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Persistence & Writing July 1, 2015

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At the beginning of the summer, Anna usually takes a look at a few writing handbooks, in part to switch her mindset from the varied demands of the semester’s work a more writing-focused stretch of time and in part to keep an eye out for future textbooks she can use in the classroom. A few weeks ago, she read A Writer’s Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice by Jordan Rosenfeld.

DorlandDesk1Anna read this book cover to cover, in fact, because she’s written about perseverance herself (most recently in a chapter of the new book Creative Composition), and perseverance is really what Rosenfeld is talking about, too, throughout this new guide. We’ve written about perseverance and grit here at Lofty Ambitions as well. So, after Anna finished reading, she said, We should do a blog post about this book.

ScienceBooksWe’ve also written about writing and about writing guides before (Nonfiction HERE, Fiction HERE, Science Writing HERE), so it fits into the Lofty Ambitions project and our exploration of writing as a couple. Doug took one look at the book’s cover and said, I heard Jordan Rosenfeld talk at a Writer’s Digest conference. Doug remembered her as very smart and, in particular, that she recommended writers read poetry, regardless of whether they write poetry. We, of course, couldn’t agree more.

Another thing with which we agree wholeheartedly is Rosenfeld’s attitude toward what she calls synchronicity and what we’ve called here at Lofty Ambitions serendipity. Rosenfeld points to Carl Jung’s notion that life has a deeper order and suggests that recognizing such an order or framework is “a sign that you are moving into a place where you are welcome and that you are taking your writing life seriously and committing to your work.” We like serendipity a lot because it’s a level of awareness and an ability to make connections that might otherwise be missed. We welcome Rosenfeld’s idea that, whether or not you accept Jung’s notion, synchronicity might be a stage of increased focus and important for a sustained writing life.

You might also see synchronicity as the phenomenon in which events line up in your life in such a way as to look like coincidence but feel like something much more meaningful.

As we think ahead here to our writing residency at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony later this summer, we share some of Rosenfeld’s other notions that we’re keeping in mind.

Writers are the people who find a way, no matter what, to keep writing, polishing, and persisting. You are no different than all the other writers in the world.

No excuses. No one will do it for you. Your writing practice is in your hands.

The things that distract you from your writing often give you a form of pleasure or a rush of endorphins. But these distractions also fritter away both time and mental energy for the writing you hope to do.

If you don’t put your writing first, you inevitably put your energies elsewhere, and the ball starts rolling down one of a variety of slopes having nothing to do with your writing.

Your writing won’t threaten you with punishment for not doing it. Only you can hold you accountable.

Criticism takes issue with you or your style or subject in an unhelpful way; critique offers you strategies for improvement. Big difference.

You can see rejection as a message that encourages you to take action in one of two keys ways: Go deeper, or go elsewhere.

At Lofty Ambitions, we heed that last advice especially. We’re willing to revise, and we’re willing to move on to the next opportunity.

Jaws! (and Airport 1975) June 24, 2015

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jawsForty years ago, Jaws hit the theaters. The opening weekend box figure was more than $7 million, which almost covered the film’s estimated budget of $8 million. By the Independence Day weekend in 1975, just a few weeks after its launch, Jaws was holding steady at the box office. It would go on to gross more than $470 million worldwide.

Forty years ago, Anna saw Jaws at the theater. That was the summer between fourth and fifth grade. Anna was just nine years old, when her great aunt Ro took her to see the film. Her sister, Brigid, remembers not being allowed to go because it would be too scary. Their mother had stayed up all night reading the book several months earlier. Anna hadn’t read the book yet (the two differ in some significant ways) but thoroughly enjoyed the film, and we both can’t help but watch it if we’re flipping through the channels and come across Jaws.

In honor of its 40th anniversary, Turner Classic Movies has brought Jaws back to the big screen. Jaws showed again in theaters this past Sunday (we saw it! it was amazing!) and is showing again TODAY, probably at 2pm and 7pm. If you read this post early enough, check your local listings and get yourself to the theatre.

