MilliHoyts: Measuring Important Stuff

Last post, I coined (I think) the term ‘milliHoytScience! Everybody who's Anybody Wants Science! s’ as a measure of reading speed. Goes like this:

Sarah Hoyt, prominent fantasy and sci fi author who blogs here, mentioned in passing on her blog that, while on vacation, she reads 4 novels a day. That’s the fastest reading speed I’ve ever heard of, so, like Fahrenheit and his salty ice water, we’ll just assert that that’s as good as it gets and make it the benchmark.

Since science depends, to an often shocking degree, on simplifying assumptions, we are not going to ask whether we’re talking 4 anchor-like tomes such as Anna Karenina or lighter fare such as Have Spacesuit Will Travel. Nope – science decrees: novels is novels.

So a Hoyt of reading speed is based on 4 novels a day, 28 novels a week and, for standard measuring purposes, 1460.96 novels per year (1). A milliHoyt is therefore 1.46096 novels per year. We could round up to 1.5 novels/year with no material loss in accuracy (because I say so).

So: right now, I’m reading about 2 novels/week, which projects to 104 novels/year. Dividing by 1.5 yields a current novel-reading speed of 69.3333 milliHoyts. How you doin’?

The next challenge for Science is to come up with an equivalency table: while we will silently glare with eyebrows held high at anyone who wants the 250 pages of Slan to count less the 600+ pages of a typical John C Wright or Gene Wolfe novel, at some point we must attempt to expand beyond typical novels. For example, how many standard novels is Phenomenology of Spirit worth? And are we to count just pages, or do the spiritual and moral effort needed to complete some books figure into it? Phenom of S is only a little longer than a Mike Flynn novel by page count, but a Flynn novel doesn’t reduce your brain to jelly and leave you mind a quivering cripple.

Science! Marches On, but does need to mill around on the parade grounds a bit from time to time, too.

  1. Using 365.24 days/year. Close enough.

Thoughts That Pop Up While Reading

gessurit & henchman

Separated at birth? Or just trans-universal fashion victims?

I’ve got 4 books going at the moment: Frankenstein, Princess of Mars, Dune and In Defense of Sanity (a collection of Chesterton essays). This does not include the Hegel that I’ll get back to Real Soon Now, nor the various education and education history books that I’ve never gotten quite through. In my defense, the last 3 years have been pretty tough around Casa de Moore, and the reading activity has picked up a bunch over the last few months. No, really – I’m up to probably a couple books per week now, which, while only registering a few milliHoyts on the standard Reading Volume Scale, still means that, by the end of the year, I will have read a decent pile of books.

The reason I’ve got these four going at once – I usually read one book at a time – is that, for whatever reason, my mood is strongly affecting my ability to stick to a story. This didn’t used to happen much, either. So, sometimes the manly murdering of Princess of Mars is just the thing, while at other times its the baroque flourishes (and yawning chasms of improbability) of Frankenstein. Chesterton is always good, so I read that when nothing else is appealing.

Dune has, so far, failed to grab me. I’m maybe 10-15% in. The only character so far that seems truly interesting is the Harkonnen Mentat – he is a scream, and has both my attention and sympathy in a weird way.

But you see, Baron, I know as a Mentat when you will send the executioner. You will hold back just so long as I am useful. To move sooner would be wasteful and I’m yet of much use.

That’s an interesting thing to say, right there. The other characters, at least so far, strike me as a bit cardboard. But, hey, there’s still a couple inches of novel to go, so there’s hope for the characters to develop.

But the syncretism and patent Bene Jesuits jab are just, I don’t know, petty. I mean really – the Bene Gesserit are the only humans in their opinion, and control lesser beings by planting appropriate myths, and are ruthless manipulators of all things political, and run around in robes and stuff and – c’mon. Not to mention Way Cool Mind Powers(tm). So, there’s a bit of an uphill climb here to get my buy-in.(1)

The most striking thing about Frankenstein – about 60% through – apart from the the many implausible things that just don’t warrant an even passing shot at explanation(2), was the scene where Frankenstein shows up for University. I’m assuming it’s a realistic representation  of what went on, since 18-year old Mary Shelly evidently had beta readers. What went on is that the prospective student shows up, presents some letters directly to the professors he’s interested in studying under, they assign him some reading, and – that’s it. They’d teach you, evidently, one-on-one?  Very cool.

