Monday, November 5, 2018

Mom

Today would have been my wonderful mother's 103rd birthday. The last time I could celebrate a birthday with her was in 2008. She passed away on February 27, 2009. I miss her so much. Perhaps it is because in recent years I have learned that mothers range from the kind of wonderful person Mom was to really horrible people who did real damage to their children.

One thing that comes to mind about Mom is food and cooking. When I was a child growing up I remember the good meals we had at home with Mom doing the cooking. One of the few criticisms I can make of Dad is that he was a lousy cook. That could be why when I was in the Boy Scouts Mom said one night at dinner that all men should know how to cook. She then proposed that I get the cooking merit badge in the Boy Scouts. I reacted really positively to that. I enjoyed learning how to cook.

Over the years my life took several interesting turns. One thing was doing graduate work in physics at Vassar College. Because of that -- and some photography I did being photography editor of the Vassar yearbook that year -- I met Dominique, a young French woman. She got me interested in, among other things, French culture. I developed a taste for French food as a result. After that when I wanted to impress a date, I would take her to a French restaurant. For Mom's 90th birthday I took her to a French restaurant. Mom enjoyed that dinner. Much before this -- when Mom was still living independently in New Jersey -- one weekend when I was visiting her I took notice of the shelf of cook books that Mom had. I said to her "Mom you are not using those French cook books. Can I have them?" Mom gladly gave them to me. I started learning how to cook French dishes. Oh -- I am still learning. If I had a wife and family I might be doing French cooking more often and trying more dishes.

Mom was clearly going downhill at Christmas in 2008. I told the assisted living place where Mom was then living I wanted to take Mom to church on Christmas Day. Could they help Mom be ready for that special day? I don't know what they did, but from the time I picked up Mom that Christmas morning to go to church and then spend time together throughout the day Mom was fine. She enjoyed church and then lunch. I took her for a drive that afternoon. She enjoyed that. When we got back to my place I cooked a lovely dinner of roast chicken. Mom enjoyed that dinner very much. After dinner I took Mom back to the assisted living place. That Christmas Day was so enjoyable. I did not know it would be the last one I would spend with Mom.

The next day I got Mom out of the assisted living place again. I brought her to my place. One of the ingredients in the French dish chicken with mornay sauce is cold cooked chicken which you reheat in a fry pan. Yes, I cooked that for Mom. She really enjoyed that dinner! That made me so happy!

The next time I went to the assisted living place to take Mom out again was only a couple of days later. The staff could not wake her up. They told me that if I wanted to visit Mom to come there at lunch time. That is what I did for the next few months. Then on Friday evening February 27, 2009 I got a phone call from the assisted living place that Mom had passed away. I still remember that last lunch with Mom.

I remember so many other things as well. One thing I remember is Mom and Dad taking me to see My Fair Lady on a Broadway stage. That was such a positive day I still remember it. Then there was the last football game of Rutgers 1961 season. Rutgers entered that game with 8 wins and 0 losses. Their last opponent was Columbia. Columbia roared off to a good start and had a significant lead in the third quarter. Then Rutgers pulled off a comeback! With not just Mom and Dad and me but everyone on the Rutgers side of the field cheering on the Rutgers football team they pulled off a victory! Oh – my father and grandfather both went to Rutgers. That is why I have such a strong connection to that school.

What are some other memories of Mom? Mom taking me on trips to Philadelphia with a woman Mom became friends with at work well before I was born. Mom encouraging my photography when I was in the Boy Scouts. Oh – when I was old enough to be a Cub Scout Mom became Den Mother of the Cub Scout Pack that met in our home weekly. Mom and Dad taking me to St. James on normal Sundays when I was growing up. And not normal Sundays? There were trips to Trinity Cathedral in Trenton. Mom and Dad both encouraging my interest in science fiction when I was growing up. Then there was learning to read. I grew up in a home filled with books. Mom and Dad did much reading. Mom told me when I was a mature adult that I had become a real pest as a boy growing up in home filled with books with parents that did much reading. So they started teaching me how to read when I was only 3. Mom probably did more of the teaching. She was a stay at home Mom until I began high school. I remember complaining when Mom went back to work. Mom and Dad told me that Mom was doing it for me. By working for pay, Mom would be able to help me pay for college. I was also told that I was now grown up enough that I could be on my own for the hour or so when I was at home after a day at high school before Mom got home. I realized quickly that my parents were right.

Then there were the trips to Canada. Dad's mother had been Canadian. She sadly died before I was born. I still remember going to Canada as a boy growing up. Those trips broadened my life in so many ways. Mom and Dad both exposed me to so many things that helped me develop my mind in so many ways. By being warm, caring people from warm caring families they also helped me develop a caring personality. By teaching me so much they also helped me to develop intellectually as an independent caring person.

