28 Days of Inspiration – Day 19

New Horizons

The New Horizons spacecraft was part of a program initiated in 2001 and was launched on January 19, 2006 to begin its approach and fly by  of the Pluto system some nine years later on January 15, 2015.  On July 14, 2015 it began it’s exploration of the dwarf planet, and this past week, 469 days hence on October 25, 2016 its final images of the July 14 exploration was received by NASA.

Some 50-Million gigabits of data from New Horizons have now traveled the 3.1-Billion miles back to Earth. Consider that: 50-Million giabits of data is the equivalent of 6.25-Million Gigabytes.  Your couple year old notebook computer may have a 500-GB harddrive.

Consider the possibilities: For the first time in Human history, we’re seeing up close pictures of a terrestrial body more 3-Billion miles away from us.  On that July day in 2015, something built on and launched from our little planet Earth soared 7,750 miles above the dwarf planet Pluto taking pictures.  The distance between Boston and New Delhi, India is a little less than 7200 miles.  New Horizons was about the radius of our planet away from Pluto.

Why Pluto?

Our solar system contains three zones: the inner, rocky planets; the gas giant planets; and the Kuiper Belt. Pluto is one of the largest bodies of the icy, “third zone” of our solar system. In the early 2000s, the National Academy of Sciences placed the exploration of the third zone in general – and Pluto-Charon in particular – among its highest priority planetary mission rankings for the coming decade. New Horizons is NASA’s mission to fulfill this objective.

We’ve learned Pluto is far more complex an environment than we’d imagined.  Pluto and Charon combine into a “binary system,” and while relatively common in the galaxy, we’d never explored one.  We have more information that suggests is more water ice on Pluto than we had thought and we know that the red cap at the north pole of Charon is trapped methane gas.

When I was growing up, I thought of Pluto as this strange, far flung rock of a planet, perhaps not unlike the Star Wars ice planet of Hoth.  My boyhood imagination was captured by space and the thoughts of space travel.  That there may be other worlds on which to put our feet down.  We are still years, decades away perhaps, from landing a man on Mars – a grave disappointment for a middle aged man growing up with thoughts of intergalactic travel – but it’s so incredible to me to be able to see photographs of a planet so far away.  It makes it so concrete and real that in this age of almost instantaneous communication that it could take over a year to send images from one place to another.

NASA describes this data as a treasure-trove.  I submit its far greater than that; I submit that it is the cause of generations of people to look toward the sky and dream of what still further treasures lie beyond that 3.1-Billion miles waiting to be seen by us.

 

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 6

George Washington Carver

When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.

images-of-lynne-carverHistory remembers this man for his work with peanuts, but the backstory behind his breakthrough work is even more inspirational.  How he came to be in position to help those less fortunate, the rural poor and in the process perhaps saved the economy of the south. His family divided by slavery – we don’t even know his actual birth date or exactly who his father was; indeed “Carver” is the family name of the slaveholders who owned him and his family.

He was kidnapped along with his mother and sister from the plantation where the family were slaves, but only he was found and returned.  He was a sickly child and not very strong, as such the slaveholders kept him in the farmhouse and taught him to read, eventually sending him to school and later moving off the farm to go to high school.

Upon graduating from high school, and determined to engage a college education he applied for and was denied entrance to school owing to his race.  He worked odd jobs – farmhand, railroad work – to save money for that education, eventually enrolling at the first black student at Simpson College in Iowa where he was encouraged to enroll at what is now Iowa State University to study botany. Six years after starting his collegiate journey, he earned his Bachelor’s degree, and two years later a Masters’ Degree.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgewash106292.html

An inspirational story in and of itself, but there’s more.

He gave up his faculty position and its trappings, to go to work for the first African American college in the country, the Tuskegee Institute, to teach former slaves and where he developed work on crop rotation, rotating cotton and peanuts.  When peanut inventories grew too high and prices dropped, he developed 300 different products for their use and demand soared.

An uncommon man, at the time of his death, he left his entire life savings to the Tuskegee Institute.  He spent his life in dedication to others leveraging the education he had worked so hard to achieve.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Carver

http://www.biography.com/people/george-washington-carver-9240299

http://www.tuskegee.edu/about_us/legacy_of_fame/george_w_carver.aspx

The Night Sky

This image of the “Pleiades Cluster”, or “Seven Sisters” as it is sometimes known, is one of the brightest open clusters to exist near our solar system, as well as one of the few clusters that can be seen with the naked eye.

Here’s what I appreciate about the night sky:  On a clear night, there’s a clear picture.  And here’s what it says about life to me.

