The Death of a Genius, but Then Again…

townesNPR began their story with “Charles Townes, a physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his part in the invention of the laser died Tuesday at 99.”

As a kid, I was fascinated by lasers. LASER—light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation. Originally a ruby rod with a coiled light around it, lasers later became the heart of CD, DVD and Blu-Ray, optical cable, and a $3.99 pointer available at the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Oh, and after the fictional light sabers of Star Wars, it is now a potent weapon in the US military arsenal.

My first laser had been a positioning aid for a radiation therapy machine. It was in a box roughly 6 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches and required 110 volts AC power, but it didn’t change the fact that I finally had my very own laser!

Now, in my copious free time I’m building a high power green laser into the shell of a magic wand from an amusement park. My how things change.

After the laser, when it seemed that everybody was getting involved, Dr. Townes shifted to astrophysics where he contributed to the discovery of the black hole at the center of our galaxy. Geniuses are like that, they move on to new areas to investigate.

We read of scientists who decide that we don’t need God. So long as we have gravity the universe will form and life will follow. Such was not the case with Charles Townes.

“Consider what religion is,” he told NPR in 2005. “Religion is an attempt to understand the purpose and meaning of our universe. What is science? It’s an attempt to understand how our universe works. Well, if there’s a purpose and meaning, that must have something to do with how it works, so those two must be related.”

News accounts reported that he died. Many of us would say that he’s merely moved on to a place where his curiosity and quest for knowledge will be finally and delightfully satisfied.

Scene 1: Act 1…….ACTION!

Clint, if you're offended, stop by so I can apologize over dinner. Nothing fancy--but nothing with a dirce-through, either.

Clint, if you’re offended by being associated with my screenplay, stop by so I can apologize over dinner. Nothing fancy–but nothing with a drive-through, either.

Mature man with greying hair enters from stage left, running. Reaches mid stage. Looks at audience with expression of bewilderment, as though he’s forgotten what he was going to do. Scratches head and exits, stage right.

Mature man returns from stage right with a long sheet of paper anchored to a clipboard—turns to audience.

MM: I’m trying to juggle all of the realities of life, but as fast as I cross things off my list, other things are added.

Mature man turns and exits stage left, frantically writing on list.

Mature man enters stage right, still writing on list. Stops center stage and looks at audience with puzzled expression, knowing he just exited stage left; continues to walk and exits left.

Mature man enters stage left with list, and at center stage turns to audience.

MM: I think that maybe, just maybe I’m finally making progress!

Identical mature man (Identical) enters stage right, passes behind mature man, and exits stage left without being noticed by mature man.

Mature man remains center stage with list. Identicals enter both right and left and pass behind mature man. Mature man turns to right, too late to see one identical, then with comic rapidity turns left, with same result; mature man turns to audience looking concerned and slightly upset.

MM: When I was younger, I could do this. Now, not so much!

Two identicals (four total) pass from each side behind the man. Mature man turns and tries to see what’s happening, but misses. As he is looking behind him, two more identicals pass left to right and right to left in front of him. Mature man becomes increasingly frustrated, although he does not seem to know why.

All identicals enter stage, and mature man spins about at first missing each (looking left when right approaches, etc.) but then spins about rapidly, accounting for them all.

MM: What the bloody hell is going on?

Identicals (speaking together): Don’t ask us. You’re the one in charge.

END SCENE

CUT!

Okay, print it!

Oh, wait. That’s not a movie. That’s been my life lately.

And, how has your life been?

So Here’s What I Did

"Don't follow the lightsss!"  - - - Gollum

“Don’t follow the lightsss!”
- – – Gollum

The news media was out in full force today, turning over rocks and raking up muck just to entertain you and the makers of various pharmaceuticals. Among the SHOCKING! things they found was that Jane Fonda was booed by veterans (like that’s never happened before) and Michael Moore (you know the very large person who will do or say ANYTHING to get attention) declared that (military) snipers are cowards.

So what did I do? Why I went upstairs and attempted to repair the switch on a floor lamp.

