religious clashes, the planet dying from carbon fuel poison, just out of a war on terrorists (terrorists are bloody hard to find, remember that, boy) and then politicians took money away from space travel! Can you believe it? Space travel! The only hope the people of the world had--just cut its knees right out from under it."

"What about the Dragon's fire? What about the descent of the Phoenix?" my great-nephew Gary will ask. "Do you remember those?"

"Naming all them spacecraft after mythical beasts won't give them no magical powers," I'll croak. "And of course I remember those! But you know what? Accidents happen. When they were inventing regular flights, with airplanes, you know what? People died. Amelia Earhart? Know who that is?" I'll shake my head. "Schools don't teach anything these days. She disappeared. Forever. Never seen again. More people died in car crashes back then than anything else. And murders! All over the place. But you know what? They still flew planes. They still drove cars. They still had babies. What's a couple of suborbital explosions? Sad, maybe. But they aren't the question."

"What is the question?" 

"The question is this: who are we and who do we want to be? Are we a nation of cowards and small-minded simpletons? Or are we a nation of intelligent visionaries with a backbone of steel and a work ethic of gold? Because that's what it took, Gary. It took intelligence, steel, and gold. Do you believe that?"

"Of course! We have space ships for people and space ships for mining and space ships for protection and space ships for research and we're mining asteroids in the asteroid belt and have a station set up on Mars!" He gets excited and begins to bounce up and down--because that's what kids do when they get excited.

I tap the top of the holo-monitor, the same spot where webcams used to be on a 2D monitor (now the hologram itself is the camera), and exclaim, "Now you tell me something, boy! Can you imagine living in a world trapped on the surface of the planet? In a country with a government who wouldn't fund space travel? Tell me--can you imagine a world without space?"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Grapefruit Universe

Yesterday, my little brother called me from Texas to tell me that he was walking through a grove of grapefruit trees. I imagined the sun shining down on his broad shoulders as he carefully selected a warm, ripe grapefruit from the ground; around him, light cheerful breezes bumped gently into heads of grass, and rustled the leaves of these glorious trees...

I live in New England; we don't have grapefruit trees. We have a bit of snow, though. He sent me a picture:

When he called, I was sitting in front of my computer, working. In front of a screen. As I am doing right now. All my time is spent in front of screens. Working. Writing. Communicating.

When he hung up, I wrote a poem:

i told Dave i want to be a hermit
 a hermit in outer space
  where there are no screens
just stars and stuff
and the bits that make up the sky, the dark, grapefruit trees
   and stuff
i want to be a space hermit

As you can see, I am not good at poetry. That is why I write in sentences. But I am a little jealous of my brother, strolling through a grove of grapefruit trees and picking up the fresh fruit, peeling back the skin, biting into the tangy, bitter, juicy bits of starlight before laying down in the gently swaying grasses to nap under a canopy of blue heavens and surrounded by the sweet scent of spring...

If I were a space hermit, I'd have a houseboat floating in the giant space ocean moored to an Earth-like island with a grove of sweet, ripe moons--some crimson red with swirls of lavender blue, dilly dilly, or sparkling green and cerulean blue and antique white that dallied in the blossoming dawn. I'd have a fossil museum in my living room, with bones as large as Mount Everest glistening in a heap near the swirling asteroid zephyrs that whirl and spin a path through a wilderness of stars. 

But if you came to look for me, I'd be hard to find; I'd be too busy painting the tiny motes of dust that drift through the starlight streaming through my stained-glass curtains, or surfing on the massive and rolling gravitational waves that soar through the darkness of space and time and crash against planets and stars and the sands of time... and there would be no screens, just everything.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Cat, the Hacker-Mob Boss

Most people know what their cats do when they're at home alone. Eat, sleep, and sleep, are three very common examples.

My cat, on the other hand, Goblin, is a very suspicious sort of cat. When I come home, she always runs away. When I am in the bathroom or kitchen, she just sits there and meows. The rest of the time, she sits in the corner, under my desk or in awkward places and just stares at me. She doesn't move or blink. Just stares. For hours.

Like this:

When I'm sleeping she either sits on my head, sits on the window sill above my head, or races back and forth maniacally chasing Christmas bows that don't move and pieces of string that don't fight back.

So then I wonder: what does Goblin do while I'm gone?

Here's the thing: NASA was hacked 13 times last year, and 48 NASA laptops were stolen in the past two years. Do I think my cat stole them? No. I think she paid someone to do it. I think she was the hacker, however. She's like a hacker-mob boss who runs a ring of ridiculously smart criminals that are trying to take control of the space station. NASA claims that the space station is safe, but if Goblin can speak Russian, then they had better watch out.

""But why?" you ask. "Why would Goblin want to take control of the space station?

"Don't you read the news?" I reply. 

Goblin the Hacker-Mob Boss is merely trying to command a new life for cats of all breeds. By taking control of the International Space Station, she knows she can negotiate for a cat-sized spaceship which she will then command, taking as many cats as possible away from here to start a new life on a far away planet--a planet of milk and fish. I wish her luck.