My last birthday before the war

Yesterday was 17 March 2020, my 28th birthday. I spent it with my husband and my sister. In the evening when we sat down to dinner together, I saw everything about that moment through the lens of history. In 10 or 20 years, how would we remember this night? Would it be the last time we saw each other in months? Would it be “the good ol’ days before the world changed forever”? I felt compelled to take a photo of Jacob and Julia at that little dining table in her Atlanta studio apartment. “I want to take a picture of this, just as it is,” I explained. “It’s for my war scrapbook”. They rolled their eyes but complied.

I have lived such a safe, privileged life. For years I had a countdown on my phone marking my 10,000th day alive (3 August 2019). When that day arrived, I thought, this is amazing. I have lived a 10,000-day streak of life with no tragedies. Never has someone very close to me died or been in a major accident. Never have I been in danger of living in poverty or having any of my physical needs not be met. There have been several ‘crises’ in my lifetime (September 11th, the 2008 financial crisis, so many hurricanes, etc.) but none of them affected my everyday activities. I was always able to go to school and enjoy life and walk around without fear that my safety was at stake. In stark contrast to my idyllic existence, history is filled with stories of tragedy and danger. War, famine, societal collapse. These are not uncommon in our world. I have always wondered when it would happen to me.

As of this writing, there are just over 7000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the USA (but we haven’t been testing a lot of people so who the heck knows how many cases there actually are) and 100 confirmed deaths. Admittedly, relatively low numbers. But we have all seen the statistics. I understand the shape of an exponential curve. I’m not here to write about all of the factors that are making this a worldwide concern, I’m just here to write about what it feels like to me. Virologists and epidemiologists knew this was coming. Governments around the world are instituting mandatory lockdowns/shelter-in-place guidelines, and considering enacting some form of martial law. It hasn’t happened here in Atlanta yet, but it has in New York and California.

There are so many questions right now. How will society continue to function with everyone staying in their homes and not going out? The economy has all but evaporated in the last week; all events of every sort are canceled. The DOW is losing thousands of points a day. I was looking for a job before all this went down, and now I know I won’t be employed any time soon. Huge swaths of the world population are facing unemployment while everything is paused. How will we get the resources we need? What will happen to the supply chains of food, medicine, and other essentials?

Some people are not nearly as nervous or concerned as I am about what is about to unfold. My sister Julia is studying macroeconomics and public health. She believes this will blow over with (relatively) little impact. My husband Jacob is still going to work at this time, he is a chef at a restaurant down in the city, and although they are not serving customers in the dining room, they are still doing pickup orders. Jacob already likes to live a rather socially isolated life on a normal basis, he just goes to work and comes home and chats with friends online. So besides the fact that traffic is lighter and the restaurant isn’t filled with customers, his life hasn’t been changed much yet. He is not bothered. Meanwhile, I have the TV on and am watching commercials that feature people enjoying sporting events and concerts; it seems like a cruel taunt. The fact that everyone is reacting differently to this pandemic makes me feel confused and guilty. Yesterday did we do the wrong thing by taking a walk in the park and visiting my sister? Of course I wanted to see my mother on my birthday, but I simply can’t visit with my parents right now.

Joking about the ‘impending war’ has been a common jest among young people for years. I know I really started thinking about it in 2014. This, however, is the first time I’ve felt it might be genuinely imminent. I have visions of people resorting to violence because they can’t afford/find food. I see soldiers guarding the streets making sure people don’t move around. I see food, water, and energy rations. I see field hospitals overwhelmed with sick and injured patients, I see so many deaths. These fears are NOT unfounded; as I stated earlier, these things happen all over the world. We have been extremely lucky in the United States, but we are not immune… pun intended.

Will my fears play out, or will this indeed all blow over? Time will tell. I will keep writing while this pandemic is part of the zeitgeist.

Four concepts you have about space that are actually wrong

This is my lengthy and not required introduction. If you’d like to skip to the four concepts, click here.

Let’s be real, most people don’t think about space that much. They know the names and orders of the planets in our solar system, they know the name of our galaxy, and that’s about it. The average citizen doesn’t know, say, the distance from Earth to the sun (8.2 light minutes), the diameter of the Milky Way (100,000 light years), how gravity works (distortion of space-time), nor even a general idea of how far the moon is from the Earth (nor any other celestial bodies for that matter)!

