We Are Frustrated Spacefarers

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Bubbling in the background of online science blogs has been a growing unhappiness with NASA’s scaled-back ambitions. A generations-long fascination with space exploration is part of being an American. We eat up science and fiction and we dream of spaceships.

Before Apollo, the nation’s embarrassment of poverty was used to squelch the calls to do this impossible and expensive thing. But screw poor people; we got some Tang and that historic photograph of the moon that Stuart Brand goes on about. Over time, NASA became something of a cultural treasure in spite of its branding problem.

Click on this picture to visit the Wikipedia page where you can learn more about Low Earth Orbit and why it is a fixture of modern life.

A visual explanation of what low Earth orbit (LEO) is courtesy of Wikipedia. Click the image to learn more.

Fast forward to today. Phil Plait laments that we aren’t boldly going any further than low Earth orbit (LEO) in a recent Bad Astronomy post. While LEO is important, he thinks it’s not enough. Some choice bits:

The idea of going back to the Moon is one I very much strongly support, but I get the impression that the plan itself is not well-thought out by NASA. The engineering, sure, but not the political side of it. And it’s the politics that will always and forever be NASA’s burden.

I’m old enough to remember when NASA could do the impossible. That was practically their motto. Beating the Soviets was impossible. Landing on the Moon was impossible. Getting Apollo 13 back safely was impossible.

NASA needs a clear vision, and it needs one that is sturdy enough to resist the changing gusts of political winds.

I agree with all of that, but still fall back to that whole question of whether the money can be spent better elsewhere. For the purposes of this exploration, let’s give the point to Phil. What do we do about it?

Short answer: wait

Can-do spirit of this scale is cyclical and the WWII post-war period was a unique time in American history. The reorientation of the war machine toward a domestic economic market brought with it bucketfuls of cash for science research. Since they had yet to be saddled with things like animal care & use protocols and other best-practice frameworks, scientists could pretty much do what they wanted.

Against the backdrop of a terrifying cold war with the USSR, this atmosphere made it possible to turn billions of dollars into a political bludgeon against the Soviets. It also inadvertently created an imagination engine for generations of young Americans.

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But the backdrop is what’s not the same. We have yet to resolve the social-direction argument and are still awaiting another enemy to hate. On the first score, I think we’ve entered the decade where that finds resolution. At some point in the next ten-to-fifteen years, a major war will lock us into full-on crisis mode. Assuming a broadly favorable outcome, this will kick off the next high, which would be analogous to the atmosphere that gave birth the Apollo program.

If things conclude unfavorably? Let’s just say a moon mission won’t be on the table? No matter what happens, space is going get increasingly political because it’s going to be weaponized. Every frontier eventually gets a bunch of guns, and with flocks of satellites running the world, guns will end up in orbit eventually.

A view of astronauts building the International Space Station. Photo by TopTechWriter.US at Flickr.

A view of astronauts building the International Space Station. Photo by TopTechWriter.US at Flickr.

The important question

We don’t need manned missions to do science in space. We can – and have – used robots to explore our solar neighborhood. But many who advocate manned space missions know these things. That’s not their root concern. If the U.S. space-program is merely about science, there’s no reason to send people outside LEO.

But if the  manned space program is also about exploration, then we’ve arrived somewhere that metrics can’t help us with. How do you measure hope and inspiration? We don’t know the added benefits a renewed program will yield, beyond those stated. In the mean time, those of us who want to look up to astronauts again have to bide our time.

We know whether or not a manned space-exploration program is wise or prudent. It’s not. If that’s your measure than the whole endeavor is a bone-stupid idea. But though it’s not wise or prudent, it is audacious, bold, and inspiring.

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  • Josh says:

    Very thought provoking article, it does feel like we are at a real crossroads in the future of space travel.

    I agree with the points that Neil deGrasse made about the benefits of space exploration, though it isn’t anything you can prove.