When I modernized from evil incandescent lightbulbs to CFLs, the lights would oscillate. Later, when I updated to LEDs, they still had a weird flicker. I think the switch may have been designed with a high and low setting that worked fine for incandescent bulbs, but not for the energy efficient ones.

So I bought a new switch.

It had to be small enough to fit within the pole of the lamp, and the only one I could find that had acceptable dimensions was at RadioShack (I’m going to miss them. If only they had stayed a radio parts/computer/geek heaven instead of trying to be another Best Buy, they would probably be doing just fine).

The switch, as luck would have it, lights up. Hey! That’s pretty cool. So I started taking the lamp apart and easily replaced the switch.

But…

Even though the switch was rated for 120 volt AC use, the light in the switch requires 1.7 volts DC. How was I going to manage that?

I spent hours modifying an old cell phone charger, building it into the base of the lamp, and running an extra set of wires up the lamp tube; finding that I missed a spot, disassembling everything, rerouting the wires and putting it back together.

All to have the stupid little switch light up.

The worst part?

Even with all my efforts, trials and tribulation, the news media never showed up.

Why My Mechanic Is More Trusted Than My Doctor

I swear that this is not associated with yesterday’s Jobsxtaposition topic.

I love science. I love thinking, questioning and learning. I love Edison’s I didn’t fail, I found a thousand ways NOT to make a lightbulb. Think. Hypothesize. Experiment. Compare results to expectations. Think some more. Question why things turned out the way they did.

I love logic. I love the steps to prove that something is true; I’m challenged by, but accept that you cannot prove something is false.

However, the practice of science today is be very different than my expectations of science. Today, at least according to the media and the politicians, we rely on consensus rather than experimentation, opr God forbid, fact.

How did this happen? Maybe it started with global warming. If we cannot prove that man did not cause it (because you cannot prove a negative) therefore, it is a manmade problem. Why? Because we have a consensus!

There was once another proud science – medicine. While I was doing some research I came across an interesting issue; doctors are expected to treat patients according to universal standards. If the majority of doctors prescribes medicine A or surgery B, and your doctor prescribes therapy C he or she can find themselves in big trouble if they don’t follow the consensus. They could be censured or lose their license. A handful of states have written laws to protect doctors who dare to think, but in most states the medical profession has the clout to keep the state legislature in line.

So, after four years of college; medical school; internship/residency; and several years of fellowship, doctors are expected not to question or think. They are expected to follow the consensus; order the consensus driven tests, prescribe the consensus driven treatment and not vary from the consensus.

Hmm.

My doctor is a wonderful guy. He orders various tests and based on the outcome of the tests he prescribes certain treatments and medication. There are guidelines he is expected to follow. If he varies from the universally accepted (i.e. consensus) he faces consequences.

My auto mechanic is a wonderful guy. He connects my car to the diagnostic computer and based on what the computer says, he makes certain repairs. There is a book that tells him what to do and what to charge. He’s a smart guy, but doesn’t have the education of my doctor.

The difference is, that if my mechanic wants to try something out of the ordinary, he can, and does, and it often fixes the problem, thank you.

 

Jobxtaposition

 

What if people engaged in one field used the business model of another? Something like accountants who not only do your taxes, but go on tour. I call this jobxtaposition; for my first jobxtaposition, let me introduce Aesop Lee Bailey, Philosopher for Hire.

Mr. Bailey, I wasn’t aware that philosophers were in such demand. I thought the only market would be to teach college freshman.

“Well, that has an element of truth, you see, but as a philosopher, I gave it a great deal of thought, and realized that one needs to guide people when it comes to certain services certain services. People didn’t realize that they needed designer sneakers costing hundreds of dollars until professional athletes made them aware of their need. I decided to look at a profession whose model would fit philosophy and adopt it—or should I say adapt it? Hmmm. I’ll have to give that some thought.”

So which professional business model did you decide to emulate?

“I initially thought about the clergy since the fields have so much in common, but the profit margin is absolutely abysmal.

