Ten Years of iPhone


The first iPhone was released 10 years ago Thursday.

I didn’t buy one that day. I waited two days.

I did, out of curiosity, go to the AT&T store on release day – this was before there was an Apple store locally – but the line was so long I wouldn’t have been able to get into the store before I had to be at an improv show that night. In my head, I was just going because I wanted to see one; I’m not sure if I would have bought one that night or not.

This was, after all, back before carrier subsidies and installment plans and the like, if you wanted an iPhone, you paid the full, rather-substantial price of the iPhone.

Honestly, I really didn’t know why I wanted one. As a long-time Mac fan, back before Apple had the brand power it does today, there was a general trust that it would be worthwhile. But there was also a sense that there were intangibles here that I couldn’t fully appreciate. So I bought one.

And I was right. The moment it clicked, I was shopping for groceries. The store’s radio started playing Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night.” There was a line in the song I couldn’t understand, and I went through this frequent cycle of wanting to know what the lyric was but being in a place where I was not able to look it up, to being in a place where I was able to look it up but not remembering that I wanted to, to hearing it again and being frustrated that I never remembered to find out what it was. And on that day, not long after I got my iPhone, I was buying groceries, and I heard the song, and I wondered what the lyric was. And I pulled out my phone, and I looked it up. And in that moment, I began to realize what this device was that I had purchased. Knowledge, unchained.

I was slower to get an iPad, suspecting that it would prove to be exactly what I thought it would be. The Apple Watch was more like the iPhone experience – I didn’t know what it was going to be for me, but I suspected it would be for me something I didn’t know, which has proven to be the case, particularly in the health area, which I didn’t think I would care about at all, but has turned out to play a big role in losing weight.

Ten years later, I’ve been through a series of iPhones. That first one still works. And it remains the bar for new technology – Good technology does exactly what you wanted it to do. Great technology does the things you never knew you needed.

Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month: The Monster She Fights


img_6334

Yesterday began Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month.

Appropriately enough, Rebecca Hitt and I spent the day in Cullman for what could possibly be her last MS treatment. Possibly. Hopefully.

Rebecca’s experience with multiple sclerosis isn’t really a secret, but it’s not something we talk about a lot either. Honestly, it’s just sort of something that is.

She’s fortunate. We’re fortunate. If you follow us on Facebook, Rebecca doesn’t seem like someone struggling. We live full lives. There are people who have struggles with MS far far greater than she does. For Rebecca, it manifests in many “little” ways — heat can be more oppressive, she feels random constricting, her balance wanes randomly. It’s not always there, but it’s always nearby.

It’s easy not to know it. I respect her greatly for that. I’m half a foot taller than Rebecca. When we walk side by side, for every three steps I take, she takes four. You don’t notice it, but she’s always working a little bit harder. For those around her, that’s what her MS is like. She’s walking beside you, and you never notice how much more she puts into it than you, how much harder she works for it than you. It’s easy to miss. She makes it easy to miss. I’m proud of how brave she is. I’m proud of the positive attitude with which she undertakes her days.

For others, MS is a very different thing. They can’t walk beside you, because they can’t walk. It’s a condition that manifests itself in so many different ways. For some, it’s unnoticeable for years. For others, it’s crippling from its first appearance. We’re fortunate that hers is more benign. But we’ve also been always aware that could change at any moment. In MS, your body attacks its own nervous system. If you’re lucky, it does so in a way that causes mild annoyance. If you’re unlucky, it does so in a way that impairs you dramatically. Either way, it does so suddenly, randomly and without warning. We’re grateful for today, but we never know about tomorrow.

Save that, hopefully, now, we have some idea. Rebecca yesterday completed the second round of a relatively new treatment called Lemtrada. She took infusions for five days last year, and for three days this year. The treatment,a repurposed chemo, strips away her immune system. A new one grows, which, hopefully, decides not to attack her nervous system. It’s not a cure, they tell me, but a treatment that, hopefully, has permanent results. I understand some of it, but if you ask me too much about it, you’ll discover it’s one of those things that for me borders on Clarke’s Third Law – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I work at NASA, and this stuff befuddles me.

So far, it seems to be working. There’s noticeable improvement already from last year’s treatment. Hot days are less oppressive. The random constricting is less constrictive. She has more energy. Hopefully, those trends will continue and be amplified by the second round. We joke about that last change. At eleven years my junior, it can be hard enough to keep up with her as it is. If she gets any more energy, it’s going to be hopeless. I’ve joked that they should just half-Lemtrada her so I still have a shot.

But as nice as the improvement to the symptoms are, the biggest change will be not having to worry about tomorrow. She’s not had any new activity, any new lesions, any new attacks on her nervous system since round one. That’s a good sign. We’re never beyond worry – this is a new treatment, less than a decade old, so no one knows what year ten looks like. And nobody knows for sure what year two for Rebecca Hitt looks like. But maybe we can worry a little less.