    For me personally, I think that space exploration is the reason that I care about science today. I can vividly remember watching videos of the moon landing or watching shuttle launches as a kid, they were what first sparked my interest in science. It didn’t lead me to be a scientist, but it did lead to me to understand the importance of it and do what I can to support it.

    I suspect that that was the same for a lot of people, but in reality there is no way to know for sure. My hope is that we will get back to real exploration, but that seems less and less likely every day, at least for the next decade or so.

  • Matt Warren says:

    President Obama is getting heat for thinking too long-term. http://blog.longnow.org/2010/04/18/thinking-too-long-term/

Comments are closed.

Office 365: Better than Expected

I don't harbor love or hate for computers or operating systems. Debating the merits of Microsoft versus Google versus Apple is amusing, and sometimes even necessary, but the tenor of discussion on the internet is irritating. I don't care. I need what I need, and if someone can meet the need, that's super. Beyond that, I'm ambivalent. I have a long history using Microsoft products, beginning with BASIC on the Apple ][ and Commodore 64 personal computers. Back in those days, I'd have gladly taken part in a good platform debate.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XylyBQJT-no[/youtube]

Of course, I was an Amiga fan. I watched Commodore shovel dirt over their business in spite of superior technology. This helped me to start shedding my inner fanboy. That brings me to another favorite fight: Microsoft Fans vs. People Who Hate Microsoft, sub-fight: MS Office. The Microsoft Wild-Ride I've been using Office since the Windows 3.1 era [ref]otherwise known as "The Before Time."[/ref] and often joked that any given MS product requires a service pack or two before becoming useful. Over the years, I have lost and regained trust in Office based on my perception of alleged improvements. Office has changed a ton over the years. The ribbon is the most recent UI jump I can think of. It scales beautifully to different window/screen sizes and rationalized the structure of application functions. My line of work has always included Word and PowerPoint. Both have had awful periods, but both have improved considerably. The former languished in UI-hell for longer than was necessary and the latter encouraged the creation of heroically awful presentations. Many eyes have needlessly suffered at the sight of A PowerPoint. So now Microsoft's flagship productivity suite has embraced the cloud. Finally. I've read about some issues. Personally, I have no reason to upgrade because we have our nonprofit employee discount. If I felt like it, I could spend the $10. But then a friend of mine (who works at Microsoft) handed me an Office 365 Home Premium card. It gives me one year of Office (now billed as a service), an extra 20GB of cloud storage, and 60 Skype world minutes a month. I didn't exactly need an Office upgrade on my home PC, but I'm not going to turn down free. My Impressions Superficially, it doesn't look like much. The UI seems a bit friendlier. You can still install it on your computer (up to 5 PC's or Macs, actually), but you don't have to. Hah, I thought. What a bunch of crap. I bet it sucks. I booted up my hacked-together Android-based netbook and used the generic, built-in browser to head over to Office365. I logged in and clicked on a file I'd recently edited and saved to SkyDrive. There was a bit of delay, but only just a bit. Then I was typing into a Word document complete with the ribbons and all the expected behaviors. It honestly felt like I was using a slightly slower version of the desktop client, but it lives in the browser. This was on a machine can barely chug through Angry Birds without glitching the GPU. Almost no Android software can run on it because it's not ARM-based. I opened an Excel document and began editing that. It was very snappy. I was very surprised. When you access Office365 in this fashion, the page streams only the functionality as you need it, which means there's a slight delay the first time, and almost none each subsequent time. Other Stuff [caption id="attachment_13834" align="alignright" width="300"] Office vs. Apps: Is a Not-Stupid Boxing Analogy Possible?[/caption] There's a lot I don't know, being at the start of this exploration. SharePoint is still part of the suite, so it's not all sunshine and roses. For years, I've tried to love this thing and give it the benefit of the doubt. It runs our nonprofit's intranet and has ended up being a glorified document portal, though IT does use something called Footprints to manage tickets. Whatever other uses it's there for, I wouldn't know. I do know that it has a dense and obtuse interface that appears to have been developed by people who hate you. I've also been playing with Outlook.com because, very much to my surprise, the interface is much cleaner than Gmail's. That said, Outlook (the application and something separate) is still annoying. In the past, it's been frustrating back-end stuff. [ref]Like how Outlook can't connect to two identical, up-to-date Exchange servers at the same time. Brilliant interoperability![/ref] Now it's the baffling fact that there's no synchronization with Outlook.com. When you open up the client, it won't reflect what you have already read via web-interface and vice versa. Create all the rules and folders you like, they won't match up. That does not compute. [aside]SharePoint is still part of the suite, so it's not all sunshine and roses.[/aside] As noted, all this stuff is a service. It costs $99/year for personal use, which is considerably more than Google's $0/year. So I guess it comes down to how much you value Office's additional functions. Even if Google Docs' feature-set doubled right now, it'd still have a way to go before matching what Word can do. But then I think about how most people do not need most of what Word offers them. But can Google's new Vault compete with OneNote? An internal debate ensues. I do need more than what Google offers me. In the print-on-dead-trees dance-off, Word wins handily. That still comes up a lot. Avery labels, anyone? Putting this or that particular function aside, though, I'm left with the single best reason: I need to be productive offline. That my editing experience can be identical in both places is the most appealing thing of all. I think it's time to see if Windows 7 can be installed on my netbook.
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At the Right Time

