Thursday, September 17, 2015

So ... What Does Happen ?

I have two daughters and it has always been my goal to talk with them openly about their bodies and their bodily functions - including menstruation.  I wanted them to grow into young women, unembarrassed by their bodies and by their biology.  I can't count the number of dinner conversations where it was clear that I was completely outnumbered in the discussions at hand.

Along those lines and completely in line with my insatiable curiosity,  I saw this article titled "What Happens When a Woman gets her period in space?" and was deeply curious.  But the article was completely disappointing.

The article spends most of the time discussing the ridiculous arguments used to keep woman out of space for two decades, but the article doesn't actually discuss the issues (if there are any) associated with women and their menstrual cycles while in space. 

Our bodies rely heavily on gravity; for example, to void our bowels, the colon contracts and pushes the feces out but gravity is used to pull the feces away from the body. Without strong gravity (i.e., only microgravity in low Earth orbit), the toilets need to use vacuum suction to make sure the feces moves away from the body.

Mentrual flow is also regulated by gravity - so without strong gravity I am unclear on the process works.  Are tampons sufficient to whisk to menstrual flow?

The article was an interesting read, but I am still left wondering "What Happens When a Woman gets her period in space?"

Friday, September 11, 2015

The September 12th Effect

In 1998, we moved to a college town in the southern United States so that I could start my first real job after graduate school.  We had almost no money, a two-year old daughter and we were just starting our lives together.  To go to the University to work, I would ride the bus every day. We lived in a part of town where there were very few students, so the bus ridership was made up of lower income people heading to work.

When I first starting taking the bus, I was struck by the strength of the self-segregation on the bus; all the white people sat in the front half of the bus; all the people of color sat in the back half of the bus. There was a no-man's land in the middle.  To me, this was very foreign.  I had never seen such strong self-segregation in society, partly because of where I grew up and partly because in the cities where I lived later in life, this self-segregation just did not exist. I had really thought (perhaps naively) that the whole back of the bus issue had ended in 1960s.

Because this was a bus filled with people heading to work, I saw the same people day in and day out. I would say hello to people in the front of the bus and they would return my greeting.  I then would wonder back about two-thirds of way down the bus and sit just past the back door on the bus - clearly, in the non-white section of the bus.  I would say hello to the people sitting in the back, but I was almost always greeted with nothing in return.  I would watch other people come on board the bus; whites would sit up front; people of color in the back, and there was almost no cross-interaction. Worse perhaps for my self-esteem, I was treated with disdain by both groups for sitting with and trying to talk to people with whom I was not supposed to interact.

But as the months and years (!!) past, I slowly became a fixture on the bus, and people from both the front and the back of the bus would greet me, and we would interact for the 30 minutes we saw each. I had earned their trust and enough of their respect to enable the growth of what I call 'commuter-friendships'.   I even saw a bit of mixing between the front passengers and the rear passengers - often with me as the middle ground, but not always and still better than what I had witnessed previously.  

However, if people new to the daily commute appeared on the bus, the white people would sit in the front and the people of color would sit in the back, and I was regarded as a pariah by all who were new, regardless of their ethnic background.  Almost always new people would not talk to me even if they talked with the group with whom they self-aligned. Slowly, if those new people stuck around long enough, they often would begin to disarm their defenses - again not always, but often.

And then something horrible happened; four planes were hijacked, three of which were crashed into buildings and one was crashed into a field.  Over 3000 lives were lost that day on Tuesday 11 September 2001. The country and the world were shocked and horrified by such an act of evil.

But huge acts of compassion and heroism shown by the victims, the first responders, and those immediately and directly affected carried significant consequences for the rest of the nation.  The next day - Wednesday 12 September - I went to work as usual taking the morning bus.  When I boarded the bus, I was shocked and a little confused.

The bus patronage was inter-mingled and interacting.  There were no longer 'sections' on the bus, and everyone was interacting with everyone else.  Yes, the primary topic of conversation that day was the terrorist attacks that were less than 24 hours old, but there was no self-segregation on the bus.  I was truly stunned. The 'September 12th effect'  lasted for months - well into 2002, but it slowly died as the bus patronage changed over.  And the bus passengers returned to their sections with me in the middle.

Later that year, we left that town as I had accepted a permanent position elsewhere in the country. But I have always been struck by that experience and by the lessons of those days that followed September 11th. 

Yes, we should not forget the terrible deeds and the great heroism of September 11th, but the remembrance should also be of September 12th. On that day, the whole world joined together and recognized that evil is always there, and that if we work together as a people, as a nation, and as a world, it is possible to come together and overcome our political and cultural differences - throughout the world. On that date, people from around the world were a little more polite, a little more kind, a little less divided, and a lot more united.   We put aside our differences and were just a single people.

While we should never forget September 11th, we should also never forget September 12th, and the lesson that came with that day. When we treat ourselves and others with dignity and respect, when we take responsibility for ourselves and our communities, when we recognize the good and shun the evil, and when we pass that down to our children, we can work together towards a better world for all of us - a world where evil will find it difficult to live

I always wondered what happened on those buses the days that I was missing ...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Technology Marches Forward ... But We Are Still Human.

06 August 1991 - 24 years ago, the world was introduced to the internet (and I graduated from college - a great example of correlation without causation!). Well, ok ... online bulletin board systems and other data transport protocols had existed for decades and had became (almost) mainstream in the 1980s.  But in 1991, CERN introduced the world to the world web web and the first webpage. In particular, use their link that simulates the original interface - for those younger than about 40, that interface looks like it came straight out of the movie Alien, but that was how connections were made - through a terminal window.

