Sunday, November 23, 2014

Intelligent Lifeform Exposes Himself to Deadly Radiation

Me, soaking in rays (photo Kathleen Scott)
Where I live, the coolest breakfasts in town (in my opinion) are hosted by Casa Garcia's Restaurant and Cantina. Here I am on a Sunday morning after a custom-filled omelet, sitting outside on one of their benches, enjoying the warm sun.

Actually, I was thinking that the solar radiation that had reached my cheeks had penetrated our planet's magnetic field and thin atmosphere. Most of the sun's deadly rays had been shielded and absorbed, and just enough made it through to give warmth to me and all the other lifeforms on the surface.

The radiation from our star is essential to life. It's the source of energy for plants and animals, and it allows water to exist in liquid form.

But sustaining life on Earth isn't our star's purpose. Actually, it has no purpose. It's simply a medium-sized star doing what stars do, blasting radiation, solar wind and occasional solar mass ejections into the space around it, all of which can destroy what we know as "life."

We're lucky that our planet has a massive hot liquid iron core that rotates far below the surface, creating a magnetic field in the space around our planet, which deflects most of what the sun sends our way. Much of what gets through is absorbed by our atmosphere. The little bit that makes it to places like Garcia's is enough to support life without destroying it.

As long as you aren't exposed too long. Stay out in the sun long enough, and your skin will start to burn. The rays might even disturb your DNA, causing skin cancer.

Mars wasn't as lucky as Earth. A smaller planet, it's smaller core cooled billions of years ago, ending it's ability to generate a protective magnetic field. The onslaught of radiation and solar particles blew away most of the atmosphere, and today only the tiniest remnants of carbon dioxide gas remain. Mars' surface is now an extremely cold, lifeless and deadly place.

This was what I was thinking when my wife took the photo. I know, I know, why can't I just enjoy being warm on a November day when the gentle folks in Buffalo are digging out from more than six feet of snow?

It's because I'm one of the intelligent lifeforms that now co-exist on Earth, and in my case I sometimes use my intelligence to think about stuff like this, especially when I can actually feel the rays bombarding my cheeks.

The sun, our oxygen-rich atmosphere, the abundance of water on our rocky surface, and our stable climate were not "put here" to make a perfect home for us humans. The Earth has been revolving around its star for about 4.5 billion years now, and the environment wasn't always ideal for life. We humans exist today because just the right conditions have accidentally come together after billions of years of Earth history.

In short, I'm lucky to be alive, breathing delicious air and feeling the warmth on my cheeks. I'm lucky to have been born, and I'm lucky I'm still alive. I've had several close brushes with death, and on this particular Sunday morning what I feel is, well, appreciation that I made it this far, far enough to reach Garcia's to enjoy a really great omelet.

I also entertained some radical thoughts about intelligent life in the universe, but you know what? That's another story....

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mars One - The Reality

Recall for a moment a few of the delicious pleasures of life...
  • Breathing in fresh air
  • Walking among the colored leaves of autumn
  • Having a good time with friends
  • Eating a burger tricked out just the way you like it
  • And washing it down with a craft beer
  • Browsing in a gift shop
  • Visiting one of the national parks
  • Going fishing with a buddy
  • Going on a date with your significant other
  • Visiting family
  • Watching the full moon on a clear night
  • Feeling the warm sun on your face
I'll stop here. You could easily add a hundred more delights to this list, things we often take for granted. These are a few of the things that the people who journey to Mars to establish a colony will never experience again.

It's one thing to consider this conceptually. It will be another thing entirely to experience these deprivations on a daily basis. Instead of breathing the autumn air, breathing stale air tainted with the stink of the crew and Mars dust. Instead of drinking a glass of cold, clear water, drinking water recycled from your own urine. And on and on.

Astronauts - International Space Station
Hundreds of thousands of people have applied to participate in a project called "Mars One," a private enterprise to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. The main thing, however, is that Mars One will produce a reality TV show of the journey and what they do to create a settlement on Mars - if they make it to the surface. The idea is to go in crews of four starting in 2024. They say the technology can only get them there. That's why it's called Mars One - one way.