Mark McKinney once reflected on how The Kids in the Hall fit into the shape of North American entertainment. Contextually, it also was the beginning of the cable revolution. Had we come along five years earlier, there wouldn't have been a place for us. But just as your dial started to go from 20 channels to 200, finally, we could have a constituency that was viable - the 1 or 2 million needed as opposed to the 20 million you needed on prime time.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WP3X0dSV9kI[/youtube]

And so it goes.

A cancer sketch would go over just fine now. It's the post-South Park era and besides: cable. You can get away with much less now - on network television, anyway - than you could decades ago. Nowadays, the network model seems so old it's sluffed the dinosaur. It's just bones now.

We're in a weird period. Network TV, as a business, is tanking. But television shows, as a medium, is more varied and interesting than it's never been.

Entertainment used to be simple: TV and movies. My childhood is filled with memories of trips to the grocery store that always included the purchase of TV Guide. This is a concept so antiquated that I had to link to a Wikipedia article about it.

Here's a a brief history for the kids:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyYo3Hm6pS4[/youtube]

I have difficulty conceiving life before YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu and I lived back then. Better yet, omit those things. The internet, in it's most basic form, has been beating television with a club for a while now. Political cul de sacs and cat memes started stealing eyeballs and it all began with digital fossils like Hamsterdance.

This isn't the future I imagined. That's kind of the point, I guess.

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Pretty good odds on toxic rice

