On warp speed

At some point in the future science and technology will reach a point where we figure out how to go faster than the speed of light. I know this seems impossible at this point because mass increases to infinity at the horizon of the speed of light, but just because the problem seems impossible almost guarantees that someone will find a solution. We will laugh at our own simplicity, our primitive nature of sticking to our old scientific paradigms even in the face of real proof that upholds a hypothesis and turns it into a theory. I suppose our tendency to stick to an established paradigm is only too human. We want to explain our world, so we deem that which we don’t fully understand as impossible. Traveling faster than the speed of light will probably have something to with creating energy fields which move mass outside the boundaries of standard time and space, whatever that might mean. I don’t believe we really understand three-dimensional space or this thing that we call “time.” We move through space and time in what we perceive to be a lineal fashion, but these are only our primitive and conventional manner of describing a complex and chaotic process which we simplify so we don’t go mad. To imagine that all times and all spaces exist all in the same moment and space doesn’t make sense to our little brains. We fall victim to our own egos and hubris by imagining that we understand “reality” just because we live inside of it. For century we could not get past a geocentric universe even in the face of the truth because not being the center of the universe is more frightening than changing the paradigm. Warp speed won’t be discovered tomorrow, or the next day, or even next year, but we did land a two thousand pound rover on Mars last week, and that seemed impossible not too long ago. The fact that we can imagine warp speed means that sooner or later an engineer and a physicist will figure it out. When that happens, we will move out toward the planets and eventually the stars. When that happens, we will marvel at our simplicity. And the answer will have nothing to do with our preconceived ideas of motion, work, speed, mass and velocity. The new paradigm will cast aside ideas of fuel, propulsion, and everything else we know about concerning the speed of things. Change is not the only constant in the universe, but we may have to revise our idea of constant. From our relative perspective, light travels at a specific speed, but what about other perspectives? We didn’t think that communicators were possible, but now we all have them. We also did not think that Ipods or digital music were possible, but now they are commonplace. Warp speed may take a little longer, but the way technology is progressing, I might see it in my lifetime. We will redefine things like time and event horizon, and velocity will mean something else. Understand the implications of warp speed, hardly, but without having the ability to imagine it, we just grow old and boring.

On canceled

If there is a sorrier or sadder word in the English anguish than “canceled,” I don’t know what it might be. So yesterday, in the chaos of a hail/lightening/tornado storm at the DFW airport, they canceled five hundred flights, affecting thousands of passengers, and I was one of them. All these cancellations collapsed the airline’s ability to rebook anyone in any kind of orderly fashion. I received a sad little text message letting me know that my flight was canceled, but they would be back to me soon with re-booking information. Well, that was yesterday, and they still haven’t contacted me. My friends in Admissions, a very resourceful group, re-grouped, made a new plan, Stan, and we made it back to Waco this morning with the help of a very kind admissions counselor who got up this morning at 5:30 to retrieve us from the DFW area. As of this moment, I have heard nothing about rebooking, although, paradoxically, I did get my suitcase back this evening, and they even brought it out to my house. What sweethearts! Yet, sitting there in the airport with all hell breaking loose, with nowhere to go, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, with pressing appointments back home, I had no hope of making it home on time for anything. Ironically, I had made it on the plane to return home, only to be kicked off of the plane by the cabin crew. The weather went dark, the wind came up, the rain started to fall, and before we knew it, we had a full-fledged hail storm pounding the airport, the planes, the cars, the people. Canceled. They canceled everything in sight: the only things moving on the ramps were nickle-sized pieces of hail that were pelting everyone and everything. I went to a hotel for the night, knowing that I would be retrieved in the morning, which made the delay and cancellation a little more bearable. I couldn’t blame the airline. They didn’t order hail and tornadoes for the early afternoon. Many of planes took hail damage, so there was no getting out of DFW by air. Our contingency plan was the only effective way of resolving our castaway condition. We all work for a pretty good organization, and they were not about to let us stay stranded and unloved in the Metroplex. We rolled into Waco about 10 am, went to the airport to do the paperwork on our lost bags, and headed to work. So we were canceled, stranded, castaway, and abandoned by our carrier, but it’s all good, thanks to the kind generosity and sharp ingenuity of all those involved. My only regret was having to use the same clothes for two days straight. My spare change of clothing, you ask? In my lost suitcase, of course!

On airports

Oh, how I love going to the airport. I both love and hate airports at the same time. On the one hand, the aesthetics of airports are horrific at best, at worst they are cross between the Inquisitions dungeon and public courthouse designed by drunk engineers (why are there nothing but foyers in this building?). I am imagining that airports are hard to design because you have to be able to park airplanes outside the building, but you also must manage foot traffic to the tune of hundreds of thousands a day. These requirements are not compatible. So the architecture stinks, the chairs are not comfortable, the bathrooms are lousy, the restaurants, with a couple of exceptions, are awful and expensive, a beer costs twelve dollars, Micky D’s makes the hamburgers, the bookstores only have the latest bestsellers, the candy is overpriced and stale, and those little carts that run up and down the concourses are trying to run you down. Even going to Starbucks is of little comfort. And then there are the endless gate changes and waiting, the flat-screened televisions tuned to CNN, the crying babies, the announcements for other people’s flights. I swear if I didn’t know any better that this is the second ring of hell in Dante’s Inferno, right next to the hedonists and the gossips. All of this after you passed through security. And the dramas: airports are full of lost people, lonely people, sad people, crazy people, crazy business people, people who should be on meds, in a hurry people, passive people and strange people. And what about the first time flyers who think they have just landed in the middle of an insane video game with no way out? The cast of characters is almost inexhaustible, but if it exists, you will see it an airport. If I run into Captain Renault and Rick, I’ll take a picture. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, the problems of two people really don’t amount to a hill of beans. And the people carrying the family chihuahua in a neat little case? Finally, I will get in line, go through the gate, and get on my plane, and isn’t that the ultimate function of any airport? Get me where I’m going? Enough said