“I finally decided on the business model used by lawyers. In days past, when we had a disagreement, we’d sit down and discuss it; lawyers convinced everyone that litigation was a better solution. Don’t like the neighbors’ dog? Don’t talk to the neighbor, take them to court. Did the school not eliminate every peanut down to the molecular level for a five mile radius? File a suit.

“The next advantage was the flexibility. If a client wishes to engage my services, the client chooses the subject and tells me whether I should be pro or con. Unlike amateur philosophers, I am not married to a particular idea or set of values. A client walks in and says, ‘I want to hire you to think up new things about global warming.’ I can then ask, ‘As a supporter or a cynic?'”

So how do charge a customer for your services?

“Billable hour. I charge by the hour in ten-minute increments, or any portion thereof. If I sit in a quiet room, I can sometimes dedicate two or three hours. Research is required, of course, so time spent reading, and of course thinking about what I’ve read is included.

“I do charge a premium for an epiphanies, which seem to occur suddenly while I’m in the shower. I figure that not only am I due the premium, but also portal-to-portal—from As with lawyers, the legal fees are one charge, and the expenses another.”

What kind of expenses do philosophers encounter?

“Well there are the usual things—paper, pens, and such, but all of the great philosophers have done their best work while drinking. Lofty ideas call for a fine wine or brandy, while blithering can be accomplished with nothing more than a pint of porter and a handful of bar mix.

“There’s one more part of the lawyers’ business model that’s useful. If an idea I think of for a client has commercial value, I receive one-third of the gross.”

Well, Mr. Bailey, I want to thank you for your time. I’m sure my readers will enjoy your unique approach.

“It’s been a pleasure.

“Oh, wait a minute…….. Here’s your bill, and please note the a surcharge since you didn’t buy me a drink.”

Band Geeks

And if you've never seen it before https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SkeBH0jbYo

And if you’ve never seen it before https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SkeBH0jbYo

I marched in the band in high school and college, and enjoyed every second of it. (Well, there probably was a second here and there when I didn’t, but I don’t remember them.)

I can understand the old joke that football stadiums’ primary purpose is for the marching band. (For a great perspective listen to Jack Stamp https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw4vqll9cAM).

I won’t belabor you with my opinionated comments. I’ll let these statements speak for themselves.

  • The morning news said that the national college championship game yesterday was attended by eighty thousand with the average ticket price being nine hundred dollars.
  • Members of the marching bands had transportation and lodging provided. They had great seats and paid nothing.
  • Marching band counts as a class with credit toward graduation.
  • Marching band members do not have to deal with 250 pound guys from the other school repeatedly grabbing and tackling them!

Looking for the Pony

Back to the Future 3 ("Mad Dog" Tannen in a running gag.)

Back to the Future 3
(“Mad Dog” Tannen in a running gag.)

An old story talks about twins, one the ultimate optimist, the other the ultimate pessimist. To try to even them out, one Christmas, the parents gave the pessimist a room filled with ever kind of toy imaginable. His reaction was, “Look at all this junk! They’re going to expect me to put everything away at night. We probably don’t have the right batteries, and most of them will get broken!” The parents realized their idea hadn’t worked.

They then checked on the optimist. To bring his outlook down to a more realistic level, they’d filled the room supposedly containing his gifts with manure. As they walked up to the doorway they saw the optimist happily digging a path through the manure, flinging handfuls in all directions. “What are you doing? They asked in horror.

“If there’s this much horseshit, there’s gotta be a pony!” came the happy reply.

I’ve tried to be more upbeat this year in my posts, but it’s tough and getting tougher. It seems like the world is full of lunatics: terrorists, politicians, celebrities, you name it. In the meantime, the media just feeds on the insanity, stooping (can you stoop when you’re already crawling through the mud?) to new lows in order to find something—anything more shocking than they did yesterday. I heard on the radio today (NPR) that news directors are already dreading the 2016 elections. THEY’RE dreading it? Ha!

All right, people. Let’s get to work. Maybe together we can find the pony.