Tell your grand-kids about the great rice scare of 2012. Everyone dressed in radiation suits and attended midnight rice-burnings. The flames licked the sky. I still shake my fist at Consumer Reports, whose dark witchcraft revealed the awful truth. Organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice, white rice—new tests by Consumer Reports have found that those and other types of rice products on grocery shelves contain arsenic, many at worrisome levels. Many scary words follow in their report. They explain their methodology and present their data. In the end, they make some recommendations. Consumers Union believes a standard for arsenic should be set for rice, and industry should accelerate efforts to reduce arsenic levels in rice. They should also develop types of rice that take up less arsenic, and use rice with the lowest possible arsenic in products for young children, such as infant rice cereal. This is not unreasonable. There are murmurs of corroboration, too. Nobody wants to be seen shoving fistfuls of poisonous rice down our kids' throats. Nobody wants to be that guy. There's so much parental peer-pressure these days. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Are you sure this isn't Earth?[/caption] I didn't learn about this brouhaha on a newscast or anything. I don't even have cable. That stuff will kill you. I learned of this after a visit to Yoni Freedhoff's blog (because I'm a fossil who still uses RSS feeds). He pointed readers to David Katz, who boils things down: ...inevitably, when a peril in our food or medicine cabinet or environment is pointed out to us, it invites the hyperbole of concentrated media attention, an inclination to invoke conspiracy theories, and at least some temptation to panic. When we do give in to panic, we tend to jettison the baby along with the bath water, resulting in net harm. Consumer Reports put a spotlight on a thing. It's a real thing and the level of concern we should have is non-zero. Arsenic is not part of a nutritious lunch. But the spotlight's the thing: it can warp perspective. When I'm trying to figure out whether to subscribe to the latest pop-health concern, I'm so torn. Some distant newscast is playing creepy-music with a montage of blood-red rice grains superimposed over wailing sheep. What I need is perspective. And background. Background is hard. It can be boring. But that's what Dr. Katz provides, and it's one of the first casualties in much of lay science reporting. Basically, (1) we don't live in a pristine world, (3) this is old news among scientists, and no, I didn't forget (2), because it's the most important bit: We have known for decades that the four leading causes of chronic disease and premature death in industrialized countries are smoking, poor dietary pattern, lack of physical activity, and obesity. Yet these four are routinely ignored or neglected by people who get very worked up over the latest chemical threat in our food or environment. We should not ignore big risks just because they are under our control, nor exaggerate much smaller ones simply because they are not. Bearing this in mind isn't a health thing, but a life thing. It frees us to focus on more appropriate stuff, since we have a finite amount of attention. If you're coping with obesity and looking to make better decisions, don't ditch the rice-bowl for fast-food just because you were spooked by professionally trained frighteners. You're still playing pretty good odds.
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More Breakfast Cereal

The people at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal have a really good quality-to-crap ratio. Frankly, it's better than almost every other internet produced entertainment thingie. They don't let a thin budget stand in the way of awesome.

I watched a ton of these last night. The pacing is great and Gen-X sensitibilities are coated all over the things. Maybe I'm just a sucker for existentialist humor.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=137Ei0C3Vdg[/youtube]

"I cast a lunch-break food binge!" "Roll a D6"

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARlTV1ZGJk8[/youtube]

"I told you, I've made several questionable inferences using thousands of graphs. Thousands."

There are more than 100 of these things, so if you'd like to deposite whole hours into a black hole, go back one line and click that link. If not, you're doomed to productivity. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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Life has bad writing and worse editing