Enough for now. More later.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Thoughts About Changing NASA in Particular and Science and Tech Fields in General

All, I have written a good bit about the needs for various kinds of reforms in science and technology fields.

On Sunday, August 26, 2018 the Washington Post had two pieces in the Business section that might get more people to thinking about things like this. One was an article by Christian Davenport titled The change agents pulling tradition-bound NASA into the future. It is a very interesting article about the kinds of changes NASA needs to go far beyond their current accomplishments. One company trying to lead the space industry toward more accomplishments is SpaceX led by Elon Musk. There is a piece by Jena McGregor titled Elon Musk is the ‘poster boy’ of a culture that celebrates ‘obsessive overwork’. This article appeared first in the August 26 edition of the Post.

The more one learns about people like Elon Musk, the more doubtful one can become of their ability to actually produce the kinds of changes that they talk about. Exhausted people do not perform that well. They make bad mistakes. Think, for example, the Challenger disaster.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Great Britain, the United States and Canada

Great Britain, the United States and Canada mean a great deal to me and, I hope, others as well.

Mom's parents moved here from England in 1909. They were English working class and fine people. I count myself so lucky to have gotten to know such fine people as a boy growing up in New Jersey.

Dad's side of the family was, putting it mildly, somewhat different. Dad's father (Charles Divine) was my only grandparent born in the United States. He married a woman from Canada. All my interactions with my Canadian relatives have been wonderful. They are bright, thoughtful, warm, caring people.

My paternal grandfather came from an unusual family. His father Michael Divine was born in Ireland in 1828. By the time my grandfather was born in 1869, he was a lawyer in the United States. Michael Divine married a woman from England with the name Angelina Elizabeth Donne which is how I am related to John Donne.

Why do I bring these things up? Partly to let people know what is going on in my mind while I am writing this.

400 years ago King James was an opponent of Magna Carta. My ancestor John Donne, along with lots of other people, were strong supporters of Magna Carta. Magna Carta was an important advance to the kind of free democratic societies many of us value today.

King James died of natural causes in 1625. His successor was one King Charles I. He has been described as an absolute dictator. My ancestor John Donne died of natural causes (think stomach cancer possibly) in 1631. King Charles I? His absolute dictatorship led to the English Civil War. As a result of that war, King Charles I was executed. Great Britain moved in the direction of being more free and democratic. Still, though, it was not as free and democratic as the UK is today.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fiftieth Anniversaries

2017 has three fiftieth anniversaries that are significant for me.

The first is the fiftieth anniversary of my graduating from Rutgers with a degree in physics. I was very glad to have accomplished this. My years at Rutgers were considerably more good than bad, but I and others (especially physics majors) saw problems at our wonderful school. This was early in the years since Rutgers had become The State University. In recent years I learned that Rutgers tripled the number of students since the 1950s. At a Rutgers Club of DC meeting a few years ago there were people who had graduated from Rutgers in the 1950s. One man had graduated in 1951, another in 1958. The man from the class of 1951 told us that 400 students had started Rutgers with him and 400 had graduated 4 years later. The man from the class of 1958 told us that 500 had started in his class and 500 had graduated. During my time at Rutgers 1700 started and only 1100 had graduated in 1967. I do remember that sometimes we physics majors expressed the thought that there were too many physics majors for the faculty to handle. Still, though, I did get a good education as a young man in physics and more.

What are some other memories I have of my time at Rutgers?

There was one extracurricular activity that has shaped my life in important ways.

In high school I went out for the track team to get an athletic credit for college. The people in high school made me team manager. I liked doing that and learned something about running and runners by doing so. I liked that volunteer activity so much that when I got to Rutgers I volunteered to help again as team manager. They welcomed me to that post. I have great memories of Coach Wallach and the track team. Yes, I learned even more about running and runners by doing so. But I did not become a runner.

On Friday, November 22, 1963 (first semester of my freshman year) I was sitting in the library doing some reading for my courses. A young man I did not know walked in and said to me “Did you hear? The President has been shot.” I thought “What?” Later that afternoon I walked into my last Friday freshman physics class and saw that Professor Barshay had written on the blackboard “President Assassinated. Class canceled.” I walked back to my dormitory and phoned my father. He picked me up on his way home. That Saturday evening at home Mom, Dad and me watched TV where we saw a Rutgers choral group singing a tribute to the now late President Kennedy. That tribute was very moving.

