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Wilted STEM June 10, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, science, societal commentary.
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Earlier this year, I was accepted as a NASA Solar System Ambassador.  In this capacity, I help to promote NASA and the space exploration activities conducted by the agency.

As part of the program, people can contact you and ask you to present on a space-related topic.  I was asked earlier this spring to be a guest speaker at a STEM program for 4th-7th grade girls talking about space exploration.  The activities ranged from engineering to xenobiology, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that I would’ve loved to have gone to as a kid.  Also, it’s exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to do as an SSA.

Unfortunately, it was cancelled.  I’m not sure what the required enrollment was, but there were not enough girls enrolled.  I find it very disappointing that there aren’t enough girls interested in space in a metropolitan area of over 200,000 to fill a program like that.  Obviously, I have my work cut out for me.

(Disclaimer: Opinions stated here are my own and not those of NASA or the SSA program.  Though I hope they are.)

Wordless Wednesday: bread isn’t evil! May 20, 2015

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Wordless Wednesday: Snuggle Buddies May 6, 2015

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You might be an engineer if… April 30, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, engineering, research, science.
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I know engineers have quirky personalities.  There are these things that most people take for granted that drives other people nuts…and vice versa.  The engineer will spend hours fixing something so it works just perfectly while others don’t care as long as it’s functional.

I realized lately that one of my big pet peeves has been programming languages.  Okay…that’s not just lately.  But still.  It really amazes me how you can do something so simply in one language but it’ll take you days to figure it out in another language.  I’ve been beating my head against this a lot lately.  While I learned programming a long time ago, as I went through my education, I learned other languages that had been optimized for working with certain types of problems.

So what am I dealing with now?  Languages that were among some of the first that I learned, and their offspring.

I have decided that I will be switching to do some of my work in another language, maybe even learning a new one that supposedly has a low learning curve.  On the other hand, I have to admit that my frustration certainly helps me to recognize the brilliance of the people who did all of their work in these languages.  The engineer in me can’t help but think the languages are clunky and inefficient.  I can’t be completely wrong, though: if they weren’t no one would’ve bothered to come up with new ones.

One down, seven to go April 25, 2015

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Today, I officially began my running season.  I am hoping to finish 8 half marathons this year, and the first one was today.  Fortunately, it’s in the bag.

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Wordless Wednesday: Pride “Rock” March 18, 2015

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Wordless Wednesday: Pay some attention to the dog behind the curtain March 11, 2015

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My Mom, the research advisor March 8, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in science, science fiction, younger son.
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Do you ever have conversations with your kids where you think, afterwards, something along the lines of, “I can’t believe we had this conversation?”

The younger son wants to breed dinosaurs…or at least generate dinosaurs from recovered dinosaur DNA.  He asked me if it was possible to do that, and I told him that I think, at this point, they can only generate an organism if they have a living cell.  Since he had recently made a plant cell out of perler beads for a class project, I figured he’d be able to understand a little bit about it.

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I explained how they cloned Dolly the Sheep by putting a nucleus from an adult cell into a fertilized egg which became a sheep that was genetically identical to the adult sheep.  Younger son asked if there was any way to insert dinosaur DNA into the nucleus of another cell, and I told him that while it sounds like a cool idea, I didn’t think it would work unless the DNA came from a living cell.

He seemed genuinely disappointed at that point, so I mentioned that maybe there were people doing research into that sort of thing and that he could maybe do it himself someday.

That apparently was the right thing to say because he started planning out what things he would need for a lab full of full-grown dinosaurs (including wide-open spaces with lots of trees for the brachiosaurs).  He mentioned that he’d start with plant-eaters, but maybe after a couple decades, move into meat eaters like t-rex.  I suggested he may want to read the book “Jurassic Park.”

After a bit, he said he seemed awfully young to be planning this stuff out, but that’s okay because he has time to work on it.  Then he gave me a hug and told me that he’d let me know if he managed to clone some dinosaurs.  I’m pretty sure that if he pulls that off, I would be hearing about it, one way or another.  Still, I’m glad he thinks it’s important to let his mom know…

Wordless Wednesday: My brain is fried…erm…baked. March 4, 2015

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Dear Leonard Nimoy, February 28, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in personal, science fiction, societal commentary.
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I don’t write fan mail very often.  (The only other time was when I emailed Wil Wheaton, and he stuck a link to my old blog on his page.  Really.)  This time is a little different, however, and I wanted to make sure I got this one right.

I know you were a very talented and intelligent man in so many areas, and I don’t want to downplay that at all.  The wonderful thing about the internet is that your passing has made me aware of how many other talents you had beside acting as well as your wonderful ethical compass.  That being said, I mostly knew you as Spock, and so that’s what I am going to speak to.

Thank you for being Spock.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who might have opted for that spot, if it had been offered, but I’m very glad it was you.  Spock was what made Star Trek for me, and you were what made Spock who he was.

As a kid, occasionally my dad would flip through the channels and come upon a rerun of Star Trek.  We didn’t often like to watch the same things (he preferred football and action while I preferred comedies), but Star Trek was one of the things we really both enjoyed together.  The reason I enjoyed Star Trek was Spock.  As a kid, I didn’t really enjoy Kirk’s swagger and found McCoy’s temper a little bothersome.  I adored Uhura, but she was, unfortunately, an under-utilized character with whom I didn’t feel I had much in common.  Spock, however, was someone I could identify with.  He didn’t have a temper, just an even manner.  He always explained his reasoning, and he never talked down to anyone (well, except McCoy now and again).  He made sense to me.  Very few people explain things to kids, and I loved that watching Spock made me feel like, maybe somewhere, there would be calm, rational adults in the world…or at least on another one.  Considering most of my teachers talked down and weren’t terribly nice to me, it gave me hope.  I wondered if I would’ve happier growing up on Vulcan.

As I got older, I saw the movies as they came out.  Thank you for directing the fourth movie.  That has always been my favorite for far too many reasons to list.  I can only say it really reinforced many things I felt were important about the world.

Now, as an adult and parent, I have been sharing my love of Star Trek with my kids.  A couple years ago, we began watching the original Star Trek series.  We talk over the plots and stories, the characters, the themes.  My younger son says that Spock is his favorite.  He cried at the end of Wrath of Khan.  He hasn’t seen The Search for Spock yet, but I’m looking forward to watching it with him, even though it is an odd-numbered movie.  It was still a huge relief not to lose Spock after all.

Humans don’t have katras exactly like Vulcans, but a human version is that we can be remembered through the memories of those we care about and our visible works.  While I can’t speak to any personal memories, I can say that Leonard Nimoy’s works are varied and profound.  There is a lot to remember him by.  For me, that work will primarily be about Spock, which is about as good a katra as anyone, human or Vulcan, could hope to have.  I am very grateful that, unlike a katra, I can also share those works with my children.

Thank you, Leonard Nimoy, for giving us Spock, and for being both the best human and Vulcan you could be.  Thank you for acting out a character whose calm rationality and intelligence is something worth aspiring to.  Thank you for being a role model, both in real life and on-screen.  Thank you for giving everyone so much of yourself.

We will remember.

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