Last Chance, Science
I recently took a tour of Jet Propulsion Laboratory's facilities with my wife and our rocket scientist friend, and I can honestly say that it is the only time in my life that I've ever felt so intellectually stimulated while being so goddam bored. Microchips, robots, rockets, and climate monitoring systems beaming information about our planet from thousands of miles above the Earth's atmosphere took a cognitive backseat to the fact that, aesthetically, all of the videos looked like they were rendered in 8-bit graphics on a 1970s-era computer with the sole purpose of showing British schoolchildren How Space Works. Fucking snooze.
The big problem with Science and Shit Like Science is the fact that its staff consists entirely of people who have no interest in presenting what they do for a living in any sort of interesting way. If they did, they would be working in the entertainment industry. The resulting society this leaves us is a sort of Bizarro-World where uninteresting, troped-out shit makes a lot of money because it visually excites us, and the people whose job descriptions are literally "Launch Fucking Robots Into Space" have to see their budgets cut due to a lack of public interest.
Here's an anecdote from our JPL tour that might explain things a bit: have you ever had someone explain a 3-D movie to you? Like, the actual process of teaching a computer how to trick a human brain into thinking that a 2-D image is leaping off of a screen? I have. I can honestly say that it's fucking boring. We walked past a giant sign saying "Earth: 3-D!" and, since there was a long line in front of it, figured that it would be interesting and great. It turned out to be a 15 minute ordeal, and five of those minutes consisted of a middle-aged man explaining to the audience how 3-D technology works, while the other ten minutes showed us how the Earth's weather looks from one of JPL's satellites. No one cares, nerds. When I put on 3-D glasses I want you to shut the fuck up and show me dick robots fighting monsters made entirely of boobs and vaginas.
I understand that when you're processing tons and tons of data per second, you don't necessarily want to tie up computing power in making it look pretty, but I don't fucking care. That shit was boring. What JPL and other scientists should do during any PR event is simply dress in togas, stand on a giant black obelisk, and scream out their job descriptions in the most interesting way possible. One man would stand up, scream "I view the Earth's weather from the heavens and predict its behavior with my robot seraphim who fly beyond the reach of mortal man!", then throw down a smoke bomb and run away. Another would say "I control the arms and legs of a mechanical man who flies to the dusty Red Planet, examines the land there, and sends us messages through the aether to let us know that Life has taken hold on planets other than ours!", smoke bomb, etc. At some point there should be a playing of Europe's "Final Countdown" during an orgy break, and then everyone would go back to their Pronouncements of Employment while wine and feta cheese was served. I would fucking PAY to go to an event like that, instead of dragging my feet to go to Nerd Central where 11-year-old kids and middle-aged Asian men took pictures of vaguely sciencey-looking things on their off-brand smartphones and talked in lisped,excited voices about how cool all of this is. However, I know this will never, ever happen, because scientists and technicians have been too conditioned by years of bullying and societal contempt to ever make themselves seem cool to anyone outside their field.
Here's a fun experiment - the next time you're talking to someone about what they do for a living and they say anything science related, try and make it sound cooler than they do and watch how quickly they back away from it. For example, my rocket scientist friend HATES being referred to as my "rocket scientist friend" (also, my wife hates being referred to as "that drunk guy's wife", but whatever). Whenever she tells people that she works at Jet Propulsion Labs, the conversation goes like this:
Them: "Oh, so you're a rocket scientist?"
Her: "Well, kinda. I do work in the planning and reliability modeling stages of mission development, so whenever a project is proposed it's my job to find the most fiscally and mechanically reliable and responsible way to achieve the goal of the mission."
Them: "Oh, so you design rockets?"
Her: "Oh, no, that's what the aerospace engineers do. See, what I do is...."