Princess of Mars I’m mostly rereading, because I can’t remember if I got all the way through it (I think I did, but doubts linger). I like all the over-the-top manliness of the whole thing. The creatures and settings are also very good, except why, exactly, would Mars be warm enough to run around naked on, when it’s way farther from the sun than the earth, where, outside the tropics, it tends to get cold? But hey, nit getting picked and all.

  1. Maybe I need to convince myself that it’s all a post-Vatican II send-up? That the arrogant jerks that make up the bulk of the Jesuit leadership, at least in this country, are getting their due at the hands of Herbert? Can I do that? I worked at U. of San Francisco as a choir director about 25 years ago, and so got to hear a lot of Jesuits giving homilies. What a load! If I, with a Great Books background, am straining to follow your little lecture, then what about all the neighborhood people and college Freshmen in the church? Who, in other words, were they preaching *to*?  For the record, I’ve known 3 Jesuits that are among the most wonderful and holy men I’ve ever had the grace to meet. Buuuut, in general….
  2. OK: The monster not only is animated from dead people and cows and stuff, but he’s a athletic freak and a genius – because? There’s no healing involved in a creature pieced together like that, so that he’s ready to rumble right off the old animation table, not wracked by pain or failing apart or anything? In a couple years, he acquires a fluency and grace of language equal to that of a remarkably precocious 18 year old English woman? Note that I’m not mentioning anything related to the relatively primitive state of science in 1800 here, just more basic stuff. And some cottagers live adjacent to a 8′ tall Peeping Tom for a year, and just sort of miss it? Never once wonder about that lean-to right there? On notice the eyeball peaking in the room?  But hey, it’s still pretty good.

More Mini-Reviews: 1st Men in the Moon and Slan

mad scientist41 out of 116 down! 

In Sci Fi, as in the real world, there’s bad science, and there’s anti-science. Bad science is Star Wars (and, frankly, Star Trek) and, oh, say, Psychology . Anti-science is X-Men and Sociology. Star Wars and Psychology mis-use aspects of science or introduce mountains of handwavium in the service of another end – most excellent entertainment, in the case of Star Wars, getting tenure and grants in the case of psychology. Anti-science, on the other hand, pretends to be science but in reality undermines and contradicts the basic principles of science. X-Men is built on the idea that Eeevolution ™ ‘leaps forward’ in a remarkably directed way. Eeevolution cares about us! And knows which direction is ‘forward’. Sociology puts on a lab coat in order to give some sort of coat-tail legitimacy to the program of remaking society into a Marxist fantasy land.

Many a great story has been built on Bad Science, mostly, I presume, in a completely innocent manner – the goal is to create a gripping, mind-bending story, not give a science lecture. Even more understandable are the old stories that extrapolated from what people thought they knew at the time – what was perfectly hard speculation in 1890 looks utterly silly, scientifically speaking, in 2015. So bad science in stories is OK, you just have to run with it unapologetically (*cough* midicloririans *cough*) and readers will be OK with it. In fact, it’s fun in and of itself to read old stories just to see the state of science at the time from which the authors jump off.

WARNING: I’m going to spoil the daylights out of Slan. First Men in the Moon, not so much.

The First Men in the Moon is just such a story. Since it was first published in 1901, H.G. Wells was unencumbered by too much information about the moon – it was still a blank slate of mystery upon which his imagination could pour out. But first, he’s got to get his men there.

A lone eccentric scientific genius named Cavor is puttering around in the English countryside, trying to formulate a material that is impervious to gravity waves. Bedford, a dissolute neighbor and the narrator of the story, joins him. Cavor’s first successful experiment results in a sudden tornado-like disaster, as his sheet of gravity-proof ‘Cavorite’ causes all the air above it, now immune to the effects of the earth’s gravity, to blast off into space at high speeds (why? I guess the aether moves it or the air exists in some other absolute frame of reference). The resulting rush of surrounding air into the low pressure area creates a suction that destroys nearby building and, thankfully, blows the sheet of Cavorite right off the earth before the entire atmosphere is launched into space.