Now, I am NO astrophysicist, but this is pretty basic stuff. Honestly, if we consider ourselves to be an intelligent species that may some day be able to travel freely off of our planet, we should at least have a general concept of how big space is. Unfortunately, such things are not taught in our public education system and therefore most people go through life never even pondering it.

Reader, I encourage you to learn about space. Watch some videos on YouTube. There are thousands of them, too many to list, about every topic, and they are incredibly informative. (If you are already a space video watcher and are ready for extreme hard mode, watch “The Inexplicable Universe” lecture series by Neil Degrasse Tyson, available on Netflix as of this writing. It covers literally everything.) When you start venturing into this topic, you start to realize that space is EVERYTHING. Earth is so damn small, knowing only about Earth is really not an accurate understanding of our universe.

The unfortunate consequence of the public lacking this general knowledge is that false information and unrealistic ideas about the universe get spread and accepted by people because they’ve got no knowledge against which to judge it. All of this information is available to us thanks to the glory of the Internet but people just don’t think to seek it.

Example: the film Gravity (2013). Y’all, this movie is so damn inaccurate I actually cannot believe it got made. Literally every scene is impossible yet I’m pretty sure it is supposed to portray real astronauts in the real future operating under real laws of physics. I have included a list sampling of three scenes from Gravity and how wrong they are. Feel free to skip if you are not interested in this film.

  1. Early in the film, the astronauts’ space walk goes wrong. Everyone dies except for the characters portrayed by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Luckily for George Clooney, he is on a tether and that tether is being held by Sandra Bullock, who is safely anchored to the spacecraft. George’s momentum is stopped by the tether. The energy of his motion is converted into rope tension.
    1. What should happen next: The tension is absorbed by Sandra’s muscles and reverses George’s direction and he is moving back towards Sandra, who can safely pull him back in. This isn’t even a space thing, that’s just how energy and force works. We have this on Earth.
    2. What happens in the film: The tension STAYS in the rope even though there is no force acting on George in that direction (????? magic?) and he says “Sorry Sandra you have to let me go die in space” and she regretfully lets go and he FLIES OFF INTO SPACE! Kinetic energy is spontaneously manifested. Jesus be a fence.
  2. Sandra manages to jet-pack her way through space (lol) from the Hubble Telescope to the ISS which is a convenient 100 km away (LOL). She manages to get inside (LMFAO). Unfortunately the parachute for the Soyuz capsule has been damaged so she can’t take it back down to earth, and also there is a fire on board and she must evacuate.
    1. What should happen next: Well dis bitch would already be so dead. You can’t just navigate around space freely like you can on Earth so she wouldn’t have been able to jet-pack to any point in the first place. Also you can’t just get inside the ISS with your space suit on without assistance from the inside. OK so forgiving ALL of that, she gets to the ISS, can’t escape in the Soyuz, there’s a fire, she would die. End of story.
    2. What happens in the film: She sees in the distance a fictional Chinese station called the Tiangong. In real space everything is REALLY far away from each other so IRL it would be too far away for her to actually see. It’s also likely that the Tiangong could be around the horizon and thus not visible from the ISS. But anyway she spots it and then DRIVES THE SOYUZ OVER THERE. HOLY CRAP. I already mentioned how you can’t ‘drive around’ in space, right? Like on Earth, I can see a building in the distance, get in my car and drive (effectively in two spatial dimensions because I am not flying) to that building. But ok in space we are in 3 dimensions also you and your destination are both orbiting AKA falling at like 5 miles per SECOND. No honey you can’t just scoot on over there in the Soyuz capsule you snatched that is not even designed for space flight but is actually built for returning to Earth.
  3. Ok so Sandra drives to the Tiangong. FINE. Then she gets in an escape capsule and finally, praise God, falls towards Earth. This is unplanned, there is no trajectory. There is no mission control. She just hopin’ for the best.
    1. What should happen next: Earth is 70% ocean so she should land somewhere random in a random ocean and then drown. Alternatively, she crashes on land. Bye bye Sandra.
    2. What happens in the film: She does not land in the ocean. She does not land on land. Dis bitch lands in like FIVE FOOT DEEP WATER ON THE BLOODY COASTLINE. I wonder what % of Earth’s surface is shallow coastal water in an area that happens to also be in a nice (read: not arctic or dangerously hot) climate like where she lands. I don’t know the exact number but I’m pretty confident it is near to zero.