Life is the steady hum of responsibility and action. Some ego-bound middle manager ensures that uncontrolled thought and feelings are a kind of annotation. You know, like the notes that executives send to people trying make a TV show that's watchable. The result is barely, if at all, intelligible. The speed at which the stuff overlay and intersect one another is one reason why I’ve let my writings gather dust. Well, that and laziness. If my life’s aim is to constantly feel on the verge of swerving off course and into a tree, then I’m a pro. I know just the right time to swerve back onto the road. It's an art. Most Americans can relate to the things; the great lie is that our fears are so terribly unique. Ha. Bills. Stress. Bills. Sickness. Hell. Crap, we have to be there tonight? Damn. Drink. Sleep. Wake. It’s no wonder that I'm so often hunched in front of a monitor piloting pretend spaceships. I can control those. What I struggle to control is my internal monologue. If I give it too much attention, it argues like my son. But my son's excuse is that he’s at the dawn of his teen years. It's a damn good excuse. The weird, ephemeral bastard squatting in my brain doesn't have one that good. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="314" caption="Barhopping alley-cats are just *one* of the tools in my arsenal. (Click-through to see the Laughing Squid article about the cat)"][/caption] Here's a loose agglomeration of random thoughts to prove that a) my public persona exists, b) I’ve been paying attention to the posts of others, and c) I'm capable of putting words on a screen, no matter how rushed and clumsy. While it’s true that the presidential election is always up in the air, it appears less so than in prior elections. I have been trying to limit my exposure to any of this stuff. This is best achieved by viewing as many amusing cats as possible. I can’t stress the importance of domestic animal pictures in claiming an sanity within the current election season. After completing Fallout: New Vegas, I turned my attention to Star Trek Online. I did this rather than, you know, write. My short review of the game is that it’s a fantastically absurd exaggeration of every Trek aspect I could imagine. Every noise and chunk of flavor-text is ripped from something that fans are already at least passively aware of. It’s fun and completely ridiculous. Monthly bills continue to stomp us into a fine paste. The student loan system operates with such efficiency that I half expect to be visited by a guy in a suit who’s fiddling around with a bat and letting me know how nice our windows look. Facebook is dead to me. Any social network that has a userbase that includes all family members and every tangential friend in the world is something that should, as my brother puts it, “be nuked from orbit.” Seconded. We all have the right to say whatever we want, but I’ve found that few of us have the ability to say it to the right audience. Every existing FB user should learn, at the point of a gun, how to use lists. I'm addicted to Pinterest now. I realize that it's pretty new and is considered little more than a clearinghouse for fashion and crafts addicts, but it's got a format that's quite appealing. If you'd like to see, first hand, yet another tool I've been using to manage my aversion-therapy approach to the world, then visit my boards. At least I’m not standing still. Next week, I begin a new position at the same institute where I work. Rather than being an admin assistant, I’ll be an AA with a heavy injection of communications... stuff. I’m really excited about formalizing my role as someone who helps scientists speak to lay audiences. It’s new territory and not without its risks, but I’m sure I can rise to the challenge. See? I am alive. Sometimes I have to use the paddles, but the heart’s still beating and the dread’s still dreading. What was that line about pain being a reminder that you’re alive? Much of what’s passing for pain still registers as a first world problem, but they're my first world problems. I still have a loving wife, a great son, and a family that isn’t yet sick of me. I’m keeping an eye on that. I stare at the horizon to keep from getting sick. Plus I do other stuff that qualifies as an overused analogy. Like the pot calling the kettle green with envy and something about killing two birds with one stone. I think it rolls uphill, with no moss. Probably.
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95 Hours in the Wasteland

After ninety-five hours, I finally finished Fallout: New Vegas. I played it the way I play every role playing game: carefully allying with as many neutral and goody-goody factions as I can. Don't make waves; only kill the bad people. By the time I was done with this hero business, flowers would sprout up all over the wasteland. No such luck.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjj-UJQ8K64[/youtube] The conclusion of my actions

It turns out that you can ride the line pretty easily through the bulk of the game. In the end, though, supporting one faction means doing very bad things to one or two of the others. This illustrated - perfectly to my mind - one principle of politics: our choices mostly range from bad to worse. I'm sure that there's some way to finesse the game's system to cue the sunshine and roses, but I didn't find it. Frankly, it's more realistic this way. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption=""Yes Man" the robot. He should know I'd be a lousy administrator."][/caption] Mr. House at least seemed to care about the locals. The NCR only cared about securing Hoover Dam, and extending their reach further east. The legion, of course, was noxious. You don't get too many points for banning drugs and alcohol if you're also keeping child slaves. The Great Khans seem to be the whipping boy of the Fallout universe. They're unlucky, constantly savaged by enemies, and always moving away from more dominant powers. Considering the state of the world, Mr. House seemed to be doing pretty well.  Maybe the optimal outcome would have unfolded if I took control of New Vegas.  House was self interested, to be sure, but I'm a courier-cum-bloodthirsty-sharpshooter who's spilled more blood than the legion. I've disconnected more heads from bodies than a French guillotine. I'm not fit to manage the affairs of a state. I really appreciate Yes Man's helpful demeanor toward that end, but heroic or not: I'm a monster. Don't give me power. At least, that's how I see my character: The courier is tough as nails, yes, and surely possessed of a moral center. But no matter how well-intentioned a body may be, the courier is broken. Too many hours were spent in the wasteland. So many caps were spent on weapons and a metric ton of shell casings were expended killing the vicious and desperate. Does that really constitute a happy ending? I'll take my bittersweet conclusion. It fits. The courier made the best of a bad lot, was thrown into an impossible situation, and had to choose from the available options. Such is life in the Mojave wasteland. You never know what's going to happen next.
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Setting the kids up to fail

