Apollo’s Lasting Legacy

As we close in on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon — which happened on July 24, 1969 — we’ve seen a lot of interesting articles about the space program, the Apollo program, and NASA’s lunar missions, including a fascinating Smithsonian article about Apollo 11 specifically.  Popular Mechanics also has reprinted an interview with Buzz Aldrin from 25 years ago about why he went to the Moon, and why he thinks we should go back.

as16-113-18339hrsmOne of the most intriguing pieces I’ve seen was a UPI article that sought to identify products and technologies that can be attributed to the Apollo program and that still are in use today.  (That means that “Space Food Sticks,” an awful-tasting product from my youth that quickly went out of production, doesn’t qualify.)  The UPI writer found that Apollo’s legacy goes beyond Tang, velcro, and computer chips.  Products such as the “Dustbuster” hand-held vacuum cleaner, high-performance athletic shoes, communications headsets, credit card swiping machines, and even the “memory foam” in your mattress all trace their roots back to developments that occurred during the Apollo program.

These technological advances are important, of course, and show what can happen when you hire a bunch of really smart, creative, highly motivated engineers and problem-solvers, give them a mission and adequate funding, and establish a meaningful deadline to achieve the goal.  Technological developments are a pretty predictable result of such an effort, which is one reason why I think the United States should end the 50-year drought and get back into the manned space arena in a significant way — whether through government programs, or through partnership with the private companies that are focused on space, or through some other creative means.

But new technology and techniques are not, perhaps, the best reason to go back into space.  For those of us who grew up during the ’60s space program days, and dreamed about being an astronaut like the courageous adventurers of our youth, there will always be a part of our make-up that is interested in space, and science, and the stars.  Perhaps it would be impossible to fully recreate the conditions that made the early astronauts celebrity-heroes in those innocent days, but wouldn’t it nevertheless be valuable to give the current generation of young people role models who are smart, well-educated, selfless, and brave, and encourage those young people to dream about discovery and scientific advancement?

The technological legacy of the Apollo program is impressive, but I think the real legacy is aspirational — something that touched us deeply and leaves even 60-somethings like me still keenly interested in space and hoping that one day, perhaps, I’ll follow in Neil Armstrong’s footsteps and be able to visit the Moon.  The real legacy tells you something about the power of a dream.  We should give the children of today, and tomorrow, the chance to experience such dreams again.

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Where Would We Be Without Willis?

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As we deal with another day of sweltering heat in the Midwest, let’s all acknowledge the huge debt we owe to Willis Carrier — the guy who invented air conditioning.  Where would we be without Willis and his life-changing invention?

Interestingly, Willis Carrier did not invent air conditioning to increase human comfort on scorching summer days.  Instead, he came up with his invention, in 1902, to try to deal with the problems heat and humidity were causing for a Brooklyn printing business.  It was so hot and humid during the summer months in the printing plant that the ink would not adhere to the paper, so Willis came up with the idea of moving air over cooled coils to lower the temperature and the humidity so the printers could function.  The decreased temperature in the no-doubt sweltering area near the printing presses was just a pleasant by-product of the invention.

Willis’ invention caught on and air conditioning was implemented in many businesses, but it would be decades before air conditioning became common in American homes.   The first two houses I remember living in didn’t have central air conditioning.  But now, 117 years after Willis Carrier was touched by a stroke of genius, central air conditioning is commonplace, and it’s really hard to imagine life without it.

Thank you, Willis Carrier!

Dog Days Afternoon

Russell ‘s dog Betty is visiting for a few days. I took her for a walk this morning, and since then she hasn’t been straining at the leash to go outside into the dog days of summer. Staying inside on the cool floor with a bone is the preferred alternative.

Imagine being outside with a fur coat in this weather! Betty is one smart pooch.

Beat The Heat?

The Columbus area is bracing for absurd heat today.  The temperature is supposed to reach the mid-90s, and the “heat index” (which is kind of the opposite of the wind chill factor, and looks at temperature and dew point, to assess overall mugginess) is supposed to hit 105 degrees.  That’s hot enough that the National Weather Service has issued an extreme heat advisory, and some businesses, like my nephew’s pizza kitchen, are adjusting their schedules and practices to try to avoid exposing workers to dangerous heat levels.

1280x720_50116b00-xayzgIn short, we’ll be reaching the thermometer point at which, traditionally, your air conditioning goes on the fritz.

Is there a way to beat the heat in the beachless Midwest?  Not really.  The National Weather Service heat advisory recommends wearing lightweight and loose fitting clothing (no duh!), drinking plenty of water, spending more time in air conditioned or well-ventilated places, and avoiding doing much outside except in the early morning or late evening.  So you can stay inside, drinking cool beverages, crank up their air conditioning, and watch movies — but that’s really just avoiding the heat, not beating it.

Or you can follow the post-enlightenment advice of the Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day and go outside and embrace the heat.  Recognize that summers in the Midwest are often crushingly hot and that’s just part of the deal.  Walk around in air so scalding and moist that it feels like steam.  Note that the squirrels and birds aren’t exactly doing industrious things.  And sweat until even that lightweight and loose clothing that the National Weather Service recommended is soaked through, weighs a ton, and is clinging ferociously to every damp, broiling inch of your skin.

