Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Singing The Martian Blues

Look to the West this week at sunset if clear skies prevail.  Whistle with amazement at the silver-white beacon that is Venus high above the horizon.  As dusk deepens you should also be able to hum a tune to the presence of Mars below Venus' gleam (the two planets came within one degree of each other on February 21st).  Mars' ruddy speck may have inspired fewer ballads of yore, yet it is this fainter, red planet that subtly draws humanity ineffably to dance upon its surface.  Over the past forty years we have sent several probes to begin exploring that planet's past geology and environment, a landscape that hints alluringly at the possibility of having harbored life long ago.  In the decades ahead humanity, riding our technological chariots and wielding instruments of which the mythical gods could never have even dreamed.  In all probability we mere mortals will send forth expeditions to closely examine the mysteries hidden within Mars.

Planetary Neighbors Preparing for a Fictional Duet?
Sadly, such an expedition may not happen in many of our lifetimes, still we need not yearn without full dissatisfaction.  Experiencing the storied song, albeit fictionalized, of human exploration of the Mars' wilderness is indeed an option.  Andy Weir's recent novel The Martian provides a gripping tale of an expedition on our neighboring planet that immerses one fully in that alien and hostile environment.  The tale orchestrates an Apollo 13 style emergency on the surface of Mars that hurdles you through scenario after scenario that challenges stranded astronaut Mark Watney to his limits. Weir's rigorously researched, scientific detail of Mars' harsh conditions thrusts you into Mark's predicament where only a combination of extreme, survival gear, improvised cleverness and long-distance teamwork can invoke any chance for survival

The Real Deal (Link to full size photo)
I'll leave it to you to pick up the book, or wait for the movie, if such an adventure appeals to you. The real, non-fiction, adventure to Mars will be a future generation's experience.  Still there is inspiration in knowing that one day humanity will peacefully explore in person the red planet...and beyond,  Until then our imaginations are still privileged to dance to the songs that well-crafted stories conjure.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Fair Tale Told In Three Die Rolls

(Ahh, you thought I skipped a week, didn't you?  Well as I was internet disabled last week and will be so next week, I've decided to combine three posts into a single, non-random creation)

Fairness: The Universal Dice Battle 
by William Not Shakespeare

Act I - All Men Are Created Equal

Enter two men and a d20 (aka a portable dodecahedron labeled 1-20 on each facet)

Man 1: Greetings Man 2! Ready to vie for success today?

Man 2: Absolutely, Man 1. As a clone of you, we should be perfectly equivalent competitors.

Man 1: Of course! Let's roll for the victory; highest roll wins. May the Odds be with us!

Man 2: Wait a second; how do I know if this competition is fair?

Man 1: Well, we'll be rolling the same exact die, minus incidental wear and tear from rolling it.

Man 2: That almost sounds fair to me.  Okay then...let me roll first!

Man 1: It's my die.  I will roll first.

Man 2: If you roll first, then I declare the contest unfair.

Man 1: What? That's silly.

The chat fades and eventually a die is rolled twice, visceral violence is exchanged and in due time the spoils of the world are split between them.

Exit, pursued by their male privilege.

Act II - All Humans Have a Right to Equalish Opportunity

Enter two humans and a d20.

Human 1: Ahh, how times have changed!

Human 2: I agree. No longer are gender, sexual orientation, race, age, world view or nationality a barrier to access experience,

Human 1: Indeed.  Now we can finally pursue economic opportunities and explore life paths with true fairness.

Human 2: Excellent, so let's roll the die to see how Nature favors our outcomes.

Human 1: Joy!  Hey, even though I own the die, I'll permit you to roll first.

Human 2: You're so kind.  Wait a minute, are you trying to trick me?

Entangled banter ensues with a modicum of violence and a double handful of environmental exploitation, after which the two humans divvy up the spoils of the world.

Exit, pursued by their human privilege.

Act III - All Persons Deserve Goodness

Enter two persons and a d20.

Person 1:  Welcome Person 2!  I think we finally have devised a fair arena for competition.

Person 2:  Blindly met, Person 1! I have no idea if you are homo sapiens, thinking creature, artificially intelligent being, or corporate personhood, so finally we should be competing on equal terms, as equivocated by the Law!

Person 1: Agreed!  With the world in quasi-utopian balance, individuals and hive mentalities of all types, including the planet's own well represented personhood, are free to interact fairly and satisfy themselves through synergistic experience and contributions to the greater good!

Person 2: That goes without saying, so are we here for some competition, or what?

Person 1: Indeed, let's tumble the die and see how the Universe intends for the ancillary results to fall.

Person 2: Game on!  Let's have fun!

Person 1: Wait a second; I seem to have misplaced the d20...

Exit, pursued by the next iteration of fairness.


Coda:  In Lieu of Commentary (or The Cake is a Lie)

d20: I am zie that opposes all of you.  It's quite funny...funny-strange, not funny-ha-ha...watching you all compete among yourselves.  Bravo?