A recent Cracked article, 5 Ways We Ruined the Occupy Wall Street Generation, got passed around by my Gen-X peers. It’s a hell of a read, and another reminder that some of the most insightful pop-culture analysis comes from what was formerly a low-rent MAD Magazine. You need to read the piece to fully appreciate how thoroughly we’ve set the stage for our spectacular, slow-motion failure. Worse, we can’t pin this one on a papier-mâché donkey or elephant. It’s a game of follow the leader where everyone’s lined up and walking in a circle. I certainly played my part. I fancy myself a free thinker, but I parrot enough shit masquerading as faux-profound to be culpable. Occupy _______ One reason why I’ve become so enamored by the Occupy Wall Street movement can be symbolized by - hands-down - the best quote in that article, a virally circulated (though unattributed) conversation:

Me: I just get so pissed off by the older generation. Therapist: Why? Me: Because when I grew up, we were force fed the idea that if we didn’t want to be ‘flipping burgers at McDonalds’ then we better go to college. Therapist: And? Me: And now we’ve gone to college, have degrees, can’t get a damn job, and the same people call us entitled assholes because we refuse to flip burgers! Therapist: Touche.

Here’s what we did wrong (along with my personal take), but please, read the original piece. We made our youth ashamed to take jobs that involve manual labor. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water. That’s a quote from John Gardner, by the way. Remember that flipping burgers bit above? It’s a fancy way of saying that we've scorned commoner work. That’s for serfs. We’ve gone all job-snob on the backbone of our nation’s infrastructure. We implied that college would naturally lead to a good job. Which resulted in flooding the educational market. We, sometimes subtly, sometimes arrogantly, expressed that laborous work is only fit for the likes of Jimbo Jones. With tons of kids in college - many of whom would probably love to be tradesmen - we generated educational inflation that gave rise to diploma farms. We added seven years to being a teenager. What did we expect? They’re living at home longer because they have to go to school. Hell, even if they’re employed, that’s no guarantee they can cover their expenses. The pathetic man-child archetype is a common, modern gag for a reason. We created the notion that entertainment has no monetary value. Napster. Torrenting. Yeah, we have our reasons. Rationalizations are readily on hand. And yeah, it drove the technologies that my family now rely upon for entertainment, namely NetFlix and Hulu. But it’s been harrowing, difficult, and a big legal hassle. Feeling entitled? Yeah, I’m feeling entitled. I did my part to wreck the entertainment industry, just like the industry itself did theirs. We removed every reason possible to go outside. We used to go outside, not because we were really concerned with our health, but because that was the only place to do fun stuff. Hell, I’m from among the first generation of computer users. I experienced this first-hand without the internet. I spent late nights typing ship-routes into my local BBS’ game of Trade Wars. That and a lousy diet go hand in hand. We accidentally developed technologies - industrial food processing loaded with salt and sugar, and wicked cool video games (among others) - that would make it very difficult for you to motivate yourself to keep in shape and eat right. Now we have an obesity epidemic and record levels of diabetes. Your welcome [caption id="attachment_13523" align="alignright" width="240" caption="The Aftermath (Creative Commons image by becky bokern at Flickr)"][/caption] So that’s the five, and it makes me queasy. We’re deep inside a spectrum of a yet-to-be-written date-range that describes this period. It's hard to see social change from the inside. Some are for this thing, some against that other thing, but it feels like so much flailing of the arms while careening into a deep hole. When the eventual reckoning materializes, we’ll wrench our guts, stick to our guns, and accept or oppose the new values-package, whatever it ends up looking like. The next technological/infrstructural New Deal will be argued about for decades, just like the last one. The generational component cannot be understated, even though I’m far from understanding it. All I know is that the largest birth cohort in American history appears to have gone off its nut, and many of us who came after it are scratching or nodding our heads, respectively. I feel as though a bunch of institutions, through no fault of their own, have set up a complex path of dominoes that they wish to admire in some pristine, untouched state. A bunch of jobless, desperate, and increasingly angry toddlers are stretching their flicking fingers, though, and I have no good answers for them. Only an "I’m sorry" before I watch more of the things fall down.
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Running injuries and a surprising discovery

