Talk The Talk


OK, I got a couple of requests for a report on my talk last night, so here goes.

For those who don’t know, I was asked to give a lecture at the local library last night. The library had received a grant to present a series of programs about physical fitness, and decided, this being Huntsville, that they should tie it into space, since that brings in the crowds.

They had hoped to get my co-author, astronaut Owen Garriott, to speak about his experiences living in space, but, when he declined, he recommended they contact me, so I ended up being the kick-off keynote speaker for the series.

At this point, let me point out that this was really probably my first public speaking engagement. Arguably, I might should have pointed that out before taking a slot as a keynote speaker, but that would require a degree of humility that I’m apparently incapable of. I’ve been really looking forward to giving talks when the book came out, so when they asked, and seemed like they actually wanted me to do it, I was happy to agree.

Given the focus of the series, I chose to speak about “Living In Space, Healthily — Long-Duration Spaceflight on Skylab and Beyond.” I wanted to combine the sorts of things I wrote about space history in the book with the things I write about in my day job about the present and future of exploration, so the lecture had a broad focus — NASA’s quest to learn about the physiological issues of the space environment, beginning with the early primate launches and going through humans on Mars.

I made my first-ever Powerpoint presentation for the talk, which was also an interesting experience, made much easier by the fact that I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, so I didn’t have the stress of worrying about doing it right.

I was a little nervous going into the talk. To be honest, I didn’t rehearse it, just because I was afraid doing so would feel very forced and make me more nervous; so I just chose to take the approach that it was going to be OK. By yesterday afternoon, that was sort of catching up with me a bit.

It was very wonderful, then, when the audience started coming in, and included coworkers, family, friends and improv troupemates. It was wonderful playing to home crowd, and the friendship they demonstrated by being willing to come here me lecture about space stuff put me in a great mood for the lecture.

I’d been told that the series was intended for high school students, but the audience was all almost all adults, with a few younger kids with them. I have no idea how many people were there total; the room seemed pretty full. I would guess about 50, maybe more, but I could be wrong. I made the very honest disclaimer beforehand that I’d been told the talk was for high school students, to if the lecture was limited to about a high school technical level, it’s because that’s about all I understand.

I was hugely honored to have Bob Schwinghamer in the audience, one of the engineers we interviewed for the book. It was a bit intimidating to know that there was someone there who knew way more about what I was going to be talking about than I, who could give the lecture far better than I, and would know every mistake I made. So it was also incredibly flattering when he came up to me afterwards and said I did a good job, and shared a couple of related stories.

My initial reaction was — it was far less unpleasant than I feared. In fact, it was kind of fun. I’m very passionate about the topics I was talking about, and so the opportunity to just get up and riff about it for over an hour and have a captive and at least semi-interested audience was just a really neat experience. And the audience was great, everybody was very gracious.

I was worried about length; like I said, I didn’t rehearse it, I just put together a Powerpoint that seemed like it would take me an hour to talk about. I figured if I ended a little early, it would just leave time for a Q&A. As it turned out, I should have been worried the other way — I ran about 15 minutes long, despite realizing toward the end I was running out of time and rushing through the last section of the talk. But, again, the audience was very gracious about me going long.

It was also great having both friends and strangers come up afterwards to congratulate me or ask questions about the talk. And, yes, I will have to give a strictly monkey-focused talk sometime, apparently. But that’s OK, too. It amused me a bit how many people commented on bring surprised at the humor in the talk. I get paid to be funny — why is that surprising?

Anyway, all in all, it was a good evening, and I look forward to my next talk — currently planned for March 10.

Poll


Since I heard this song this morning, and had this discussion with a friend recently, I’m opening the question up here:
The Pina Colada Song (aka Escape) — romantic, or horrible?

Never Forget


I wrote this six years ago, but thought I would share it here today:

I always feel a twinge of guilt on January 28.

I remember where I was when I heard. I wasn’t born when Kennedy was assasinated, but like most of my generation, I remember where I was when I heard that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded.

I was in the boys’ locker room for the gym at Huntsville Middle School. I was in P.E. when it happened, so I didn’t watch it. It was not until later in the day that I would first see those indelible images, and thankfully knew what to expect by the time I finally saw them. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to watch that as it happened.