Attending classical music concerts was another good thing about attending Rutgers back then. Then there was the Episcopalian students group that I enjoyed attending. Then there were the Rutgers basketball team games. Basketball improved greatly when I was there.

What else do I remember? Having lunch with Dad at the Alumni Faculty Club. One special occasion was in January 1964. The previous night there had been a game at a fraternity at which the upperclassmen tried to get the freshman as drunk as possible as fast as possible. I was the first loser. Friends helped me back to the dormitory. The next day Dad and I had a serious talk about alcohol at lunch. A few weeks later I was in New York City with some friends. Back then it was legal for 18 year olds to drink in New York City. My friends all ordered beer. I remember Dad was a moderate scotch drinker. I ordered a scotch and liked it. I became a moderate scotch drinker. In California I became a moderate wine drinker. The next time I drank beer was during my first trip to England in 1987 for a world science fiction convention. My cousins Harry and Anita Lawton picked me at the airport. On the way up to their place in Nottingham we stopped at a British pub. Harry asked me if I would like to try one of their beers. I, thinking that these were not just relatives but friends of mine, said yes. Harry ordered best bitter all around. I enjoyed that drink. Back in the States I wound up trying a bottle of Sam Adams at a Mensa party. I liked that. I became a moderate drinker of really good beer. During my next trip to England (in 1989) I told this story to Harry as we were sitting in a pub drinking some good British beer. Harry cracked up laughing.

Before I graduated in 1967 I was offered a job by IBM working in one of the laboratories as a young physicist. IBM seemed impressed with both Rutgers and me. I was glad to get this good job. The laboratory specialized in reliability of computer electronics. I was very glad to be offered the position and accepted it. On graduation day I was looking forward to starting this wonderful work. On graduation day my parents, remembering how much fun I had had getting the photography merit badge in the Boy Scouts gave me a very nice 35 mm camera outfit. If you could take a time machine back to that day and tell people five years from now this young man will be the photography editor of the Vassar College yearbook and ten years from now the Princeton Ballet will be paying him for his ballet photography, you would have been telling us the absolute truth and surprised us all. Then if you told us what was going to happen to me and my family in that decade, you would have shocked us.

The second fiftieth anniversary is far more shocking. In August I was drafted into the Army. Young physicists were normally given critical skills exemptions from the draft. I was the only man drafted out of my IBM laboratory. People at IBM told me to enter the Army. They said I would be given a position in a laboratory in the United States and would not go to Vietnam. That turned out to be true. But my time in the Army began a life of conflict with over the top authority figures. Authority with the limits of free, democratic societies I can accept, possibly easily.

I have already written about my time in basic training. On my blog I titled the entry A Few Basic Training Stories Lots of people – whatever their current political leanings – like that post. Oh – the second story shows the beginning of my sense of humor. Yes, I got hundreds of people to laugh out loud at an arrogant 2nd lieutenant.

Remember what I said about helping the track team at Rutgers as team manager? Basic training also started turning me into a runner – a very serious runner eventually. Yes I have written about that as well. Read My Running Career to learn more about that side of me. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if my high school track coach – Coach Marchand -- had noticed that I had some talent for running.

After being in basic training a month, we were given our post basic training assignments. Assignments were like “You are going to infantry training. You are going to cooking school.” And more along the lines of normal military assignments. My assignment was not. I not only had a physics degree, I also had the highest IQ of anybody at Fort Dix. That, apparently, got the attention of some people very high up the hierarchy. What was my assignment? I was going to be sent to the United States Army Corps of Engineers Nuclear Cratering Group at Lawrence Laboratory in Livermore, California. I was going to be given $300 to buy civilian clothes because people in my group were not allowed to wear military uniforms. I was also going to be given some money to live in an apartment with some other people in Livermore, California. This freaked out the leadership at Fort Dix. It got me another month and a half of “basic training.”

Oh – the Army group I was assigned to was stationed at Lawrence Livermore because there was a much larger civilian group called Project Plowshare that was trying to come up with technologies that would use things like nuclear weapons for civilian purposes. Think doing things like digging a canal using “nuclear explosives” instead of sending out thousands of people with earth moving equipment to do such things.

Yes, I was very happy to be given that assignment. I was not going to be shot at . I might even make some sort of valuable contribution to our country and world by doing this kind of work.

I finally got out of basic training with the help of a corporal who would be discharged in a few days. He passed me on my hand grenade tossing test. Anyway in December I was now released from basic training. I went back to my parents' home for a Christmas vacation before flying out to California. I, of course, enjoyed spending time with Mom, Dad and family and friends in general.

Here is my third fiftieth anniversary.