We’re blessed. Crazy blessed. Blessed to live in a time that this is possible. Blessed to have insurance that will pay for it. Blessed to live near a doctor – Dr. Christopher LaGanke of North Central Neurology Associates – that’s been a pioneer in this treatment. (When we started dating and she told me about her condition, I pointed out that now that she was working in Huntsville, she could probably get a better doctor here. She just told me to Google her doctor. I did. I never suggested that again.) We’re blessed by casual miracles, wonders so seamless you miss the wonder of them. But they’re there. And we’re grateful.

So that’s my Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month story; my part for boosting awareness. I generally don’t ask or encourage others to give or work for a particular cause, and particularly not health-related ones. The sad reality is we all have our own monsters. If you’re reading this, you have felt the sting of cancer or heart disease or diabetes or any of the other thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. I believe we fight hardest when we fight our own monsters, so encourage you only to do so. But we become stronger through understanding each other’s monsters. And by knowing there are others fighting ours alongside us.

I’m honored to fight alongside Rebecca. I’m humbled by the way she perseveres and by the attitude she maintains. I admire her spirit and her strength, and proud and grateful to be part of her story.

Lackluster Secrets of the Pluto Time Capsule


For nine years now, people all over the world have been looking forward to today. After years silently sailing through the vast void of deep space, the New Horizons spacecraft today finally has its closest encounter with distant Pluto and its moon, giving us an unprecedented look at what has been the greatest mystery of our solar system, a world we’ve known of for the better part of a century, but seen only ever as through a glass darkly.

And, I mean, that’s cool and all.

But me — well, sure, I’ve been looking forward to that part, too — but today is also the day that I got to open my New Horizons time capsule, and unveil the surely equally compelling secrets contained therein.

(Brace now for disappointment.)

Time capsule in a tennis ball case

So back in February 2006, maybe a couple of weeks after New Horizons launched for Pluto, I was attending the Space Exploration Educators Conference in Houston, and attended a workshop about how to get students excited about the mission (and about Pluto, then still a planet), in part via a time capsule activity.

Everyone in the group was given a tennis ball tube and a sheet to use as the basis of the time capsule, and allowed to make their own time capsule during the session so they could have their students do it when they got back to their schools.

IMG_8732

And so, there in the class, I worked on the two sheets of the activity, rolled them up into the cylinder, brought it home to Huntsville, and dutifully put it away in a drawer where it has remained untouched ever since. Every once in a while I’ve come across it and wondered what it said (having long since forgotten), but I’ve been good and never opened it again since the session.

UNTIL TODAY!

(Did I mention you should brace for disappointment?)

Here, then is page one of the two-page contents I wrote back in February 2006:

IMG_8731

How’s that for a revealing look at life in 2006? Future historians will no doubt consider this a foundational document for understanding life in the early 21st century.

“Grade: A” So clever, ten-years-ago, David! Don’t ever change! (Spoiler: You totally will. Get ready.)

That said, I still don’t have a favorite color, I still enjoy writing, and I’m trying to do low-carb again. I haven’t worn that shirt in a few years, but I’m pretty sure I know which one I was trying to draw.

So that’s the past.

Now, on to THE FUTURE!!! (Which, er, is actually now the present. But you know what I mean.)

IMG_8733

So, yes, the future remained largely unwritten.

I’m guessing I didn’t have time to finish the activity in the session, and was so determined in not touching the capsule again that I forgot I hadn’t finished it. Or, possibly, that’s all the thoughts I had about the future. Either way.

But — “wireless iPod”? What does that even mean? It’s like you had to keep your iPad plugged into anything to use it? Was I wanted one that didn’t involve headphones? Or that, I don’t know, charged or synced without wires?

I’m choosing to believe I accurately predicted how common and important the then-still-a-year-and-a-half-off iPhone would be in today’s society. But who knows?

So there you go — the secrets of the Pluto Time Capsule.

Thankfully, the actual secrets of Pluto have proved much more rewarding. Go check them out now!

Pluto and Charon

Credit: NASA

Sunrise, Sunset


So one morning almost three months ago, Rebecca and I are standing on Cocoa Beach. It’s her first time ever visiting an ocean, and I’ve arranged it that the first time she sees the Atlantic, she’s watching the sun rise over the horizon. It is, all in all, a neat experience.

Flash-forward to two weeks ago. I’m on a business trip to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It’s my fourth trip to California in less than a year, and so I decide that this time I’m going to finally get around to doing something I’ve put off on previous trips — I’m going to watch the sun set on the Pacific. And so I do.

I’m currently helping one of the Space Launch System executives work on an upcoming TEDx talk, using the transcontinental railroad as analogy for the future of human space exploration, playing with themes like public-private partnerships and the fact that, historically, there are almost no new transportation capabilities that do not improve everyday life.

