Going up!

In about a month, I’ll be teaching one of my favorite classes: Science, Technology, and Social Change. As you might guess from the title, the class encompasses the history and philosophy of science through the ages, as well as the ways new technology presents new questions and answers.

Topics are as ancient as the teachings of the pre-Socratics and as modern as the latest in observations of black holes.

I like to start by asking my students to place themselves on the technology spectrum between Luddite and Early Adopter.

It’s amusing enough to read anti-technology sentiments from students who are earning their degrees completely online.

But no one beats a woman I saw at a conference hotel a few years ago, as we both waited in line for an elevator. This person wore a large, obviously homemade button on her lapel: LAST LIVING LUDDITE.

I smiled. “That can’t be you,” I said.

“Yes it is,” she said, head held high. “I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t email or text. I’m not on Facebook—”

I had to interrupt. “So, you’re not in line for the elevator?”

She looked confused. “Of course I am.”

But this was a very smart lady. I could tell by her frown that she knew where I was headed.

The elevator came. The lady turned and walked away. I wondered if she used the stairs or simply took the next car.

I wish she’d stayed. I love hearing about people’s attitudes toward technology, where their thresholds are.

FLIGHT WEEK

Magneto Compass generating unit recovered from aircraft used by pilot Wiley Post on his final flight in August 1935. Public Domain image, Smithsonian Museum

On July 22, 1933 (before even I was born) Aviator Wiley Post completed the first solo flight around the world. The flight took 7 days and 19 hours.

In August 1935 Wiley Post and humorist Will Rogers were flying together in a hybrid airplane when they crashed 15 miles outside of Point Barrow, Alaska.

The airport in Utqiaġvik, the largest city and borough seat of the North Slope Borough of Alaska is called the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport.

It seems fitting to honor Post, and others like him, after a week of edge-of-space flights.

UAPs (formerly known as UFOs)

With renewed interest in travel to outer space, I’m inclined to revisit para.

Para is all around us these days, especially with the release of the US Navy UFO videos. (Excuse me, UAP, the new name: Unidentified Arial Phenomena.)

We have paramedics, paralegals, paraprofessionals, parapsychology, and, of course, PARANORMAL. I’ve been trying to figure out what paranormal means vis a vis “normal.”

There are many possibilities.

One option is to consider it similar to what para means in paralegal. I had a brief career as a paralegal at a large law firm in San Francisco. We thought of ourselves as “almost” legals, just a few years of study away from being lawyers.  Maybe paranormal is “almost normal.”

But if you know the legal profession, you know para in this case means “subsidiary role of a lesser status.” With few exceptions, the lawyers in the firm reminded us of that hour by billable hour. I didn’t last long as a paralegal. Something about the way the law allows one to argue from two contradictory premises. That’s not my dog, but if it were my dog it didn’t bite you. But that’s another blog.

Another meaning of para is “guarding against,” as in a parasol, which guards against the sun, and a parachute, which guards against free fall.

Paranormal might mean “guarding against the normal.”

My most intense brush with paranormal came while I was teaching a course in the scientific method at a university in the SF Bay Area. The school was known at the time for its groundbreaking classes in nontraditional fields. A student could get a degree in Transpersonal Psychology, for example or Mysticism.

Really.

I taught a class with a full enrollment of mysticism majors. You have to pity them with me as an instructor.

The dean admitted outright that he’d hired me to be the Visiting Rationalist. I was to be tough on the students, force them to be scientific, to present their fields of study as “scientific, with real hypotheses and experiments.”

I had a tough choice to make: teach them classical physics rife with deterministic principles that allow no wiggle room, or confess that modern (i.e., quantum) physics seems every bit as strange as paranormal phenomena..

Some examples.

 Entanglement is the phenomenon by which two particles are inexorably linked no matter how much distance separates them. The state of one particle can be teleported to another particle far away.

String theory proposes that everything in the universe—matter, space, time—is made up of ten- (or greater) dimensional, invisible, vibrating strings.