This post is not about the history of internet - a quick google search will bring you that information quite easily.   But rather, this is just a note of how far we have come in such a short period of time - how much we are capable of when we set our minds to it, and how easily we get used to what we have.

In that same year (1991), Radio Shack had this newspaper advertisement listing a set of products for sale.  Every single one of those products can now be duplicated with the smart phone you are holding in your hand and with which you are reading this blog.  

Amazing.  Our children live in a world where, literally with the touch of a finger, they can find information about almost any topic, find images of almost every place in the world, and see videos of animals previously only seen in zoos or on the television.  There is no question which can't be reached with the swipe of a finger on a smart phone (trust me, I drive my carpoolers nuts every day with 'Just look it up ...").

Yet, this is only one example of technology that has exploded exponentially; we went from the first powered airplane flight to landing on the Moon in just 66 years; we have an array of manufacturing automation that has replaced hand-made fabrication; we have eliminated diseases that ravaged the world like polio and small pox; we can replace body parts with other people's parts or manufactured parts or parts from your own body, and we have the ability to detect diseases long before symptoms are ever noticed by the patient.  In 1956, my grandfather died of leukemia at the age of 48 - today, he likely would have lived to see his great-grandchildren.

One could debate the benefits of technology, as has been done for hundreds of years.  Just ask the Dutch workers who protested losing their jobs to machines by tossing their wooden shoes (sabots) into the manufacturing equipment as "sabotage."

But one thing we should never lose sight of or connection to is our humanity - what it is that really makes who we are as a people and a culture.  Our ability to love, to think, to create, and to build are the skills we aspire to reveal. Our ability to hate and to destroy are also part of who we are.  That is simply the reality of humanity.

When I first started writing this entry, I was thinking that humanity has changed little in the 10,000 years of civilization.  But is that really true?  Yes, there are clear examples of barbarism in our world today, but there are also real examples of how we have grown as a people and how this growth has been codified into our governing laws.  We have a more equal society for all; we have societal safety nets to help those that need it most; we have a recognition of a stewardship of the planet and the environment.   Yes, yes, I know that the details of how we do all this can be argued with, but the overall direction of who we are as a people is positive.

In the end, one basic thing has not changed that is fundamental to who we are: love - and I do not mean (just) love for a lover. Rather, I mean love as passion.  Love for our families, friends, and communities; love for exploration and creativity; love for what drives us, whatever that may be. Love matters, and it moves us forward as individuals and as a race.

So while technological growth may be exponential and humanitarian growth may be slower (much slower) and more methodical, we are not who we were 50 years ago, let alone 10,000 years ago.  To me, that is the best sign. 

That, and the fact that my smart phone cost $200 and everything on that Radio Shack advertisement cost over $3285.  No wonder Radio Shack nearly went bankrupt.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Eclipsing the Earth - with the Moon

The Deep Space Climate Observatory or DSCOVR spacecraft, designed to maintain a real-time view of the solar wind to enable a better understanding of solar weather alerts and forecasts, took a look backwards at the Earth. The spacecraft is about 1.5 million kilometers (about 1 million miles) from Earth and is in an orbit between the Earth and the Sun at the Lagrange-1 (L1) point.  The L1 point is gravitationally stable position directly between two orbiting bodies - the spacecraft is always between the Earth and the Sun which enables the spacecraft to monitor the Sun and send back data/information/alerts to the Earth as quickly as possible.  But it also enables a unique view of the Earth and Moon system.  

When the spacecraft looks back at the Earth, the Earth is fully illuminated by the Sun (from the point of view of the spacecraft) - and as the Moon passes in between Earth and the Sun as the Moon orbits the Sun, the side of the Moon that faces away from the Earth is also fully illuminated by the Sun - as seen from the spacecraft.  The side of the Moon that faces the Earth is dark (in shadow) and we see this as New Moon on the Earth. 

The DSCOVR spacecraft captured a unique video of the Moon, with its fully illuminated far side, passing in front of the fully illuminated Earth - a view never seen by humans and not recorded by previous spacecraft.  

A couple of things to note: the rotation of the Earth and the relative motion of the Moon to the Earth as the Moon orbits the Earth.  The images were taken over a span of about 5 hours - the Moon covered about 0.7% of its 28 day orbit around the Earth. At the distance of the spacecraft from the Earth (1.5 million km), the Earth has the same angular size as a US 5-cent coin (the nickle) viewed from a distance of 4 km.   

Notice how much brighter the Earth is as compared to the Moon.  The Earth is highly reflective - particularly, the oceans and the clouds.  On average, the Earth reflects about 30-40% of the light incident upon it.  In contrast, the Moon is very dark with an average reflectance of only about 10% (it's actually more complicated than that, as the angle of the light to the reflector to the viewer matters quite a bit).  Also notice, before and after the Moon passes the Earth, a bright spot in the center of the Earth image: this is the mirror-like (specular) reflection of the Sun light straight back from the planet to the camera.

Even when we look at something as familiar as the Earth and the Moon, we can gain a new appreciation of the beauty and a new understanding just by looking at things in a slightly new way.  Besides all that - how cool is this movie!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Food for Thought ...

videoA friend of mine passed this along to me.  While there is an enormous amount to this simple video, I do like his messages at the end.
  • Knowledge does not equal understanding
  • Truth is truth, no matter what I think about it
  • Be very careful how you interpret things because you are looking at the world with a bias whether you think you are or not.
Just some food for thought ... and goofy bike riding.