Mars Has Not Taken The Best And The Brightest Of Us All

By NOAA [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A co-worker said some things the other day that have been bouncing around in the back of my head since then. To paraphrase, he asked why so much time, talent, and money was going to a manned Mars mission when there were so many problems here on Earth to solve.

As a supporter of manned Mars missions I didn’t do well in addressing the concerns broached. This post is my attempt to do a better job.

Though many people refused to read it because my title caused them to assume I was anti-NASA, I have already addressed the larger money issue with This Post. With regard to today’s topic I would like to add that Mars is only a small portion of NASA’s overall budget. Far more money goes toward projects that have a direct effect on problems we do face right here on Earth.

As for the assertion that too much time and talent is being directed toward Mars missions, I now wish I had countered with: Prove it. Prove that the best and brightest minds human kind has to offer are all dedicated to Mars.

In reality, the number of people dedicating their lives to Mars is a tiny subset of the intellect at work on this planet right now.

My co-worker went on to talk about the so called giant plastic island in the North Pacific. I agreed that this is a big problem. Were I differ is in his assumption that no one is working on the problem in any reasonable way. He’d seen one of those documentaries where to give you the worst case scenarios (or as I am likely to say, mockumentaries) and taken them at there word without doing any followup research. He even suggested we use giant nets to scoop up all the plastic even though the first website I visited on the subject had a big section on why this wasn’t a viable solution. A website supported by great talent dedicating their lives to solving this kind of environmental problem. Talent that had even turned to NASA and their global network of satellites monitoring environmental changes for support.

All of the above said, I guess my real rant is against the all too common practice of arguing that A must negate B in order to deflect from having to address what B means without regard to the larger context in which both should be interpreted.

The fact that a group of people are working on sending men to Mars does not mean an equally talented group of people can’t be working on the problem of a how to deal with a plastic in the North Pacific. And that’s before we address the idea that developments in one arena might actually help solve problems in the other.

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Mission Creep – Tighten the Screws

The story continues, taking up where Mission Creep – The Dance left off:

“No rush. As I said, no one’s watching out for me at my modest room.”

This was getting better by the moment. “It’ll take a little longer, but we can avoid the crush by heading this way to my car.”

“You’re such a considerate gentleman.”

The side route he led her through still contained too many prying eyes for him to get closer to this gem. Played right this could only heighten the desire she’s sending his way. To keep up appearances, he quizzed her on basic aspects of Stellar Dynamics.

She faultered in her rudimentary answer to his last question when they approached the sportiest car on the lot. He’d paid a lot of money to elicit that response from the ladies. And from the men who could only be jealous of his prowess for that matter. Bright red. Low slung. Every line said speed. And money. And comfort. The average person could never tell this machine from an actual super-car.

His remote caused the passenger door to rise as he led her around the sleek nose. “What do you think of my little rocket?”

She looked at him. “This is really yours?”

“Every last gram of luxury power. Take a look at where you’ll be sitting.”

The body molded seat sat so low she’d be more comfortable, and more enticing, leaning back the way he had it preset. As the driver he didn’t have quite as much freedom but plenty of time behind the wheel had helped him get even that just right. His one regret, the centre consule made cuddling a challenge.

“I get to ride in there?”

“You certainly do.” A little gallentry always did the trick at this moment. “Give me your hand and I’ll help you in.”

“I don’t–”

“Come now, how often do you get a chance to try out a ride like this?”

She looked from him to the car. “I’ve never even been this close to such a car before.”

“And you’re about to get closer. Please, climb in.”

She accepted his hand and slid in with a litheness that promised so much more. He lowered the door while she explored the comforts within and hurried around to take his seat.

***

I envision completing this story in 2 to 3 more segments. This raises the question: Do I continue posting them here before bringing them together in a polished final work or hold them back until it’s done? The comments below is your one and only chance to have a say in my decision.

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Mission Creep – The Dance

This is the follow up to my Mission Creep, A Beginning post, filling in a few more of the details that lead to my original Plot Bunny Escape event:

A squad of muscle bound athletics blocked his view.

She wasn’t there when they moved on.

By the door. She’d stopped to flash another smile his way. Their gazes met. She slipped outside.

He abandoned his coffee.

The promenade proved almost as busy as the cafe. He couldn’t see her anywhere. A flash of just the right shade of violet across the tree lined medium. He had her headed to a side walkway. One that didn’t lead anywhere popular, and would be relatively quiet at this time of day.

Around a corner past a flowering bush in desperate need of trimming, she stood beside a gentle fountain finishing off the last of her roll. A pleasing blush flushed her cheeks. Or maybe a touch of what am I doing? So much the better.

Time to make his move. “Excuse me, Ms?”

