Future

While I was on a farm in western Mass last week looking up at a breathtaking night sky literally filled with stars and meteors sliced by the Milky Way galaxy, it’s hard for your mind to not wander about where the Earth is and where I am on it.

We’re just on a big rock spinning around a star.  We happen to have a layer of gasses hugging the surface which allows for everything to breath.  Bacteria, fungi, plants, birds, fish and humans are all huffing the same atmosphere.  That’s something we all have in common.  All of us lifeforms are just chirping away all through the night just doing our thing.

Every once in a while a plane would fly across the sky reminding me of our technological achievements and that nowhere on this planet is really that far from the hearts of human civilization.  That plane was going from someplace west to someplace east, probably Boston.  That city seemed pretty far away from where I was standing – a city where you can’t see any stars, can’t hear any of the insect cacophony or where you won’t probably realize you’re sharing a planet with millions of other species.  It’s far away from that farm but that plane would arrive at its gate in much less than an hour.

Earlier that week, I had watched a documentary about the Apollo missions to land men on the Moon called For All Mankind.  The Apollo astronauts were confident that their actions were just the first step of human exploration of deep space.  There is a deep optimism of the future of humanity to explore, to learn, and to go further.  Once humans all got a chance to realize how small our planet is, they would stop fighting wars and work together.

This is similar to the philosophy behind the Star Trek series.  Once humans made contact with Alien life, peace and equality immediately followed.  Things just got better and better.

This is also how history plays out in the our common imagination.  Humans were once primitive hunter-gatherers and now we have smart phones, jumbo jets and abundant food in grocery stores.  Straight line from there to here.

But yet we see declines and falls everywhere around us.  There are huge examples like the Soviet Union and there are smaller examples like Greece.  Economic decline and political fall destroy countries, progress and people’s lives.  People who had planned a life around a stable country, a job you could count on, public services, state-ensured security, all of a sudden find themselves in a very dangerous and frightening position.  Everything falls apart and everything changes.

I don’t really have a direct point except that I really like to imagine that we’re bound for things out in the vastness of space, that it’s just a matter of time, but there’s another part of me that feels like we are so bound to this planet.  The gasses we breath and the rhythms that we feel around us are a part of who we are and that it might not be so easy to leave that behind.

 

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

In the spring of 2009, I started watching each of the 178 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation in order.  It seems like such a long time ago that a stern Jean-Luc Picard became captain of the Galaxy-class star ship with a young clean-shaven William Riker as his second-in-command.  Since then, Geordi, Worf, Data, Deanna and all the rest have traveled from one side of the Alpha Quadrant to the other.

Through it all I’ve grown very attached to my friends on board the Enterprise and the recurring friends who would be visited frequently.  Ah, Lwaxana Troi, Ensign Ro, Q, Miles and Keiko O’Brien, I feel like we hardly got to know each other.  And you, Guinan, Lieutenant Barclay and Gowron – what would the show have been without you?

There was a long time where I would watch one episode a week and it became my go-to show when I was folding laundry.  It was a thing to have on that I didn’t have to pay too much attention to but still managed to be interesting.

Sure, some episodes were total garbage.  Some episodes were just alright.  But some were real gems of writing, production and acting.  There are too many to fully list but episodes like Darmok, The Drumhead, Below Decks, and The Inner Light are just masterpieces of science-fiction.

It’s been quite a ride but all good things must come to an end….

ressikanflute

Fire Island Breach

One of the things I was really keen on following during Hurricane Sandy was the status of Fire Island, one of my favorite places in the world.

After the storm had passed and proved to be historically powerful, I tried to get information about how the island had fared during the storm and whether Sandy had poked a hole through the island like what happened during a nor’easter in 1931 (Moriches) and during the hurricane of 1938 (Shinnecock).  Sure enough there were several breaches in the coasts of the area, including two on Fire Island.  One breach was by Smiths Point State Park and was filled in soon after but since the Old Inlet breach is in a designated wilderness area, it has been left open.

Picture of the Old Inlet breach – photo by the National Park Service

 

The Army Corps of Engineers is slated to fill in the breach but there’s a lot of evidence that the breach has been helping the Great South Bay flush itself more regularly and is becoming cleaner.  At the same time, there’s little evidence that the breach is contributing to higher water levels or greater incidence of flooding along the south shore of Long Island.