A few weeks into my Fitocracy fitness regimen, I got an achievement: I Seem to be lost. It was a reward for running 20 miles over the course of using Fitocracy. Naturally, I got slightly philosophical. Why yes, I do seem to be lost. American physical fitness styles are a special kind of lost. We love our nutty diets and way-too-specific exercise regimens guaranteed to make you lose 30 pounds in 2 days and create washboard-stomachs in 20 minutes. There’s a lot of shit-wading to do before discovering the only regimen that works reliably for everyone: Eat less and exercise. I've been doing that for a while, but now I'm running like a nut. This is ironic because, after golf, it was the outdoor activity that I scratched my head about the most. I mean...you’re just run. What the hell? Now I realize that it’s about much more: rhythm, endurance, focus, breathing, and injuries.

We were once the greatest endurance runners on earth. We didn’t have fangs, claws, strength or speed, but the springiness of our legs and our unrivaled ability to cool our bodies by sweating rather than panting enabled humans to chase prey until it dropped from heat exhaustion. Some speculate that collaboration on such hunts led to language, then shared technology. Running arguably made us the masters of the world.

So how did one of our greatest strengths become such a liability? “The data suggests up to 79 percent of all runners are injured every year,” says Stephen Messier, the director of the J. B. Snow Biomechanics Laboratory at Wake Forest University. “What’s more, those figures have been consistent since the 1970s.” Messier is currently 11 months into a study for the U.S. Army and estimates that 40 percent of his 200 subjects will be hurt within a year. “It’s become a serious public health crisis.”

[caption id="attachment_13506" align="alignright" width="240"] Less important than you think.[/caption] That's from The Once and Future Way to Run, by Christopher McDougall. He breaks a few things down: It’s not about whether you’re barefoot, have fancy sneakers, or special surfaces. It’s about form. The author mentions the running habits of the Tarahumara Indians, who incorporate a soft stride - landing on the balls of their feet - rather than landing on their heel. It’s such a simple thing, but it makes such a world of difference, and no fancy gimmicks are required. Giving earlier-me a break I’m fond of bashing earlier-me. There’s so much in my past to shake my head at. Clumsy interpersonal relationships, lack of focus, laziness - the accounts would unfurl onto the floor like Santa Claus consulting the naughty list. But: Every now and then, I discover something that changes the shape of the stories I tell about myself. In youth, for almost a decade (though not completely consecutive), I studied the martial arts. It was a rare form of Karate called Uechi Ryu. My father and I both studied together. Before quitting, I attained my second degree black belt; but whatever. I did well enough, I suppose. To be brutally honest, though, compared to most of my peers, I was somewhat sloppy, less motivated, less confident, and more timid. Sure, there were plenty of times that I gave it my all, but there were so many lazy moments that I can only blame on adolescence and my anti-rose-colored glasses. I often lament earlier-me, but I have to believe that I was a better student than I remember. Hell, I failed my first black belt test, re-trained and then obtained it on the next go round. I could have just quit in frustration, right? Reality trumps stories Here’s the thing. I have some very potent memories of the following: The smell of feet. The shoe room at a martial arts studio is a scent I’ll not soon forget. Being drenched with sweat. Form be damned. If nothing else, I got one hell of a workout. Even my lousy diet couldn’t defeat the fact that I was getting some excellent cardiovascular workouts on a regular basis. I was always standing on the balls of my feet. To this day, I have strong calves and leg muscles. This is because Uechi Ryu requires that you never be truly flat footed. Some of the Kata stances may appear that way, but all pivoting happens on the balls of the feet, and all movement happens right there - at the front of the foot. Which brings me back to that running thing. How those Indians run? Yeah, that’s how I run. I hadn’t even realized it until I read the article. All those sparring exercises, all those jogs around the dojo, all those countless other exercises I can barely remember... we pivot on the forefoot and keep the pressure off our heels. I often remark about humanity’s cognitive failures. It’s nice to reflect that sometimes, purely by an accident of history, you can do the right thing. I wonder what other aspects of current-me were born in earlier-me that I so often carelessly disregard?
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Additional Perspective