REALITY: Most of the technology needed to get them there doesn't exist yet. In 2015, the venture to establish a small settlement on Mars is not only science fiction, it's speculative science fiction.

By the way, the organizers and promoters of Mars One have no intention whatsoever of going to Mars themselves.

Still, there's an amazing amount of interest among the general public. This brief video documents the thoughts of five hopeful Mars One space travelers as they contemplate leaving planet Earth forever for a new home on Mars.


I don't know about you, but I wouldn't board a spacecraft with any of these "hopefuls." One says the journey would "give me another purpose for living." I wouldn't want to risk my life in close quarters with a young dude who is still searching for his purpose in life. Another volunteer described himself as "a turd in the toilet bowl of life." Okay...you get the idea.

To be kind, I can only say that these people must be thinking about some sci-fi movie they once watched. They seem utterly clueless about what wold be involved in space travel. All the well-publicized challenges and dangers aside, there is the rarely mentioned issue of months of weightlessness and Mars' low gravity and how this will cause bone and muscle loss over time. Or the onslaught of solar radiation and cosmic radiation. The problem of shielding people in the spacecraft has not been solved.

And on Mars' surface, there's no planetary electromagnetic field or a rich atmosphere (as there is on Earth) to protect people on the surface. And finally, there's the psychological impact of being deprived of all those cool things we sometimes hold dear and sometimes take for granted. Once the longing and regret become intense and persistent, there will be nothing they can do about it. I'm sure the star-struck volunteers are thinking about something else than the realities of space travel.

The question is, will watching things unravel onboard or on the surface make for good reality TV? The promoters of Mars One are betting it will.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stained Glass Art - I Decided to Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

Over 30 years ago, I...
  • Lived near a Tidewater inlet to the Chesapeake Bay in Seaford, Virginia.
  • Was a lieutenant colonel in the Army.
  • Ran 50 miles a week training for the Marine Corps Marathon.
  • Had two teenage sons.
  • Created this unusual stained glass piece.

It was the only stained glass art work I ever created. Today it's displayed in our master bathroom and looks great in the afternoon light.

My ex-wife was the real stained glass artist - not me. She was very accomplished and passionate about her work until the day she concluded that our culture would never value this aspect of art enough to appropriately pay for the hours it took her to create it. She could make ten times as much money cooking french fries at McDonald's. So she got rid of all her equipment and left all that behind her, never again to create anything in stained glass.

She didn't get a job at McDonald's, however. Instead, she went back to college, maintained a 4.0 average, and graduated from the College of William and Mary business school, magna cum laude.

But during the years that she worked as an artist, I sometimes assisted her in the menial set-up work.

Inevitably, I wondered if I should try creating something myself. I knew I would only do it once, so I decided to do something ambitious. I decided on an impressionistic, symbolic approach. This meant that instead of a few dozen glass pieces soldered together, I would have to use hundreds. The project took me four months to complete.

The image represents universal energy, whether on a cosmic scale or an atomic scale.

So over 30 years ago I put on my uniform and performed my military duties, and none of my colleagues knew I had created this unusual piece of stained glass art.

Today, I'm still pleased with the result. And I'm still fascinated by the cosmos.

Each morning while I'm shaving I see this image in the mirror. It reminds me that I have the potential to be creative, an essential inspiration because I'm challenged more than ever to exercise this strength in my work.

It's a testament to what an ordinary guy can do if he dreams big and doesn't give up.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Friday, September 26, 2014

Obsessively Hard Work Earned Me an A in Typing

When I told a friend that I made an A in every course I took in high school, he asked me, "Which course did you take as a senior that turned out to be the most important to you?"

Good question. I had never considered it, so I thought about the courses I took, many of which prepared me for my courses at West Point, which challenged me on another level.

Finally, I said, "Typing."

He laughed. But I wasn't joking.

Typing was a skill course, attended almost exclusively by girls. I remember thinking (in 1962), well yeah, if you're going to be a secretary you better know how to type.