Geez, I hate that movie. The point is, this film is accepted as a realistic portrayal of space and propagated huge amounts of false information to the public. The public is not able to spot blatantly false information about space. And that is sad. It doesn’t have to be that way.


Here are some spacey things you may believe but have not given much detailed thought to.

1. Humans will be able to travel outside our solar system.

Let me lay this out for you. The distance from the sun to Pluto is about .0005 light years. I think we can all agree that Pluto is pretty far away. Still, it’s within our reach. The New Horizons spacecraft got there in less than 10 years! So freaking fast! That thing is going at over 36,000 mph. Nice. Within 100 years, travelling to Pluto will be a piece of cake. We will be capable of sending manned missions to Pluto and other other outer/exo planets. Though I’m thinking we probably will not because there’s nothing out there that is worth an in-person human visit that a robot couldn’t check out just fine.

Ok so the good part of our solar system (fuck the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud) which lies within a .0005 light year radius of us is accessible. That’s truly great. The next nearest object of interest to us is the star Proxima Centauri, so named because it is the nearest star to our solar system. That shit is 4.3 light years away. Quick review: Pluto = .0005 light years. The next fucking star = 4.3 light years. Pluto = accessible. Proxima Centauri = not accessible.

Maybe I’m underestimating future human technology. Maybe in 500 or 1000 years we will have crafts that can travel near light-speed and we will be able to get to Proxima Centauri within a reasonable amount of time. But remember, the next star after that is ANOTHER 4 light years away. Or 10, or 20, or 100. Proxima, while on a human scale is very very far away, on a universal scale is… insignificant. We are insignificant, and all the celestial bodies within our reach past, present, and future are insignificant too. We are small. We can’t help it.

In conclusion: while we will likely be able to send unmanned crafts to “nearby” points of interest outside the solar system, we will never be able to shuttle humans around, nor will there be any reason to because none of those places can support life.

Bonus: “Intergalactic” travel is even more of a fantasy and will literally be impossible forever. Try if you dare to imagine the distance from Sol to Proxima Centauri magnified from a single star-scale to a galactic scale. Nevermind, don’t try. Our primitive brains cannot comprehend a fucking galaxy. Also, the universe is expanding and galaxies are moving away from each other so the distance between them is always increasing. So even if we did depart from earth and head towards Andromeda, it would recede from us faster than we could approach it.

2. We will find life elsewhere in the universe

There is undoubtedly life elsewhere in space-time. The universe is so so vast that any scenario you can conceive of has at least some probability of occurring. It’s like Hitchhiker’s goddamn Guide to the Galaxy out there.

Just because there is life in the universe does not mean we can detect it. Our ability to observe the universe is limited to what our technology can read, what our minds can comprehend, the small time frame we inhabit, and what our four dimensions can express. Life could be all around us, just beyond the reach of these impassible barriers. Life could just be too far away for us to detect (a likely scenario, see above paragraph about how far away our neighbor star is) or maybe it existed in the past or in the future. Time is theoretically as vast as space and we take up such a tiny speck of time the way we take up a tiny speck of space. Once again, we are just too small to contend with the universe.

If we can’t discover aliens, maybe they can discover us. But if aliens exist that are capable of finding our little Earth, a needle in a trillion trillion haystacks, then they 1) are so much more advanced than us that they would not deign to contact us and 2) will have located many, many more interesting planets to visit than ours. Thems the facts.

So yes, aliens exist, but not in a way that is accessible to us.

3. If and when we establish contact with intelligent aliens, we will be able to communicate with them.

Many science fiction stories portray aliens as humanoid, able to understand English (obviously fiction) or at least having some form of language that we can decode and use to exchange information with them. Is this realistic?

Not 👏 a 👏 chance.

We have so many other beings right here on our own planet! Some of them (ex. dolphins, many primates, elephants) have their own methods of communication that we can observe, but we cannot meaningfully communicate with them.

Answer me this: if we cannot communicate with our own fellow Earthlings that have 98% or more common DNA with ourselves, how the fuck are we gonna communicate with super-advanced, possibly not carbon-based, possibly multi-dimensional beings that have for some inconceivable reason decided to pay Earth a visit and not blow it up instantly and farm the debris for resources?

Rhetorical question, obviously. We can’t.