From a distance, all these bodies are about the same size with only slight deviations – some are brighter, some are slightly more tinted in color, but they’re all about the same size to the human eye.  It’s our proximity to these objects that skew our perception: from our vantage point the moon – a body 27% the size of our own planet – is roughly the same size as our sun, an object 100 times the diameter of our own planet.  Jupiter, a planet 2.5 times larger than the rest of the planets, looks like a shiny dot in the sky, and about the same size as Mars.   On a really clear night, you may be able to see one arm of the Milky Way galaxy across the sky…but only one arm.

We see the stars organized as patters in the sky – Orion, the Great Bear – but at the end of the day, their alignment in these shapes are created by our view from our place in the universe.

Our proximity, or lack there of, creates a bias and an inability to see magnitude in the big picture.  We see patterns where none exist, we misjudge size.  When we’re so deeply involved in a situation, we overestimate the importance; when we’re invested in a situation, we create patterns where they may or may not exist.   When we look at the sky, we see millions of similar individuals in the sky when in reality they represent a diversity of size, color, depth, and magnitude.  Our sun is the most important star in the sky, it heats our planet and makes life possible; in reality its a mid-range yellow star with no particular features.  Its our dependence on this object that makes it important.

Yet, from a distance, we only see similarities.  Only barely detectable to the eye are the differences between Red Giants and White Dwarfs.  Betelgeuse has a detectable red hue to it if you’re paying attention.  Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, but how many of us could pick it out?  All those distinctions get lost in our distances.

How many times do we let distractions close to us cloud us from the larger picture – nearby lights or a cloudy, overcast sky that keeps us from seeing the stars at night?  Not unlike our every day life.

I appreciate the night sky.  It gives me a little perspective, perhaps because of the utter lack of proportion it shows us.  You can look out over millions of years, millions of light-year distances and see only similarities in the aggregate with the odd-outlier standing out among the many.   I don’t wonder about other life or about the vagueries of the universe, I’m far more simple than that.  The night sky puts much of human interaction into perspective as a function of our lack of perspective in the night sky.

Randomness vs. Luck

Randomness. It’s the concept that allows for the possibility “000000” will come up in a random number generator, or that your older iPod would play the same song twice in a row  (Apple has since modified the “shuffle” feature so it’s actually a little LESS random). It’s the 1 in 195,249,054 chance your PowerBall ticket will have all 5-numbers plus the powerball. In the entirety of baseball history, only one record has been set that couldn’t be predicted by randomness — Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, this according to Leonard Mlodinow in The Drunkards Walk.

In Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin, it becomes clear that intelligence is not the major driving force behind success, and in Outliers Malcolm Gladwell makes clear that what makes an outlier is positioning oneself within one’s time to take advantage of opportunities. In retrospect, success appears guaranteed. In reality, it’s all in the positioning to best take advantage of opportunities — in essence to place yourself in position to be that 1 in 195,249,054, to make the most of your randomly chosen opportunity.

We cannot control randomness. We can position ourselves to take advantage of those random opportunities which present themselves to take us to where we want to go. I was a college undergraduate and an underclassman at that, struggling to put together a full time schedule when I enrolled in a 300-level course without having taken the prerequisite. On the first day of class, I arrived with my add/drop slip in hand, hoping that I could get signed into a course I had to take and get signed out of this course. From the first moments of that course, I was captivated by the professor and his enthusiasm for the course material. I not only put the add/drop slip away, I decided that I was going to take this course regardless of obstacles because it was interesting as hell, and thus set forth the direction of my undergraduate education, graduate education, and my career path.

My entire adult life was shaped by my scheduling this class in which I was presumably over my head, but by which I was completely captivated. But for my need to build a full time course load for the semester, I may still be wondering what I want to do with my life some 20-odd years later.

I was attending this school because I didn’t get into my first choice, and since I was paying my own way through school, I needed a state college. I applied to this school because my friend, whom I met because we both happened to be working in the same shopping mall while I was in high school, was going there.

Because I had done well in my undergraduate courses, and because I happened to stumble upon a recruitment brochure for a graduate program hanging in the psychology department offices, I applied to a school with which none of my professors was acquainted and was granted what was tantamount to a free ride. A completely random chain of events, and without any one of these myriad things happening, my life would certainly have been different.

There’s no good luck or bad luck. Things happen more or less on a predictable basis. Sooner or later, someone will buy that 1 in 195,249,054 lottery ticket. It’s not luck, it’s probability no matter how remote that event will happen, and the person to whom it happens is completely random. And guess what? The odds that it will happen to you specifically are even longer than that it will happen to someone in general.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Because they’re random events, and sooner or later it has to happen to someone. There’s only one way to weigh the odds more heavily in your favor and that is to best position yourself to take advantage of opportunities. You cannot be the 1 in 195,249,954 if you have not even bought a ticket.