I was the only male student, but my thought was that I'd have to write for many of my college courses. Back then, there were no word processors or electric typewriters - only mechanical ones. So students weren't expected to submit typewritten work. But I figured a typewritten paper would be looked upon favorably by my professors. As it turned out, this assumption was valid most of the time.

Also, as the only male student in the typing course, I wanted to show the teacher and all the girls that I could do as well as they could, or even better.

The classes consisted of drills, and at the end of every hour, we were given a timed 5-minute performance test. All uncorrected errors were penalized by subtracting 5 words from the total words typed. The net total was divided by 5 to get the words-per-minute (wpm) score. To pass, a student had to turn in at least five 45-wpm scores. For an A, five 60-wpm scores.

I took this course so seriously that I practiced at home, doing drills and 5-minute tests. I didn't know it, but all this repetitive typing activity was wiring my brain for typing skill. By the end of the course, I had fully ingrained my ability to type. I could do it at very high speed without thinking about what my fingers were doing. I submitted at least five scores above 90 wpm without errors and of course got my A. My teacher thought I was some kind of typing prodigy.

Truthfully, I just worked harder at it than any of my classmates.

Now, of course, I type on a modern keyboard and my brain wiring for typing is quite well insulated after decades of doing it. I'm sure that most of the time I type faster than 100 wpm.

And this skill, more than anything else I learned during my senior year, has helped me be successful.

I'm not sure my other teachers or my principal, who introduced me at my valedictory address, would have appreciated knowing this.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thanks to Coaching, I'm Back on Track as a Writer

I'm a writer. Writing gives me more satisfaction than anything I do. And there are things I care about, things I want to write about.

But I'm also a small business entrepreneur, a product developer. During the past several years I've been working with my team to develop an online virtual coaching system that helps people ingrain new skills and make permanent changes in behavior. That system is called ProStar Coach. I've also been heavily involved in the marketing - trying to get the word out. It has been a very satisfying project because it has the potential to help people of all ages and walks of life get stronger for the challenges of life and work.

But all this good work had a bad side effect for me. For years now, my work days were all about product development, not about writing books. The completion of the ProStar Coach project left me with all the time I needed to write, but I discovered that I no longer had the work habits of a writer. My old habits were kicking in and at the end of the day, I hadn't produced any writing.

I talked with my colleague and good friend, Meredith Bell, about this problem, and she had a suggestion. It was along the lines of "Physician, health thyself." Or, "Walk your talk."

What she was referring to is an ebook I recently wrote called Support Coaching. The book, along with nine companion videos, explains what a caring individual can do to help someone who wants to improve a skill or change a behavior pattern. The key element is coaching. The resources explain what anyone can do to support and coach a person involved in skill building, personal development or change.

What Meredith suggested is that I get an "accountability coach" to hold my feet to the fire, to do what a writer is supposed to do and actually get done what a writer should produce. An accountability coach is someone who agrees to contact you regularly and ask detailed questions to determine if you did what you said you were going to do. All successful athletic performance, weight loss and addiction recovery programs use accountability coaching. When you know you'll have to face someone who will want to see your results, it's a powerful motivator to do what you should be doing. Without accountability, it's all too easy to rationalize, make excuses and put things off.

Meredith's message: "You wrote the piece on accountability coaching. So get one. Use one."

My reply: "Will you be my accountability coach?"

She agreed, and we set up a twice-weekly phone call. I outlined what I would do and accomplish, and during the calls I emailed her the chapter I agreed to write.

It worked like magic. Before long, I had some new work habits in place and was producing chapters at a rapid rate.

The recent addition of the "Support Coaching" resources to the ProStar Coach system was a huge breakthrough, because it empowers ordinary people to do the simple things that add up to the kind of coaching a person needs to make a change. Virtual coaching is now enriched by coaching from real people. Now, anyone can be a support coach. Anyone can get the kind of coaching they need.

The resources are so important that we decided to make them available free to anyone who wants them.

They helped me. Maybe they can help you, too.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .