First, we wonder

I’m not a space geek.

As I’ve written here on numerous occasions, I am a small-world person and there’s not much further away from my small world than outer space. I’m not the one who is prepared to argue, for or against, the merits of spending money and resources on space travel and exploration. Cost/benefit analyses make my head hurt. Why does an economist have the ultimate determination of something’s worth?

I’m looking forward to some star gazing under dark skies next week. While some will look up and imagine a future in the stars, I will look up and feel a pull to the past. I am fascinated by the story tellers of past cultures who named the constellations and invented reasons for the stars in the sky.  I marvel at the minds who looked up and were driven to understand the workings of our solar system.  It’s what humans have always done. First we wonder, and then we want to learn and explain why.

NASA has recently been releasing pictures of Jupiter taken by the Juno spacecraft. I may not be a space geek, but I would be happy with these photos hanging up as artwork all over my home.

Who could look at that picture and not wonder, and not want to understand what you are seeing? The picture gallery linked to above is only a small part of the NASA site on the Juno mission. A person could spend hours (and hours and hours) bopping around the NASA website learning way more that I, the non-space geek, have any desire to learn. But, wow, NASA does an incredible job trying to connect with people on the web. In my quick skim, here’s one thing that caught my eye in the mission overview:

In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief. It was Jupiter’s wife, the goddess Juno, who was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature. The Juno spacecraft will also look beneath the clouds to see what the planet is up to, not seeking signs of misbehavior, but helping us to understand the planet’s structure and history.

I love that NASA gives a nod to the story tellers of the past while operating in a future that would have been inconceivable to people even just 100 years ago.

Here’s a link to a short and readable National Geographic story summarizing some of the first scientific findings from Juno.

I’m not a space geek, but this is all pretty damn cool.

First, we wonder… but that is only step one. We are human, we always want to take step two.

Revelation Space

Hey loyal Tftb readers – remember last April when I asked y’all to help make me a reading challenge? Hopefully you forgot because it’s kind of embarrassing that I’ve let it slide so long. But I didn’t forget, it’s always nagging at me, usually in a really snarky tone with something like, “geez, you can’t even follow thru with ONE challenge you set for yourself that involves something you genuinely enjoy, WHATSAMATTERWIDYOU?!” (My nagging is really annoying, sometimes I feel bad for the husband.)

On May 9 (2016) I posted these seven reading challenge tasks:

  1. Read a book written by a friend.
  2. Read a book written under a pseudonym or where the author uses initials to obscure their gender.
  3. Read a book which an image of a bird on the cover.
  4. Read The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power.
  5. Read Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
  6. Read an inspiration. Choose something you’ve always wanted to do and then read a book about someone who does it.
  7. Read a novel by Pat Conroy.

On June 17, I completed task 2 by reading Silas Marner by George Eliot.

On September 7, I completed task 3 by reading H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

On November 13, I completed task 6 by reading Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer.

And on May 24 2017, while sitting on the couch and accomplishing nothing else, I completed task 5.

The task came from the s-i-l who is an avid reader and all-around science fiction geek. Revelation Space is described as an epic, space opera. I agree. It’s like a soap opera set in space with multiple storylines and characters and it goes on and on and on, for 585 pages. I applaud his task for stretching me out of my reading comfort zone, BUT… it’s a bit like challenging someone who rarely reads international authors by giving them War and Peace.

I tend to steer away from Science Fiction because it just doesn’t really interest me. This book was filled with descriptions and details that didn’t add to the plot and also weren’t able to suck me into the places or the characters. Maybe if I was more comfortable with immersing myself into sci-fi scenarios they would have added something. Often the plot twists/advancements consisted of a character saying, “Oh, I get this connection, I understand this now,” and then going on and explaining it to the reader. It just felt like cheating by the author, but heavens knows, he did need to find ways to get to the end of this damn thing.

In the last TWO months, while slogging thru Revelation Space, the to-read pile has continued to grow. But be assured, I have not forgotten about my crowd-sourced reading challenging and I WILL complete it…someday.


Don’t knock it

Are you familiar with those Nyquil ads where a woman a woman earnestly says, “I’m sorry, I need to call in sick today,” and then the shot pans to the child in the crib? Followed by the tagline, “Moms don’t take sick days, moms take Nyquil.” (There’s a dad version, too, I’m happy to report.) I realized that’s one of the great things about being retired from working and an empty nester – I totally called in sick from life yesterday. It was just a nasty cold, but I had chills and fever all day and basically never left the couch. Happy to report that I am on the mend today, but still taking it easy.

The upside for you, oh loyal Thoughts From the Back readers, is that I don’t have the energy to pull together the full ranting post that I had planned for this week. So I’ll just summarize:

It’s not that I don’t like big corporations. I’m totally a capitalist kid. BUT don’t ever, ever think that a corporation has any soul, heart, or social conscience.