And then, when you realize that you are behaving like an idiot, come back inside, drink a cold glass of water, and hope for all that’s holy that your air conditioning doesn’t go on the fritz like it did last summer.

Fly Clapping

It’s summer in the Midwest.  That’s means it’s fly season, indoors and outdoors, and any Midwesterner that wants to be freed from fly-blown annoyance must assemble their fly-swatting arsenal and prepare, at any moment, to do battle with the pesky creatures that are constantly buzzing around.

common-house-flyThe other day the B.A. Jersey Girl and I were talking in the firm library when a housefly landed on a nearby notepad.  It was a big, ugly, hairy, disgusting granddaddy fly that probably had been buzzing around the office for months, getting fat on whatever leavings he found.  By landing where he did, in full view of humans, he was basically taunting us.  You could almost see his alien, compound eyes brimming with arrogance as he rubbed his forelegs together with undisguised glee.

The B.A.J.G. rolled up a document to ready herself for swatting.  But I have seen too many such swatting attempts prove unsuccessful, so I waved her off and positioned my hands about a foot above the fly, with a hand to each side and the fly roughly in the middle.  As I quickly clapped my hands together, the fly flew straight up — as flies typically do — and met his doom in the midst of the clap.  The formerly overconfident fly fell to the paper below and was swept into the wastebasket — the appropriate fate of all household flies.

The B.A.J.G. had never seen the fly-clapping technique used before, but it is a time-honored Webner method for sending flies to their ultimate reward.  In my experience, it works a lot better than fly swatters, or rolled up newspapers, or other techniques.  And, you get the satisfaction of knowing that the last thing the fly feels is a handclap — as if you are celebrating its demise, which you really are.

Feel free to use the fly-clapping when you just can’t take any more of the loathsome creatures buzzing around your house.  Clap on!

What Makes A Top 100 Hotel? (Business Traveler Edition)

The readers of Travel + Leisure magazine  have rated their top hotels, and the magazine has produced a “top 100” list from the results.  The hotels feature a lot of beautiful views, enormous rooms and posh furnishings, and extremely expensive prices.

mint_pillowThat’s all well and good, but it’s pretty much irrelevant to the travel that most of us experience.  We’re business travelers, and except for rare occasions we don’t stay at places by lakes — unless you count those artificial ponds with the spraying fountain in the middle — or any staggering natural beauty.  We’re in downtown areas for the most part, on a block of a city grid that looks pretty much like the next block over.  So, the Travel + Leisure ratings might be interesting, but they don’t have much application to our daily business travel lives.

So, what do business travelers care about?  Speaking for myself, I’d say the baseline needs are a place that is quiet and clean.  Quiet, so I can try to get a good night’s sleep after after a busy travel and work day, and clean, so that I don’t notice dust bunnies under the bed or something left by the person who stayed in the room last night, and I can at least maintain the pretense that I’m not staying in a room that is probably used by hundreds of total strangers every year.  After those basics, I’m looking for a room that has the right functional furniture — a desk is a must — a comfortable bed that isn’t covered in accent pillows that need to be thrown on the floor and that might trip me when I go to the bathroom, and an easy-to-use coffee maker that can make at least two cups of decent regular coffee.  If you then throw in a shower with lots of hot water and decent water pressure, you’ve got a top 100 business hotel in my book.

No need for a mint on the pillow, or turn-down service, or a huge room.  Just make sure I’m not awakened in the middle of the night by a party down the hallway, and I’ll come back.

Magnificent Obsession

Imagine working on one thing for 35 years.

That’s how long it took Italo Gismondi to build a painstakingly realistic model of ancient Rome.  Commissioned by Mussolini to build the model in 1933, Gismondi used a number of ancient maps to create the model and kept adding to it for 35 years.  His finished product is considered to be scrupulously accurate and detailed — so much so that historians apparently use it to give them a better sense of the city as a whole.

5840455090_60b96c9dd9_oThe model reveals a Rome that was beautiful and sprawling, with a glimpse of what an amazing place it must have been when the Colosseum, the Forum, and the other buildings were intact and in use and buildings and people were packed together.  Those of us who have been lucky enough to visit Rome have seen these once-glorious buildings only in ruins and in isolation, without their neighboring buildings to give a complete picture of ancient Rome in full flower.  It must have been a bustling, extraordinary place.

Gismondi’s model depicts Rome as it was in the fourth century AD.  That time period shows Rome, the city, at its height, but was also a time when the Roman Empire was in decline.  Only 100 years later, in 476 AD, the last Roman emperor was toppled by barbarian invaders and the Dark Ages descended in the west.

The Gismondi model is on display at the Museum of Roman Civilization, in Rome.  I didn’t visit that museum on our trip to Italy years ago, but I hope to make it back to Italy one of these days, and when I do that museum will be a must-see stop.