Bedford and Cavor proceed to build a space ship – a metal and glass sphere with smaller pieces of Cavorite arranged behind shutters. The shutters can be opened and closed, creating repulsion or attraction as needed.(1) They decide to take a test flight to the moon, packing up stuff just as if they are a couple English gentlemen going on safari.

The moon, while not made of cheese, nonetheless reminds one of a block of Swiss, with highly-adapted insect-like aliens filling all the holes. Well’s idea of a frozen atmosphere that thaws during the two-week day and refreezes at night is wonderful. The whole ecology of the moon’s surface springs up with the dawn and crumbles to dust with the night.

But his interest is clearly in the rationally-organized aliens, who are trained and physically altered to suit the tasks their society needs done, so that no one is unhappy with his lot in life. In his audience with the Grand Lunar, Cavor presents human war as necessary to the culling of the species, as people are all mostly alike and many are dreadfully unhappy with their lot and would otherwise make trouble if they weren’t periodically out killing each other. Otherwise, Cavor is presented as a kind-hearted and optimistic humanitarian. Wonder what Well’s monsters would sound like?

Otherwise, a fun ride, wonderful imagination. This is the story that inspired C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Slan is a great story all but ruined, for me at least, by the ending. You may have read here about my aversion to Way Cool Mind Powers. WCMP are a bump in the road for me, a good enough story can get me past it pretty easily. Slan succeeds well in this respect, as it is a grippingly told adventure story where the WCMP are, for the most part, essential and well-integrated. It’s that other thing….

Jommy Cross (2) is aa 8-year old boy whose father, a great scientist and a Slan, was murdered by base-edition humans some time before the story opens. He and his mother, also Slans, are walking in Centropolis, the world capital some centuries in the future. She is reminding him of his duty to recover his father’s work when he turns 15, and his duty to stay alive as the police close in on them. He narrowly escapes as his mother is gunned down.

What is a Slan? A post-human who is way smarter, way stronger, tougher and longer-lived, than the base human stock – us – among whom they live. They also have WCMP – they can read base human’s minds, and, with permission, each other’s as well. Jommy can also exert a bit of ‘hypnotism’ over humans, wherein he takes complete control of their wills. Slans have golden tendrils sticking up out of their heads that enable their telepathy – and make them easy to spot.

Humans, of course, fear and hate Slans, and blame them for several centuries of increased monstrous human births, murders, and trying to rule the world and enslave base humanity. Humans believe the Slans possess some sort of machine that is used on pregnant women to cause them to give birth to Slans, but that most of the time, the result is the birth of monstrosities. Thus, Jommy and his family have lived in hiding all their lives. Other Slans are presumed to exist – the government claims to be finding and killing them off regularly – but Jommy’s family has never managed to find any.

The story alternates sections that deal with Jommy’s attempt to survive, find and ultimately use his father’s inventions to save whatever remaining Slans are out there, with sections that follow Kathleen, a young Slan captured by the government and living under the watchful eyes of Kier Gray, the world dictator, a brilliant and formidable man.

Jommy does find his father’s notes and invention – an atomic-powered hand-held weapon that can dissolve regular matter into nothing. He manages to set up a secret lab out in the country, where he develops lots of cool toys – a indestructible flying car, a anti-gravity/atomic powered spaceship, a crystal gadget that greatly aides his ‘hypnotism’, and lots of weapons.

Jommy also finds Kathleen, who has likewise grown up and made a daring escape – and who is promptly murdered by the evil head of the state police, but not before they have fallen madly in love.

There are evil conspiracies, space battles, daring escapes, a trip to Mars, multiple major reveals and plot twists – it’s all kinds of fun. Then comes the end, where we find out what’s really going on.

What’s going on is the X-Men. See, evolution – I hereby coin the term Hegelution for the kind of intelligent, willful process that makes ‘leaps’ in order to better or supplant the species – so Hegelution has decided, after the manner in which all mindless, mechanical natural processes make decisions, to kick the human species up a couple notches. Thus, by otherwise perfectly natural causes (!?!) Slans arise. Kier Gray turns out to be a Slan, and he and a team of Slans have been running the world’s human government for ages. They created the new subspecies of tendrilless Slans, who can easily hide among humans, but lack the mind-reading ability of true Slans. Tendrilless Slans hide in plain sight, and have developed all sorts of way cool technology, including anti-grav propulsion and interplanetary travel. But for reasons too twisty to get into here, the true Slans made it so the tendrilless hate and fear them. Hegelution under Slan management will eventually return the tendrils to the tendrilless in a few generations, and the Slans can then be one big happy family of world-dominating super-beings who treat humans as, at best, annoying pets.

