Frontierland

There’s been quite a bit of NASA press recently , both good and bad – new discoveries on other planets, funding shortfalls and avoidable accidents.  What hasn’t been thought about in a constructive way is just why we think we still need to be in space at all.  Sure, there are space installations like satellites that influence our daily lives that should and will continue to be maintained.  But why do humans need to be out there, floating amongst the debris?  Does it really enrich our lives that much more to have a human, rather than a machine, out in the void, especially considering the risks (and the cost)?

MIT says yes.  A recently published white paper analyzes the history of our space program, evaluates cooperative international efforts, and looks at the possibilities of involving the private sphere.  There’s been quite a bit of arguing going on recently in these areas.  While I may not agree that exploration itself makes the national space program worth the risk and investment, the ideas presented are generally well thought out and interesting to consider.  And the idea of that vast outer frontier – what can I say?  It still inspires wonder.

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For the tin man.

There has been a fascination for us with the interaction between the mechanical and the visceral since the early popularity of L. Frank Baum’s books.  A range of characters portray the variations of what are supposedly the central issues of the two types of ‘people’.  Tik Tok, Data (from Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Adam Link (of The Outer Limits ‘I, Robot’ episode) all deal with the issue of becoming more human.  They, like humans who may want the advantages of being stronger or more durable or faster, are searching for something they don’t quite have the reach for.  Others, like David from A.I. or Andrew from Bicentennial Man, are searching for the acceptance of what they feel but others don’t see.  And some – the cyborgs – are simply seeking to regain what they have lost.  The most notable of these is the tin man, who has even lost his heart.

To a certain extent, many of us will be cyborgs in the future.  We’ll have prosthetic limbs that respond to nerve twitches in still-functioning parts of our body, or special exoskeletal devices to make us stronger or faster, or nano things in our blood to prevent disease.  We have new organs of a mechanical variety to replace the old ones as they give out.  Heck, they’re already doing it with hearts, and I have to say that the one in the article looks absolutely awesome and amazing.  But despite the replacement parts, we seem reasonably confident that we can remain ourselves.  The hope is that we can recombine in new ways, instead of stagnating, when we cheat death through more mechanical means.  I’m comfortable with that, as long as we don’t cheat life too.

SO awesome…

If anyone were to say to me, ‘the future is now’, I would look at him like a house centipede.  However, the crazy would be right – I have documented proof.  I don’t currently own a car, which has been a bit of trouble in the past.  But now, I’m glad of the wait.  Now by the time I have a) the $$$ and will/need to buy a car and b) my pilot’s license, these things will be actually affordable.  Ahh, just thinking about it gives me delicious weeblies all over!

The Renaissance Woman.

Sometimes I wish I did more.  My general life is filling and rewarding as it is for the most part.  However, occasionally I see something or hear about someone so cool that I wish I had already dedicated my life to following in their footsteps.  Like Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I want to be truly accomplished.  I want to play more musical instruments (probably the harp, banjo, guitar, hammered dulcimer, and tuba) and practice the piano and viola skills I already have.  I want to learn more about music (popular and otherwise) and try my hand a bit more at composing.  I want to learn Swahili, probably in association with a fully Bantu language, and brush up on my French, Arabic, and Mandarin.  I would like to learn more about anthropology and archeology, and possibly volunteer for a dig somewhere.  I would like to design or invent a variety of poverty ameliorating devices that would properly showcase my flare for problem-solving.  I’d like to work in some sort of space-creation again – landscape architecture, set design, interior planning, urban sculpture.  I’d like to paint more, and really practice with oils, which I only just minimally understand.  I’d like to have a garden to putter around in and learn about.  I want to read, write, and play.  Mostly though, I’m a Jack of all trades and master of none.  I start on something ambitious, and my own standards of perfection lead me to quit before I’m anywhere close to ahead.

However, there are occasional little glimmers that draw me back into the tasks I’ve momentarily set aside.  Sarah‘s freelancing career was one of these.  I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I’m a writer, I could do that!’  And I did talk about it with her over email, and check out a book and look at some things online.  But the interest slowly waned.  Then, in reading Shape and Colour, I saw the post on Erika Janunger and hurried to check out her website.  I thought to myself, I’m a designer (of sorts), I can sing.  I could so do cool stuff like that!  Heck, I first started playing the viola just because other people were learning stringed instruments for fun.

I wonder if this momentary burst of enthusiasm is just admiration, or if it’s something else.  I am intrigued by the idea of following your fancies or passions.  I’m intrigued by the idea of people moving from one area of study to the next: Da Vinci, Franklin, Le Corbusier.  It has been said that with today’s extensive specialization, no one can acquire the knowledge to be a true polymath anymore.  We’re all lost somewhere between choosing a specific path  and becoming mediocre at everything.  With women now balancing work and family life in an increasingly competitive economic environment, mediocrity is not allowable.  But while I’m not going to realize greatness in everything, I still intend on shooting for the moon.  If I don’t jump quite that high, I still hope to come down with 4 or 5 greatnesses, at least in my own personal life.

I think I’m going to have an organism.

Ok, there are some obvious spelling and reproductive difficulties here.  However, I was struck by the innocent charm of the young girl who chose this choice turn of phrase to show her joy of stats.  Specifics of the incident and dubious meanings aside, it did pose an internal question for me: what could you ‘have’ that’s not an organism?  Uterus stones?  Some other form of ejecta? People of science, the world wonders…

A second China book

I decided to leave this as a second post since the last one was getting a little long and separating these two will allow me to use my categories a little more.

My second most favorite collection of books from this era of my life were not even written by a single author. I guess you could refer to them as a ‘collection of authors’, but that typically implies that each of them contributed to each of the various works, which is not the case. Yes, it’s true, I am speaking of the Baen Free Library.  Those of you who are unfamiliar with this lovely little development in publishing and also happen to enjoy science fiction should now take a happy-little-dance moment.

The basic idea behind this whole thing is that Jim Baen decided that as a publisher, instead of a) getting locked into an ever-spiraling cycle of more complex ebook protection from ‘those pirates’ and b) setting up his own division or company to sell books electronically, he would use what was available and get a little extra publicity for his authors.  So, any author with Baen can volunteer to have their published books offered free online.  A little publicity for the author, and generally traditionalists are willing to cough up money for the book once they know they like it.  Writers are encouraged to give the first book in a series, but basically anything goes.  And if you happen to be really cheap or in China, it works very well for keeping you stocked in quick reads.  While I haven’t yet bought anything from Baen for myself as a result of the free library, my dad is now overflowing with Baen books, most of them hardbacks.  Though there is a question of whether or not he was already hooked before the free library went up….

Now, I must admit that most of what’s available probably will never be called ‘literature’.  Most of it is pretty heavily based on plotlines and can leave some things to be desired as far as poetic language go.   But if you’re looking for a free classic, there’s always Gutenburg. Though I haven’t stayed up in front of my computer screen for awhile just to read a novel, I feel a sense of relief, knowing the free library is there for me to peruse again the next time I’m at leisure.  Ahhh.  Say it with me.