Paying Homage to Those Who Came Before

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Last year I read a book called Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, by Nathalia Holt. It was given to me by my dear friend Michelle, who knows I like to learn about women in STEM.
In the 1940s and 50s, when the newly minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, they didn't turn to male graduates. Rather, they recruited an elite group of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.
It was a lovely book. These women worked as mathematicians at JPL before there even was a JPL, and the prowess and determination of the Rocket Girls made me proud to be a woman who works in STEM.* They paved the way for women not only in the field of aerospace, but in all STEM fields. If their accomplishments had actually been taught in schools, perhaps whole generations of kids would not have assumed that girls were "bad" at mathematics.

One of the things they talked about in the book was the fact that they used tools called French Curves in their work to graph trajectory. Evidently these tools were expensive in those days, so they shared a set to perform their work. 

Which got me to thinking, always a dangerous turn of events. 

What if I had a set of beautiful French curves to hang in my office to remind me of where I came from, professionally speaking? 

So I contacted my buddy Karl, an accomplished artist who lives in Alaska, and asked him what he thought about taking on the project. Since he's classically trained as a draftsman, he was excited about the idea, and agreed to design and build them. 

Well, they arrived yesterday, and they were so worth the wait. 

Displayed on their temporary home, the sideboard.

The inside of the lid.

Top - parabola; middle - irregular curve; bottom left - hyperbola; bottom right - ellipses

I don't want to damage the case, so I'll probably have to mount skinny shelves with a lip on the wall, and then put the pieces on those, leaning up against the wall.

The case is walnut, the curves are sapele with cast pewter edges, and the fabric in the case is green wool.

I can't wait to get them on the wall. Thank you, Karl - they're lovely.
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*I am in no way comparing myself to these amazing women. I'm a complete and utter slacker compared to them...I'm just happy and flattered to say we all worked in STEM.

The Ball in the Box

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Grief is a strange and unpredictable thing. We can't really control it, nor can we schedule its arrival when it's convenient for us.

Today I following a link on Facebook to an explanation of something called "The Ball in the Box." The woman who wrote the Twitter string on this concept shared an idea her doctor discussed with her about grief and how it affects our lives.

The idea is that our emotional life is a box, and is filled with all the feelings we have - love, joy, happiness, etc. Within that box is a "pain button," that reacts when one of those feelings bounces up against it.  When we lose someone we love, the ball that represents our grief is huge, and bounces around inside our emotional life constantly and crazily, pressing the pain button again and again, making our pain constant and unrelenting. It pushes all the other emotional balls out, leaving room for only grief and pain.



As time goes on, the ball that represents grief becomes smaller, which means it hits the pain button less frequently. There comes a time when there's room for other emotional balls, and it becomes possible to function in our daily lives without being overwhelmed all the time. But it's still present, and when the ball hits the button, it hurts just as much as it did when the ball was large.




The size of the ball shrinks and expands, depending on the time of year, outside factors, current mental health status, and other factors. But it never, ever goes away. And it sneaks up on you when you least expect it.

This happened to me about a month ago. I had a complete and total meltdown in the middle of the grocery store on my way home. I saw a kid picking out his Valentines for school, and it reminded me of an incident that occurred between Moe and me when she was a child. It was one of those incidents that when you look back on it, you know you could have made better choices at a parent, and you wish you could take it back, even though it was twenty years ago.

Well, that morphed into the "what if" thought process that leads into me blaming myself for her death, wishing I had been a better mother, and tearing myself up inside because I miss her so much. I utterly lost my shit. By the time I got home, I was wracked with sobs, and cried so long and hard I couldn't breathe. I haven't had a grief incident like that since the first year she was gone, the worst year of my life, and I was exhausted and bereft after I finally stopped crying. For some reason, when my grief ball hit my pain button that day, it was huge and overwhelming, and there was no way I could have predicted it, or prepared for it. It was just there, and demanded all my emotional energy until it passed.

At this point, I know that ball of grief will always be a part of my emotional life, and that it will wax and wane for the rest of my life. It doesn't make it easier to bear, but it does give me a framework I can use to think about my grief, and understand it when it overwhelms. 

Of Two Minds

Monday, February 11, 2019
Mind 1: Crap on a cracker. LOOK at all these kids waiting to board the plane to Orlando.

