Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Cool Things -- Apollo 11, The Starship Enterprise, and Star Trek

Here are three more of "My Cool Things."  I'll finish the last of "My Cool Things" in the next two entries. 

 The Apollo 11 mission gripped the world as one of the most compelling nine days in history.  The mission boasted the first manned Moon landing on July 20, 1969.  That day at 10:56 PM EDT, when Neil Armstrong became the first human to stand on the Moon's surface, my eyes were glued to our television screen.  I was seven years old, but my parents let me stay up late to watch an event which would fascinate me for the rest of my life.  Despite being absorbed in the NASA images of Moon rocks and dust being collected for analysis on Earth, I felt sad for astronaut Michael Collins.  He had to remain orbiting the Moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the lunar surface and got all the glory. 

Scientifically accurate details from the Moon's surface captivated me.  The astronauts appeared to bounce across the surface in one-sixth of Earth's gravity.  Lunar dust which was kicked up fell directly back to the surface, leaving no floating cloud in the moon's airlessness.  And when the astronauts left the Moon, the previously motionless American flag, which had been planted at the landing site, whipped as in a furious wind.  This effect was caused by powerful rocket exhaust as the Lunar Module rose from the lunar surface.  The astronauts' return to Earth on July 24 left me with a profound sense of wonder that the mission had been a complete success.  Knowing that humans have walked on another world is astronomically cool.  

 Star Trek's famous Starship Enterprise  first voyaged to distant,   imaginary worlds on September 8, 1966, nearly three years before Apollo 11.  Science fiction can leap beyond factual science where rockets are the most advanced propulsion system available.  The Enterprise  journeyed between stars at incredible speeds by using warp engines, which physicists rightly reject as pure fantasy.  But that doesn't stop millions of us from thoroughly enjoying the many fictional tales from the Star Trek  universe.  Obviously, none of the five Star Trek  television series or 10 big screen movies ever tried to explain warp drive, but we have been given some tantalizing details. 
The original Starship Enterprise  could have traveled the 25 trillion miles from our Solar System to the next nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, in three days.  By comparison, the Apollo missions took three days to reach the Moon, which is only 238 thousand miles away.  The second Star Trek  series, The Next Generation, introduced us to a new Starship Enterprise  which could have traveled from Earth to Alpha Centauri in just 38 minutes!  This ship was no slouch.  To actually travel at such speeds, a staggering revolution in physics and engineering would be necessary.  The Next Generation  is supposed to take place in the 24th Century.  I don't believe that humanity would have a snowflake's chance in Hades of advancing that far in just 350 years, even assuming that these advancements were scientifically possible.  But Star Trek  isn't about being realistic; it's about traveling to exotic places and having amazing adventures.  Having such adventures by means of the Starship Enterprise  is stellarly cool.
  In high school, the original Star Trek  series fascinated me.  Let me speak from experience:  This television program never would have worked without futuristic technology and adventure, but another aspect of the show kept me focused intently on the series.  Like many viewers, I watched Star Trek  to follow the relationships and experiences of its cast of characters.  In some ways I saw a reflection of myself and others in the members of this starship crew.  For example, I admired Captain Kirk's courage and self-confidence.  I wished that I could be like him in these ways, but his quickness to use force and his smooth success with women made it difficult for me to relate to him.  I was a painfully shy teenager who was socially awkward and was virtually an outcast among my fellow students.  No, Kirk was not a reflection of me.  He reminded me more of the popular, athletic boys at school.  Then there was Dr. McCoy; he genuinely cared about people, but he was prone to being irritable. Also, he was suspicious of science and technology even though he was a physician and a scientist himself.  No, McCoy also was not a reflection of me.  I did care about people, but I didn't want to be socially abrasive like McCoy.  And again unlike him, I saw science as a great hope for the future of humanity.  McCoy reminded me of some adults I had met or heard of. 
Mr. Spock was the one character that I could identify with.  He wasn't shy, but he was an outcast in profound ways.  Spock was half Vulcan and half human.  On Earth he was considered Vulcan, and on Vulcan he was considered too human.  Anywhere else he went he was a complete outsider.  Like me, he didn't fit in well anywhere, except to some degree with his shipmates, a few of whom were his friends.  I envied him for having those friends.  Also, his Vulcan philosophy of logic and emotionlessness made him very different from everyone else on the Enterprise.  He was not allowed to express feelings, or even admit that he had them, which made it difficult for him to interact with the Enterprise  crew, even with his friends.  I was alone in a crowd, too, although for different reasons.  Spock became a role model for me; I saw his great inner strength which carried him through his difficult life, and I wanted to be as strong as he was.  I tried very hard to remain unaffected by the harrassment I received from the other kids for being different than they were.  In some ways I brought Spock's determination with me in my daily life, and I gained strength from his strength.  I don't know if I would have survived my high school shyness and depression without having Star Trek, and especially Spock, to turn to for help.  To me, Star Trek  became almost a philosophy for being a teenager.  Having a philosophy and a role model for surviving a painful period of your life is logically cool.
This is the third entry of a five part series.

Friday, February 1, 2008

My Cool Things -- Krissy, Jethro Tull, and Baroque Music

Here are some more of "My Cool Things."

  What challenges me is to capture in words the unique beauty that my wife brings to my world.  My words won't adequiately describe her, but I'll try anyway.  Krissy loves me; when she first confessed her deep feelings nine years ago, the revelation stunned me.  No other woman had ever loved me, and I had lost hope that any woman ever would.  That her commitment to our relationship hasn't wavered for almost a decade is still a source of wonder to me.  What she sees in me that other women dismissed as insignificant baffles my mind.  But whatever she sees has been compelling enough to keep her with me through two cancers and a bone marrow transplant.  And my first cancer was diagnosed just four months after we met!  That and her willingness to marry me is amazing.  I haven't even mentioned her intelligence, her sense of humor, our mutual interests and values, her imagination and playfulness, her patience, and a long list of other qualities that she has.  I could write volumes about what has made our relationship precious and still not cover all the details of why I  love her.  My wife Krissy is completely cool.

 I've heard Jethro Tull called the original Alternative Rock band.  Musically and lyrically, they are superior to, and far more artistic than, most popular musicians; frequent use of diverse instruments lends their tracks a unique but pleasing sound.  Jethro Tull writes largely about the profound social and political issues of our time.  A fondness for descriptive detail breathes life into their viewpoints, which are thought-provoking and persuasive.  I've enjoyed many of their albums, with the exception of Aqualung, which has a strong atheistic theme.  It saddens me to know that they reject religion, but you don't have to agree with everything artists believe to benefit from their work.  Jethro Tull's tracks are thoroughly enjoyable; artists who both inform and entertain are doubly cool.

 Are you familiar with baroque music?  If all of you were, my job in this paragraph would be unnecessary.  I have to assume, though, that some of you are drawing a blank.  Baroque was a period in European music between 1600 and 1750, marked by an elaborate and ornamental style, which preceded the Classical music era.  Now before your eyes glaze over, let me assure you that this won't become a lecture in music history.  Elaborate and ornamental -- what does that mean, right?  Trying to understand any kind of music by a textbook definition without actually hearing some of it performed is an almost hopeless task.  What I would like to do, if you've never heard baroque played, is urge you to give it a chance.  Maybe you've heard classical music and didn't like it.  You still might find that you like baroque.  Let me give you a popular example to listen to and let you judge for yourself:  Vivaldi's Spring Concerto   If you liked this, I hope you seek out more baroque.  If you didn't, that's all right too.  Liking baroque music or disliking it are both naturally cool.

This is the second entry of a five part series.