Ode to Science Fiction

I’m a lifelong science fiction fan. My first exposure was the full set of L. Frank Baum’s stories set mostly in the land of Oz. Don’t think that’s science fiction? Then you never read the books. The cast of characters included robots, talking toys, mysterious aircraft and mutant monkeys. And let’s not forget the farm girl with a teleporter in her shoes. 

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“Let’s fly!”– Captain Michael Burnham, USS Discovery

From there it was on to Isaac Asimov’s classics: I Robot, followed quickly by Caves of Steel and the original Foundation trilogy.  (My heart goes out to the scriptwriters for the Apple TV series Foundation. Asimov could tell wonderful stories but he wasn’t much into writing dialog.)

After that, I dove headfirst into the deep end. Heinlein, Clark, Bradbury, Bester, Butler, Delaney, Dick, Ellison, Tolkien, Simak, Niven and Pournelle, Cherry, McCaffrey, Le Guin, Verne, and Wells;  the Science Fiction Book Club, Astounding Stories and Dangerous Visions. I devoured it all.

Speaking the language of science fiction

Like any true science fiction fan, I also picked up the technobabble. Technobabble is strings of words that sounded sciencey enough to be plausible–as long as you don’t examine them too closely. For example, what exactly is a stargate? The term connotes the sense of interstellar travel beautifully.  More technobabble: transporter, tricorder, lightsaber, death star, grok, unobtanium and tribbles.  All made-up terms that convey an idea even the uninitiated understand. (Weirdly, my grammar checker recognized them all and corrected two misspellings.) 

Technobabble generator

Writing this blog led me to wander through my library, dusting off the favorites and picking out the words I most loved. As a salute to the science fiction authors peering over my shoulder, I created my very own technobabble generator. Pick one word from each column and you’re on your way to speaking technobabble.

The Deans+Co Technobabble Generator
UniversalOrthogonalFlam Shaft

Lies, Damned Lies, Google, And Statistics

Thank you, Mark Twain, for helping me put it so succinctly.

I am once again being buffeted by statistics. Statistics, the math of populations, not of individuals. And I am an individual.

Statistics Be Damned

I survived a rare and aggressive form of cancer in 2017, no thanks to statistics. I rang all the bells when it came to triggers; I pulled a perfect score on the list of predictors. My numbers through surgery, chemo, radiation, and afterward were appalling. By all rights, I shouldn’t be here to write this. Yet here I am, statistics be damned.

Early on I decided to ignore the numbers and focus on one thing: getting well. I did some online research to see what I could do to increase my odds. The content from reliable sources was generalized to the point of uselessness. (“Get your sleep. Eat foods that agree with you.” Duh! That second recommendation justified a historic chocolate binge.)

ConeheadsMy oncologist is a data wonk; she has the facts, figures, and population studies engraved in her brain. She knows her stuff. My doctor could tell me the odds of needing a transfusion were high—I never needed a transfusion. She could tell me 80% of the neuropathy in my feet would remain—about 50% has. She told me my hair would fall out. OK, she was right about that. I’d wanted to shave my head for a long time, so baldness turned out to be a fun experiment. (For the record, I liked having no hair. Cool in the summer with minimal upkeep.)

I am not a statistic; I am me and I needed answers for my specific case. I decided not to indulge in any more online searches, pursuing ever-more esoteric links down the proverbial rabbit hole. The news wasn’t good; the statistics did not get me one step closer to my goal of survival. If I’d paid them any attention, I’d have been planning my funeral instead.

I could tell when friends and family had been Googling. They looked pale and frightened, and couldn’t look me in the eye. I ended up reassuring them more than they did me. Trying to explain that statistics is the mathematics of populations didn’t help. They thought I was in denial.

Google and Statistics

Fast forward one year. Now one of my hips is well past its use-by date thanks to poor gene selection on my part, a lot of time spent jumping out of trees as a kid and my love of hiking. Most of the women in my family have had hip replacement surgery, so it’s not exactly a surprise.
I’ve begun the rites and rituals of preparing for surgery. Or, as medical folks call it, “pre-op.” If you’ve been subjected to Western medical practice lately, you’re probably familiar with the drill. Endless rounds of tests and interviews are conducted by various medical professionals so they can pore over the minutia of your body.

StatisticsI sat in an over-heated office with a competent nurse practitioner reviewing my life history. “Have you ever had…” “No.” “Any symptoms of….” “Nope.” “How many times a week do you….” “I don’t.” She nodded her head as we worked down the list.

The nods began to come less frequently. She looked puzzled. She took my blood pressure for the third time; it was still normal. As she asked me questions, she glanced at my honey. He sat calmly, listening to my litany of negatives, smiling in agreement.

The questions continued. The negative answers persisted. A frown began to pucker the nurse’s brow. We reviewed the very short list of medicines I’m taking a second time. Had I forgotten anything? There wasn’t much there to examine, but she dove in with all the enthusiasm she could muster. Her disappointment deepened.

I didn’t know whether to be complimented or apologize. If you buy into the statistics, the number will suggest a woman somewhat younger than I am.
Maybe that explains the ads Google steers my way. I just don’t know where they got the idea I need “male medical enhancements.”

Immigrants: Fear, Loathing, and A Happy Ending

While we’re arguing about the immigrant caravan headed for our southern border, let me share a personal story. I originally posted this on Facebook when a different president was in charge. We were arguing about Syrian immigrants then. I’m sad to see how little has changed. 
The love of my life wouldn’t be in my life, in the US, or even alive if his parents had not come here.

Fear and Loathing…

soldiers and machine guns They were Russian/German Jews escaping Nazi Europe. They had to find someone to sponsor them, at the cost of $10,000 per visa. That’s a lot of money even by today’s standards. Good news: a wealthy family member paid the fees.
Then they had to fit into a quota that wasn’t already filled. More good news. Josef Stalin wasn’t letting anyone out of Russia and the Russian Jewish quota was wide open.
Once here, housing and a job were the top priority. That meant trips back and forth across the US chasing promises that fell through again and again and again. An accident on a snow-covered mountain destroyed most of their household goods. Help was hard to find, as were hotel rooms. Jews were–how do I say this politely–actively discriminated against.

…With a Happy Ending

GymnastMy honey went on to found and run several successful start-ups, one of which helped define the PC industry. In fact, you might not be reading this on your
electronic device without his contributions. He raised two sets of happy, well-adjusted kids who turned into wonderful adults. He’s a proud grandfather to 14 kick-ass grandkids. And he’s been my anchor and support.
Before you say, “yeah, but he’s different,” no, he’s not. His family was one of the millions trying to escape war and persecution. They didn’t have much when they got here except for drive, perseverance, and pure grit–and a will to live a better life. Imagine you were the immigration officer that they met at Ellis Island. You would have seen a frightened couple from a despised minority who barely spoke English. Their terrified little boy hid behind his father, clutching a ragged teddy bear. Nothing special. Too many just like them.
When you claim immigrants shouldn’t be allowed to come into this country, you may want to think about the potential you are depriving us of. And while you’re using your computer–or phone or tablet–remember it would all be very different without him.