She wiped her hands on a cloth taken from a back pocket. An exotic beauty from head to toe. “Sheila.”

“Sheila. That’s a pretty name. I’m Marcus, Doctor Marcus Orling, at your service.”

“Doctor Orling? The Doctor Orling? Who wrote that paper on refinements to threshold detection limits?”

This could be easier than he hoped. “The same. Haven’t I seen you around the Stellar Dynamics section? Is that how you discovered my work?”

She wouldn’t quite meet his gaze. She felt undeserving of his attention. He moved a little closer. “I’m not faculty. You can treat me as just another man on campus.”

“Just another man on campus? You? I’m honored you even noticed an outsider like myself. There are so few of us, and, so many of you locals keep your distance.”

He touched her forearm, which she didn’t pull away. “Come now. You read my opus. Not many students can say the same. That makes you special in my eyes.”

Her shoulders slumped. “It’s not that simple.”

“Why not?” He moved a little closer.

She wouldn’t look at him. “I know of your work, but I’ll be lucky to just continue my studies long enough to make sense of the basics.”

Another clue he could make use of. “I can’t offer this to just any student, but one who knows my work enough to recognise me?”

This time she touched him. “Offer what?”

“I like you Sheila. There’s a spunk about you that could blossom under the right conditions.” It had been a while, but oh the possibilities if he could get her to see him as a mentor. “I can’t promise it will work out, but I can offer a little tutoring. Enough to pass your exams. If you are willing to put in the effort to make it worth both our whiles .”

“You would do that far me? A complete stranger?”

“We all start out as strangers. It’s what we do after meeting that determines where it goes from there.” He puffed out his chest at having come up with such a profound statement at a time like this.

She ran a hand down his arm. “No ones ever been so generous to me. Without better grades I might not even be allowed to continue my studies. I can work hard. You’ll see.”

Her hand had not lifted from his arm. So close. Would she agree to the next step?

“I have a couple hours free right now. My lab is off limits to students, but I only live a short distance from here. I could evaluate where you are right now.”

She blanched. “Your place? Now? Wouldn’t that–”

“You forget, I’m not faculty, and it’ll be quick. Enough to let us know if a more formalised arrangement should be entered into.” He turned his arm to take her hand. “No promises. No commitments. We can sound each other out, and take it from there ”

She touched his chest with her other hand. “There’s no one waiting for me at home, and my parents will be so hurt if I get sent home after all they did to get me here.”

Yes. “Then it’s settled. I even promise to take you home when the evaluation is over.”

 

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Mission Creep, A Beginning

I have officially dubbed this plot bunny Mission Creep. This scene happens a short time before the action depicted in my previous blog post.

Enjoy.

Marcus Orling nursed his unadorned coffee. Though his trusty rum bottle weighed down the inner pocket of his jacket, the unusual crush of bodies in his favorite off campus coffee shop had so far made it unwise to add the much desired brace.

An elbow pushed into the space between his shoulder blades. High pitched giggles told him it could only be a group of feminine students pushing through to the counter. A glance confirmed his conjecture. Fourth year examples of fine womanly flesh, on the ordinary side.

He returned his attention to his too plain coffee. Not being faculty, he didn’t have to live by the constraints of his fellow researchers, but that didn’t mean he could be overt in his actions. Though maybe such a distraction would take the edge off the stress of the upcoming assessment of his work.

A flash of violet drew his attention up and three tables over. Short cropped brown hair, angular face, narrow eyes, and skin pink enough to show blushes real well. Such exotic beauty had to mean she was one of the latest crop of off-worlders to grace the institute. Hadn’t he even seen her in the vicinity of the Stellar Dynamics section a few times over the last week?

She almost met his gaze, then looked down at the roll on her plate. A moment later, she glanced back at him. This time a tentative smile brightened her face.

This could prove to be just the distraction he was looking for.

 

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Plot Bunny Escape

20170423_141929All writers wrangle with plot bunnies at one time or another  Like real rabbits plot bunnies can appear at any moment and have a tendency to breed prolifically if not kept under tight control. From time to time even my plot bunnies manage to escape their hutches and force me to chase them down. This plot bunny would not be caught until I put finger to keyboard.

My hope now is to build this out into a full short to go with my One’s Place teaser. Comments welcome.

Introduction:

The Point of View character has brought young Sheila home on a date. They arrived to discover a trio of escaped convicts have holed up in his house. Things have gone from bad to worse…

Other characters:

Burly, the leader, Nose, and Scarface

Plot Bunny Wrangled:

Sheila let go a loud sigh. Then, without lifting her head or straightening her cowed shoulders, said, “I can’t let that happen.”