And here’s a winner: the uncertainty principle. Essential to the foundation of quantum physics, the uncertainty principle tells us it’s impossible to make a measurement of a physical system without disturbing that system.

Hold on. Isn’t that one of the things we’ve criticized about “soft” sciences like psychology (let alone the “para” version)? That you can’t observe and make “exact” measurements of behavior because the presence of the measurer affects the result?

There’s more—so many phenomena like time travel and speeds faster than that of light are possible in the world of the very, very small. As long as you sneak the behavior in under the radar, which is on the order of 10 to the -27 (pretty small), you can do just about anything you want.

The mysticism majors? They would have preferred that I congratulate them on having observation, hypothesis, experiment.  Just like Newton.

How uninspired.

I passed them anyway.

UAPs

A few weeks ago the Department of Defense formally released three Navy videos that contain “unidentified aerial phenomena.”

Don’t get too excited, the Pentagon warned, and astrophysicists seemed to agree. There’s no breakthrough; skeptics can hold on to their arguments that the UAPs can be explained by atmospheric effects, reflections, and even bugs in the imaging code.

See for yourself by downloading the videos.

But don’t skip over the renaming: UFOs are no more; we now have Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. A sign of progress? What do you think?

July 4, coming soon

There are other significant dates this month, however. To make it easy for you to plan your celebrations, I found this site that lays them all out.

And happy 4th everyone!

No-grill hamburgers

Quick dessert for July 4 BBQ

It’s not too soon to gather the ingredients for No-bake, no fuss “hamburgers.”

TIME TO PREPARE: about 15 minutes

YIELD: 12 mini hamburgers

INGREDIENTS:

I box vanilla wafers

1 box soft chocolate cookies (SnackWells or the equivalent)

1 tube green frosting

1 tube red frosting

1 tube yellow frosting

1/8 cup sesame seeds (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Arrange 12 vanilla wafers, flat side up, on a tray or platter. These are the bottoms of the “hamburger buns.”

2. Using the green frosting tube, squirt a ring around the edge of each wafer. Using your finger or a toothpick, rough up the frosting so it resembles ragged lettuce.

3. Place 1 chocolate cookie (the meat!) on top of each green-ringed wafer.

4. Using the red frosting tube (ketchup!), squirt a ring around the flat edges of a dozen additional wafers (the tops of the “hamburger buns”).

5. Using the yellow frosting tube (mustard!), squirt a yellow ring over the red ring of Step 4, allowing the two colors to mix in places.

6. Place each newly ringed wafer, flat side down (top of the bun!), on top of a chocolate cookie/wafer.

DONE!  You now have 12 hamburgers, with lettuce, ketchup, and mustard.

7. (optional) Dot the top of each bun with egg white, and use as adhesive for a few sesame seeds.

Be creative: add a smooth ring of white frosting for an onion, a square of orange frosting for cheese, or smooth the red ring so it looks more like tomato.  

Any other ideas?

Send them to me in the comments and I’ll add to next year’s recipe!

HERE TODAY, GOODBYE TOMORROW

Today my guest is RITA LAKIN, screenwriter with credits for 474 produced television scripts spanning 30 productions. She also writes a series of comedy mystery novels featuring Gladdy Gold and her zany geriatric partners in crime-solving. She’s the author of The Only Woman In The Room, a memoir of her life as one of the first female show runners and one of the first women in television.

Here’s Rita!

HERE TODAY, GOODBYE TOMORROW

I’d rather it was Hair Today, or even Heir Tomorrow. But the truth is I’m old. 91 is old.

I cannot pretend I’m still middle-aged. That word was bearable. That only cost some wrinkles, men no longer undressing me with their eyes, or even a cutesy pinch now and then. All my life, I never even thought about getting old. Who does? Why would they when they’re still bouncing around with life choices?

I’m sure people plan ahead; smart people who put away money so that they wouldn’t end up in a cardboard box in some park when it all ran out.  I had a good business manager. So I sit in comfort. Though unable to do anything but watch TV. I have a caregiver. Oh, how I hate that word.