Protesting, picketing, agitation - all that stuff - well, it's been with us for a very long time. Though the authorities among us would prefer that we were solemn, quiet, and dignified, the truth is that solemnity doesn't do a hell of a lot to change things. [caption id="attachment_13497" align="aligncenter" width="558" caption="Women in Chicago being arrested for wearing one piece bathing suits, without the required leg coverings. 1922 (Found on epic4chan, among other places)"][/caption] Assuming that this picture is not apocryphal, it serves as a reminder that damned near everything we take for granted - all those thoroughly normal, uncontroversial things in life - well... they were controversial. Apparently, you just have to look back far enough. We hold on to so many normal things, unaware that the most trivial among them was a thing to be fought for. It's something worth keeping in mind among the very important protests happening at the moment. If anyone has more information about this picture, I'd love to learn more.
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Present Me; Future Me

With a few exceptions, the story of my life has been one of instant gratification. Blame society, blame parents, blame myself, blame my own unique cocktail of Reasons. In the end, I'm just lazy, but in a general and common way. I'm lazy enough to put off what I know will help me today. But I'm not so lazy that I haven't taken the odd side-class or put genuine effort into learning stuff. Nothing new, there. I'm sure it's familiar to many of us. Lately, the thought surfaces because so much of my time has been filled with the structured pursuits of a modern, American father. Unless you're hanging out at Moe's Tavern every night, life is very fucking busy. And if you're hanging at Moe's, why are you married? A job became a career. A hobby became a pursuit. And general healthfulness evolved into the focused variety. The question, as always, is how long can I maintain? The line graph of pursuits over the course of my life swerves up, down, and all around. Consistency has not been my friend. We fight from time to time. It's a dysfunctional marriage with the part of myself sitting on a beanbag and horking chips in my mouth while Adult Swim is airing content. But screw that guy. I care more about Future Me. That's the Me that's just a dream; an odd idea. I've neglected that guy for a while. On the fitness front, I've been using Runkeeper and Fitocracy to keep data in front of my face: this is what you're doing. Don't quit this, you lazy ass. Professionally, my work's task-lists in front of my face to an insane degree (more on that in the future). I track what's coming and what I've done. Again, it's as if to say: don't screw around; look at all that work you did yesterday. But no pats on the head, yet. Or ever. How much of this is a function of crises-driven life-stage anxiety? Each of us stares into the void differently. Moreso, though, each of us is a different person staring into the void. There are multiples of multiples; plenty of ways to fear, and cope with, the anticlimax at the end.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssf7P-Sgcrk[/youtube]

So I'm perfecting the art of busying myself until that end. I'd like Future Me to look back on Present Me with a little more fondness than I have in the past. That requires tools, bits of inspiration, and well grounded advice you can't find in a Time fluff piece. But, if you want to get a firm handle on why it's so damned hard to reach our dreams, watch this. It's three and a half minutes long, and beyond educational.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ2T4-rUUcs[/youtube]

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