Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's Not Rocket Science

"It is poison -- rank poison to knuckle down to care and hardships.  They must come to us all, albeit in different shapes -- and we may not escape them -- it is not possible -- but we may swindle them out of half of their puissance with a stiff upper lip." - Mark Twain

"It's not rocket science to make a movie." - Katie Aselton

"I've never thought of acting as rocket science -- you put on the costume, get your hair cut, and that's it, really." - Marc Warren

"It's not rocket science.  It's social science." - Clement Mok

"Rocket science is tough, and rockets have a way of falling." - Sally Ride

"Rocket science has been mythologized all out of proportion to its true difficulty." - John Carmack

It should be noted before I get into the nitty-gritty of this post that most of the above-quoted people actually have no true experience to tell them what rocket science is actually like.  Specifically, the last two, Sally Ride and John Carmack, are the only ones who have "done" it, one as a Stanford-earned physics PhD who became both the first American woman and the youngest American astronaut to leave the Earth's atmosphere (and who did all that back when it took an entire refrigerated room full of beeps and tapes and whistles to do what one iPad can do today) and the other as a college dropout game designer who co-founded a commercial rocket company that won a couple of prizes before going into "hibernation" over a rocket crash.


So I say the phrase "it's not rocket science" too often.  I know I do, and I apologize, in advance or after the fact as appropriate, to everyone who feels that I've snubbed their careers/lives/expertise.  Like, I'm really sorry.  Honestly.

Still, it's not rocket science.

I've studied rocket science.  I then used that knowledge to help create a laser-based weapon system at Los Alamos National Labs.  Later, I was studying rocket science at the graduate level with a group of "kids" (e.g., recent physics baccalaureate degree graduates) the day the Mars Climate Orbiter smacked up against the side of the red planet due to a units mismatch.  Rocket science can, in fact, be hard, and complex, and really rather scary.

Years later I caused an uproar by telling my team at a college where I worked that medical terminology was "not rocket science."  I'm sorry, but it's not.  It's important.  It's challenging, too.  But it just doesn't strike me as having the same complexity as rocket science.

The same applies in other areas.  Graphic designers of the world, I meant absolutely no disrespect when I claimed that making a cover image is"not rocket science"  Yes, it's challenging.  Yes, the tools used in the process have a steep learning curve; I'll agree with that wholeheartedly after spending the better part--or worse part, depending--of three or four weeks getting over parts of that curve.  But hell, my HP-15C had a steep learning curve.  Everything that's important in life has a steep learning curve. 

Women?  They have a steep learning curve, right, men?

But they're not rocket science.

No, they're more challenging, but that's a whole different topic.

Editing?  I should probably relent there, since the English language is far more complex than physics in its variety and number of laws.  But that's probably why I love it so much -- it's better than rocket science, to me.  We had a junior ("cow") year class in English, the first half of which involved learning to proofread.  I excelled so much that I, a physics major, was at the top of the class at midterm. 

So, you put a cat in a box and close the box, and then you press a button that has a 50% chance.....

So, you have a ship that is traveling along at velocity X, and the wind resistance is Y until X rises to the point that the fourth power term takes over, and then it's exponentially greater.....

So, commas go wherever a natural pause is indicated, except for when dependent clauses are separated, or else....

It's not rocket science, this linguistic thing.  But it's every bit as fun.


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