4. We are intelligent.

I think it is clear that we are not (yet) really intelligent, if you define “intelligent” as having a decent understanding of our universe. You might think we understand the universe because our understanding is the only concept we have, but y’all, we only JUST got a picture of Pluto. We don’t even know how life started on our OWN planet. Have you heard about dark energy/dark matter, the mysterious stuff that we know exactly zero things about? This mystery thing (a force? a substance? something in another dimension that manifests itself in our dimension as gravity?) makes up 96% of our universe. We can only observe four 👏 percent 👏 of the universe right now.

So no, unfortunately we are not yet intelligent. But you know what’s amazing? We can imagine it. We little brand new humans with 3 pound brains can contemplate the beginning and the end of existence, multiverses, ridiculous things like String Theory and wormholes. That’s extraordinary. We may never be able to physically exceed the limits of our tiny plot of space-time, but our imaginations are limitless. In that way, we are intelligent.

We (Consumers) Need to be Ready for Driverless Cars

I know nothing about the inner workings of autonomous car technology. I also know nothing about how regular ICE (internal combustion engine) cars work. I do drive multiple times a day, every day. In summation, I am the perfect target consumer of a driverless car.

I have seen the videos of how driverless cars work, the feel-good story of a blind man “driving” for the first time since he lost his sight, and even incredible footage of how driverless cars deal with bizarre road scenarios (skip to 7:50, it’s mind-blowing).

I believe driverless cars are the future of personal transportation and I hope they become available soon. Every day I drive in notoriously frightening Miami-Dade county, fearing for my life as vehicles zip around, stop short, and merge unsafely. Almost every day I say (usually to myself, but sometimes to a passenger), “I can’t wait for driverless cars, I hope they come soon.”

Indeed, I would LOVE to pass off the life-threatening task of navigating I-95 to a machine designed specifically to do so. However, I have found that not everyone is as excited as me. The three most common responses from people who have not accepted the concept of autonomous vehicles are:

  1. What if it gets hacked and someone remotely crashes your car?
  2. I like driving and/or I like working on ICEs. I don’t want cars to become “just another ‘smart’ device”.
  3. What if you are in a life-or-death situation where the only two options are to hit the little kid who just ran into the street in front of you OR to swerve out of the way and hit either another car (killing the passengers) or an obstacle that would kill you?

My responses to these things are thus:

  1. What if an airplane’s autopilot gets hacked and someone remotely crashes the plane? Idk. Perhaps the car could have emergency manual controls and hand over control to the human if it detects any unauthorized access to its system. I don’t know enough about “hacking” to answer this question at all. Then again, neither do the people asking this question know enough to be asking it.
  2. I admit I cannot relate to this view because I don’t particularly enjoy the act of driving (don’t hate it either, but it is not a hobby) and I do not work on ICEs. However… is not the safety of the human population more important than the enjoyment people get out of driving cars? Over one million people die in road accidents each year… Every driverless car we put on the road replacing a driver like me who doesn’t care one way or another makes the world safer. I like to imagine a future where the vast majority of cars are driverless and accidents are incredibly rare. In such a future, traditional car enthusiasts could still drive and work on ICE cars but the overall system would be safer.
  3. First of all, I don’t think there are any real-world scenarios in which there are only two possible outcomes. Second of all, this scenario assumes that the driver can be surprised by a child jumping into the road. A human driver can be surprised, yes. But a driverless car sees in 360 degrees simultaneously and would have seen that kid coming from 30 feet away and stopped before the danger occurred. In a world where all cars are driverless, EVERY car on the road would stop long in advance to avoid hitting the child. In a world of all driverless cars, there are no accidents.

This is my thesis statement: a driverless car is better at driving than a human is. (To clarify, I’m talking about average road driving and commuting etc. Not racing, not off-road, not treacherous mountain pass with a drop-off cliff on one side etc.) Let us break it down.

Factor Human driver Autonomous
Field of vision 114 degrees (binocular) with 60 to 70 peripheral 360 degrees

This is pretty self explanatory. A human can only see about 114 degrees forward. With the aid of mirrors, we can also see behind us, but at the cost of taking our eyes off what is in front of us. Driverless cars can see EVERYTHING at the same time. Everything! They don’t need mirrors! How many times have you been driving and been surprised or startled by something that came from the left or right of you, like another driver deciding to make a sudden turn when maybe they shouldn’t have? Well a driverless car would never be surprised by that because they have no right or left. No sides. Just complete, 360 degree vision. Tell me how a human can compete with that. Answer: we can’t. NEXT.