Lest you think that sharks are old news, the beach-goers in Huntington Beach, California, near where we live have sighted a group of roughly a dozen 6- to 10-foot sharks feeding on stingrays about fifty feet offshore lately. Several of those sharks have now been tagged so that researchers can follow their movements and post warning signs on beaches. And then there’s the shark stories out of North Carolina.

SharkSharks have been around long before vertebrates started traipsing around on land. Even white sharks—the shark in Jaws is a great white—have been around for more than 60 million years. One of the fascinating characteristics about sharks is, of course, their teeth, which are implanted in the gums rather than in the jaw itself and are continuously replaced so that one shark may have tens of thousands of teeth over a lifetime.

Not all sharks need to swim almost constantly, but many species lack enough buoyancy to take even a short nap without sinking. Their buoyancy is aided by their cartilage, which is half as dense as bone, and by a large liver filled with an oily substance called squalene. Some sharks also keep moving in order to keep breathing because they must keep water flowing over their gills, whereas other sharks have the ability to pump water over the gills.

Sharks have a keen sense of hearing, far superior to humans. Sharks also have an adept sense of smell and can detect the direction of something they smell because it hits each nostril at a different time. Like cats, some sharks have a nictating membrane that covers their eyes when extra protection is needed, as when they attack. Great whites, like the one in Jaws, however, lack this membrane and, instead, roll their eyes back during attack.

(photo NOAA)

(photo NOAA)

When you read Jaws or watch the film, you may come away with the idea that sharks are dumb, single minded, and aggressive. Sharks actually have a brain-to-body mass ratio akin to our own, suggesting that they aren’t as dumb as Peter Benchley, who wrote the book, led us to believe. Moreover, recent studies have shown that they exhibit curiosity, memory, and recognition.

In the 2013 Ballantine paperback re-issue of Jaws, Benchley provides an introduction that recounts how Jaws came to be. The most interesting aspect of that introduction, though, is Benchley’s reflection on the difference between what he knew about sharks when he wrote the book and what he has come to know and appreciate about sharks and the need for conservation.

I prided my self on knowing more about sharks than the general populace, but I succumbed nevertheless to anecdotal evidence and accepted it—or them, for the anecdotes were legion—as truth. […] Time and again, I confidently assured interviewers that every single incident of shark behavior described in Jaws (the book, remember, not the movie) had actually happened—not all at once, not by the same shark, but over the years and in some sea somewhere in the world. I was correct, too; every episode described in the book had happened…just not for the reasons I had posited, nor with the results I had imagined.

I learned about them slowly, firsthand, often in company with scientists or fishermen or divers, and each discovery was fascinating, albeit humbling. One of the first lessons I learned was that sharks not only don’t seek out and attack human beings, they avoid humans whever possible—we are, after all, large, noisy, ugly aliens that, for all a shark knows, may pose mortal danger—and bite them very rarely. They don’t even like the taste of us, and great whites often spit humans out because they’re too bony and fat-free (compared to seals, that is).

I could never write Jaws today. I could never demonize an animal, especially not and animal that is much older and much more successful in its habitat than man is, has been, or ever will be, an animal that is vitally necessary for the balance of nature in the sea, and an animal that we may—if we don’t change our destructive behaviors—extingush from the face of the earth.

Jaws has also given me a second career. For the past decade or so, I’ve been working in marine conservation pretty much fulltime, though I still find diving with big critters in remote locales irresistible and I’ll abandon almost anything for the chance to visit with great white sharks under water. I don’t know how much I can accomplish—I don’t know how much anyone can accomplish—but I do know that after all I’ve received from sharks, I’d feel like an ingrate if I didn’t give something back.

Though the movie Airport 1975 was released the previous year. That film’s star was Karen Black, a native Illinoisan who plays flight attendant Nancy Pryor. Today is Karen Black’s birthday; she would have been 76 years old.

We also want to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the fictional events it depicts. The jumbo jet on a cross-country flight is damaged in a midair collision after being diverted to Salt Lake City because of West Coast weather. The co-pilot is propelled out of the plane, the flight engineer is killed, and the blinded captain engages the autopilot before passing out.

