Well, I imagine my Loyal Readers are probably wondering how the eye surgery went. I intend to write in detail about the procedure, as well as the experience of being able to see without spectacles again for the first time in 21 years, but for now I’ll just say everything seems to have gone very satisfactorily. At my post-op examination this morning, my optometrist said I’m seeing at 20/20 in both eyes, although that will fluctuate a bit over the next couple of months before finally settling into whatever it’s going to be permanently. The biggest problem thus far has been all the eye drops I’m required to administer; seems like all I’ve been doing for nearly 24 hours is putting drops in my eyes. But that’s a small price to pay in exchange for the experience I had yesterday of glancing out my kitchen window when I got home and finding myself able to read the billboard in the back of the old pickup parked up the street, which one of the neighbors uses to advertise his window-installation business. That was almost as big a revelation as that moment 21 years ago when I first noticed the trees on the ridgeline.
In any event, I’ve got the day off work today and I’m just taking it easy, lounging around the house and doing my eyedrops every couple of hours, as instructed. Given the circumstances, I can’t think of any video selection more fitting than this one:
I first came across this video during the big online outpouring of love and grief at Leonard Nimoy’s passing back in February, but I decided not to post it then because this blog was threatening to turn into “all Leonard, all the time.” I’m informed by fairly reliable sources (i.e., my lovely Anne) that this song by Bruno Mars — appropriately called “The Lazy Song” — was very popular a few years ago, but honestly (and probably not at all surprising to my Loyal Readers) I can’t recall ever hearing it before. As it happens, I kinda dig it… it’s cute, in a hipster-slacker kind of way. And the video absolutely cracks me up, and makes me miss Leonard — the friend I never really knew, the neighbor I never actually had — all over again.
As to how a respected elder celebrity like Nimoy ended up peeing in the sink and all those other terrible things that ran so counter to his public image (which is largely why this video is so funny after all), he explained it in another video clip that can be found on Facebook, but the short version is this:
His step-son Aaron Bay Schuck (whose father is the actor John Schuck, who appeared in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which Leonard directed) is a record-label executive who works with Bruno Mars. Bruno wanted Leonard in his video and asked Aaron if that was a possibility. A couple of phone calls later, and voila! It’s all about who you know, as they say.
Hope you all enjoyed it, and hope you all have a great weekend. I’m going to spend some time looking out the window at things I couldn’t see without aid before yesterday…
I had just turned twenty-four years old, and I walked into the DMV to renew my driver’s license. I walked out a half-hour later with a mandate that changed my life. I’d flunked the eye exam and would now be required by The Man to start wearing eyeglasses. At least if I wanted to keep driving under legal sanction.
I don’t think I’d been so close to throwing an all-out tantrum since I was ten. I remember stomping out of the drab institutional government building that afternoon pissed off at everything I could think of: the DMV, the State of Utah, the uncaring bureaucratic functionaries who’d delivered the news, the soul-crushing reality that, even at 24, I was getting older… I was mad at the entire fracking universe, really. I hated the idea of having to wear glasses, just hated it. Glasses didn’t fit my self-image or my idea of “cool.” Sure, Indiana Jones occasionally donned a set of readers when he wanted to study a Grail tablet or something close up, but that was different. Not like wearing the damn things all the time. None of the action heroes and matinee idols I, in my naive insecurity, wanted to be more like wore glasses. (This was the early ’90s, before they became a near-ubiquitous fashion accessory.) They still carried the taint of bookish nerdism to them (the fact that I was a bookish nerd was irrelevant; I didn’t want to look like one), and in my mind I could hear every playground taunt of “Four Eyes!” I’d ever overheard.
In addition, they were an added expense I didn’t want to pay (I didn’t have a lot of money in those days and was very conscious of where it went). Yearly exams, frames, lenses… I didn’t know how much exactly those things cost, but I figured they were pretty pricey. (That’s the one thought I had that day that turned out to be correct.) But I think the thing that most troubled me was that I hadn’t realized I needed them at all, and I was embarrassed about it. What kind of a schmuck can’t tell his own vision is going? Hell, in my job as a movie-theater projectionist, I’d been getting a lot of calls recently from ushers down on the floor that the movies were out of focus, but I’d dismissed them. The movies looked fine to me. But it was true. Apparently, my vision had deteriorated so slowly that I just didn’t notice. And now I had egg on my face. A lot of it, in my mind.
In short, being told I needed glasses had bruised my ego. And I’ll be honest… I never really got over it.