Factor Human driver Autonomous
Reaction time human speed aka SLOW (half as econd?) computer speed aka FAST (microseconds?)

My usual first-page-of-Google search isn’t yielding as quick and obvious answers as I typically like, but I don’t think I need hard data to remind us all that humans are slow and dumb and computers are comparatively very fast. If you see an obstacle and need to stop, it takes at least half a second to start braking. Okay? And what if the reason for your braking is NOT in your 114 field of vision? Then you have to spend another second or two turning your head to look at it before reacting? Geez just pronounce me dead already. An autonomous car would start braking before you could even see or interpret the obstacle.

Factor Human driver Autonomous
Decision making Makes occasional decisions at human speed aka SLOW Makes multiple decisions per second (I think I heard 15/second somewhere?)

Human drivers basically don’t make decisions about changing lanes or defensive maneuvers until they need to. Driverless cars are constantly analyzing their environment and always know the best maneuver to make at any moment, including defensive maneuvers. Beat that, human who is singing along to a song on the radio right now.

Factor Human driver Autonomous
Distractions/focus so freaking many/unfocused literally zero/no such thing as focus because it is a computer

Every human driver is driving distracted. Even if you are not listening to the radio or talking on the phone/to a passenger, you are thinking about multiple things. No human can focus 100% on the task of driving. You are thinking about your destination. You are thinking about how annoying it is that you missed the light. You are thinking about making plans with your friends etc. A driverless car doesn’t have friends. It doesn’t have thoughts and thus cannot be distracted.

Factor Human driver Autonomous
Aggressive driving LOL no

In the same way driverless cars can’t get distracted because they don’t have thoughts, they also do not have emotions that negatively affect their focus and driving. Moving on.

Factor Human driver Autonomous
Mistakes many few, practically zero?

I’ll admit it. I’ve accidentally put my car in the wrong gear a time or two. Stopped at a green light. Turned into the wrong lane. Gone at a 4-way stop when maybe it wasn’t my turn. Humans make mistakes. You know who doesn’t? Autonomous cars.

As far as I can tell, there have been no major accidents involving driverless cars in the six or so years they have been being road-tested in California. Google and friends report a smattering of minor incidents which almost always involve a human behind the driverless car rear-ending it because the driverless car stopped when the human didn’t expect them to. Engineers are working on improving this. I love the accident report mentioned in this article about the human who tried to go when a different lane got a green light and their own lane was still red and they rear-ended the driverless car in front of them. I also like the one about a driverless car not continuing through an intersection when the light was green because the traffic was heavy and there was not space to make it across the intersection without blocking (praise GAWD I hate when intersections are blocked) and the human behind it kept on going. LOL humans.

Try as the nay-sayers might to denounce the concept of autonomous cars, they are clearly superior to human drivers. I hope they come to the consumer market soon and that when they do, we consumers will welcome them with open arms and start reaping the benefits of safer roads.

Pluto is fine.

Forever rolling my eyes at people who “feel bad for Pluto”.

Pluto is a relatively small mass of ice and rock 3 billion miles away that has been constant and unchanged for longer than we can imagine with our little brains. Pluto does not have a consciousness, let alone does it care about anything, let alone does it care about humans calling it a planet or dwarf planet. You do not need to feel bad for it. Pluto is still there and NASA obviously cares about it a lot so everything is fine.

“But Jude, have you seen the meme of it crying as the New Horizons probe passes by?”

Yes, I have. Have you seen this meme that I just made? (I know it’s small, click to expand.)

pluto

Just found out my heritage!

As an American, when someone asks “what are you?” sometimes you can only guess.

“Uh, my mom’s Jewish and my dad is white?” was the best answer I could ever give up until now. Being a many MANYth generation American (direct descendant of one of the pilgrims on the Mayflower!) my exact ethnicity has been obscured in time.

Luckily, one of my uncles is super into DNA/family trees/heritage and the like. A couple of years ago his insights led me to find out that I am my own fifth cousin.

Now, I have the full breakdown of my DNA! Here it is!

medna

Basically, my mother is Jewish and my dad is white.

Pregnancy is FRIGHTENING!!

Recently the internet has nearly completely scared me away from the idea of ever ever getting pregnant or giving birth.