747-100 like in Airport 1975 (photo Arpingstone)

747-100 like in Airport 1975 (photo Arpingstone)

Nancy, with help from folks on the ground, must fly the plane herself so that it won’t crash into the mountains. Finally, another pilot, who is Nancy’s former lover and is played by Charlton Heston, is lowered safely into the cockpit from a helicopter and lands the plane.

Airport 1975 cost $3 million dollars and grossed more than $47 million. It wasn’t, however, the top-grossing film of 1974. The top two spots were held by The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. Helen Reddy, who plated a singing nun in Airport 1975, was nominated for the Globe Globe for most promising female newcomer, but the award went to Susan Flannery, who was in The Towering Inferno and went on to soap opera fame. And so go the seventies.

Countdown to The Cold War: Inside the B-24 (Photos!) June 17, 2015

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On May 10, Anna flew in a B-24, and Doug flew in a B-17. Both aircraft are part of the Collings Foundation’s tour and stopped at Lyon Air Museum. Last week, we shared the view from inside the B-17 Nine-O-Nine during a flight along the California coast. This week, we share photos taken from inside the B-24 during flight.









Countdown to The Cold War: June 1945 June 10, 2015

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Within 4 months we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city.

These words began a memo that was drafted by Secretary of War Henry Stimson and presented on April 25, 1945, to President Truman. Truman had been president less than two weeks, and, with the help of General Leslie Groves, Stimson provided Truman’s first, in-depth introduction to the Manhattan Project on that day.

Stimson-memo-FranckReport-p1On May 8, 1945, Germany, its war machine defeated and many of its cities in ruins, had surrendered. Even in the face of Germany’s defeat, the pace of development of the atomic bomb intensified at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Hanford. Looming in the near future was the test of the implosion-based gadget, the so-called Fat Man atomic bomb. In late February, the date for the test had been set; named Trinity, the test would occur in early July.

Fear of a German atomic bomb, which, given Germany’s deep reservoir of scientific talent, seemed likely for the first few years of the war initially drove the scientists of the Manhattan Project. But like many science and engineering projects, once it got going, the Manhattan Project moved with the inertia of discovery. Years later, J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the work at Los Alamos said:

When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.

He wasn’t the only Manhattan Project scientist and engineer to feel that way, but it wasn’t a universally shared position.

Stimson-memo-FranckReport-p2At the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory, known informally as the Met Lab, the pace of research and development had slowed enough to allow the scientists to catch their collective breath. Met Lab scientists were had responsible for ground-breaking work on the chemistry of plutonium and the physics of nuclear chain reactions, but both of those programs were foundational, early-days items. As the spring of 1945 made way for the summer, Met Lab scientists, particularly Leo Szilard, began to think about the future. As ever, the future concerned Szilard.

As Richard Rhodes says in The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Szilard was “the man who had thought longer and harder than anyone else about the consequences of the chain reaction.”

The government, too, was finally beginning to wrestle with the nuclear genie threatening to escape its bottle. On May 9, 1945, the Interim Committee met for first time. The Interim Committee, composed of academics, military leaders, and politicians, was created to provide guidance and develop policy on nuclear affairs as the United States ventured into an uncertain nuclear future. The committee was chaired by Stimson and advised by a Scientific Panel comprised of Arthur Compton, Ernest Lawrence, Robert Oppenheimer, and Enrico Fermi. The scientists on the panel were told to report any issues to the committee in a blunt and open manner. Compton, a Nobel Prize winner, was the leader of the Met Lab, and he took it upon himself to gather and convey the concerns of the researchers under his leadership.

Compton decided to convene yet another committee; this one consisted of Met Lab senior scientists. This sub-sub-committee was led by yet another Nobel Prize winner, James Franck, and its members included Szilard and future Nobel Prize awardee Glenn Seaborg. Bruce Cameron Reed’s book, The History and Science of the Manhattan Project, has this to say:

Franck’s committee […] was to prepare a report on “Political and Social Problems” associated with the bomb. Working over the week of June 4-11, they drafted a document known as the Franck Report, which is now acknowledged to be a founding manifesto of the nuclear non-proliferation movement.