One thing that might be a great boon if the breach is left open is the return of hard-shell clams to the Great South Bay.  Clams thrive in water with high salinity and as the bay cleans itself, they will be able to thrive.  When the clam population thrives, they will filter a greater percentage of the bay’s waters.  This would benefit everyone who lives near the bay.

For more on this:
http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2013/01/fire-island-breach-helpful/

http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newyork/explore/li-great-south-bay-shellfish-restoration.xml

http://www.nps.gov/fiis/naturescience/post-hurricane-sandy-breaches.htm

 

 

 

This is a 3D picture of the Elephant’s Trunk nebula IC-1396 located in the Cepheus constellation a couple of thousand lightyears from Earth.  The nebula contains some new stars that are only a hundred thousand years old.  Modern humans were already hanging out when these things ignited.  This picture was created by a Finnish astrophotographer named J-P Metsävainio who used pictures taken at different times and remapped it to make it move.

 

IC1396_animation2

Winterlandia

It’s winter, it’s cold.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the winter lately, what I hate about it and what I like about it.  There are certain days when I wish I was in L.A. and there are other days where I wish I was in Vermont.   There are three main varieties of cold winter days.

  • gray winter days –  these are the days when there’s a blanket of gray clouds that hovers over us.  This is distinguished from gray days in other times of the year by the visible contours of the cloud bottoms.  The yellow light of the sun might even be visible on the horizon below the blanket of clouds.  These days are the perfect compliment to a harsh urban setting.  Bleakness on top of despair.  When it’s particularly cold, you might see some flurries but it’s not a snowy weather system.
  • sunny winter days – glorious blue skies might be punctuated with puffy white clouds that are blown from northwest to southeast by a strong wind.  these clouds traveled from western New York or Canada on the back of arctic temperatures.  These days won’t erode your optimism or worsen your disposition if you remain in the sunlight.
  • snowy winter days – the moisture in the air crystallizes and you know snow will come. The clouds that loomed ominously before loose the sheen and move higher.  A stray flake might blow past you, then two, then three and then suddenly it’s snowing.  These days are best spent inside but sometimes you have to shovel the sidewalk or get your car out of the snow.

These all have their perks.  One thing that’s nice is when you’re in a warm café or restaurant and it’s so warm inside that the windows fog up.  Another thing that’s nice is eating a hearty stew like kimchi stew or Irish beef stew.  I have a tradition of watching The Empire Strikes Back on the first day that it snows (which hasn’t yet happened this winter).  I’ve been doing that since I was a kid and really having an excuse to watch one of my favorite movies.

Mostly though, I dislike the winter.  While summer seems so full of possibilities winter seems so full of hindrances.

Macaroni Renaissance

Just a couple of months ago, I made a box of macaroni and cheese and had that alone for dinner.  I ate it but felt a deep dissatisfaction.  I thought that maybe this was it – I would give up eating boxed macaroni and cheese.   It had become flat and sad and – worst of all – unpalatable.

This was no small epiphany for me.  Macaroni and cheese had long been one of my favorite dishes since I was a child.  When I was eight or nine years old I first started cooking by making boxes of Kraft.  And even as I got older and my palate became more sophisticated and I really became a decent cook, I would always come back to the box of macaroni and cheese.  And when I lived in Korea, boxes of macaroni and cheese sent by care packages became an even more potent symbol of home and comfort.  But since I’ve been back, I’ve soured on the dish.

I am sort of broke.  I don’t have a lot of money coming in and I need to be more thrifty with my food.  On my way home from my part-time job, I was debating whether I should go to the grocery store to stock-up on things.  I was sort of dreading busting out the debit card and began thinking about what I had in my kitchen and what I could possibly make.  A box of Western Beef Macaroni and Cheese, some hot dogs, an onion, a half of a bell pepper, some scallions, cream.  I started formulating an idea.  Then I got home and realized I could cook this all in one pot, add hot sauce, pepper and  put bread crumbs on top and BAKE IT.

Dios mio, man.   I don’t know which element exactly made this work so well but I’m going to try to replicate and even enhance this thing and make it a signature classic.