MARS

2016 TV Series produced by National Geographic

I finished a two-season TV show last night, “MARS.” What’s most interesting about the program is its play between documentary and drama, separated by 17 years. The drama is a mission to the red planet, the intent of which is starting a colony. There are no return tickets. They will either find water and protection from solar radiation or they won’t, and will perish. With two seasons, the outcome of is apparent.

Season one is on Netflix and season two on the National Geographic Channel

The documentary part is mostly interviews with persons involved in planning, designing and testing for future exploration and colonization of Mars. They include  Elon MuskAndy WeirRobert Zubrin, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Eventually the science colony, which is supported by the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), a multinational funding and governing organization, is joined by a second colony, Lukrum. A resource extraction corporation, Lukrum has powerful interests in nearly every country represented in IMSF, and they use that leverage to promote and prioritize their mining activities on Mars.

The miners are all likable characters as are the scientists (with one exception) and they get along together gangbusters, as one would expect for people who are ultimately isolated from Earth for years. It’s only when commercial activities collide with scientific discovery that things break down. Even at that, the personal fondness and even trust between the commanders and their crews mostly continue.

Of course, the 2016 interviews and documentary footage shifts its focus to our planet’s ongoing competition between corporate interests and the common good, and that there is little reason to believe that the same will not happen as we become an interplanetary race. These points may be handled a bit heavy-handedly by the show, though I don’t dispute the sentiments, especially considering how much space exploration is being promoted today by commercial organizations.

The show ends on a positive note, especially as one of my favorite characters survives, a short-tempered Spaniard who leaves every conflict spouting rapid Spanish exclamation, Ricky Ricardo style.

Computing: 1980 Style

I saw my first personal computer in 1981. At that time, the closest you could come to a computer store (where I lived) was a back corner of the local Radio Shack store. There you found models of their TRS-80 computers, offering all manner of unimagined possibilities – but almost no software. Ready to buy and load (via audio cassettes) were a basic word processor (Scriptsit), a spreadsheet program (Visicalc) and a handful of games, including Galxian, Asteroids, Targ and Zork.

Dot-Matrix Print

But we didn’t buy computers because we wanted to play games or even to word process. Have you ever seen the print from the early dot-matrix printers? We bought computers because we wanted to learn about this new thing that was “going to change everything.”

Early Computing Magazine
Early Computing Magazine

Unsurprisingly, we had to go to print in order to learn and a few early magazines was the bast place to go. Even then, the gestation time of new books was way to long to be reliably up-to-date. New issues of zines were frequent and regular, and among them were BYTE, PC, Compute and even Family Computing.

We learned the latest that was known about these early TRS-80, Atari, Apple and Commodore computers. But better, was the programming tips we could learn by typing code that was included on the zines’ pages.

A Home Accounting program for the Commodore Pet computer
Submitted by Robert Baker of Atco, NJ
January 1980

Of course, the programs never worked the first time. It was impossible to key the code in without mistakes. So we spent as much time going back and decoding the programs, OR we taught ourselves how to write our own programs.

😉

Twice Exceptional

Attending a meeting yesterday, regarding Western Carolina University’s College of Education and Allied Professions, I learned a new term, twice-exceptional.

In education’ese, “exceptional” children are usually students with some learning difficulty, such as A.D.D., dyslexia, hearing impairment, emotional disturbance – or are academically talented in some way.

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When I asked, the speak explained that a “Twice-Exceptional” student is one who has some learning disability but is also academically and/or intellectually gifted.

I suspect that this describes a lot of extraordinarily accomplished individuals, who later admit to being poor performers in their school experience, i.e. Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and Steve Jobs. Sadly, this also, more than likely describes a lot of wasted talent caused by our assigning opportunity-limiting labels to children who are simply divergent learners, children who are not suited to regimented learning environments.