One of the more provocative recommendations made in the Franck Report was the call for the atomic bomb to NOT be used against Japan. Instead, the Franck Report called for a “technical demonstration” of the weapon. Numerous concerns generated this suggestion, but they all centered on the reality that the United States couldn’t hope to maintain a monopoly on nucleonics, which was then the favored Met Lab term for all things related to atomic science.

Oppenheimer and Groves at Trinity Site (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Oppenheimer and Groves at Trinity Site (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Franck Report was given to the Interim Committee on or about this date in 1945 (some sources say June 10, others say June 11, whereas others refer to mid-June). The committee passed it on to the Science Panel for their thoughts. The Science Panel wasn’t of one mind, and their thoughts ranged from support for technical demonstration—in a remote part of the desert or perhaps on an island—to the outright use of the weapon against Japan. On June 21, 1945, the Interim Committee recommended the military use of the atomic bomb.

The Trinity test went ahead as planned in July, and the first two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August. World War II came to a close shortly afterwards.

For more in the series Countdown to The Cold War, click Countdown to The Cold War.

Anniversary of First American Spacewalk and more June 3, 2015

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
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Fifty years ago on this date, two astronauts crawled into a Gemini spacecraft atop a Titan rocket and were shot into space. Over four days, Jim McDivitt and Ed White circled Earth 66 times. That first day, White opened the hatch and left the spacecraft.

This first spacewalk lasted about 20 minutes. White, connected to the capsule by a tether, wanted to stay out in that great expanse a lot longer. He exclaimed, “This is fun!” He didn’t seem to care that communications with the ground might be compromised as they switched tracking stations, nor that they were heading into darkness of night on the other side of the solar terminator. Ed White called his return to Gemini IV “the saddest moment of my life.”

Anna & Gene Cernan!

Anna & Gene Cernan!

One year later, on June 3, 1966, two different astronauts crawled into a Gemini spacecraft atop a Titan rocket and were shot into space. Over three days, Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan circled Earth 47 times. On June 5, Cernan left the spacecraft for two hours.

All in all, Gemini IX was a meager success. The planned rendezvous with the Agena, an unmanned target practice spacecraft, didn’t happen because of a problem with the Agena that left its nose cone pieces hanging open, still attached. Then, Cernan struggled through his spacewalk, with no hand or foot folds to help him make his way to the maneuvering system he had to put on. All his movements were exhausting, his heart rate soared to 180 beats per minute, and he started sweating profusely, which fogged his visor, which he couldn’t wipe off to see. Stafford called a halt to the spacewalk, and NASA started rethinking the spacesuit for the Apollo program.

The original crew for Gemini IX had been Elliot See and Charles Bassett, but they had died that February when their T-38 crashed on approach to St. Louis to take a look at their spacecraft in person. McDivitt and Cernan moved from backup to prime crew.


Buzz Aldrin

Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin became the new backup crew for Gemini IX, which also moved them to the prime crew position on Gemini XII. This switch likely changed Aldrin’s life. While Cernan had struggled physically as a spacewalker on Gemini IX, Aldrin used underwater training to prepare for his spacewalks. Aldrin completed three spacewalks on Gemini XII in November 1966, two of which lasted more than two hours. Only then was NASA convinced that extravehicular activity was safe and doable. The crew rotation and this EVA success set Aldrin up to be on Apollo 11 and to walk on the Moon.

This rotation also put Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan on the Apollo 10 crew, along with John Young. All three had flown before, and all three would fly to space again after Apollo 10.

Roughly 46 years ago, at the end of May 1969, three men crawled into an Apollo spacecraft atop at Saturn V rocket and were shot into space. Apollo 10 went all the way to the Moon without actually landing on its surface. The Lunar Module came within 16 kilometers of the surface but wasn’t given enough fuel to land and ascend back to the Command Module, probably because NASA feared Stafford and Cernan would try such a move. The success of Apollo 10 set up the Apollo 11 mission to land on the Moon in July 1969.