On the way

It is often difficult to discern the right way even if you have a map. Most know their destination, but there are times when I am lost. I’ve walked in deep dark woods, through concrete canyons, along neon lit subterranean tunnels, beside babbling brooks, on the shores on ancient oceans, across a wind-swept prairie. The landscape of my maps has been varied and strange, but I have never lost sight of my destination, or at least I’ve always thought that the destination was always within reach. Along the way, I’ve met many kind people with lots of stories, some sad, others tragic, at times personal, often trivial. I do know that it is difficult to go back over one’s steps, and even if you can, it’s never the same. Time passes, things change, you run into Godot, get distracted, change direction. The past must stay in the past where it belongs. It may inform the journey, and the map might be a part of the past, but the way always leads to a future of some kind. Those that refuse to journey on, get left on the platform, basking in the past, but useless to those of us who are moving on. I have seen many maps, some of which indicate where the treasure is. I stopped looking for the treasure ages ago because it is an unnecessary distraction that too many people look for fruitlessly. The way is not about things, or philosophies, or places, or people for that matter. Only by going into the dark can any soul eventually find its way to light. I have always chosen the better story, the light, the positive side of the journey. That does not mean that irony is not a part of daily life, or that cynicism is not sometimes a fruitful mode of transportation, but immobility is not a viable means of moving on, so I reject that. I want to ask the difficult question, I have no need of predetermined spectacles with prerecorded laugh tracks, I choose poetry over mediocrity, I choose personal thought over canned meta-narrative, I chose freedom over chains, and the only way to get home is to persist from one day to the next. Maps may help, but they aren’t perfect. Easy slogans, bumper sticker philosophy, and spurious myths about consumerism are all dead ends. There are times in this midway point in life when the path is distant, or even lost, or perhaps blocked by wild animals. Sometimes this savage jungle scares me as I navigate its valleys, hills, byways, but I continue on my way. If you make it there before I do, let everyone know that I am fine, and will be there soon.

On Skipper and Gilligan

Who should we really blame for this fiasco? It was supposed to be a three hour tour and it turned into an extended stay on an island in the south Pacific. I mean, Ginger or Mary Ann is an easier riddle to solve than who was responsible for letting the Minnow run aground. How hard can it be, even in bad weather, to keep a boat or ship off of the rocks? Perhaps I should blame the mighty storm than blew them off course. Mother Nature is, perhaps, one of those wild cards that is both inconstant and unpredictable, chaos, you might say. Their intentions were good, and their motives true, but they just couldn’t steer the Minnow back to a safe port that night. In fact, perhaps they should be complimented on saving their themselves and their passengers. Loss of life is only too common when a ship runs aground, especially big ships. Skipper and Gilligan both stayed on board until all hands were safe. Perhaps other skippers and their first mates should study the ill-fated voyage of the Minnow and take notes. People mostly travel on huge luxury liners and cruise ships to get away from the daily grind at work or home, so the last thing they need on the high seas is drama. I think the other passengers on the Minnow were doing just that: escaping from the strange realities that trapped them in their daily lives–the Professor, the Howells, Ginger, and Mary Ann were all looking for a little fun and sun away from it all. Gilligan would not be my first choice as first officer, but then again the Skipper wouldn’t be my choice as captain either, yet Fortune turns her capricious wheel in strange and inexplicable ways which put this odd bunch of people in the rolls of castaways. They were in Hawaii on vacation. What could have been simpler? I did a very similar thing in Venice not a year ago, traveling completely across the bay not once, but twice. I trusted the boat captain to do what was right and take me to my destination. I guess I was luckier than some. I don’t blame either Gilligan or Skipper. In fact, I think their skills could have been useful this past week in Italy. I’m just saying.

On witnessing a shipwreck

In the not too distant past, someone challenged me on whether shipwreck was a wholly negative event. Though I was intrigued by the possibility that a shipwreck might have a positive outcome, I was perplexed in the sense that I saw shipwreck as a wholly negative phenomenon. Could a shipwreck have a positive outcome? In the wake of the latest fiasco off of the southern Italian coast where a huge pleasure cruiser grounded on a reef, I have to admit that I am still convinced that shipwreck still stands for disaster, loss and catastrophe. It boggles the mind that with today’s modern navigation tools, GPS and the like, that a modern ship could ever run aground. Yet, ships are still piloted by people, and the last time I checked, people are still fallible, ergo, shipwrecks are still possible. The tools of navigation are only as good as the people using them. This metaphor could be extended to almost any profession, which cheers me and chills me to the bone at the same time. I mean, really, there were almost five thousand people on that little dingy, and yet the captain, a foolish man on his best day, went five miles off course on the whim of another crew member. The death toll is hovering around twenty at this point and will rise. People are still missing. Apparently, after the ship ran aground, the captain and first mate were the first to jump ship, so they were cowards and left more than 4,500 people, passengers and crew, to their own devices in the middle of the night to fend for themselves. I do not deny that shipwreck is a terrifying experience, perhaps one of the most terrifying that anyone might face, but shouldn’t the captain be there to care for his crew and passengers? So my answer is still one-sided: shipwreck is an unmitigated disaster of monstrous proportions and no amount of persuading can change my point of view. Perhaps some of the shipwreck survivors are getting to know a new part of Italy, eating some new food, making new friends, learning a little Italian, but do these possible benefits make up for a night of abject terror, icy ocean waters, and loss of life? The recent shipwreck in Italy reminds me of a few important lessons: if we build it, it can fail; professionals are capable of very bad judgment; no amount of planning and drills can prepare you for the reality of a real disaster.