I was in the boys’ locker room for the gym at Huntsville Middle School. We were getting ready, as the news began to spread. The boy that told me had not actually seen it, he had heard from someone else. Who in turn had no doubt heard from someone else. But the person who told me had no emperical knowledge, just the word of mouth he had heard.

I don’t feel the twinge of guilt because I initially scoffed at him. I feel the twinge of guilt because I think I actually did reassure him.

That he was wrong. That he had heard wrong, or the person who had told him was wrong.
Because it could not happen. It simply couldn’t.

The Space Shuttle … the Space Shuttle, among the greatest of man’s creations … does not just blow up.

It doesn’t.

I mean, for heaven’s sake, it’s the Space Shuttle.

It couldn’t happen.

But it did.

I feel a twinge of guilt every January 28 at the thought that that student, whoever he was, had to find out twice that day that Challenger had exploded.

So that’s my story. That’s where I was; that’s how I heard. Where were you?

Untitled Post


I asked. She said yes. I’m happy.

Oscar Apathy


OK, so there was a time, many many years ago, when I used to make a point to watch all five Oscar-nominated movies before the awards were announced. On a good year, I would have seen many of them even before the nominations were announced, but, living in Mississippi, it wasn’t unusual for the movies not to be playing near me until after they were nominated.

Today, though? Not so much.

Of the five movies nominated for Best Picture today, I’ve seen a grand total of one: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader and Slumdog Millionaire? Nope. ‘Fraid not.

The other interesting thing is, not only have I long been unlikely to watch the nominees, I’m curious whether my annoyance with this year’s picks is because of the Academy or because of me.

‘Cause here’s the thing? Benjamin Button was OK. But not great. And, frankly, I thought Dark Knight was a much better movie. Ditto WALL•E. (Granted, the latter is up for Best Animated Picture. And against Bolt and Kung Fu Panda, there’s no justice if it doesn’t win. But, really, I think it’s as deserving of a slot for the actual Best Picture as some other movies.)

The two things those movies have in common, though, is that they’re both genre pics. So the question is, is the academy so staid that they’re going to overlook a movie solely because it’s a genre film, or has my taste atrophied to the point where I really believe genre films are as good as Best Picture films?

(As fodder for your discussion, I watched every Best Picture in the theater from 1992 until 2000. Since then, I have only seen one Best Picture winner [not even in the theater, I haven’t even seen the others on DVD]. And that was the winner for 2003 — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.)

The New Boss


Love Story


OK, I’m not the most hip to mainstream music at the moment, so I was late catching on to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” which is apparently huge, as based on the fact that it’s on pop and country stations and a friend’s ringtone.

For those not familiar with the song, allow me to share some of the lyrics:

little did i know / that you were romeo you were throwing pebbles / and my daddy said stay away from juliet

romeo save me i’ve been feeling so alone / i keep waiting for you but you never come / is this in my head, i don’t know what to think / he knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring / marry me juliet you’ll never have to be alone / i love you and thats all I really know / i talked to your dad you’ll pick out the white dress / its a love story baby just say yes

So, basically, it’s an unironic happily-ever-after song about how they’re like Romeo and Juliet? OK, see, I’m not even expecting her to have actually, you know, read Shakespeare, but before you write a song about Romeo and Juliet, shouldn’t you at least, maybe, do the due diligence of, say, watching the 1996 Baz Luhrmann version. I mean, it’s even got Leonardo DiCaprio. And guns. And a Prince cover. She should be able to handle that. We’re not even talking about the relatively highbrow Zefferilli version or anything. I’m willing to be reasonable.

Maybe Taylor Swift would appreciate other great ideas for songs, like “Spread your wings, Icarus, and fly!” or “Mount your horses, and we’ll win the day/ Charge into battle, like the Light Brigade!”

My favorite part, though, is this nice literary reference: “cause you were romeo i was a scarlet letter” What? Really? Again, I picture a notebook somewhere in which she’s scribbled ideas: “you were agamemnon i was east of eden” “you were the great gatsby i was gone with the wind” “you were david copperfield i was lady chatterly’s lover”

That scarlet letter bit, for whatever reason, reminds me of one of my other least favorite song lyrics of the last decade, from Stone Sour’s “Through Glass”: “But no one ever tells you that forever feels like home.” You know, there may be a good reason for that; perhaps the same reason that no one ever tells you “solace tastes like distance” or “the past smells like family.”

OK, enough crotchitiness.