Jim Lovell

History is made in the moment. As we’ve written before (Mark & Scott Kelly HERE, Shuttle Firsts HERE), timing and sequence matter in space exploration history. Sequences of small decisions accumulate to give us the whole. Certainly, the deaths of Bassett and See altered the trajectory of both the Gemini and Apollo programs in small ways. But it isn’t always tragic events that have effects. Mike Collins’s back problems likely put him in the Command Module pilot’s seat as opposed to another astronaut. In the larger scheme of things, we’ve also written about how all the Apollo astronauts, our Moon men, were born into a thin slice of history. Collins, Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong were all born in the same year, 1930.

The Gemini IV spacecraft is on display at the National Air and Space Museum. The Gemini IX spacecraft is on display at Kennedy Space Center. The Apollo 10 Command Module is at the Science Museum in London.

Countdown to The Cold War: Inside the B-17 (Photos!) May 27, 2015

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On May 10, Anna flew in a B-24, and Doug flew in a B-17. Both aircraft are part of the Collings Foundation’s tour and stopped at Lyon Air Museum. This week, we share the view from inside the B-17 Nine-O-Nine during a flight along the California coast.











Lands End Nerd T-Shirts May 22, 2015

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LENerdShirtLofty Ambitions rarely promotes specific items. Sure, we showed you the astronaut Barbie Doug’s mom sent us, and we lauded taco-flavored Doritos as a special treat during our writing residency. But we don’t do much product placement. This time, however, we couldn’t pass up the chance to let you know quite blatantly about Lands End t-shirts for nerds.

The sizes are for kids, so that’s a limitation. But here’s Anna in the boys Moon t-shirt that arrived the other day, and she’ll be donning the rocket t-shirt this weekend. There’s also a fantastic International Space Station t-shirt too (but they ran out of XL).

The best part is that these t-shirts are available for girls too! Supposedly, this addition occurred in response to a mother’s letter last year, which she posted on the Lands End Facebook page. The mother of a nine-year-old girl pointed out the problem in making “mighty” graphic t’s for boys and “adorable” t’s for girls. Lands End responded. Within a couple of months (though, in some ways, it was a long time coming), science-themed shirts were available in girls sizes. The International Space Station graphic t-shirt is available for girls, and, yes, it actually glows in the dark!

Or maybe the best part is that Lands End has great customer service, which we learned first hand when our original nerd t-shirt shipment (with the ISS shirt!) went missing. The experience talking with customer relations at Lands End was far better than a call last week with American Airlines (which involved a two-hour wait to speak to a person). Lands End will probably even help you figure out whether a kids size will work for an adult.

Or maybe the best part is that Lands End is having a 30% off sale right now, so Lofty Ambitions is going all in with product promotion. Here’s the link for the sale: https://link.landsend.com/YesConnect/HtmlMessagePreview?a=ZiFDq-c6Xxq8SxkNqmzweHcP.

Countdown to The Cold War: B-17 Flying Fortress (Videos) May 20, 2015

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On May 10, Anna flew on a B-24. Doug flew on the B-17 during its stop at the Lyon Air Museum. If you’re interested in seeing these aircraft, check the Collings Foundation SCHEDULE. If you can’t see them in person, here are videos from Doug’s B-17 ride.

Though the Collings Foundation’s B-17 was built in April 1945 and, therefore, didn’t see combat, it has been designated as Nine-O-Nine, an aircraft that flew 140 combat missions. In 1952, the aircraft that we saw at the Lyon Air Museum was part of three nuclear weapons effects tests. After it was deemed sufficiently cooled down thirteen years later, it was refurbished and was used to fight forest fires. In 1987, during an airshow, the B-17 was caught by a crosswind just after touching down and crashed, with no loss of life but significant damage to the aircraft. Once again, the plane was restored and has been touring the country.