Here is a rather long tale about the scientist who discovered the connection between leaded gasoline and lead in the environment. Mental Floss headlined the story, “The Most Important Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of.” I found it absolutely fascinating. As often happens in science, this wasn’t the issue that Clare Patterson started investigating, he was actually trying to determine the age of the earth. As often happens in our country, it became a political battle between corporations and a government agency, the EPA, to decide what to believe and who should be protected. Eventually, the EPA banned lead in gasoline and no one denies that it has directly resulted in a dramatic decrease in the amount of lead in the bloodstream of the average American.

Not only is the story of Clare Patterson a tale about corporations protecting themselves, it is also a tale about how important federal oversight can be. The Trump administration’s efforts to cripple agencies like the EPA is dangerous.

Clare Patterson might be the most important scientist I’ve never heard of, but I feel like he might just be one on a very long list. I feel optimistic about the future knowing that there are other scientists working today to find other truths.

Out with the old

Now that’s a life philosophy, or maybe a four-word epitaph, eh? It certainly is a phrase that keeps coming around (and around and around) in life.

I could be thinking about this because my mother-in-law just made a move that involved considerable downsizing and her kids now have to deal with the rest of the stuff.

I could be thinking about this because we just updated our own wills which of course gets you thinking about all your stuff.

I could be thinking about this because of Marie Kondo and her tidying up philosophy or because I am firm believer in reduce, reuse, recycle or because I really need to dust all the stuff in my house or because I keep seeing articles aimed at baby boomers saying “your kids don’t want your stuff.”

But actually, I am thinking about this because of my volunteer gig.

One day a week I volunteer at a school library. I’ve helped out in school libraries on and off since the daughters were in elementary school, but this year the librarian asked me to do something I’d never done before. I weeded books from the collection.

Libraries are supposed to be great repositories of knowledge and culture. But at the same time, they are also supposed to be current and relevant. Guidelines for Texas school libraries say that the average age of a collection should be less than 11 years. That’s just a guideline, and I’m not even sure if it refers to copyright date or date of acquisition, but it still means that libraries need to constantly be adding and removing books.

The librarian I work with has only been at this school for two years and the library hadn’t had a good, thorough weeding for several years before she arrived. She didn’t do much weeding her first year because she was still learning how the library resources were used by both teachers and students. She’s spent a lot of time and money buying new books, especially fiction and graphic novels that the kids clamor for. It was time to start making some room on the shelves, so she asked me to make a first pass.


Actually, there wasn’t that much pressure because she was going to have to look at every book I pulled in order to officially take it out of the system, but still I had to look at a book and determine that it was UNWORTHY to remain in this library. Mind you, I am a person who goes into a used book store and buys yet another copy of one of my favorites because I think it deserves a home. And yes, there are reports that a librarian can generate to find old books, or books that haven’t been checked-out in years, but honestly, a visual perusal of shelves is a good way to start.

In fiction I was mostly looking for books that were in poor condition and books that had multiple copies, but were no longer considered “hot reads.” In non-fiction, I was looking at condition and also subject matter that was obviously dated. You don’t have to have a masters in library science to know that books on travel, sports, and careers date quickly. Chemistry hasn’t changed too much, but computer technology has. History is solid, but books on current cultures need to be fresh. And even if the information is good, books with pictures from the 80’s aren’t going to appeal to today’s 11-18 year olds.

I weeded out several hundred books. No regrets, mind you, but still I couldn’t help thinking about what was being lost.

It was only a few days later that I heard on the radio this segment of Engines of Our Ingenuity titled “Forgotten Lore.” You can read the transcript or listen to it from the link. (It’s short, check it out.)

Do you remember the second line of Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven?”

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. …

I don’t think my library will be missing any forgotten lore, but I’m glad for other libraries, librarians, and historians. To really understand our present, we must also understand how we got here.

Five-word epitaphs

A friend of mine was telling a funny story about confronting her aunt with a mysterious name mentioned in her will. Her aunt just laughed and said, “I ain’t got any secrets.” My friend decided this was a perfect five-word epitaph and then, of course, we kept trying to come up with our own five-word epitaphs. We soon realized that we weren’t actually willing to admit that our own life might be summed up in only five words.

Still, it’s an entertaining exercise. (Oooo, a five-word life philosophy?)

WordPress sends out daily one-word prompts, which I read in case that might be just the inspiration I need to post something. I never actually follow through (OK, maybe once), but some bloggers do great stuff with these prompts. I’ve thought about experimenting with micro/flash fiction, but today I just decided to take the five most recent words and use them to create some five-word epitaphs.

This collaboration lasted 57 years

The qualm before the (hell)storm

Over the precipice of life

My grave is your heritage

The farce was strong here