But here’s the reality—when at the yearly checkup at the doctors, hearing those death/knell bells ringing, Your body is fading away and you are on the way out. How can I deny my legs that do not walk, fingers shaking, with the whole left side useless? I do a self-check. I had to give up driving. Bye-bye independence. Look in the mirror. Deny that grey-haired harridan is you. I want to cover all mirrors; but I don’t.

I can’t even sign my name. I now type one letter at a time on the computer. The list goes on and on of what I can’t do anymore.

 SHUT UP! How dare I complain! I was pretty. I had the gift of intelligence, which led me to enjoy the arts. I’ve had a wonderful life filled with a loving family. A multitude of friends. And true love.

 Much delightful travel. Many unexpected adventures. An enviable career, showered with great reviews and rewards. 

So I tell myself to count those blessings (and forgive the errors) every single day.

And stop looking in the mirror.

More about Rita’s amazing contributions to television, movies, books.

Rita won first place for her IMBA bestselling Getting Old is a Disaster. The same novel won Left Coast Crime’s LEFTY AWARD for most humorous mystery published in 2009.
Her many other awards include those from Writers Guild of America, MWA’s Edgar™️, and the Avery Hopwood Award from the University of Michigan.

Visit www.ritalakin.com

I Pledge Allegiance

Not just any flag

A long, skinny box arrived in the mail the other day. A poster? A roll of wrapping paper? An English cucumber? One of those extended balloons that float around car dealerships?

None of the above.

A flag, and not just any flag, but one that stood in the ground at the National Mall in Washington DC on the day of President Joe Biden’s Inauguration.

Shown here, the flag stands on the floor in the middle of my office. Soon it will have a more dignified, permanent home.

Though I can’t find verification, I’ve been told that the public was allowed to take a flag from the mall the next day. And since the friend who sent it to me is not in jail, I’m inclined to believe her.

Also, the bottom couple of inches of the pole shows signs of having been stuck in dirt.

That’s good enough for me.

ACCENTUATE

THE PRU, mentioned heah is the tall building on the right.

Remind you of a song? Something by Bing Crosby?

What I really want to talk about, however, is ACCENTS.

I’ve lived in California for more years than I want to admit. When a stranger—an airplane companion, a clerk in a store, for example—asks where I’m from, I still say Boston, where I grew up and went to college, or The Bronx, where I went to graduate school.

When I first arrived in California, I had a heavy Boston accent. I’d deny it, except there are videotapes with the evidence. I worked hard to speak Californian, which I acknowledge is closer to a “national” accent:

• Stress those r’s wherever they appear.

It’s harrrrrrd, not hahd; forrrrrrty, not fohty. And so on.

• Insert an r, when the next word begins with a vowel.

Cuba(r) and Laos, as JFK would say

My sistah(r) and my mothah.

When I stahted teaching in California, I noticed my students having a hahd time understanding me.

For example, the designation for the nuclear radius is R-with a bar across the top. R-bar. Or Ah-Bah, as I would say. So I worked at it, telling myself I’d learned Italian (all through home and school); French (in high school, because it was there and Nino was taking it); German in college (because we thought the Germans would prevail in science); Russian in graduate school (because we thought the Russians would take over science, what with Sputnik and all).

I could certainly learn Californian (one of my Boston friends says Cali-foh-nia).

And I did. But I slip now and then when I’m on the phone with a cousin back there. And a few days ago when I was telling a story about a mall in Boston, illustrating it with my hands:

“The Pru is heah,” I began. And my friends laughed.

How about you? Can we tell where you’re from by your “accent?”

MURPHY’S SLAW

AGAIN!

I promise this will be the last reminder that Murphy’s Slaw will be released on Tuesday, June 1.

I will throw in a bonus of reminding us where the play on words started: with Murphy’s LAW:

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Some specific examples:

• If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal and someone always answers.

• If there are only two people in a locker room/theater, they will have adjacent lockers/seats.

• Any item, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

And here’s a link to a host of others!