Mind 2: So what? They’re probably off-track and their families are going to Disneywirkd.

Mind 1: But they’re so LOUD.

Mind 2: Quit being such a curmudgeon. They’re just excited. I expect our awesome, awesome niece will also be excited when the extended family goes to Disney World later this year.

Mind 1: Well, yeah. But I like her.

Mind 2: They’re not hurting you, nor are they misbehaving in any way.

Mind 1: Maybe I’ll go join their fathers at the bar.

Mind 2: Maybe you should. You’re harshing my mellow.

Mind 1: You’re so intolerant of my intolerance.

Mind 2: Don’t resort to the Tolerence Paradox with me, woman. I’m not the one who wants to drown kids who kick the back of our seat.

Mind 1: True. You’re the Pollyanna if the group.

Mind 2: You say “Pollyanna,” I say, “Purveyor of common human decency and kindness.”

Mind 1: Oh, that.

Mind 2: Yes, that. Bitch.

Mind 1: Whatever. You can’t tell me you enjoy flying with kids. Seen and not heard and all that.

Mind 2: We’ll, I don’t mind it, per se. It just depends on how tired and anxious I am.

Mind 1: Story of our lives, sister.

Mind 2: You said it. Let’s just try and enjoy their excitement, shall we?

Mind 1: Pollyanna.

Mind 2: Bitch.

Link Me Up, Scotty - Horrified Edition

Friday, January 18, 2019

The story of Sonia Vallabh and Eric Minike, who changed their entire lives in order to seek a cure for a genetic disorder called Familial Fatal Insomnia. Sonia carries the gene for the disease, which has a 100% mortality rate, and I admire their passion and dedication. 

Note: This is the same disease that runs in Sistah Stacey's family, so I have more than a passing interest.
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7 Things I've learned from the loss of my child. As true now as when it was written, these are the things you should know about bereaved parents. 
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The smarty-pants over at CERN have a vision for their next-gen particle collider. #ScienceRules 

Now waiting for the whack-a-doos to come out of the woodwork in 5...4...3...
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There's a recent report in the Navy Times about the fatal collision of the USS FITZGERALD. As a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer who was also a qualified Combat Information Center Watch Officer (CICWO), I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly distressing I found this report. The conditions described in this article constitute a complete and utter failure in leadership all the way from the Commanding Officer to the lowest Petty Officer. The failure was so utterly complete, at every level, I cannot tell you how appalled I am. 

Because they are my cohort, I'm especially disturbed by the failure of the Chief's Mess to take what action was necessary to maintain good order and discipline among the enlisted ranks. As a group, young sailors are going to try and get over if they can - especially if their operational tempo is such that they're tired and stressed all the time. But it's the role of the Chief to lead these sailors in such a way that they continue to try to do their best, and comply with the ship's standing orders at all times. To allow a systemic breakdown in discipline such as is described by the Fort report indicates something about that Mess that bears close and deep examination and remediation. 

Please also note that the Navy Times, as a journalistic effort, has always primarily the mouthpiece of the brass. It's really nothing less than a propaganda rag, and for them to actually publish an investigative article that leaves the Navy with such a huge black eye tells me that the situation described in the Fort report is probably even worse than described. 

HORRIFIED, Y'ALL.

Link Me Up Scotty - Living and Dying Edition

Monday, January 14, 2019


Houston Chronicle journalist and high school chum Chris Tomlinson has a piece on how giving felons a chance to work and live a decent life is what's best not only for them, but for our country as a whole.
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Speaking of leaving people to struggle and die without a second thought, Washington Post Magazine has a piece up on how the high cost of insulin has really painted diabetics into a corner. You know the corner - where you have to decide between buying your insulin and paying your rent. This is a life and death issue (literally) for many diabetics.
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Meanwhile, back at the pharmacy, many drugs that retain their efficacy are being tossed because they're beyond their "expiration date." I read this story when it originally came out in 2017, and it appears that exactly NOTHING has changed since then.
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45's new Attorney General nominee, William Barr, believes Mueller should be allowed to complete his report. Now taking bets on two outcomes: Whether he'll be confirmed, and if confirmed, how long will he keep his job?
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In other news, turns out there's no national emergency along our Southern border, since most undocumented persons don't sneak across the border. "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." ~ John Adams.

