What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Inefficiency. Look, I’m delighted that Big Pharma is reimbursing me 93% of my out of pocket costs for the meds that one of the smart docs from Hopkins tells me will contribute to being able to continue to living better through chemistry. I’d be even more appreciative if their reimbursement scheme allowed for ordering more than a 30-day supply of the stuff at a time. Everything else rolls in as a 3-month supply that’s simple enough to refill once a quarter except this one little pill. It feels like I’m online getting that one refilled or coordinating the refund about every seven days. If you’re going to spend the money either way you could save us both processing time and effort by doing it four times a year instead of 12.

2. Single points of failure. The world is full of people who want to gather all decision making and power unto themselves. I’ve never understood that particular logic for several reasons. First, the ones who seem to be drawn to absolute power are generally the last ones who should be engaged in decision making. Second, there’s nothing more ridiculous than a few dozen people standing around knowing what needs done but being paralyzed for lack of having someone explicitly telling them to do it.

3. Consistency in the space program. I really wish we lived in a country that had consistent and achievable, manned and unmanned space exploration goals. I want NASA to be above politics and be maybe the one instrument of government that is the best reflection of ourselves. I want to see big rockets with the stars and stripes plastered to the side hurtling American astronauts back to the moon and then getting their ass to Mars. To think that’s not the next logical step in exploration is nonsensical and flies in the face of humanity’s eternal struggle to expand into the unknown. Other people will tell you this should be way down on the list of priorities, but those people are wrong and should be quiet.

What Jeff Likes this Week

OrionOrion. It’s really that simple. I like Orion and the fact that for the first time since the early 1970s, the United States of America hurtled a man made object out beyond low earth orbit.

I like Orion because it represents the next in an unbroken series of exploratory and evolutionary steps that have carried humanity out of the Great Rift Valley, across and under oceans, and to the moon. It’s the only thing that makes sense after we’ve hunted and gathered our way across the surface of the entire planet – learning how to live in every inhospitable environment this world can throw at us. It’s what must be next because leaving this fragile blue planet is the last, best hope that human civilization will endure should we ever be dumb enough to destroy ourselves here on earth.

Of course leaving the planet is also the best chance that we’ll run into an aggressive space traveling civilization, microbes against which humanity has not natural defense, or give us the capability to militarize deep space and kill off civilization in entirely new and interesting ways… so it’s kind of a double edged sword.

Still, it’s worth every penny and every risk.

Note: This is the 3rd entry in a six-part series appearing on jeffreytharp.com by request.

Anteres…

I was logged in to the NASA public affairs web stream to watch the launch of an Anteres rocket from the Wallops Island facility this evening. In my part of the mid-Atlantic region, about 60-90 seconds after liftoff, if they weather cooperates, you can watch the craft scrambling for altitude. Tonight what we saw was what is generously described as a catastrophic systems failure – an explosion six seconds after launch.

The launch was unmanned, its payload resupply materials for the International Space Station. Although there was apparently no loss of life, its a stark reminder that no matter how commonplace it’s come to seem, hurling manmade objects into orbit is an inherently difficult and dangerous activity. The fact that it almost seems normal is a testament to the ongoing hard work and dedication of the men and women of NASA and its contract partners.

P.S. You’re welcome, Jess.

Curiosity…

They say in America you can grow up to be anything. We all know that’s not exactly true, but believing that is something that is as much a part of our national narrative as apple pie. I, for instance, could never have grown up to be an engineer. My math skills just aren’t that strong and my level of interest in slogging through massive equations hovers just slightly above 0.00%. I just don’t have any business operating in a world that demands tolerances with hundredths and thousandths of an centimeter. It’s important to know your personal limitations.

Of course there’s a price to pay for basically ignoring math and science education. While I’ve been keeping myself busy with endless PowerPoint and unlimited supply of memoranda, the guys at the Jet Propulsion Lab were guzzling Red Bull, piling up over time and night differential, and landing a Volkswagen on Mars. You’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty damned cool resume line. It’s fair to say that a history degree and an MBA aren’t likely to get me assigned to one of those projects. Maybe if I’d have just paid a little more attention in Cosmic Concepts back in 1996 things would have been different…