The original Nine-O-Nine started flying missions in February 1944. The aircraft’s first bombing run was against Augsburg, Germany. In the end, it flew more than a thousand hours and dropped more than a half-million pounds of bombs. The aircraft flew back to the United States in June 1945 and was eventually scrapped with other leftover planes.

Next week, check back for some amazing photos we took of and from the B-24 and B-17!

Countdown to The Cold War: B-24 Liberator (Videos) May 13, 2015

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Last week, May 8 marked the 70th anniversary of V-E Day. In 1945, the war in Europe officially ended with the signing of the act of surrender on May 7 in France and May 8 in Germany. The war in the Pacific Theater waged on.

B-24 Takeoff

In August 1944, a Consolidated B-24 was built. By October, it had been delivered to the U.S. Air Force, which then transferred it to the Royal Air Force. The RAF flew this B-24 in the Pacific Theater until the war there ended and it, along with a slew of other aircraft, was abandoned in India. The Indian Air Force restored it in 1948, and flew these restored aircraft for twenty years. After that, it was abandoned again, until a British aircraft collector took it apart and transported it back to England in 1981, then sold it to Dr. Robert F. Collings a few years later. After more than five years of restoration work, the B-24 flew again. In 2005, it was repainted as Witchcraft, another B-24 that had flown 130 combat missions but had long ago been scrapped.

B-24 Cockpit in Flight

On Sunday, May 10, 2015, we drove over to our local aviation museum, the Lyon Air Museum. There, Anna crawled into this B-24, strapped herself down under the waist gun, and took a half-hour ride. In this post, we share the experience through videos so you can take the ride too.

B-24 Tail Gun in Flight

The flight couldn’t go on forever, but Anna could have stayed up another half-hour at least.

B-24 Approach & Landing

Happy First Flight, Endeavour! May 6, 2015

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EndeavourKissWe’ve come to think of Endeavour as “our” shuttle. We went to Edwards Air Force Base to see it land in 2008, we watched its last launch from Kennedy Space Center in 2011, and we saw it make its cross-country trip back home to California, where it is now displayed at the California Science Center. We spent time with Endeavour up close and personal after its last flight, when it was being decommissioned and we were at KSC to see Atlantis’s last launch. We know Endeavour best, and tomorrow is its anniversary of first flight.

Endeavour-sts-49-launchOn May 7, 1992, the space shuttle Endeavour launched for the first time. At the end of this post, we’ve included a video of the launch and landing from this first flight. STS-49 was commanded by Daniel C. Brandenstein and carried six other crew members on this mission to rescue Intelsat 603 and send it into its intended orbit.

We talked with one of those astronauts, Kathryn Thornton, in 2010. After earning a PhD in physics, she joined NASA when we were in college. Thornton flew on the space shuttle four times, and Endeavour’s first was her second spaceflight. During STS-49, she was one of four spacewalkers. Of course, in addition to the satellite tasks, the crew tested Endeavour out to make sure everything was in tip-top shape for the long haul of its service.

You can see our interview with Kathy Thornton HERE.

Endeavour_sts-49-crew-smEndeavour was the space shuttle built to replace Challenger, after the demise of that orbiter during launch in 1986. This new shuttle, then, was made from leftover parts from the process of making earlier shuttles. The British spelling was in honor of the sailing ship Captain James Cook used to track the path of Venus and was also used for the Command Module on Apollo 15. The name was chosen through a K-12 essay contest in which Endeavour was a favorite and met the NASA requirement of relatively easy pronunciation.

That first Endeavour mission was also the first shuttle mission with an EVA—a spacewalk—that included three astronauts. The Intelsat rescue was more difficult than anticipated, and the mission was the first to require three rendezvous with another orbiting spacecraft. The landing was the first during which the shuttle used a drag chute.

Later that year, Endeavour carried Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space. The following year, Endeavour flew the first Hubble Space Telescope service mission; Thornton performed two EVAs as part of the Hubble repairs.

To see the series of posts that include our cool launch photos, click HERE.

To see the series of posts about Endeavour’s journey home, click HERE.


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