So we have humans, who truly are threatened by the Slans, tendrilless Slans who hold humans in contempt and true Slans in fear; and true Slans who are, in fact, manipulating things so that they will end up running the planet and solar system. True Slans do, in fact, commit and allow all kinds of murder and mayhem in the name of the Coming Glorious People’s Slan Paradise – they make Machiavelli look like an old softy. Glorious enough ends justify any means; the connection between the means employed and the ends targeted is so well understood that no unintended consequences need be considered. Slans are real, real smart, after all, and should be in charge. Intelligent management is all the world really needs.

And they’re the heroes. And Sci Fi fans quickly adopted ‘Fans are Slans’ as a motto – if anyone were paying attention, that would not make many friends among non-fans.

Anyway, anti-science. It’s not just that evolution doesn’t work like that – it’s more a description of what has happened, and in no way a cause of what has happened – it’s that Hegelution undermines the very idea of science. As the medieval philosophers noted, natural philosophy is an attempt to discover and understand the secondary causes of nature without recourse to constant divine intervention – that ‘God did it’ is both true and trivial, and does nothing to explain any particular case, or, indeed to distinguish between natural phenomena and miracles.

But Hegelution is a cause, both here and in the despair-inducing X-Men. Not only is it a cause, but an intelligent one, that somehow foresees or guesses what kinds of mutations might be helpful.

Slan is a rollicking good time, provided you buy the idea that heaven on earth is a socialist paradise run by really smart guys. If not, it’s still an adventure story well told.

One more minor point: Slan foreshadows future stories by normalizing the idea that total Slan hunks like Jommy will of course bang away like rabbits on willing Slan women – for the betterment of the species and all. When we get to Star Trek in 30 years, all that’s missing is that ‘for the betterment of the species’ nonsense – and any children that might thereby arise and complicate things.

  1. Sounds like a good bit of calculus would be needed to figure out how to get anywhere in this thing…
  2. Minor curiosity: In this story, women and girls have normal, traditional names, like Kathleen, while men have rare or made up names like Kier and Jommy.

How Colonizing Space Requires a Cathedral Builder’s Heart

On the esteemed John C. Wright’s blog, a discussion of colonizing Mars and space in general has broken out, to no one’s surprise. The commentariat has beaten up the various issues. The two general poles of the discussion perhaps can be represented thus: Man is an exploring animal, we will colonize space because it, like Everest, is there! Versus: hey, ya know, keeping people alive in places as hostile to human life as Mars, the moon and space in general is really, really, hard, and we haven’t made much headway in figuring it all out. Given the current state of things, space colonies are a pipe dream.

Anybody with an imagination wants Man to colonize space. We want there to be space aliens, or at least planets humans can live on. What could be cooler? I think most Sci Fi fans of a more scientific inclination recognize, however, that unless we happen across a very earth-like planet, AND figure out a way to get there that human being can survive, we’re way far away from setting up colonies in space. It’s just hoping against the evidence (or lack thereof) that if we just dig big enough holes or build fancy enough structures, that problems with human physiology, radiation, maintaining breathable air, and growing enough food in a closed environment will just get solved.

I’d like to believe that they will. Show me.(1)

But this is mere preamble. The biggest thing I think is lacking in any push to colonize space is generational patience. It’s not something that we’ll do in a lifetime. We humans are really bad at thinking past tomorrow, yet terraforming, even in the very limited sense of making some small area of, say, Mars, suitable for human life (within domes, with caverns down below, that sort of thing), will almost certainly take a long time.

Terraforming a whole planet is likely to take centuries, at least.(2)

Current state of the art: Space X launch. The closest thing to Flynn’s Plancks we’ve seen.

The modern world has produced hundreds of millions of people with the attention span of fruit flies and the patience of toddlers. American culture reflects this. And that’s not the half of it – few of us are able to make and stick to plans that go out past the end of the month. The idea that people like modern Americans could plan and execute something that takes generations would seem preposterous.

Old photo of the cathedral before completion shows the east end finished and roofed, while other parts of the building are in various stages of construction.