Them: *glazed look for ten minutes*
It drives me nuts that she does this, because she really is a fucking rocket scientist. When she tells people that her job is a Reliability Engineer and they ask what that means, it takes everything within me not to get right in their faces and scream "It means she ENGINEERS fucking RELIABILITY! BITCH! Think about THAT!" Then I would stare at them and back away slowly, sometimes dropping my drumsticks, but usually not. There, I just saved everyone ten minutes of awkward conversation and made you sound ten times cooler. Now let's get back to drinking.
(Caveat: If someone tries to make their job sound better than you think it sounds, they aren't a scientist, they just work in the IT department or are a secretary.)
Because scientists and other nerds are too busy cracking the puzzle-box of the universe without taking the time to make it look pretty, the only reason we, as the general public, care about them is because they fuck up so spectacularly. Think about the NASA of the past twenty or thirty years, and what comes to mind? Challenger. The retirement of the space shuttle. If you really love NASA and JPL, maybe you'll remember the 1999 crash of a $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter that occurred when Lockheed Martin built an English-unit spacecraft to fly with JPL's metric-system software. HAHAHAHA!!! What a cock-up that was!
The only reason we care about science is because the fuck-ups are so damn amazing. Three Mile Island, Challenger, Columbia, Apollo 13. We, as the mouth-breathing public, love watching those disasters because it's like watching a movie. We don't care about the fact that there are over a million pieces of equipment on a space shuttle and that, with a 99% success rate of those pieces, that still means that over a thousand things can go wrong at any given time. We don't care that sending human beings into orbit and recovering them safely is one of humanity's greatest achievements, or that people make or break their careers on the smallest details of space travel because the difference between "mission success" and "flaming fucking massacre in the sky" can hinge on whether or not a certain piece was fabricated with a 60% nickel alloy instead of a 30% nickel alloy. We only want to point fingers at exploding things and say "Gotdam taxpayer money right there!" when three weeks ago we had no idea that NASA was even still around.
Science, let me talk to you, man-to-concept for a second here. I love you and I hate you. I love you because you give me such wonderful things, like microwaveable burritos, the knowledge that dolphins have names for each other, the nuances of bird grammar, and glimpses into the infinite chain of events that started with an explosion of energy that formed atoms, molecules, galaxies, planets, and eventually my stupid drunken ass sitting in front of a keyboard updating a near-dead blog for an audience of myself and confused Googlers*. But goddam, are you boring. You made the Internet, then allowed it to make fun of you. So this is your last chance before I break up with you and move on to a life filled with liberal arts and reality TV. I'm serious this time. The next time someone starts talking about the Higgs-Boson particle, or the latest finding in evolutionary biology, or carbon nanotubes, I'm just going to look at them and say "Yes, but how many WOMEN were involved in that discovery? Don't you think the feminist perspective has a lot to offer?" I will become your crazy bitch ex-girlfriend, rending and twisting everything you have to say with my triple-edged sword of pedantry and illogic and inebriation. This is seriously your last chance, because if you can't pull this simple task off, then you don't love me.
Tomorrow, the Mars Science Laboratory will be entering the Martian atmosphere. It has been flying for about 200 days now, and will be landing on Mars around 10:30 PDT. And I am going to be there (well, at JPL, not Mars) to watch the landing.
The MSL is an awesome fucking achievement, so Science, shut the fuck up for a second and let me explain it to the public, because you'll just bore everyone.
Basically, we (Americans using Asian engineers) launched a rocket about two hundred days ago. Inside that rocket is a robot the size of a car. This robot looks like WALL-E, and its entire job is to look for Martians.
That's right, bitches. Through the sheer power of the human mind, we are going to another fucking planet via Robot Car to search for life. Although, to be fair, if the sight of a giant supersonic parachute deploying and a car-sized, claw-lookin' motherfucker of a robot being lowered by rocket-sky-crane onto the planet's surface doesn't immediately make all sentient life run and hide, then the idea of natural selection needs to be severely revised.
*(P.S., amateur threeway, peeing on cows, hippo lip deep-dicking. There, that should generate some traffic).
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