Ever wondered how on God’s green earth a human baby can fit into a body when it’s already completely filed with organs? Have a look at this horrifying gif:

Good lord, where have the intestines gone? The stomach is turned ninety degrees! The bladder is squished paper thin! Even your heart, diaphragm, lungs and sternum get nudged. I’m sorry but this is terribly unnerving. It does not look good or natural or in any way positive.

This gif also doesn’t show some of the other common damage caused by pregnancy. Your skin around that ridiculous abdomen? Destroyed. Your back? Strained to high heaven due to your center of gravity now being shifted to the thirty pound mass sticking out of you. Your feet? Twice their size. Hormones? Entropy is thy name. Your body will never be shaped the way it was before you got pregnant.

I hear that by the end of the pregnancy, women feel like that baby can’t come soon enough. They just want the horrors of pregnancy to be over. But guess what. Birth and post partum SOUNDS EVEN WORSE.

The terrors of post-partum life were brought to my attention recently in this post on ScaryMommy.com. I’ll give you the summary. The post refers to how beautiful the Duchess of Cambridge looked upon exiting the hospital with her brand new born daughter. I mean… look at this woman:

Anyone of course should be impressed with her stunning looks so soon after giving birth, but once I read the Scary Mommy blog post I was frankly… disgusted. Here are some things Kate had just gone through and was still going through when these photos were taken:

  • First pee: the author says the first pee “burns like a thousand suns” and you are crying. Yup sounds about right
  • First poop: apparently much, much worse than the first pee. Quotes include “writhing in pain” and “cursing [her] husband”.
  • A month’s worth of constant vaginal bleeding far more severe than any period you’ve ever had in your life
    • From these three points I think we can conclude that the lower part of one’s body is essentially decimated by the birth process.
  • Other slightly less traumatizing side effects include
    • Incredibly painful breasts that become hard and “spray” (not even a more gentle verb like ‘leak’ or ‘secrete’!) lactation
    • Elephant-sized feet and hands

In conclusion, pregnancy and birth appear to be a process of voluntarily causing very very serious injury to your body both internally and externally. Mercifully, one can make a full recovery from this but I am not at all surprised that death in childbirth was hugely common in the past and is still a real concern today.

So how would I or any woman ever subject themselves to this process after reading these things? Of course the obvious answer is it’s the only way to get a biological child of you and your partner without using a surrogate which is A) too expensive for the average couple to use and B) requires you putting the life of your growing embryo literally into the body of another woman which sounds like a last resort scenario. But still, holy shit!

The men of Buzzfeed Blue seem to share my sentiments. In the video below, four men learn about the third trimester of pregnancy. A key scene comes at 1:26; a pregnant woman and a doctor are listing all the sickening side effects of pregnancy (hemorrhoids, inability to sleep, pain from crushed organs) to these men, to which one asks, “What are some of the positives?” to which the only answer is “the baby.”

“It’s nice to know that your body want’s to destroy you,” one of them quips. Yeah. My thoughts exactly.

And yet, despite all of this, nearly all women will willingly go through the pregnancy process and most of them almost inconceivably will do it more than once. The logical conclusion to draw from this fact is that cheating death by getting pregnant and giving birth is, indeed, worth it. I suppose you suffer for a year and then reap many more years of benefits by having the child in your life, so in the end you do get a good return on your investment.

All women do it, so I guess some day I will do it too. But……. fuck.

I would love to hear thoughts from other women especially if you have been pregnant before.

Edit: wow just found this comic about pregnancy, birth etc that really covers it all: https://thenib.com/mom-body-51fde2bc01f

Children for Same-Sex Couples

Recently, it was National Coming Out day, a day for raising awareness for the acceptance of LGBT people by our community. Today, my family and I were talking about what it could feel like to have a gay child.

My mom said it would be weird… you could not go visit that child and his/her spouse and their kids… because any kids they had would not be 100% their own! The most a gay couple can do is use one parents’ DNA and combine in with a donor’s. But really, with medical technology progressing the way it is, will this be true for much longer?

There are constantly being tests being done by scientist to learn more about how we can control life, whether with cloning, stem cells, or growing new organs for patients who need a transplant. It could definitely possible to have a same-sex couple have their own genetic children. It would be difficult and expensive, and it would require egg extraction, but it could be done. Perhaps not now, but I would bet within 20 years.