Too bad 45's intellectual prowess makes him look like a trained seal next to John Adams. And well, EVERY other President in history, really.
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In a surprise move, 45 has denied being a Russian agent. You know, I don't know if my heart can take all these shocking revelations every day. /sarcasm
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Video of the Day: Randy Rainbow, America's National Treasure, has a few words on 45 and his desire for a wall:


Link Me Up, Scotty - Monday Morning Edition

Monday, January 7, 2019

Virginia Heffernan of the Los Angeles Times has something to say about the current crop of Right-Wing Blowhards and the fact that they're losing their shit over the number of indecorous women in politics these days. She rightly notes that younger women (and their supporters) are now at the point where the traditional thinly veiled misogynistic insult solicits not apologies or shame, but a point-and-laugh response with a side order of public exposure of the dog-whistle. I find this especially gratifying, since these fabulous feminists are treating this bull-pucky with the response it deserves.

Bonus Gratification: If there's one thing that infuriates a Misogynist Right-Wing Blowhard more than not being taken seriously, I don't know what it is.
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From the "Living History" files: WWII Army nurse Elva Bertha just turned 100, and she was there when the Japanese came to surrender to MacArthur.
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an emerging part of the technologies I design for customer interaction. But I'm far more interested in its medical use, as in this case, where AI is able to detect Alzheimer's Disease in the brain six years before a diagnosis.

Disclaimer: I haven't read the actual study, only this synopsis, so I have no certitude that it's been reported appropriately.
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From the "What comes around, goes around" files.
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Video of the Week: Mongolian band The HU, performing Wolf Totem. 


A Matter of Character and Hope

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Those who know me well know I believe opposing ideas and viewpoints are the heart of democracy. The presence of a "loyal opposition" is critical to keeping any one organization from gaining too much power in a representative democracy.

So my issues with the Republican Party aren't personal. I can disagree with their platform while still understanding their participation in our Republic is critical to its success.

But issues of character are an entirely different matter.

Regardless of political party, I want persons of good character to represent me in public office. Due to the changing tides of political opinion, sometimes those people are Democrats, and sometimes they are Republicans. There are plenty of examples from both sides of the aisle where character has been in short supply, and also examples where character was the hallmark of service. 

Which is why I was so very pleased to see Mitt Romney's January 1st opinion piece in the Washington Post where he criticized 45's character. 

Make no mistake - I disagree with Senator Elect Romney on almost every issue. I voted against him in 2012, and I consider some of his policy positions to be in direct opposition to my own values. I don't want him to be our President, because at this point in the political life of our country it's almost a foregone conclusion that a Democratic candidate would be preferable to a Republican one, given my priorities. 

But I think it's fair to say that in general, he is a man of good character. Which makes him far and away a better candidate for the Presidency than the incumbent.

I have no personal animus towards the Republican Party. I think their platform is misogynistic, awash in white privilege and victim blaming, and profoundly immoral on a number of levels. Given their current platform, it's extremely unlikely I would vote for a Republican for any representative office under any circumstances.* But I recognize their role, and understand its necessity. 

It becomes personal, however, when their policy decisions and platform results in their election of someone like 45 to the Oval Office. Due to their own dog-whistle politics and campaign strategies that build on fear of the Other, they elected the most ill-equipped, unqualified, immature, megalomaniacal person of bad character to ever run for President. And then refused to gainsay him when he went off the rails, again and again and again.

I won't forgive this anytime soon. The Republicans reaped what they sowed in this regard, and I've been waiting and waiting for them to wake up, and turn on 45 as they should have years ago, and bring their party back to seriousness and intelligence. 

Nothing would please me more than to see the Republican Party support a primary challenger to 45 in the 2020 election. Someone serious. Someone intelligent. Someone with a modicum of experience. Someone qualified. Someone with even a blush of good character. 

Is Senator Elect Romney's OpEd the first salvo in that conflict? I don't know. Was it written and published for self-serving reasons, since Senator Elect Romney has never supported 45 and is positioning himself as a viable alternative in 2020, with or without the support of his Party? I don't know. If someone does challenge 45 in the primaries, will Republican primary voters recognize their mistake and work to correct it for the benefit of all? I don't know. 

But I can hope.

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*I will (and did, in the midterm) vote for a Republican for a non-representative office, where qualification is the key factor in my choice.