I’ve been wearing glasses for nearly 22 years now, damn near half my life, and even though I long ago got used to the idea, I still don’t like it. Oh, sure, it was like some kind of miracle the first time I put them on and saw that there were, in fact, trees on the mountain ranges that encircle my valley home — I’d long believed they were just bare rock — but somewhere, deep in the back of my mind, some little part of me still thinks “this isn’t really you…”
It’s not that I think I look bad in glasses. Quite the contrary, once I figured out that spending a little extra money on better quality and more fashionable styles was worth it, I’ve been relatively content with my appearance. But it’s not how I want to look, if that makes sense. And the glasses themselves are a pain in the butt. I’m always conscious of their presence, always. I worry about losing them, breaking them, scratching them. When it rains or snows, they get spotted. When I kiss my girl, they get smudged. I risk the frames getting bent if I hug somebody at the wrong angle, or fall asleep on the couch with my face down on the armrest. I can’t easily back up a car the way I was taught, by looking back over my shoulder, because I end up looking half through the lenses and half over the top of them, meaning my depth perception is all screwed up. I hate how they fog up when I come inside after being outdoors on a cold day. I hate how they hang off my face when I bend over, and sometimes will jiggle a bit and make me dizzy. I hate how, when I’m doing yardwork on a hot day, they’ll slide down my nose or catch droplets of sweat in the lenses. I hate that I have to spare a second (and a hand) to pop them off when I’m putting on or taking off a t-shirt. When Anne and I went on a snowmobiling expedition through Yellowstone a few winters ago, trying to wear the glasses and a helmet was uncomfortable as hell. And I haven’t enjoyed amusement park rides in years, partly because I’m getting old and everything makes me woozy now, but a big issue is worrying about my glasses flying off.
I realize these are all petty complaints, especially in return for being able to clearly see, a gift that many people in the developing world — or even poor people in our own first world — don’t have the luxury of complaining about. But I won’t apologize for complaining about this. And assuming everything goes well today, I won’t have to anymore.
I’ve been thinking about getting LASIK corrective surgery for years, but I kept putting it off for various reason. It was too expensive, or too inconvenient to take a couple days off work for the recovery, or it was just plain too scary to think of some quack firing an energy beam into my one and only pair of baby browns. On some level, I think I felt that I didn’t really deserve to do it because my motivation was vanity. I’ve always thought cosmetic surgery was largely unjustified, and what is this if not another form of cosmetic surgery?
Then a couple weeks ago, I opened the dishwasher right after it completed its cycle and got a faceful of steam. Naturally, my glasses fogged over, leaving me completely blind for 30 seconds or so… and that was the final straw. I didn’t get angry or anything, but I just decided right then and there that I was sick of wearing these damn things. My optometrist had mentioned on my last visit that I was a good candidate for LASIK if I wanted to consider it, but I hadn’t followed through on his referral. Now I was ready. So I scheduled an evaluation with Hoopes Vision, the most-often namechecked LASIK provider in Utah, and — to cut at long last to the chase — I’m going in today at 1:30 to have the procedure.
I’ll be honest, I’m nervous as hell. The first image that jumped into my mind once my appointment was confirmed was this:
Followed closely by this:
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve had LASIK — it’s funny how once you start talking about something like this, fellow travelers seem to come out of the woodwork — and with only one or two exceptions, nobody has reported any problems at all, and even the ones who had a setback told me they didn’t regret doing the surgery in the end. But still… lasers… in the eyes… I don’t really think I’ll end up with smoking craters where my eye sockets used to be, but…
Sometimes a vivid imagination is a real curse.
Funny thing, though: the day of my evaluation appointment, a few hours after I got home from the clinic, I was leaving the bathroom and reached out to turn off the lights when I heard something clunk into the waste basket and suddenly my vision went blurry. It turned out the frame of my glasses had spontaneously snapped and one of the lens had tumbled into the trash. Now, if that wasn’t some kind of a sign, I don’t know what is…
A last couple of space-related tidbits before I get my mind onto something else:
First, this week is the 45th anniversary of the infamous Apollo 13 moon mission, when a familiar tale of exploration and adventure took an abrupt turn and became one of the greatest survival stories in human history. If you’ve seen the excellent Apollo 13 movie starring Tom Hanks, you know basically what happened: when astronaut Jack Swigert flipped a switch to stir the slushy contents of the spacecraft’s main liquid oxygen tank — a completely routine operation that should’ve been about as exciting as turning on the lights — an electrical fault caused the tank to explode. The resulting damage was severe enough, the situation dire enough, that the three men aboard barely made it back to Earth with their lives. But what exactly led to that disastrous electrical fault? io9 has posted a fascinating rundown of the chain of events — essentially, it was one dumb little coincidence after another, piling on top of each other until some kind of failure became almost inevitable. Most chilling of all is the note that timing was everything; if the explosion had happened sooner in the flight or later, those three brave men wouldn’t have had a chance. Give it a read.