The ovum, or “egg”, from a female human is about 20 times the size of a human sperm. This is because the sperm is essentially just a swimming nucleus of DNA. The ovum, however, has cytoplasm, mitochondria, and all that other cell stuff. These other components of the cell are what are able to replicate to create every functioning cell in the human body.

Of course, the main difference between an ovum and any other human cell is that an ovum only has half of a full set of chromosomes; it needs to be met with a sperm which has the other half in order to form a full set of human DNA and begin to replicate. The nuclei of the ovum and of the sperm, I believe, are essentially the same. It is the rest of the cell that makes the difference.

So, what do you need to make a new baby? You need an ovum and half a nucleus from each parent.

Theoretically, for a gay male couple to have a biological child, you could take an egg from a donor, extract the nucleus from the ovum, and insert the nuclei from the two fathers. As long as at least one of the two nuclei contained an X chromosome, the egg could then be implanted into a surrogate mother, and grow into a baby!

For two women, you would take an egg from each, and transplant the nucleus from into the other. Then the two nuclei would combine inside the one ovum. Of course, by this method, a lesbian couple could only give birth to a daughter, since the mothers’ nuclei would only be X chromosomes sets.

How far fetched is this? I think some procedure like this may have successfully been done already. If I made a habit of reading up on scientific journals, perhaps I would know. I know that this procedure IS expensive and difficult and does not have a high success rate. However, as technology improves, it will definitely get easier!

I am my own fifth cousin.

No, I’m serious. My uncle keeps a record of our family’s genealogy on a computer program, and there is a view where you can see a list of names of family members and your relationship to them. Next to my dad’s name it says he is my father… and my fourth cousin once removed! I am my own self AND fifth cousin!

There is actually a very simple explanation for this technicality: one set of my great great great grandparents (of which there are 16 pairs) was first cousins. I will go into more detail.

What is a cousin? First cousins are something we are all familiar with. First cousins are people who each have one parent that were siblings with each other. Basically, my mom’s brother’s kids are my first cousins.

Second, third, fourth etc cousins occur when you go down another generation. My kids and my cousin’s kids will be second cousins. People who are any degree of cousin-ness are in the same generation, but the higher the degree of cousin-ness, the farther back your common ancestor is. First cousins have common grandparents. Second cousins have common great grandparents but NOT common grandparents, and so on.

Then there are also “removed” cousins. A removed cousin is someone who is in a different generation from you. For example, my first cousin’s children would be my first cousins once removed. This is because they are removed one generation from me, and we share ancestors who are my grandparents but my first cousin’s once removed’s great grandparents.

So how did I become my own fifth cousin? Well, my great great great grandparents, as I mentioned, were first cousins (this was like, the 1700s or something so… let it slide). This would mean their children, who were obviously siblings to each other, were technically also second cousins to each other, because the children of first cousins are second cousins. This meant my great great grandparents were first cousins once removed to their own parents.

Go down a few more generations and the same technicality remains, but you go from first to second, third, fourth, and fifth degrees. I am five generations from the first cousins who married, so I am fifth cousin to myself. I am also fourth cousin once removed to my father, and fifth cousin to my sister.

Here is a simplified family tree I have prepared to illustrate this. There are no siblings on here (I have sister, my parents have multiple siblings, basically everyone on here has siblings but they are not important to the story and it would make the chart too big).

This strange technicality occurred with my father’s mother’s mother’s parents being first cousins. There are, of course, hundreds and hundreds of pairs in this lineage where these kind of things could have happened that I don’t know about. What about my father’s father’s side? What about my mother’s side? The possibilities are endless.

If you think about it, the chances are rather high that you are your own fifth cousin, too.

Why we will never meet other intelligent life in the universe

There are countless sci-fi stories with premises that involve us humans meeting other intelligent alien races. Whether it involves the aliens coming to us (War of the Worlds, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) or us going to the aliens (Star Trek, “Alien” franchise), there is always some incredible space travel completed by advanced space crafts that can move mind-bogglingly fast. Well, here is the part where these stories fall through: everything, and I’m talking EVERYTHING in the universe is just so far away that we could never reach it.

Think of this: on the edge of our solar system is Pluto, which is about six billion kilometers away. If we could send a craft at a speed of 61,000 km/hr (this is the approximate speed of the Voyager), It would still take over 11 years to reach Pluto. Now this is an unimaginably small distance in comparison to our entire universe. There is no other intelligent life in our solar system (there could be life, perhaps buried deep in Mars or Europa, but definitely no intelligent life). So, let’s go a step further.