Cologne Cathedral under construction. Begun in 1248, work stopped in 1473 with a usable portion of the building complete but not the main facade and towers. Work continued off and on for a couple centuries, then took a couple centuries off, then commenced again in 1842, was completed in 1880, got blown up by allied bombers in WWII, and was rebuild. Finishing touches were completed in 2005. So, here’s a project that took about six and a half centuries to complete. Now your talkin’!

But there’s hope, after a fashion. There have been cases where large groups of people have enthusiastically supported and executed projects that took a century or more to complete: the building of the great Gothic cathedrals. These typically involved a complete commitment of the community (towns of hardly more than a few thousand people built some of these churches!), and took, more often than not, over a century to complete.

So: what remains for us to do if we seriously want to colonize the stars is to recapture whatever it was that motivated people to begin such huge, expensive projects knowing that they, themselves, would never live to see them completed. In fact, those involved early on might get to see the foundation laid; their grand kids might see the columns and buttresses go up; the grand kids of those grand kids might see the roof go on and the glass put in. Some distant descendant might get to see the towers and facade go up.

But all, or at least enough, saw building the Gothic church as a worthy thing, even if they, themselves, never got to enjoy the completed structure.

So, we must find men who will launch the hollowed-out asteroids with atomic ion drives toward the future colonies, and upon arrival set up the comet-shepherding lasers that nudges water-rich objects into decaying orbits around the target planets. As the planets begin to acquire atmosphere and liquid water, green algae is released. Perhaps shuttle craft visit nearby gas giants to mine oxygen, which is deposited on the worlds.

The grandchildren of the asteroid pilots release selected flora and fauna once their survival thresholds are met. The goal is to position the water-bearing comets so that they don’t collide with the planets, but rather are captured in orbits such that the atmosphere has a chance to burn them mostly up. But there will be some impacts, so the transplanted earth life must be tough and diffuse.

Once life is established, the gas mining targets creating an atmosphere with the proper greenhouse characteristics for the particular planet at its particular location in the Goldilocks zone.

By now, a couple centuries (at least!) in, the first colonists are ready to leave earth for the 250 earth year journey. The main deceleration laser needs to be completed and the Dyson power array deployed, ready to slow incoming starliners. More and more sophisticated animals and plants are seeded.

Finally, centuries later, the fist colonists arrive, greeted by the miners and pilots descended through many generations from those who first began the project. The planets are still rough, but tough-minded settlers can survive, and, by their actions, improve conditions.

So, what’s going to motivate all those people to do all that work, when they know they will die before they ever set foot on a livable extraterrestrial planet?

  1. The closest I’ve seen to showing how it could be done might be Mike Flynn’s Firestar series (which I will finish and review someday soon!). It’s as hard as hard Sci Fi gets, but there’s still some little leaps that I’d like to see bridged. A year or so on a space station, a couple hundred miles up and still within the magnetosphere creates physiological problems in human physical specimens in extraordinarily good shape taking extraordinary steps to keep fit. How bout we throw a station out at a Lagrange point for a decade, stick some people on it, see how that goes? I’d love to be convinced, but I’m not.
  2. Cyanobacteria, the blue-green algae-like stuff that is supposed to have first produced free oxygen on earth, took millions of years to create a breathable atmosphere. First, enough oxygen must be produced to saturate all the oxygen reacting stuff on the planet’s surface – all the exposed iron will rust, for example. Only then can significant oxygen build up in the air. After that, as a side effect, as the methane atmosphere was converted to an oxygen atmosphere, the greenhouse effect was reduced – plunging the planet into a 100 million year ice age. Maybe we can speed that up some, but the idea that one would just dump green plants onto a more promising and temperate Venus and wait for breathable air will most likely require quite a bit of waiting.

Sci Fi Reading and Writing: It’s Good to Read the Classics

This project of reading the Sci Fi classics has been very enjoyable and helpful. Got 39 of the 116 stories and novels read so far. Right now, I’m in the middle of four novels at once – Slan, The First Men in the Moon, Skylark of Space, and Dune – where I pick up whichever strikes my fancy at the moment. With any luck, should be done with all four in the next few days. 58 is half-way through! Considering that there are still a lot of shorter works in there left to read, I’ll be there in no time! Woohoo!