And finally, there’s this:
That’s the first color photo of the dwarf planet Pluto and its satellite Charon (Pluto is the larger blob on the right) taken by the New Horizons space probe last week. New Horizons has been hurtling toward a rendezvous with these twin worlds at the edge of our solar system for nearly 10 years, and it’s still 71 million miles away from them. But it’s closing fast, and will fly past these icy little rocks (as well as Pluto’s other four moons) on July 14th, giving us our first really good look at what used to considered the ninth planet of our system before its controversial downgrade from planet status. Planet or not, I’ve wondered what Pluto really looks like since reading Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel in the fifth grade. I’m looking forward to this one…
National Geographic has the details on that photo, and the New Horizons mission, here.
Yesterday was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for space nerds, as Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched another mission to the International Space Station, the sixth of 12 flights the company is contracted to fulfill. Aboard the Dragon spacecraft this time was 4,300 pounds of supplies, experiments, and the first-ever orbital espresso machine, which of course has been dubbed the “ISSpresso.” I have no idea how such a thing is going to work in zero-gravity — it would be very bad to have a cloud of hot steam drifting around the station, I think — but it amuses me to think of such a homey touch being added to our outpost on the edge of the final frontier. Because really, who doesn’t want a nice hot beverage at the end of a long day of exploration and experimentation?
The launch itself was flawless after being pushed back a day due to weather concerns:
However, as inspiring and lovely as that was, the part of the launch that was most interesting (to me at least) ended in a spectacular failure. For the second time, SpaceX attempted to bring the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster rocket back to Earth under its own power and land it on an unmanned sea-going platform. The idea, if this system can be perfected, is to someday have the boosters return to the launch site and “soft-land,” so they can be easily refurbished, refueled and used again at an enormous cost saving over today’s “use ‘em and toss ‘em” paradigm. You know, the same thing the space shuttles were supposed to do but never quite managed.
Anyhow, the first try at a powered soft landing back in January ended in a fireball when the rocket came in on an angle and struck the deck of the platform barge, a failure that was later attributed to the vehicle running low on the hydraulic fluid that operated its control fins. For yesterday’s effort, the rocket was equipped with a larger supply of fluid, which helped it reach the target… but unfortunately, it toppled over after touchdown, resulting in yet another “rapid unscheduled disassembly”:
Failure or not, though, I find that video pretty exciting. The rocket is not under remote control during these landing attempts; it’s autonomous, and its downright astounding to me that it found its way to a relatively tiny barge without any human help. The only problem that I can see is that it came down too fast, something that surely can be adjusted on subsequent attempts. Keep in mind that NASA blew up several rockets during the ramp-up to actually flying a man during Project Mercury, and this was only SpaceX’s second try. I’m confident — okay, I’m hopeful — that they can make this work. In part, because reusability has been the goal in spaceflight for decades, and it’s about damn time somebody figures out how to do it, but mostly, to be honest, because I just really like the idea of a rocket landing on its tail like the spaceships in all those old movies from the 1950s. I’ll bet Elon Musk saw all those flicks as a kid, too…
The next attempt will take place as part of the resupply mission scheduled for June.
Speaking of Mars, I’m sure my Loyal Readers are aware of all the chatter about the possibility of sending human beings to the Red Planet. Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin has been an indefatigable advocate for a Mars mission, speaking before Congress on the subject only last month, selling t-shirts that say “Get Your Ass to Mars” from his online store (I have one myself! Lots of fun in conservative Salt Lake City!), and wearing one of those shirts alongside Stonehenge in a photograph that became a viral sensation. Billionaire Elon Musk has said flat-out that the ultimate goal of his SpaceX company is to put people on Mars within a decade. And the Mars One foundation is currently winnowing thousands of applications for a one-way colonization mission.
It’s all been very exciting for an old space nerd like myself, but just recently, it seems as if the voices of the naysayers have been getting louder. They point out, quite correctly, that there are a lot of technical problems with a flight to Mars that make the Apollo missions look like a stroll in the park, and that we now know the fourth planet of our system to be far less hospitable than all those golden-age sci-fi novelists like Robert Heinlein imagined. The Mars One mission, according to these wet blankets, is nothing less than a very expensive way to commit suicide. There is an argument forming that Mars is simply no place for human beings.
