Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Man on the Moon

40 years ago yesterday and today* I was a 14 year old geek, glued to a B&W TV set watching grainy pictures of Neil and Buzz on the Moon. I also remember feeling profoundly sorry for Michael Collins (yes, I remember the names) orbiting the scene in the command module being more or less forgotten. I remember Armstrong and Aldrin landing the Eagle manually when the automatic systems failed. I remember the tears in my eyes when the words "Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed" skipped across the intervening 250,000 miles in just over a second.
As a geeky science-nut, I loved the whole US space programme. Mercury to Gemini to Apollo. I remember going to church to pray for the brave guys of Apollo 1 (Grissom, White and Chaffee) who died fighting the flames inside their capsule. I held my breath for days with Apollo 13 (Lovell, Swigert and Haise). I was in church again on their safe return.
Apollo was certainly "one small step for man" but the "giant leap for mankind" became a kind of cul-de-sac road to nowhere. As a now aged geeky science-nut, I hope they/us/somebody has the vision and expanse of ambition to get us moving again in space.
Let's go to Mars.

* I was in Australia at the time and although the landing was made on 20th July in US time, it was already the 21st in Australia. This is why I get this question wrong playing Trivial Pursuit.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Holiday Reading

I thought I might let you know what I have read this past fortnight. At present I am reading The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. It is much more whimsical than meteorological and contains much that is (as one might expect) nebulous and hazy. Not a bad read though.
Unlike The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I like to read "science classics" and my reading of this was long overdue. Dawkins is enormously fond of himself and tramples the painstaking work of others under his heavy boots with ne'er a care. All the number games he plays to show how genes are selfish are interesting but, frankly, bollocks. He dismisses incest very lightly and yet this is the obvious way for selfish genes to maintain their presence. I know that that leads to deformities etc. etc. but the genes don't know that. An irritating read.
Lastly, The Incredible Human Journey by Alice Roberts. Brilliant. Couldn't put it down. Cover to cover in two days and getting ready to do it all again. Not enough on the whole mitochondrial DNA thing for me but beautifully written in a really engaging style.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Flight to (and from) Egypt

There comes a point in any journey where you think "This is dragging on a bit..."
On a low-cost airline, I think this point comes (for me, anyway) exactly 2hrs 7min into the flight. With a posh carrier (I recently did Newcastle to Hong Kong on Emirates, for example) this point is beyond the length of the journey; it never comes.
With Jet2.com from Manchester to Taba (Egypt) I was wishing my life away at exactly 2hrs 7min. The problem was that I had slightly under 3 hours to go. On the return flight (which took 45 minutes longer than the 5hrs out) I hit the 2hrs 7min point even harder in the knowledge that Manchester was 3hrs 38min away. I had refused my "meal" (airline food: oxymoron). I needed to remain sober so that I could drive home when we landed. My 1.5 litre bottle of water (with the unfortunate name, for water, of Siwa) was draining quickly. Life ebbed away. Mine.
Still; mustn't grumble...

The Flight to Egypt

To avoid the massacre of the innocents, the Gospels tell us that Joseph, Mary and Jesus nipped off into Egypt for a while then returned to Nazareth by another way, suggested by an angel.
Having just returned from the Sinai one is tempted to say: WHAT?!
Walking twenty paces from our air-conditioned room to the pool was hellish. A full-blown journey across Sinai must have been dreadful. The Sinai peninsula is like the moon. The daytime heat was astonishing. Nothing grows there. Everything dies there.
I think we can learn several things from the Gospel story.
Firstly, God is not a great planner. Putting his infant son in danger by (a) allowing the massacre of the innocents and (b) having Joe and Mary trudge across Sinai was not the hallmark of a forward thinker. Secondly, angels; surely they have more power than to act like a biblical streetmap.co.uk? Give them a hand for God's sake! She's just had a baby!
Thirdly, and I think most importantly, we should seriously consider canonising their donkey. That poor little beast took them all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, then back home again (by a different route). Awesome.
St Donkey, patron saint of SatNav.