Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Just finished reading Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for what must be the fifth or eight time, as it is my favorite novel from one of my favorite science fiction writers.

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Employing obvious parallels from the American Revolution, TMIAHM tells of the fight for independence by Loonies, future penal colonists living on the Moon. A computer technician, a political agitator, and an academic unite to kick off the Moon’s struggle for sovereignty from Mother Earth, which uses the Moon as a dumping ground for ‘undesirables’ and for real estate to grow grain for Earth’s teeming hungry billions.

But the whole thing would have never worked had it not been for ‘Mike,’ a sentient computer that runs the Lunar infrastructure and who has an odd sense of humor. Only the inner three conspirators know of Mike’s capabilities, and they use his lightning-fast intellect and processing power to full effect.

Heinlein spells out much of his libertarian philosophy here: on the Moon, nothing comes free–not health care, not justice, not even air, so “Loonies” don’t expect government largesse in any fashion. Their national motto is TANSTAAFL–There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

The author also explores alternative family arrangements, notably the “line marriage” of the protagonists. Family units consist of multiple husbands and wives, with new members opted into the arrangement as older ones retire and die off. At any given point children may have half a dozen fathers or mothers–makes for almost no orphans, and family capital can compound over decades to enormous sums, which would come in handy when your family spans a century or more. Must make for interesting sleeping arrangements.

All in all, TMIAHM has revolutionary politics, family dynamics, action, humor, pathos–something for everyone. I can’t rate it highly enough.

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Too Cool Not to Share

Here’s the latest beautiful video pinging around the internet, a time-lapse video taken from the International Space Station as it orbits the earth. Beautiful imagery of stars, aurora, lightning, city lights, clouds . . . our pale blue dot in all its glory.

Best viewed in full screen.

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Symphony of Science: Onward to the Edge

In honor of Carl Sagan’s recent birthday, musician John Boswell has brought us another Symphony of Science, and it’s a beauty.

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Speak up for Kids CASA 5K

Second race in two weeks. This was the Rockwall CASA 5K, a charity org that advocates for kids caught in the court system.

Weather was cold, bright, and breezy, but I was stoked. In last week’s race, I noticed a guy who had beaten me by about a minute, and this morning I saw him again. So I resolved to stick on his back and hopefully make a PR. Around mile 2 I was seriously reconsidering, but I pulled out a couple of my favorite mantras and was able to stick with it, although I was grasping most of the way (groaning and gasping). Just before the 3-mile mark, I found enough in the tank to pass him by, and I thought I might be able to do my typical home-stretch sprint, but I wasn’t counting on the uphill climb and the headwind.

With the finish line in sight, he caught up to me, and my ego kicked in. I dug down deep and pushed hard, crossing the line a couple of seconds ahead of him, less than 25 and a half minutes, beating my PR by half a minute.

Afterwards I introduced myself to “Greg” and told him that if it wasn’t for his inspiring pace I wouldn’t have finished as well as I did. We chatted a bit about our mutual leap-frogging.

At the awards portion, I was surprised and thrilled to learn I had made second place in my age group, a first for me. Now I have a nifty silver medal for my efforts. Yay for me, although my enthusiasm deflated just a bit when I found out that Greg, the guy I could barely keep up with and who looked like he was ready for another race, is 12 years older than me. Oy, I hope I’m as fast as he is when I’m in my mid-50s.

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The Gift of Apollo

Another entry in the Sagan Series, a collection of videos in the master’s own voice about space, science, and the beauty of discovery.

The ending text makes me glum, however. The bar chart comparing what we spend on guns vs. butter, for example; in this case ‘butter’ meaning the exploration of the universe we live in. That and the fact that we haven’t sent a person beyond low earth orbit since 1972. Imagine telling a person in the early 1970s that they should enjoy this time of world-exploring because it isn’t going to happen again for another four decades at least. I think that they would think that you were narrow-minded, cowardly, and perhaps crazy.

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2011 Hays Husky 5K Fun Run/Walk

Saturday was the annual Hays Elementary School Husky 5K Run/Walk. The school uses it as a big fundraiser, which includes a silent auction and other money-making activities. The morning was crisp, below 40 degrees, but sunny.

This race was my second in a month to be hosted by the Rockwall Running Club, which coordinated the course flawlessly. And once again, I’m thrilled and shocked to see I made a personal best, clocking in the 5K at 25:59 for a 8:22/mile pace. I was fourth in my age group, but I’m still wow’ing at the overall winner, a guy just one year younger than me who finished over six minutes faster for a 6:21 pace. Impressive.

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Bill Bryson’s At Home

I just finished Bill Bryson’s latest book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life.

I had read it about a year ago when it was released in hardcover, and I enjoyed it so much I re-read it when it was just released in paperback.

So much of history ends up littered on the floor of our homes (figuratively, that is.) Bryson wanders room by room through his own house and asks why things are the way they are where he lives.

Why do we keep salt and pepper on our tables, instead of any of the other of hundreds of available spices? Bryson writes: “I can tell you at once that nothing you touch today will have more bloodshed, suffering, and woe attached to it than the innocuous twin pillars of your salt and pepper set.”

Why are bricks so difficult to make? “Perhaps the greatest demonstration of the difficulty of making bricks–or possibly the greatest demonstration of single-minded futility–was in the 1810s when Sydney Smith, the well-known wit and cleric, decided to make his own bricks for the rectory he was building for himself at Foston le Clay in Yorkshire. He was said to have unsuccessfully fired 150,000 bricks before finally conceding that he probably wasn’t going to get the hang of it.”

Why was personal hygiene so out of favor in medieval Christendom? “When Thomas a Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, died in 1170, those who laid him out noted approvingly that his undergarments were ‘seething with lice.’”

Bryson fills his book with countless facts and anecdotes illustrating the world inside our domiciles. With rich history informing every object and room we occupy, this book brings a new meaning to the phrase, “There’s no place like home.”

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