But what if there is an alternative destination to consider? Another world that is, relatively speaking, more hospitable? But not at the surface… rather… someplace higher up in the atmosphere…
A fascinating idea, no? Cloud City was always my favorite location in the original trilogy… wouldn’t it be something to create an analog of that? Aside from the drifting clouds of sulfuric acid, of course, but hey, that’s better than heavy radiation. It amazes me that so much of what filled my imagination as a child is turning out to be… well, at least plausible.
One of the great success stories of interplanetary exploration, the Mars Opportunity rover is still chugging away up there on the Red Planet, snapping photos and making discoveries eleven years after the start of what was only supposed to be a 90-day mission. The little guy has begun showing his age in almost human-like ways — just recently, Opportunity has been experiencing some memory problems — but generally speaking, the rover is in good shape and could keep going indefinitely. So naturally NASA is considering shutting it down so its budget can be redirected to other programs. I can see the cold-blooded logic behind the proposal, but it strikes me as a downright tragic way to end such an incredible adventure.
Of course, that’s assuming that Opportunity doesn’t already have plans of its own…
SamuraiFrog posted this image some time ago, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. It’s pretty evocative of how I’ve been feeling the past few weeks:
For the record, I like my job. I honestly do, in spite of my periodic bouts of bitching about it. The griping and moaning I do here and on social media and in person to anyone who will listen is just my way of blowing off steam when I get stressed out. It’s purely reflexive, and admittedly kind of childish, and I often end up doing a lot of apologizing after the storm passes. The truth is, I work for a good company that offers a lot of perks; I have a boss whom I trust to have my back when necessary; and I seem to have a knack for what I actually do. I’m coming up on my ten-year anniversary with this company — ten years, the longest I’ve ever worked in one place, longer than I ever dreamed I would work in one place — so obviously it must be a fairly good match for me. Nevertheless, this job takes a lot out of me, both in terms of time and spirit, and I can’t pretend that I don’t feel frustrated about that. Between the hours I spend in the office and the time I lose to the damn commute — which must be counted against the work side of the work/life equation, because I certainly wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t have to — there just aren’t very many minutes left at the end of the day to spend on my own pursuits. I exist in a constant state of low-level anxiety, always conscious of the clock ticking, always feeling like there’s something else I ought to be doing, no matter what I actually am doing, because the to-do list is just so bloody long. I never feel caught up, or like I’ve really accomplished anything. Even when I do find some leisure time, I don’t seem capable of actually enjoying it anymore, because I feel guilty whenever I’m not doing something that can be described as productive. I can’t tell you the last time I wiled away a carefree afternoon reading, or watched a movie all the way through in one sitting without feeling antsy.
And that’s at the best of times, when the assembly line is running at a steady but not-too-intense pace. When things heat up, as they’ve been for the past couple weeks… when I start feeling like I can’t get away from my desk because there are too many items in the inbox and they’re all due by EOD, and the new work requests just keep piling up… when I can’t spare the time to go for my customary glucose-busting afternoon walk — a vital and anticipated part of my day ever since I was diagnosed with the ‘betes — well, that’s when I start to feel like this adult-responsibility stuff is grinding me up inside and making me lose touch with the person I really am, or at least the one I used to be, or maybe the one I wanted to be, because all I am managing to do with my life is keep the cogs turning. And that’s when I can’t help but start to bitch.
Incidentally, this isn’t about the number of hours I work. I know that lots of people work long hours, and that many folks log far more of them than I do. (Of course I know, because they all hasten to tell me about it anytime I raise the subject; I hate that I can’t mention the work/life thing without it turning into some kind of competition to see who’s the biggest grind, which completely misses the point and only reinforces my certainty that we live in a deeply sick society filled with people who suffer from some kind of Stockholm syndrome informed by the Protestant work ethic.) And if I’m being honest, I’m not called upon to work nearly as many late nights as I was a few years ago. These days, I very rarely get held up past my usual quitting time. Nevertheless, there have been many evenings, especially lately, when I’ve felt as if I’ve put in an 18-hour day. I don’t think people understand how fatiguing it can be to proofread all day long. I so often find myself slumped on the hard-as-a-plank bench seat on that hateful train, rolling for home, watching the sun sink behind the mountains to my right with their yellow-and-orange skirts of waste ore from the mine where my dad spent 36 years of his life, and wondering what the hell I’m doing wrong. At those moments, I usually find myself trying to remember what I used to imagine my adult life was going to be like, back when I was young and anything seemed possible.