One afternoon I was visiting our local car mechanic to discuss with this good man things I should pay attention to regarding my car out there in California. That discussion was going well as I expected it would.

Then Diane Van Doren burst in. We had gone to high school together. The Diane I knew was a sweet, warm, caring, bright, energetic, wonderful human being. She had a smile on her face even bigger and more impressive than the one I remembered from high school. She had let her beautiful blonde hair grow out much longer. I thought she was even more beautiful. Then she turned her head to the right and saw me. She quickly realized I had been drafted. That smile changed to an expression of genuine worry for me.

I told this terrific young woman that I had been given an assignment in California. I would not be shot at by Communists in Vietnam. That got her to relax a bit. Still, though, I could see how worried about me she had been.

My career and life took me many places. By the time I was working at Goddard Space Flight Center I had thought I would be spending the rest of my career there doing good things for my fellow humans. In 1999 I was driven out by truly awful management. My last day at Goddard was Monday, July 12, 1999. I started my new job with much better people the next day. The next weekend I went up to New Jersey for a high school reunion. When I walked in carrying the medal I got for finishing the Marine Corps Marathon in 1996 and showed it to Lucille Romano, she broke out with a great smile and said “You've done a marathon?” She made me wear that medal for the rest of the evening.

Later that evening news about Diane circulated around. Lucille also told me that Diane had committed suicide. That news shocked us all.

I started remembering Diane's and I last encounter. I began wondering what would have happened had I said to her “Diane, I don't have to go to California for some days. Would you like to go out on a date?” If she had said yes and we had hit it off well and began a long distance dating relationship until I got out of the Army and then starting dating even more seriously. I could imagine us getting married and starting a wonderful family. I would have had the wonderful wife and family I needed. Diane would have been much happier, putting it mildly. Don't you just love British understatement?

That memory of Diane is the last of my fiftieth anniversaries.

I hope people appreciate these memories of mine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Education in the Community I Grew Up In

I was born in 1945 -- lots of people are surprised to hear that -- and grew up in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, just outside of Trenton, New Jersey.

I remember going to Farmingdale and Greenwood Elementary Schools. I have good memories of the teachers I met there. They were very caring about their students. They encouraged my growing interests in things like space exploration, astronomy and science in general. My family was even more encouraging. I remember Mom and Dad buying me a telescope to look out into the heavens before I was a teenager. I think this was part of my getting the astronomy merit badge in the Boy Scouts.

I still have some interesting memories of that time in school.

One day in a high school history class I got into an informal debate with our teacher about what was more important -- the United States exploration of space or the various political changes that were happening in the Middle East (think United Arab Republic) at the same time. Oh -- I was on my high school's debate team. I obviously took the position that space exploration was most important. Our teacher claimed that the United Arab Republic was more important by far. He eventually kicked me out of class sending me to the principal's office. While I was waiting there, the vice principal came in and saw me sitting there. With a look of concern on his face he asked me what I was doing there. I told him. He relaxed and told me not to worry that he would take care of the problem.

One day also in high school when I was walking through our local bookstore I saw a book by a physicist named Eddington titled Mathematical Theory of Relativity. Since it was only $2.95 -- well within my allowance. I bought it. Soon I starting seeing mathematics that I had never seen before. I took the book into school and showed it to our math teacher -- a fine man named Mr. Rosen. I asked for his help. He with a friendly smile said "Why don't you wait until you are in college?" That's how I found out that my interests had gone far beyond what even a good high school back then could provide.

I also have a high school memory of my first grade teacher. How? One evening near the end of our class's senior year all of the teachers who had taught us as we were growing up were invited to a graduation oriented event. I ran into said first grade teacher there. She, with a big smile on her face, congratulated me on graduating from high school. She then asked quite friendlily what I would be doing after high school. I told her with a seventeen year old's enthusiasm that I would be going to Rutgers and majoring in physics. The expression on her face switched to something along the lines "You were bored in first grade!"

Lots of other people besides my family and my schools nurtured my growing interest in science. My parents were quite active in St. James Episcopal Church. They were part of the more well educated people there. All those people encouraged my interests. The Scopes Monkey Trial down in Tennessee decades earlier did get some attention -- particularly after the film Inherit the Wind came out. What did people at St. James think? They thought that kind of thinking was that of quite ignorant people who did not know what they were talking about.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Jeff Bezos and Space

Jeff Bezos has been getting attention in recent years for doing things like creating Amazon and buying the Washington Post. His interest in space exploration and development hasn't attracted as much general attention. Perhaps that will change with the Transformers meeting on Wednesday, May 18 at the Washington Post.