I thought about that as I was standing on the beach in Los Angeles. I, a fairly normal person, had watched the sunrise over one ocean and set over the other two months apart. Just 150 years ago, before the completion of the transcontinental railroad, that was impossible in the United States. Today, if you really wanted to, you could see them both in the same day. On the International Space Station, you see sixteen sunrises and sunsets a day.

We live in a time of miracles and wonders. It’s good to be reminded to wonder at it.

Standing on Mars, Virtually


Three virtual figures on a Mars-scape

NASA’s OnSight tool, which it developed with Microsoft creates a simulation of Mars’ surfaces scientists can use in their research. Image: NASA/JPL

I read this story about NASA’s new HoloLens collaboration with Microsoft to create a virtual Mars environment in the news a while back, and thought it sounded pretty cool.

Last week, I got to put the headset on myself at JPL, and can confirm that it is, indeed, very cool. One of my NASA Headquarters team members and I got to walk “together” on virtual Mars, standing by Curiosity and surveying the Martian landscape. Another team member who was there (physically but not virtually) laughed at me for the fact that I was, in real life, walking around the rover, which wasn’t, technically, there, but the experience was so immersive that I just didn’t think about the fact that I could walk through it.

It was kind of surreal that I was getting to experience it just days after first reading about it, but this could very well be a technology that we’ll all be using before too long. Amazing.

A Light Shining Through The Spam


Screen shot 2013-06-08 at 2.18.11 PM

So the e-mail account I’ve been using has become almost unusable. First, I’ve been fighting a losing battle against a growing tide of spam. Then, making matters worse, someone has started using my address as the reply-to address for spam they’re sending out. They didn’t actually hack me — they’re not actually sending from my account — so I can’t just change my password, so there’s not really much I can do about it. (About the only thing I can do is start using a different address, which I’m doing. I’m keeping the old one, but I’ll check it less frequently than the new one. If you want the new one, send an e-mail to the old one and I’ll send you the new.)

In the meantime, though, my inbox is being constantly cluttered with auto-responses to e-mail I didn’t send in the first place, and it’s more than a little annoying.

And then, I got two responses that brought smiles in the midst of the frustration. The e-mails being sent with my address are all of the “Have you seen this?” type with a link to working from home or diet secrets or Viagra or whatever.

Yesterday, I got this response to one of them:

“I wasn’t able to access the message : Alessa
Not interested in work from home. I’m 87 and feel like 107.
Stella”

And, my favorite, from two days ago:

“NO, I DON’T. BUT I DO LIKE MY FAT LITTLE TUMMY. I EARNED IT.
BEV”

Stella and Bev, I don’t know who or where you are, but I love you both. Thanks for brightening my day!

Vulgar Time-Traveling iPhone


twabsence

Every Sunday morning, my iPhone becomes a time machine.

I wrote a post a couple of years ago about technology and scripture, about how changes in the way scripture is presented change the way we interact with it, and even how we think about it and what we get out of it.

By and large, I don’t see these things as good or bad, they simply are. If a person believes that scripture is divinely inspired, it’s not too far a leap to imagine that the One doing the inspiration had the foresight to know that media would change over time and prepare for it.

(On a side note, I heard someone talk about scripture in terms of fault-tolerant transmissions. We have the technology now to beam messages to spacecraft throughout the solar system in such a way that even if there is data lost in transmission, the process compensates so that what is received is still usable. I’m inclined to think that may be a good analogy — that scripture was inspired to function properly despite human language changes, errors, and international alterations.)

The latest significant change for me is interesting because it actually mitigates the effects of one of the earlier changes. To me, one of the earliest presentation changes was the beginning of the practice of translating scripture. Now, you no longer have to speak Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic to understand the stories. The number of people who can understand scripture on their own is broadened tremendously. This is a very good thing.

That very good thing, however, comes at a cost — the reach is broadened, but shades of meaning are lost. A word might mean multiple different things, and the translator has to pick which one was intended. A word might have several shades of meaning, and the new language equivalent may not capture that texture. A word might mean one thing, but be translated as a word that has shades of meaning not intended by the original. (And that doesn’t even get into cultural differences over time.)

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been discovering some of those instances where things I took for granted weren’t necessarily the case, or where there was a richness in the original I had no awareness of.

I still don’t speak the original languages, and don’t have an original text Bible anyway. And, to be honest, that first part is unlikely to ever change.

But, I do have my iPhone time machine.

I now have the ability to select any word in a passage, and see what the original-language word there was. I can read definitions for what the word meant. I can see whether it’s the same word used in another place with a similar translation.

It brings me a little bit closer to what it would have been like reading the original.

I realize there are still limitations — I’m cherry-picking the words I’m looking up, I’m still going based on someone else’s definitions, I still don’t necessarily understand the cultural context — but it’s at least helping me to think about things differently, to be aware of the richer texture.

And that, I think, is a change for the better.