The Cosmonauts in the Mirror

As a person of a certain age, I always associate the word “cosmonaut” with space villains, who launch spy satellites and build giant lasers on the moon to execute secret plans for world domination. Everyone raised in the 1960-70s “knows” that America did all the important space stuff like design a plane to fly in space and land on the moon. The reality, of course, is that the Soviet and Russian space programs, like the American space program, have been a blend of science and humanity, ingenuity and bravery, success and failure. While many goals were military, the Soviet achievements were as much about beating the United States (or playing catch up to perceived U.S. advantages) as anything else. In that sense, the journey into space and advances in knowledge shared by humanity have derived from a giant game of tag between superpowers.

Since today’s launch of the first astronauts in an American spacecraft since the end of the shuttle program has been delayed until Saturday–godspeed Behnken and Hurley–perhaps it’s a good day to review some space history. But we often hear only about the Americans, like what John Glenn or Neil Armstrong experienced. What about their mirror image counterparts?

A Vostok 3KA descent module like the one used by pioneer cosmonauts. This one was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $2.9 million. Photo by Anatoly Zak.
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When in the Doldrums, Make Lists

I have Norton Juster to thank for a smidgeon of inspiration for today’s post because it’s in his landmark book, The Phantom Tollbooth, where our hero Miles encounters The Doldrums.

Miles encounters The Doldrums in The Phantom Tollbooth, illustration by Jules Feiffer.

Beware the Terrible Trivium

If you haven’t read this masterpiece (or recently re-read your dog-eared copy), I highly recommend it. It’s a kid’s book–or YA as it might be categorized today–but really it’s full of metaphors, so think of it like a more approachable Pilgrim’s Progress. Miles takes a series of journeys through an odd country, encountering strange allegorical creatures like the Spelling Bee and the Humbug. He becomes embroiled in a war between letters and numbers, King Azaz and the Mathemagician, and must battle monsters to rescue the princesses, Rhyme and Reason. I found the Terrible Trivium demon, the dapper man with no face, who sets Miles to tasks like draining a lake with an eye-dropper, to be particularly disturbing.

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Past Picture Perfect

Me, photo suitably dated Dec. 63. See my blog about How to Assemble a 3000 piece puzzle. Photo courtesy of kajmeister.

I have some picture-taking advice for my younger self. Have we invented that time machine yet, so I can go back and tell me? And, while I’m at it, tell my parents and my wife?

Maybe while I’m waiting for the Singularity to work on that, I can just tell you the basics that rank highest on the list. Write stuff down. Reduce to what’s important. Focus on people, not things.

This is top of mind because I just finished part two of the massive picture project–the one we all have–organizing and digitizing our photos. I think that’s on everyone’s “When I’m Retired” list which could also be “When I’m Furloughed… When I’m Stuck Inside for Days on End…” It doesn’t make the project more fun that you might have some time to work on it, though. But you should get started because those pictures are fading as I write. Plus global warming.

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Alphabetically Exhausting

Design by CNN.

I didn’t want to write today’s post because there’s no letter involved.

Amateur! hissed the little voice inside me. Best you just abandon your website! Can’t even toss off a self-centered little entry about writing? Don’t you have any self-respect at all? Even the little voice was unpersuasive. Fatigue ran through my body. Guts burned. Hackles raised.

I redoubled my efforts, reminding myself that I’d done it before and could do it again. Just when I felt my creative engine restarting, however, despair loomed again. Keep going, I told myself. Little efforts will make a difference. Mountains of ideas seemed to float just out of reach, though. None seemed to land where I wanted. One tantalized me, just up there…. Possibly in my grasp, but no. Quite out of reach.

Ridiculous, this notion of automatic writing. Suppose I did come up with an idea? Then, how do I sustain it? Unless there’s some sort of core backbone, I don’t know how to move from the beginning to the middle. Voids open up in the plot. Where does it end, and how do I keep from repeating myself? Xerox copies of previous sentences seem to be the best I can muster. Yet, I soldier on. Zombies are banging at the door, but…. wait how did zombies get in here?

See how easy that is?

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Z is for Zagunis

Punk rockers. Primal screamers. Saber fencers are the cool cats of the Olympics, carrying themselves with deadly grace but ready to strike to the death at the first Engarde!

America’s greatest fencer is a good Catholic girl until she puts on the mask. Then, she is All Ninja.

Mariel Zagunis qualifying for Tokyo, one last Olympics. Photo at Oregon Tribune.

Like ninjas, no one knows she’s even there. If you query who is the greatest American fencer, her name doesn’t even come up, until ToucheĢ! And, since ninjas never lose their skill and training, Mariel Zagunis, the one you don’t see until it is too late haha!, is going to Tokyo once more.

Maybe They Should Dress Like Luke Skywalker

Fencing is such a cool sport to watch that it’s hard to understand why Americans don’t follow it. Especially when we do follow it in movies, right? We love a good swordfight. Robin Hood, Zorro, Conan, D’Artagnan, the Man in Black! My name is Inigo Montoyaprepare to die. If you give kids a pair of sticks, the first thing they do is start poking each other.

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