A Day at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

This past week, one of my business partners and I had the pleasure of spending several hours with Steve Collins at NASA’s JPL. I’m sure it would be fair to say that had I been able to see a reflection of myself, it would have been a mixture of a wide-eyed child trying to soak absolutely everything in with the ear-to-ear grin of someone who couldn’t believe all of the real “fantasy-come-true” things he was seeing. That Steve, a completely down to Earth and plain-spoken, but insanely smart and accomplished NASA JPL engineer, took time out of his day to give us a personal tour of the facility was one of the most amazing and intellectually stimulating experiences in recent memory.

As we were standing underneath a full scale replica of Galileo, our conversation wasn’t the regurgitation of history taught to a tour guide, but a deep and detailed conversation with the scientist who was responsible for the telemetry of Galileo. Talking about Galileo’s orbits around Earth and Venus as it prepared for it’s voyage, and then traveled, to Jupiter was first-hand perspective that left me with a glimpse of the passion, excitement (and sometimes fear) for what it must be like to have mission-critical responsibility.

curiosity_900wThe same can be said about Curiosity, which he had an integral part in both getting to Mars and to its ongoing exploration of the surface, and is more closely related to how we initially met. Seeing the Curiosity’s “sister” on Earth was similarly amazing and I was thrilled to be able to talk at length about why Curiosity’s wheels are tearing on Mars’ surface (and understand through touching one that has been put through similar experiences here on Earth). Extra credit to anyone who knows or figures out the “Easter Egg” on Curiosity’s front driver-side wheel.

mission-control_900wAs we walked in for an “on the ground” tour of Mission Control, which has data visualizations that are more impressive than the biggest budget Hollywood movie (maybe in small part because they are real), we saw an installation from their resident artist that uses LED strands to display real time satellite transmission data. I can’t say strongly enough how cool I think it is that they have a resident artist in 2015.

Our conversation over the few hours we spent together covered the successes, “normal” mid-mission corrections, and inevitable, unexpected errors and failures where we talked at length about the ways in which the members of the mission crew get creative to troubleshoot, remedy or even sometimes hack fixes from literally thousands of miles away.

One of the most rewarding moments was when we were talking about a problem they encountered with a tape drive. As we were talking about all of the variables, and then unknowns, Steve eyes suddenly went distant for a moment and he said half to himself “Wow, I never thought about it from this perspective before.” That a conversation one of the smartest people I’ve ever met could have led him to a different way of thinking about a problem or approaching a solution is valuable to me beyond words.

I hope Steve found the time even partially as rewarding as we did. They truly venture to “Dare Mighty Things” every day. And yes, they had long since come up with a workaround for the problem all by themselves.

DAILY CANCER

We missed this one last week on the Daily Cancer, but I felt the need to say a think or two about it.  It turns out that research is now showing that alcohol also increases the risks of certain types of cancer, including throat, colon, breast, and liver:

Well, fantastic.  It wasn’t bad enough that alcohol gives you a big red nose and turns your liver into a rock, now it gives you cancer too.  Well, at least we can continue to use our cell phones with impunity.

Interestingly though, a moderate intake of alcohol reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and may reduce the risk of lymphatic cancer.  Oh ok, so some booze good, a lot of booze bad right?  Not necessarily, as the study reported that there is a linear dose response relationship between alcohol intake and cancer risk, oh I’m sorry certain types of cancer.  What’s that mean?  The more drinks, the higher the risk of getting cancer.  This is further confounded by genetic elements also coming into play.  So, in addition for some of us poor sods, we are automatically at a higher risk just because of who we are.  Again, fantastic. 

So what doesn’t cause cancer at this point?  They already took smoking and asbestos away from us, and now booze too.  Frankly, I’m getting sick of the whole damn thing. Every week, we here this causes cancer, that causes heart disease, this will give you Alzheimer’s Disease, that will make blood run out of every orifice of your body.  What’s more, so much of this is contradictory.  Just look at last week’s Daily Cancer.  Alcohol is good and bad, certain drugs may help you, but also put you at an increased risk for certain types if disease.  It’s all getting too be a bit too much.  Who knows what to believe anymore?  Well, at least we still have a few of the old stalwarts.  Tobacco, Russian roulette,  and setting one’s self on fire all remain bad.  Damn it though, I wish I could find something remotely good about tobacco and doughnuts…

So, what should we make of all this business?  And at least we have the “Daily Cancer” column to keep you informed (or confused).  My recommendation, screw it, or as my good friend Terence the Roman ( 185 BC-159 BC) says “moderation in all things”.  So eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.       

THE MAGIC BUTTON

Ok, mind out of the gutter. If that’s what’s on your mind, you should probably stop by Fleshbot for a visit to blow off some steam… Then come back.

Over the past several months, I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with people hooked up to IV’s in hospitals (nothing serious, but thanks for the concern). During those visits, said IV’s were typically connected to some form of pain reduction medication (Fentanyl, the evergreen Morphine and more) on an auto-drip schedule.

And yet the doctor always hands the patient a “magic button” to dose-up, top off, take another hit, fix, whatever.

Did you catch the Auto-drip part above. Just like your coffee pot… it just gets it right every time.

I’m convinced that, just like the vast majority of “door close” buttons on elevators that have no measurable effect, the “magic button” is nothing more than a placebo to make the patient feel as if they’ve received more of the magic juice. “Oh, that’s so much better.”

What I haven’t been able to figure out is, unlike elevators, many of which have visible cameras where building security can watch sitcom episodes featuring the impatient repeatedly hit the “door close” button, trying in vain to get somewhere 2 seconds faster, hospital rooms have no visible cameras where hospital staff can share a laugh at the would be junkies.

I still know it’s true… and I’m going to discuss this with my therapist.

DAILY CANCER

Because we care about your health… and, crazy as it sounds, what you need to do (or avoid doing) changes daily.

Worldwide Soapbox is proud to feature a “regular as possible” column to help you stay up to date, live life to its fullest, and, most importantly, avoid cancer.

Volume 2…

According to a Reuter’s article citing Urology, December 2005 “Cholesterol drug [Atorvastatin, better known as Lipitor] inhibits cancer cells in lab.” More specifically, bladder cancer cells.

Lead investigator Dr. Ashish M. Kamat stated that while statins show promise in being active against bladder cancer cells in a lab, clinical trials are needed because opposing research suggests statin use may also increase cancer related deaths.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering where this leaves you… or saying “what the f@#$?!” Foruntately, Worldwide Soapbox has some thoughts…

If you have high cholesterol, usually considered to mean over 200 (a statistic that seems to be miraculously lowering each year), you are a candidate for statin use as a means of bringing your cholesterol down. The thought process is that cholesterol is believed to have a link to heart disease. Yup, believed would be the key word. Nothing conclusive… and there’s a family in Italy with cholesterol levels in the 600’s with NO history of heart disease to complicate matters. While the medical and science communities work out their story, call your insurance broker. They’ll still tell you that your premiums would go down if you get a script.

Despite this sounding like a digression from the topic, from my vantage point on top of the soapbox, I’m also compelled to help you not die of other diseases… or at least lower your life insurance premiums.

Regarding today’s “Daily Cancer,” sorry but it’s going to be a flip-flop for the next few years as guys in white lab coats throw down in a regular old east coast/west coast style battle. While that’s going on, if you can get your hands on some Lipitor, why not pop a few, stop by your favorite burger joint and order like you’ve already contracted bird flu. It won’t help your expanding waistline, but it’ll be a free meal if you consider all the money you aren’t sending to Allstate this month.

Still concerned? Drop the good doctor responsible for the study a line and see if he can alleviate your worries. We’re reasonably sure he’ll appreciate the contact, as the lack of clear direction in this publication would suggest a craving for attention (or maybe he needs a visit to the local urologist for personal reasons):

Ashish M. Kamat, M.D.

Department of Urology – 1373

The University of Texas

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030

Phone: (713) 792-3250

Fax: (713) 794-4824

For appointment, please call (713) 745-7020

DTC PHARMA ADVERTISING OR THE END OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION…

Well folks, what the hell have we come to? Is there any larger scourge than Direct to Consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising? It’s the Dark Ages all over again, where all sorts of beasties are preying on weak and frail humans. We’re under vicious attack from toenail fungus and mucus. The horror!

Who the hell is coming up with these ad campaigns?

Lamisil® starring Digger the Dermatophyte, and Musinex®, with the wife beater wearing Mr. Mucus (nothing more than a white trash Slimer ala the first Ghostbusters film) are among the worst DTC pieces of crap out there. I swear these campaigns are contributing to the downfall of humanity, sending us backwards to a time when we explained phenomena by making stuff up. Did you know that worms were thought to be horse hair brought to life by a clever mixture of water and mud? Interestingly, frogs also were thought to be a life creating mixture of the same elements, but alas, I digress…

I can see it now, a conference room in a high powered ad agency… here’s the pitch, buck toothed monsters are eating your toenails. It’s Brilliant, sure to drive every last customer into the doc’s office asking for salvation from these dread creatures!

The market research must show that the entire American population is a bunch of cave-dwelling imbeciles. How else would we fall victim to such drivel. I mean, come on…a puke yellow goblin eating my nails? It’s just a fungus people; it’s not going to kill you.

I’ve got no problem with an educated public that understands the risks and benefits of prescription drugs. However, the crap that’s being shoveled in our direction is not helping educate, it’s helping nothing. How about this, instead of spending millions in agency fees to come up with the next Digger, how about putting the money towards actual educational campaigns that treat the consumer like an adult? Better yet, leave the prescribing and educating to the physician-patient relationship, and put the cash towards research. Drug resistant bacteria are on the rise, and we’re running out of antibiotics. Imagine multi-drug resistant flesh-eating bacteria…now there’s a monster.

Please don’t encourage this abomination by visiting www.mucinex.com or www.lamisil.com.