Burly spun about and pulled her chin up.  “What did you–”

His head snapped back as she drove her palm up under his chin before he doubled over. She’d slammed her other fist into his gut.

Nose stepped forward only to be driven into the wall by the foot she planted in his chest.

Before Scarface could even bring his knife up she’d snapped his weapon arm behind his back and had the blade at his neck.

She leaned in close to his ear. “It would be so easy, but then some poor grunt would be stuck cleaning up all that blood.”

She did something to pull Scarface off balance.  He let out a yell as a loud snap came from the knee she’d side kicked.  Nose had come off the wall but before he could close she had taken his out stretched arm, dropped to her knee, and thrown him over his shoulder to crash through the coffee table.

Sheila stood. “Now would be a good time to call the police. I recommend you tell them the whole story.”

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More Thoughts On Podcast Mania

A while back I wrote a post discussing my plunge into the world of listening to podcasts.

Some of the podcasts I list there are no longer on my to-hear list while others have been added.

Along the way, though, I have begun to wonder if it isn’t time to cull the size of my list. Hard to do when I have little to fill that time with during my commutes.

My main complaint falls into two general categories:

  1. Multiple podcasts all carrying the same guest in a short period of time. One guest may appear in my rotation discussing the same subject 4, 5, or more times within a given month.
  2. Hyper-driven guests that can’t not get things done.

The second category of guest is the one that’s getting to me the most. There are times I wonder if I’m exaggerating by describing them as:

  1. Waking up with the thought, it’s time to write a book.
  2. Having that book written by 9am.
  3. Published by noon.
  4. Number 1 on Amazon by 6.

How can a person who faces his own personal entropy every day hope to ever have anything in common with such dynamos? Much less get anywhere in my writing life when such people dominate the charts?

I want to hear more about people who struggled to get started. Struggled to get traction. Struggle to keep going.

I want to hear more about how those people are making it in the hopes of gleaming ideas that will help me to continue forward.

Until then I am finding this constant exposure to the Hyper-driven exhausting. Thinking that cutting them out of my listening schedule may help me to maintain the progress I am capable of making based upon where I am now.

I’m sure the Hyper-driven would have long since made their decision and moved on. I just don’t work that fast.

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The Spectre of Self-censorship

Intro comments in a recent episode of the Wordslinger Podcast struck a cord with me. I know there are a variety of subjects about which we must tread carefully, especially when it comes to the very public mediums available to us over the internet. Politics, religion, and barbecue spring to mind as potential land mines in any exchange . The question raised by what I heard is this:

Have we crossed the line when it comes to the need to practice self-censorship?

Back to that Wordslinger Podcast episode I opened with. If you’ve ever had a chance to hear the host, Kevin Tumlinson, on this and other podcasts he co-hosts, I’m sure you would agree with me that he presents himself in an open and reasoned manner that should earn him the benefit of the doubt when he touches on a potential land mine subject. You’d take what you know about him, factor on the immediate context, and realise he’s not singling out any specific individuals unless that is exactly what he’s done.

To be fair, I am not privy to the actual material in question, but only Kevin’s apology as presented on the podcast episode. It’s episode 107 near the beginning if you care to have a listen yourself. Of course, now that you’ve listened that far I encourage you to take in the entire show while you’re at it.

The gist of what set me off centres around a Facebook post he has since removed. As he describes it, he made a statement about some members of a certain political leaning. Apparently a few of his followers who adhere to that leaning read this as meaning they were among the accused. This is who Kevin has now apologised to.

Now, I will admit it’s hard not to take a general statement about some members of a group I associate with personally. But does that mean we should never make a statement that some people might have a problem with, or jump straight to an immediate recant when it does? Are we now bound to practice self-censorship to a level where there is no chance someone might personalise, misinterpret, or otherwise have a problem with what you say regardless of the context in which it was said?

This gets into what I like to call Broomstick Theology. Why go to the trouble of using all those fiddly little paint brushes and associated techniques when one swipe of a broom will cover the entire canvas. Why go to the effort to take a reasoned position when you know someone in your audience will latch onto a specific word or phrase and interpret everything else accordingly? How can we dialogue about anything the least bit off the straight and narrow when we know it will produce some level of a firestorm somewhere?

Has the call to Self-censorship reached the point where it is no longer possible to have real conversations between people who have divergent views on a subject?

I will end with one final thought that may be the flip side of this post: Freedom of Speech is not a guarantee of a receptive audience. We must all expect push back from things we say. No level of Self-censorship is going to stop that.

In closing, I won’t be the least bit surprised if this very post draws heat because it suggests we should be allowed to make statements that may upset some people.

photo credit: hey skinny X and scott, camping via photopin (license)

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