What I mostly remember is that I thought my life would be relatively relaxed. Not easy, just… not infused with this unending worry that I don’t have enough time — that I won’t live long enough — to get it all done. I think I must’ve dreamed it would look something like one of those old Taster’s Choice commercials, all golden-hour lighting and bare feet on wood floors and a sense of tranquil unhurriedness. I never imagined that one day I would have to schedule times to call my distant friends on the phone, because we’re so damn busy the odds of catching each other at home are next to nil. Or that I would have a basement filled with books that I’ve never gotten around to reading, and the guilt and regret I carry around because of it. That I would feel genuine shame at how long it’s been since I managed to write even a shitty little blog entry, let alone a good one, or a sense of loss for the audience that I fear has largely evaporated.
And then there are the novels I was going to write. Did you know I once dreamed of being the next Stephen King? Yeah… that didn’t happen, did it?
I never careened down a grassy hillside in a little child’s wagon with a stuffed tiger for a companion. But I know exactly what that image up there at the top of this post is depicting.
Well those drifter’s days are past me now
I’ve got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out
Against the wind
I’m still runnin’ against the wind
I’m older now but still running
Against the wind
Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind,” if you don’t recognize it. A song that has been haunting me a bit the last couple of weeks.
And now there are only seven hours until I have to get back on the treadmill again. And in the meantime, I’ve got a dishwasher to empty, and chores to take care of before bed, and outside the wind is rising…
[Ed. Note: This post is going to be a little on the self-indulgent side -- okay, a lot -- and all in service of a punchline that's probably not nearly as funny as I think it is, so I apologize in advance.]
I really like the current look of my blog, with one exception: when you’re looking at the home page, with its long scroll of recent entries, there’s nothing to indicate whether anyone has commented on any of those entries unless you actually go into the individual entry page. Consequently, I wonder if people don’t realize there’s more going on “in the back room,” so to speak, and are missing out on things that get said there. (Not that there’s ever much going on back there these days; Simple Tricks isn’t quite the happening place it used to be, sadly. A topic for another time perhaps.)
In any event, there was an exchange in the comments on my last entry, the one about running across the tribute to Nimoy in the report I was proofreading, that I thought was pretty funny and ought to be more widely seen.
Basically, after I remarked that the tribute wasn’t such a surprise after all, given that the report’s writers were IT people (i.e., nerds), and that Nimoy had made quite an impact, my friend Jaren came back with, “The grouch in me thinks that his impact on IT will be minimal until we figure out just what he was looking at in his blue monitor box on the bridge. And until I get one myself.”
What Jaren is talking about is, of course, the viewing device that Spock was frequently seen examining at his bridge station on the original Star Trek, which I would say is probably one of the iconic visuals of that series, right up there with the Enterprise firing her main phasers:
As Jaren suggests, we never saw what it was Spock was looking at in there, or what this viewing device did that was any different or better than a simple monitor screen built into the console would be capable of. It was presumably some sort of computer interface or radar-type scanning scope (or both), as Spock would look into it and then recite some useful information. (Remember, the original series was made at a time when CRT-style monitors were enormous things, and nobody had any idea what an actual computer interface looked like anyhow, so I imagine this little personal viewer thingie must’ve seemed pretty futuristic.) But we never actually knew.
This has led to a lot of mildly risque jokes over the years about Spock surreptitiously watching dancing girls, old-fashioned peep shows, or even out-and-out porn (and this started years before watching porn at work became a real-world problem– once again, Star Trek predicted the future!). There’s even a clever (but in my opinion too long and kinda tedious) YouTube video suggesting that Facebook still exists in the 23rd century… and is as big a distraction as ever.
But I believe all these theories are completely up in the night. Like I told Jaren, we all know what he’s really watching in that thing, don’t we?
Yeah, okay, too much setup for something that maybe isn’t that funny. But hey, it amused me. And after the day I’ve had today, and the week I anticipate having starting tomorrow… well, I’ll take whatever amusement I can bloody well get…
So I’m at work right now, proofreading a monstrous technicalreport about online security, and I was just caught completely off-guard by this passage in the report’s introduction:
One final note before we dive into the breaches: The [XYZ] team wished to mark the passing of Leonard Nimoy, as that event came during the creation of this report. We will all miss his humor, talent, and inspiration.
I guess it’s not such a surprising thing to include, considering the milieu from which this report originated (the IT field), but still… he really did make quite an impact, didn’t he?