Voyager 1

Voyager 1 has left our solar system, something not expected when it was launched in 1977.

Voyager 1 photo

Voyager 1 (via NPR/NASA)

According to this NPR article, it has an 8-track tape on board. High-tech stuff at the time.

Gene Roddenberry knew all about possibilities and impossibilities, though, and started work on the first Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1975 (released in 1979). In that movie, the Voyager spacecraft was returning to earth after encountering (and being changed by) non-human intelligence.

There will come a time when our Voyager 1 stops sending signals back to us. The question will be why. Did Voyager 1 reach the end of its technological life? Or will it be because it was engulfed by a Star Trek-type encounter?

And isn’t just possible, however unlikely, that when we Earthlings begin our 5-year mission to boldly go where no one has gone before, that the future USS Enterprise (I’m sure we will have a series of spaceships named that) may find Voyager 1 and have their science officer extract data that it’s been collecting since we last heard from it? Oh, yes.

V’Ger, phone home. Especially if you’re bringing guests home for supper.

Cloaking Device

The Romulans have their cloaking device for their warships, developed in the 23rd century (around stardate 1709.21). Wasn’t that a shock when the United Federation of Planets learned about that neat, little trick. To make matters worse, the Romulans got chummy with the Klingons just long enough to trade their cloaking device technical specifications for some D7-class battle cruisers.

Romulans and Klingons 1, United Federation of Planets 0.

There has been enough time travel in the Star Trek universe that the date for the earliest use of a cloaking device gets a little muddy. It may or may not have been in 1986 in the San Francisco area, when a pair of humpback whales were relocated in time by the Enterprise crew in a stolen Klingon Bird of Prey. (Saving the world, yet again.)

Time travel being fraught with circular motions and questions of “What came first: the chicken, or the (chicken) egg brought back in time by who knows who and who knows when?” It’s no wonder that we are a little confused.

In any case, 21st century scientists decided not to wait for Romulan technology (the 23rd century seems so far away, doesn’t it?) and started experimenting with their own stealth technology to cause objects to be invisible to parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s rumored that the British Army has already tested an invisible tank. Notice I said it was a rumor, not a secret. Note to self: If I see a pair of deep, parallel indents being invisibly created looking like something nothing is going from Point A to Point B, do not just stand there; run in the opposite direction!

Just imagine the potential disastrous results of someone with Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, taking a nap in the San Francisco park and a cloaked Klingon warship lands there or the British decide to invade again with their invisible tanks. Yikes! Note to self: Remove invisibility cloak before nodding off to sleep.

Corner without a city bus

Smooth Sailing

But not so fast. Romulans, Klingons, British Army, Harry Potter, stealth technology scientists, I name you amateurs. Yes, amateurs in the face of the true rulers of cloaking devices: city buses.

Oh, yes, I have named those that should not be named. In all the world, in every village, township, city, metropolis with public transportation, the city buses have perfected the art and science of disappearance and appearance.

An uncloaked city bus

An uncloaked city bus

Unsuspecting car drivers are waiting at a red traffic light, thinking that for once, it will be smooth sailing on their drive to work.

They look away for a second — only a second! — maybe at a cute squirrel on a tree limb and then POOF! A city bus now is idling where before there was none.

White city bus

White city bus

They are everywhere! Big buses, small buses, white buses, blue buses! And the later you are in your commute, the more buses that appear! On a rare occasion, I will feel a change in the air and can see a slight shimmer out of the corner of my eye. When next I blink, there is a bus in front of me, yet again.

Blue city bus

Blue city bus

And if I think having a bus appear out of nowhere in front of me is unnerving, I am more than startled to discover one decloaking right behind me.

City bus behind


Uh-oh, now I’m boxed in. Maybe I need a cloaking device of my own?

General Reader

Non-professional reader, general reader: two terms I came across recently in books that I read that described the book’s audience.

I think they are talking about me.

I found the “non-professional reader” term in the acknowledgements for The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan, about the three decades of war between Athens and Sparta (with a cameo appearance by the Persian Empire), 431-404 BC.

The Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War

The “general reader” term came from Your Brain on Cubs, Inside the Heads of Players and Fans, a compilation of scientific essays edited by Dan Gordon of the Dana Foundation. From the front inside book jacket: “The contributors to Your Brain on Cubs introduce us to the role of the brain, not just in these emotions, but in many aspects of watching and playing sports.” “Emotions” referring to “a come-from-behind win and the equally powerful crush of a disappointing loss.”


Your Brain on Cubs

Your Brain on Cubs

After thinking about it, I came up with my own definition of “non-professional reader” and “general reader”: A reader who is not a specialist in the field of a book’s subject.

Okay, now I know they are talking about me. I’m not a historian or a scientist, but I seek out books in those (and other) fields.

What was most fascinating to me about the Peloponnesian war is that the leaders of Athens and Sparta, Pericles and King Archidamus II, respectively, did not want to engage in war, yet it happened anyway. After three decades of war [spoiler alert], Athens surrenders. Sparta’s reigning regime is relatively short-lived, however, as a few years after that, Philip II of Macedon comes along and conquers both of them (and a whole lot more) and his son, Alexander the Great continues the empire’s expansion. So much for the Greek independent states.

And while it took about 30 years for Sparta to conquer Athens, the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series title since 1908. I had great hopes for them in the 2008 season (the Cubs, not Athens or Sparta), thinking they could win on their 100-year anniversary. Didn’t happen, but I haven’t given up.

The first essay in Your Brain on Cubs is The Depths of Loyalty, Exploring the Brain of the Die-hard Fan by Jordan Grafman, Ph.D. I’ve never met Dr. Grafman, yet there I am in his essay. Another essay, Baseball and Handedness by Kenneth M. Heilman talks about left-handedness, right-handedness, along with left-eye and right-eye dominance. What does it all mean? Turns out, it means a lot in how and when a batter sees the pitched ball and its trajectory towards home plate.

The Forest Unseen book cover

The Forest Unseen

Fascinating, just fascinating. So to all the historians, scientists, and other specialists out there: Keep writing for me! I’m reading as fast as I can and I’ll get to your specialty soon!

Now that I think about it some more, I just love being a non-professional, general reader. My next book in the general reader category: The Forest Unseen, A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell. Looking forward to it!