Oh, look! It’s Cthulhu! (you can’t see my fingers wiggling menacingly – darn!) 

Couple things have struck me so far:

  1. This is pure fun. I needed some pure fun in my life.
  2. I can see now, if I didn’t already, that it would be hard to come up with something truly original to hang a story on. Minor stuff, sure, but not Mad Scientist, Creature turns on Creator, Alien Invaders, Intelligences Beyond Human Comprehension, Misunderstood and Persecuted Geniuses, Psychohistory – that sort of thing.
  3. I’ve thought how cool it would be to create some sort of diagram of the Great Ideas of Science Fiction, and map out who came up with it, how subsequent great works pick it up and modify it, and what the state of that idea is today. Shelly did both Mad Scientist and Creature Turns on Creator, and you can trace it all the way to Blackie and Skynet. Verne does Billionaire Genius Recluse, which is Batman and dozens of other stories. It’d be cool to take a wall in my house, draw vertical lines for time, and then map out who, when and what, and then show descent through a sort of horizontal family tree…
  4. While I (still! alas!) have made almost no progress on the couple things I’m writing, the gears are turning: reading these books provides all kinds of guidance and inspiration. I love the way the characters and political environment are set up in Slan, for example – the first part of my Moldering Epic ™ has, in the basic layout, something of the same dynamic as Slan’s opening. Cool to see how somebody who knows what they’re doing handles it.

Still have a few things left to do at my late sister’s house before we can hand it off to the realtor. But at least the reading has been fun lately!

Science! And Antiquated Notions!

This is a little on the nit-picky side, but illustrative of a larger and more substantial issue. From today’s Google news science feed:

Stunning new Pluto photos: Could we have imagined this 50 years ago?

First it was towering mountains of ice and a surprisingly crater-free plain. Now it’s icy terrain with a snakeskin vibe and a section of the plain covered in tiny dimples, giving it a texture resembling a cantaloupe.

With the release Thursday of several new images from New Horizons’ flyby of the Pluto-Charon system in July, Pluto continues to amaze.

For William McKinnon, a planetary geologist on the New Horizons team who has been studying the formation and evolution of icy moons in the outer solar system for more than 30 years, the landscape the new images reveal is “unique and perplexing.”

First off: good job, Science! Way cool stuff here. Great pictures, wonderfully successful mission. More, please!  But to the point:

When planetary geologist Geoffrey Collins needs an informal gauge of how much progress has been made, he thumbs through a children’s book about planets published in the 1960s.

“I keep it on my shelf in my office at home … just to remind me of what people knew” back then…


“I’m always sobered by these kinds of discoveries,” he (Scott Kenyon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) says. “We make very complicated models for exoplanets that we can’t see. And we make statements that are very confident. But we’re continually surprised because the universe is varied on scales we sometimes fail to understand.”

The more general problem here: we humans love our stories, scientists no less than anybody else. But we tend to make them up as soon as we know anything at all, and then invest them with way more weight than they deserve. Then, we get a closer look and new information, and it turns out our ideas are all wrong. Are we humbled? Do we propose new, less ambitious and more cautious theories to account for what we now know? Have you been reading this blog very long?

No, the next round of theories – stories – will be every bit as strongly stated and certain sounding as the recently discredited ones. Once we land probes on some of these outer moons and planetoids, we’ll once again be shocked – shocked, I tell you! – to discover that we were all wrong about a bunch of stuff, and that, for example, Mars is more like the moon than the earth, that the major moons of the gas giants are not just balls of rock and ice, but are geologically active and complex, and so on – like in the kid’s book mentioned above, I recall reading about space as a kid versus what is said now. Big differences.

It’s similar in other fields as well. As more information came in, dinosaurs went from these ponderous, slow, thick beasts to something more like giant chickens. Early man went from mate-clubbing imbeciles to remarkably sophisticated social animals. Commercial nuclear fusion went from something 10 years out 50 years ago to something 10 years out today.

Now, there’s very little harm in getting a bit dogmatic in one’s speculations about planets, dinosaurs and early man. Whether Pluto is as smooth as a cue-ball or cratered like the moon or – as it turns out – way more geologically complex is not going to change the lives of 99.999% of people. Similarly, it just doesn’t make any difference to the rest of us if dinosaurs are slow-moving and stupid or bird-like and relatively intelligent, or if early man had a cultural life or not.

But other sciency-sounding theories do have practical implications. Those are the ones of which one must be cautious. We must ask: how would we *know* that? Have we seen it clearly? Have we successfully applied the theory – the story – to real life? Does it match what we do see?

Now, some things, such as electricity, chemistry and a lot of nuclear physics, are largely immune to such overreaching speculation, because of the practical technologies that depend on them. People did have all sorts of crazy theories about electrical essences and phlogiston and little indivisible atoms, but these gradually fell aside once people began to *use* their understanding to make stuff like electric lights, chemical dyes and microprocessors. But wherever that time-tested technological usefulness isn’t fully embodied in products, there remains plenty of room for stories that go too far – stories that will be shown to be wrong when we get a closer look at things.

Grain of salt, people.

Important Paleoanthropological Find: An Old Astro-Fab Brochure

(We are here straining the limits of the randomness that defines (note: that’s a joke, there) this here blog. You’ve been warned.)

The joy associated with emptying my late sister’s house was increased dramatically by the discovery of an ancient brochure put together for my dad’s business. Step aside, H. naledi – I got your earth-shaking find right here.

Love the stylized fabrication/engineering icons on the right. In case it’s not clear, from top to bottom: roll-forming a sheet of metal; (guessing) grinding wheel; welding; punch; die-forming in a brake press, engineering.

In 1962, my dad, Sid Moore, started a sheet metal fabrication company he named, in the spirit of Sputnik and Mercury, Astro-Fab:

Astro-Fab 1

The brochure scanned so poorly I’ve been reduced to iPhone pictures – thus the skew. There seem to be *2* Nash Ramblers parked up against the building – for the life of me, I can’t remember anyone driving a Nash.

I love the groovy name coupled with the Old West typeface – don’t know what, if any, thought went into that, but it’s weirdly cool.

My first real job, at age 11 or 12, was sweeping that building every Saturday. Armed with a push broom, a trash barrel, and a bucket of that dust-suppressing oily sawdust stuff, you worked your way through the paint area, shipping and receiving, material storage, welding, shearing, forming/brake press area, to layout and fabrication – 8 hours later, the floor was pretty clean, for a building housing a bunch of oily, spattery machines run by a bunch of sweaty guys.

Astro-Fab 3

That’s a lot of floors to sweep, there.

At a buck an hour, I was probably wildly overpaid – but I worked hard, and, to this day, have some serious sweeping chops, even though my hands have gone soft – no more callouses on my palms. Over Saturdays and summers through age 19, ended up learning how to do most of the manual stuff – never did layout or welding (except for spot-welding, which is different), but most everything else – punch press, fabricator, shears, brake-press, grinding, painting. And lots of sweeping up and getting rid of the scrap metal (which might be the most dangerous job in the shop – that stuff is sharp and pointy!).

Astro-Fab 6

Representative stuff we made.

The real hardship, such as it was, was the lack of insulation. Inside that building it was often well over 100F in the summer, and it took a long time to warm up in the winter. As hard as it is to believe and contrary to the received mythology, it can get down near freezing in SoCal. When it did, that building stayed cold for most of the day. Working with your hands when they’re numb is not a lot of fun. Yea, yea, uphill both ways.

The brochure is from around when I started working there, maybe 1970. Astro-Fab had moved to this location a few years earlier, after it had outgrown the original shop. At home, it was just known as ‘the Shop’, as in: dad’s going to the Shop. It was located a couple blocks into Pico Rivera from Whittier, right off Whittier Blvd, in LA county.

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I look remarkably like the Old Man. I think it’s the haircut…

Astro-Fab meant that we went from a family of 9 kids getting by on the wages of a sheet metal worker (certainly doable, but as much fun as it sounds) to living pretty well, in the working-class idea of what that means. by 1970, there was a nice house where the kids (mostly) had a bedroom to themselves, new cars every few years, a one-week vacation usually to the mountains or beach, and my dad could write a check to send me to college (it was a lot cheaper back then, but still). I am grateful. Certainly, my older siblings got very little of that.

Anyway, here’s to Astro-Fab, the American Way, and hard work. These are not myths, but reality. They are certainly not the only things or most important things, but they are real.