What NASA Taught me About the Olympics

I’m on vacation this week, and it’s been glorious!

I’m not watching the olympics this year.  Actually, it’s been several years since I last watched either the summer or the winter olympics.  I’ve just felt there is something wrong with them.  I wasn’t sure what until this year.

It started when I bought the awesome series off the iTunes store called “When We Left Earth.”  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.  It chronicals NASA starting with the Mercury program to the current day.  While I watched this, there is something that repeatedly jumped out at me:  the difference between calling the achievements of the program ‘American’ achievments or ‘Humanity’s’ achievements.  I realized that don’t really view the moon landings, for example, as the fomer of those, but the latter.  When I think about those events, they don’t make me proud to be an American.  They make me proud to be a human.

There are those that go the other way.  At the time, NASA was a source for national pride, and that continues to this day for many.  We were better than those Commies, and we showed them.  I understand that’s important, but we would be better off without it.

From the perspective of space, you can’t see the borders of nations.  There is only one earth, and everything in it is connected to everything else by location.  All our quibles are meaningless from that perspective.  Carl Sagan said it much better than I ever could.  And so I get tired about hearing about all of it.  I get tired about hearing what comes down to idiotic squabbles like the Russian-Georgia fiasco, or our own country’s fiasco in Iraq.  Or China’s censorship and human rights violations.

I always thought the olympics were meant to be a place where we could set aside our differences and participate in sporting competition.  But when I hear the coverage, it continues to be portrayed as just another place for nations to duke it out.  “Hey, look!  China has the most Gold medals.”  “We Americans lead the medal count, HA!”

You know what I want to see?  I want to see an event that can bring everyone together, but in a way that doesn’t reflect nationalities.  We need a worldwide event dedicated to celebrating the abilities of humanity itself, not the ‘products’ of it’s nations.

And that’s why I don’t really care about the Olympics.  As long as it continues to be some way for a nation to exert it’s superiority over another nation, my reaction continues to be: meh.


It’s easy to get bogged down in the drudgery of day-to-day life. When you do the same thing day in and day out, it’s hard to stay focused on where you want to be, and how you’re going to get there. I’ve been feeling some of that lately, as my regret for my first degree sets in and anxiety for my new direction begins to emerge. The semester is really starting to roll along, and we’re so busy where I work, that I have little time to think about going back to school, and no time to study.

So the video from Randy Pausch that has been circulating has hit at just about the perfect time. I haven’t had time to finish watching it yet, but this has been great. I had held off watching, believing that I wouldn’t really like it, but I couldn’t have been wronger. This is without a doubt, one of the most inspirational things I have ever seen. The trick now is to translate that inspiration until real work.

The problem that most of us find ourselves in is that we get inspired about something, but then do nothing about it. Perhaps ‘inspiration’ doesn’t really describe it well enough; we need to add the modifier ‘feel-good.’ We feel good about someone else accomplishments and wish we could do the same, but then we keep drudging along, doing the same stuff until the next ‘inspirational’ thing comes along. I know I’ve fallen into this trap many times, and have seen others fall into it as well. I don’t know the cure, other than ‘get off your butt and do it.’ You have to make sacrifices to get what you want, and it’s not going to be easy. As Pausch puts it:

“Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.”

I like that. I’ve been hitting several brick wall as I start pursuing Neuroscience studies with nothing more than a B.A. in Music. But Progress is being made, and I can show that if this is really what I want, then it will happen.

In other news, I received my Chemistry Set from the H.M.S. Beagle on Saturday, and have had lots of fun with that so far. Especially the Alkali metals (sodium and potassium), as twice the amount was in the kit than was advertised. I’m also on the lookout for other experiments to tackle, though I need to work on some of my lab skills first. I’ve never tried bending glass before, and it’s probably time to learn. I think I’ll try distilling water before synthesizing different gases, just so I can get used to how everything works together.

It’ll be interesting tomorrow, as people from the apartment complex will be entering my apartment to change out the furnace filters. Will anything get said? Will I have a notice waiting for me that I should get rid of the equipment? I hope not…

This I believe

By Penn Jillette

“Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I’m raising now is enough that I don’t need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day. “

Atheists are often accused of being arrogant, which is rather strange when you think about it.

Planet Earth (BBC)

Well, I’ve wrapped up my viewing of the Planet Earth series from the BBC, narrated by David Attenborough. Only one word is needed to describe the experience: WOW! If you have not seen this yet, you will not be disappointed. And for only $55 at amazon, there is no excuse not to have it as a part of your DVD collection.

The series is marked by the footage of things that have never been captured on film before (and in some cases, never even seen before), incredible camera work to capture the scenery, and jaw-dropping scale. The first time I saw the footage of Angel Falls was nearly overwhelming.

One thing the film really brings to my attention, and something I’ve been loath to think about in the past, is the knife edge we are now walking in reference to our global environment. Some of the things they caught on film is likely to never be seen again; the animals will be gone. After seeing these on screen, the disaster that would be their loss is really driven home. Sadly, in some cases, it might be too late.

So check it out! As I said, you won’t be disappointed.