Category: observations

Some Heinlein quotes that seem apropos today

I just finished reading Robert Heinlein’s “Logic of Empire” in the March 1941 Astounding* and there were two quotes that jumped out at me as particularly apropos to current events in the Federal government today.

First quote:

“I suppose you’re a radical now?”

Doc’s eyebrows lifted slightly. “Not at all. Radical and conservative are terms for emotional attitudes, not sociological opinions.”

And the second quote, from toward the end of the story:

“…sweet reasonableness won’t get you anywhere in this [political] racket. To make yourself heard you have to be a demagogue, or a rabble-rousing political preacher like this fellow Nehemiah Schudder. We’re going merrily to hell, and it won’t stop until it winds up in a crash.”

“But–Oh, the devil! What can we do about it?”

“Nothing. Things are bound to get a whole lot worse before they can get any better.”

It’s eerie how we sometimes read seventy-year-old science fiction stories that are near perfect reflections of today. I guess some things never change.

(*I’ll have more to say about “Logic of Empire” in Episode 21 of my Vacation in the Golden Age, coming on August 8.)

The Space Shuttle and Me

Atlantis is on her way to the International Space Station. And the space shuttle program comes to an end with this mission.

I was in second grade at Cedar Hill Elementary school when the Columbia made it’s first launch on April 12, 1981. I remember our class went to another classroom, across the library, and in that classroom was a television that was tuned to some news station. I think we must have watched a rerun of the launch, since the actual launch took place at 7am and we were not at school that early. I don’t remember much about watching the launch itself. My interest in astronomy had been growing since I discovered it in first grade, and I imagine I must have been pretty excited to see the shuttle launch,  but I didn’t understand the significance back then, as I do today.

I didn’t see the launch of the Challenger on January 28, 1986. I was in eight grade and the launch coincided with some kind of break between classes. But I remember starting to hear the other kids talk about the shuttle blowing up. Pretty soon we were all talking about it, rumors were flying. I was predicting that maybe they could have made it safely to orbit, but of course, that was not the case. I had a science class later that day, and I remember going into the classroom to find our teacher with tears in her eyes, a radio providing continuous bulletins on the tragic events of the day.

In 1998, I decided that I really wanted to be an astronaut and fly on the shuttle. It was silly of me to think this, but even silly thoughts can lead to some positive actions. It was because of this, in part, that I went out and learned to fly, and eventually got my pilot’s license. I also felt as if I devoured every book on the Apollo space program ever written. And of course, there was HBO’s From the Earth To The Moon to help spur along the inspiration. During this time, I would spent all day at work with the shuttle and mission control communications playing in the background. I would listen to each launch with what can only be described of as nervous thrill. And the absolute high point for me came on October 2, 1998 when John Glenn went up in Discovery as part of STS-95. I remember listening to that launch, and it must have been as exciting for me as the moon landing was for my parents.

I recall waking up on February 1, 2003 and going into my home office to check email and news. That’s when I discovered that the Columbia and it’s crew had been lost on reentry. I think I shrieked out loud, I was horrified and I did nothing else that day but watch the news for updates. I read every bit of news on the subject in the Washington Post for the next week.

I missed the launch this morning. I was stuck in meetings. I am sad to see the era of the space shuttle come to an end, but it doesn’t mean that the age of human spaceflight is ending. We are entering a new chapter now. I am a science fiction writer, and I write about spaceships and exploring the solar system, the galaxy and the universe. But what I write is all made up. I wonder what kind of achievements we will have made in human space exploration by the time the Little Man is in first grad… eight grade… when he twenty-six, and by the time he is thirty-one. The moon again? An asteroid? Mars? There’s nothing to do but wait and see.

And hope and dream.

Left turn yield on green

left turn.jpeg

Virginia drivers are not particularly bad, but there is one thing I’ve noticed that drives me just nuts: they seem to refuse to make a left turn on a green light (no green arrow), even when there is no opposing traffic; even when there is a sign above the light that says “Left turn yield on green.” What’s with that?

I learned to drive in L.A. In L.A. you creep out into the intersection in the left hand turn lane, until your car is completely in the intersection. If there is no opposing traffic, you make your turn. If there is traffic, you wait until the light changes and the traffic stops and then make your turn. In parts of New York, some people will make the left turn as soon as the light turns green, jumping ahead of the opposing traffic. (In New Jersey, there’s no such thing as a left turn.)

But in Virginia, the cars don’t creep into the intersection, they make no effort at turning when the traffic is clear. They just sit there until they have a green arrow. I suppose there is a certain safety in this, but it is almost like they don’t understand the sign that’s sitting right in front of them. It’s not really a big deal one way or the other, but it’s one thing about Virginia drivers that I’ve found to be generally consistent and generally annoying.

Evolution of elevator etiquette

It used to be you’d walk on an elevator and everyone else would dutifully ignore one another for no good reason other than that was the thing to do in an elevator.  (Oh, sure there was the occasional wise-guy who’d comment on his rash or stand facing the corner, but those are the exceptions.)  Nowadays, I notice that while the behavior goes largely unchanged, a reason for it has evolved.  Everyone is checking their BlackBerry/iPhone/Droid.  As soon as people walk onto an elevator, out comes the smart phone.  It provides a kind of digital camouflage, I suppose, the person wielding the device feeling invisible to everyone else in the car.

I must admit that when I walk onto an elevator, but gut reaction is to pull out my iPhone.  It’s almost innate, like pulling on my safety belt when getting into a car.  I do it without thinking.  I am trying to break this habit and walk into elevators without the need for a “digital smoke”, so to speak.  But it’s not easy.