Archive for February, 2012

Space Chronicles

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’ve been a big fan of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson for a long time. I caught him on The Daily Show the other night (he is a somewhat frequent and very entertaining guest) speaking about his new book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier. After hearing him speak about what he covers in the book, and then listening to an NPR interview on the same topic, I can’t wait for a chance to get to my favorite book store (Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, if you’re curious) to pick up a copy.

Neil has been vocal about the recent cuts to NASA and the shuttle program while countries like Russia and China continue to advance their programs. He claims that what we really need to do is double the funding and push for a surge in research and exploration. He rarely forgets to point out in interviews that the one year budget for the U.S.’s military is equal to the entire 50-year running budget of NASA. This is why I love this guy. He is able to put shocking stats like this, things we never hear from largely science-illiterate politicians, in perspective. He makes convincing and even inspiring points about the history of the space program and its roots in the Cold War and a race to innovate and be a leader and the world superpower. He talks about how this research and exploration led to so many innovations and technologies that fueled the economy for decades. It worked once before. Why won’t we give it a chance today?

One of the commenters on the NPR story (link below) pointed out, “Your children and grandchildren cannot grow up to be astronauts.” Good point. For four decades kids grew up dreaming of being an astronaut. Most of us didn’t end up pursuing that dream, but some lesser version of it. Exploration and research inspired kids like me to go into science. Sure, it was war that propelled us into the space age, but look at all that came from that race, from that sense of wonder. How do we get kids excited about space now when we’re cutting funding to science at every opportunity and sending the message that success is a measure of how much money you can squander?

So… China, eh? Doing anything exciting over there that we should be aware of and angry about and want to beat you at? I’m not saying we want to be like China any more than Cold War U.S. wanted to be like the Soviet Union, but… Sputnik?

The links:

Neil on NPR

And Neil on The Daily Show (love his point about the set at the end…)

 

Advertisements

Making Memories

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

This is a brief personal post about my family, specifically my dear, sweet Grandma. I scribbled down most of what follows in about 15 minutes as soon as I got to work yesterday morning. I had to get it down on paper right away. Someday I’ll post some links to Alzheimer’s information that I’ve come across, including some amazing and touching Radiolab episodes dealing with Alzheimer’s.

2/20/12

“She is an Alzheimer’s patient. She no longer maintains a narrative of her life, but her experiencing self is still sensitive to beauty and gentleness”

– Daniel Kahneman
Thinking, Fast and Slow

 

I heard this quote while driving in to work this morning, listening to the audiobook version of Mr. Kahneman’s fascinating book, and it struck me and nearly brought me to tears. I wrote it down the first chance I got.

Yesterday was Grandma’s 92nd birthday. I was fortunate enough to be able to be up at the lake to celebrate it with her, along with my wife and daughter and my parents. Auntie Lisa was a wonderful host as usual. It was great to see Auntie Kathy and Dennis as well, doing their best to really enjoy the family company after the hell they have been through and continue to deal with. Grandpa was looking great. It’s hard to put into words how wonderful it was to see how happy he looked when Nadia ran to him yesterday morning to give him a big hug. He brought out old photo albums and could name every one of his old Army buddies and long-gone friends and family members.

Mr. Kahneman’s statement struck me because in just 20 words he is able to beautifully explain Alzheimer’s – both what it has taken away from Grandma and what it has left her.

“She no longer maintains a narrative of her life.” You and I take our memories for granted. They help us to have meaningful life experiences that aren’t clouded in confusion, and often crippling fear. Imagine waking up lost – not only physically lost, but lost in time with no frame of reference. Grandma’s past is mostly gone, and what’s left is scrambled and scary. She clings to what she knows. Recognition flutters in and out like a butterfly. She may be suddenly excited to see you, but you soon realize she thinks you’re someone else. Her smile is wide and genuine and she is so happy, so you go along with it and smile back. She can’t form stories of her experiences any longer. Today she probably doesn’t recall our visit.

“Her experiencing self is still sensitive to beauty and gentleness.” She knew we were all there to be with her. She seemed to feel the warmth of family. She couldn’t thank us enough for coming, even if she couldn’t quite place who we were. We each sat and talked with her for a while. Each time I leaned in for a hug or kiss her face would light up with another warm smile.

This is my Grandma. I have so many great memories of her that I cherish. Alzheimer’s is very frightening to me. I want my own memories to last and comfort me in my later years, not confuse and haunt me. I want to remember my Grandma as the loving family matriarch that she always has been. I love you Grandma. Happy Birthday.