The nearest star to us besides the sun is the aptly named Proxima Centauri. This star is 4.33 light years away from us. At top Voyager speed, it would take seventy-six thousand years to reach this star. Obviously this is an unreasonable amount of time, and we will not be attempting to reach such a distance any time soon. Even if we could travel at the speed of light, it would still take over four years!

So, Proxima Centauri is 76,000 years away from us. But remember, this is the CLOSEST THING to us outside of the solar system. This isn’t even our next door neighbor, this is like the person squished against us in a mosh pit. And it would still take us 76,000 years to reach. And of course, there isn’t any intelligent life anywhere near Proxima Centauri. We would have seen it.

If not near Proxima Centauri, where might life exist? The 89th closest star to our sun is Gliese. Gliese is about 22 light years away. It has a handful of planets orbiting it, one or two of which might be “habitable”. Let’s say one of Gliese’s planets is 20 light years away. How long would it take us to reach this planet (or for aliens from that planet to reach us) at Voyager speed? 353,000 years. That’s twice as long as human beings have even EXISTED. Additionally, Gliese is just the 89th star from the sun. There are something like 10^23 stars in the observable universe, so 353,000 years would be the closest option to reach a habitable Earth-like planet.

Ok. Obviously traveling at Voyager speed, the fastest speed attained by a human craft, is not going to cut it. What if we could travel the speed of light? Well, we would certainly get places much more quickly. We would get to Gliese in 22 years, a reasonable time frame (if your craft could handle light speeds that long). However, it is known that is impossible to travel at light speed. Light and other particles travel at light speed because they have no mass. Therefore, a thing with mass, such as a spacecraft, could never ever attain this speed. Hopefully we could get close, but the nearer you get to light speed the more the laws of physics go out the window, so I’m thinking that would be difficult as well.

What other options would we or aliens have for long distance travel? How about wormholes? Well, I don’t have exact numbers on this since wormholes are theoretical and only super space scientists know anything about them, but I have watched several science shows that say it would take the energy of about a million bajillion suns to make a wormhole with the diameter of like, a millimeter. I’m exaggerating a little, but NOT MUCH.

If an alien race could somehow harness the incredible amount of energy it takes to open a wormhole do you think they’d point it at silly little Earth? Not a chance! They’d go to the nearest big galaxy to harvest all the energy they just spent making the dang hole.

There is one more option for traveling across the universe: teleporting. There are basically two ways teleporting could happen.

  1. You could take all the atoms of the object you want to teleport and move them from point A to point B. This would require, essentially, a wormhole. Since I already explained how wormholes are entirely impractical, I think we could could rule this option out.
  2. You could disassemble the object to be teleported at point A, and recreated it from new atoms at point B. For example, us humans are made up of simple things like carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. If I wanted to teleport, you could disassemble my atoms here and at the destination, have a copy of me formed from carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen at the new place.

While option 2 sounds a lot more reasonable, it brings up a couple of issues. The first is that in order to teleport, you have to be blasted apart into individual atoms. You have to die! And then a clone of you is created in a new place. Would this new clone have your memories? I don’t know much about how brains work. If memories are physical things encoded in our brain that can be recreated with physical atoms and molecules, then the memories would survive. If memories are not physical, however, they would not survive the trip. Your teleport clone would basically be a newborn baby in terms of mental function. Not even a newborn baby, like a foetus just formed.

Also, how would this teleport clone compare to you in terms of ageing? Your original body would have cells that have aged for as long as you have been alive. Your clone would have brand new everything. Not sure what this would mean in terms of function or health, but it can’t be good. These side effects of teleport option 2 mean that no one would ever do it. I suppose we could teleport inanimate objects, but never living things. Also, this means you would have to have a teleport pod at both the departure and the arrival point. So, even if an intelligent race could manage this type of teleporting, they would have to get a teleport pod to the destination point the old fashioned way, traveling as fast as possible, which I already stated at the beginning of this post is not going to get us anywhere any time within the next 100,000 years.

After thinking about all these facts, it is easy to accept the conclusion that while we may not be alone in the universe, we might as well be. The universe is just too incredibly big to allow for travel to other places. So, as far as I can tell, the alien races of science fiction will always be just that: science fiction.