Bezos has an interesting personal history. He was born in 1964. His biological parents marriage lasted less than a year. His mother remarried to one Miguel Bezos by the time Jeff was four. Miguel came to the United States from Cuba after the Communist takeover as part of Operation Pedro Pan (see Pedro Pan and Wikipedia on Peter Pan. Miguel (known generally as Mike) became an engineer in the United States

The Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union attracted much attention in the 1960s. It really got a good bit of attention after the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite in 1957 and the first human into space, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. The United States eventually won that race when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Jeff Bezos was five then. That was old enough to remember such a significant event. I suspect his engineer stepfather Miguel paid a good bit of attention to this race, especially since he escaped Communist Cuba as a teenager.

Space faded from general interest after Apollo 11 – but not for some engineers, scientists and imaginative visionaries. One man who was a member of all these groups was one Gerard K. O'Neill) who was a physics professor at Princeton University. O'Neill got a good bit of attention in the larger world with his book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space that came out in 1976 which made an interesting case that the human race was on the brink of developing large space colonies that would house thousands and then millions of people doing things to benefit humans on Earth. Think, for example, building large satellites that would capture solar energy and beam it to Earth to power Earth cleanly and cheaply.

Jeff Bezos was a boy growing into a young man during the 1970s. He graduated from Miami Palmetto High in 1982 as class valedictorian. What was his valedictorian address about? Space colonies. The Miami Herald has an interesting article about this.

What was his next step in his education? He went to Princeton University, starting out as a physics major. I suspect Gerard K. O'Neill and his advocacy of space colonies had something to do with this decision. Bezos soon switched to his first loves of electrical engineering and computer software though. Jeff also became president of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space while at Princeton. People can find an interesting account of Bezos' work doing that on Gaiome.

After graduating from Princeton, Bezos first found work on Wall Street before starting Amazon in the 1990s. More recently he has started Blue Origin. Let me say Jeff Bezos is still quite interested in space exploration and development.

The event Transformers, while it does have some interesting people in fields outside of space who are working to make interesting changes in their fields, does have some interesting people who are working to change space as well. At least that is what I get from reading the Post's description of this upcoming event at the Washington Post website.

The big question in my mind is the timing of this event. Why is it on the Wednesday that is the start of ISDC and the middle day of Humans to Mars?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Black People and the Divine Family

If you could take a time machine back to the 1950s and spend some time with my family in the community in which we lived (Hamilton Township, New Jersey, right outside of Trenton) you would learn some important things about my family. My family took family quite seriously, as they did church and the larger community. We also paid closer attention to Rutgers than most people because my father and grandfather had gone there. Dad made Eagle Scout so we respected the Boy Scouts highly. We were also Episcopalians and took church quite seriously but very positively. We did respect people of other religions, though. Because Dad's Mom was Canadian, we also spent more time than most Americans visiting that wonderful country.

My first black friend was a boy named Arnie. We met when we were both 5 years old and started kindergarten. My parents encouraged that friendship as they did my friendships with other children I met in school and elsewhere. When Arnie and I turned 8 we were old enough to join the Cub Scouts. Mom and Dad started a Cub Scout den which met in our home every week. Arnie was one of the boys that I – with encouragement from Mom and Dad – recruited into our den.

Most of our family's vacations were oriented to trips to Canada because of Dad's family connections. In 1957 we took our first trip south. Why? 1957 was the 350th anniversary of the founding of the first successful British colony of Jamestown in what is now Virginia. That trip is where I first saw racial prejudice in action. At age 11 I knew that there were differences between men and women that caused there to be different restrooms for men and women. It was in Virginia that I saw separate restrooms for black and white and different water fountains for black and white. Partly as a result of that trip, I began to understand in greater depth what black people – especially in the South – were struggling to change, helped by white people such as my family.

The first famous black man who started changes in my life was Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. He inspired many of us with his leadership for civil rights and his commitment to nonviolence. His and others commitment to civil rights made a big impression on this son of Eisenhower Republican parents as did his commitment to nonviolence, especially when considering the behavior of groups like the KKK.

Something happened in October 1962 that caused me to take my first independent political position. That was the month of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I already had a better idea of what nuclear war would do to our country and world because of my growing knowledge of physics and aerospace technology. Influenced by the example of King, I became a Eisenhower Republican pacifist.

In more recent years I have continued to make black friends. One who has been significantly important to me is one Paul Roberts Abernathy. He was, until he retired a year ago, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill.

When I moved to this area, I count myself fortunate to have met many fine people through the Capital View Library, Episcopal Church of the Atonement and Peacetimers Toastmasters. I look forward to growing relationships with the fine people I have met here.