Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Surveyor 3

Pete Conrad at Surveyor 3, with Apollo 12's lunar module in the background. That part sticking up next to Conrad is the video camera, which he and Bean unbolted from the lander and took back home with them...

Today is the anniversary of one of my favorite Space Age events. On April 17, 1967, the unmanned Surveyor 3 successfully landed on the Moon, captured some images, and did some science. Although it was a scientific and engineering triumph, that's not what makes it one of my favorites.

Two and a half years later, Apollo 12 landed about 600 feet (200ish meters) from Surveyor 3, and astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean ambled over for a look. That was not a coincidence. 

With Apollo 11, NASA would have been happy to land anywhere flat, smooth, and on the Moon. Neil Armstrong piloted his lunar module some distance from the planned landing spot, but since that spot was littered with boulders nobody had any problem with it. With Apollo 12, they wanted to see how close they could get to a pinpoint target: Surveyor 3. Pretty close, it turned out. 

As part of their mission, Bean and Conrad detached Surveyor 3's video camera and brought it back to Earth so NASA could study the effects of 2.5 years of lunar exposure on metal, electronic components, etc. That camera is now in the National Air and Space Museum, where I paid my respects last month. If you look closely, you'll see small chunks cut out of the metal housing where NASA took samples to analyze.

...Where it resides in the National Air and Space Museum so I could take this photo of it! Notice the rectangular bites taken out of it--by NASA, not metal-eating Moon monsters.

I just find something very human and romantic about casting a note in a bottle into the ocean and then tracking it down years later to see how it's doing. I think it's one of the coolest things people have done in space.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Horses Lie


On a main road a few miles from my house sits a horse stable and riding arena, where I was delighted to see this sign appear several months ago. Finally had the opportunity to take a photo tonight.

There are many stories contained in this sign: The concerned citizens who think they're seeing a veterinary emergency. The 911 operators tired of taking calls about dead horses. The stable hands tired of having sheriff’s deputies roll up to check on the dead horses. The old equestrians rolling their eyes at city slickers who think horses only sleep standing up. A lot had to happen before the stable decided to pay for and put up a sign. 

And the fact that it should read "lie" instead of "lay" is just the chef's-kiss cherry atop the sundae. This sign is perfect exactly as it is. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Talking Graphic Meds and Mom's Cancer at 20

My class. Faces are blurred because I didn't ask their permission to post a photo.

I did a talk and workshop for a small group of med students taking a course on Medical Humanities and Ethics at Stanford University today. Everybody made a comic about a health-related subject, after which--by the powers vested in me by mostly me--I dubbed them Practitioners of Graphic Medicine quod erat demonstrandum. They made some genuinely good comics.

Mom's Cancer is about 20 years old now. I did the webcomic in 2004-2005 and Abrams published the book in 2006. I am astonished and gratified that not only is my family’s story still in print but that it is taught in medical schools, and once in a while I get to talk about it and the qualities of comics that, I think, make them a unique storytelling medium. The fact that I give those talks to med students who were toddlers when I made the book is its own weird, unsettling reward. 

But seriously: if you'd told me 20 years ago that I'd be lecturing at medical schools in 2024, I would have believed you less than if you'd said I'd be living on the Moon. With a jetpack.

By the way, if you ever take a header off an electric scooter and land on the sidewalk like a sack of cement, do it at a medical school. One poor unfortunate soul did that right in front of me today. I was first on the scene, but by the time I asked, "Hey, are you all right?" we were surrounded by eight people in surgical scrubs doing a full exam. I left him in better hands, and later saw him limping along with his busted scooter. Glad I could help.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Trina Robbins

With Trina at the Cartoon Art Museum in 2023.

I'm very sorry to hear of the death of cartoonist Trina Robbins and add my condolences to the many that her partner, artist Steve Leialoha, is surely receiving now. I didn't know her well but we met and spoke a few times--including at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, where I think she and Steve made a point to show up for every special event, and once when I interrupted their breakfast at San Diego Comic Con for a lovely brief chat. 

Trina and Steve when they came to see me talk about A Fire Story at the Cartoon Art Museum in 2019.

Trina had an interesting and unusual career, successfully transitioning from Underground comix in the 1960s and 1970s to mainstream comics, notably Wonder Woman, in the 1980s until now, while keeping a foot in both worlds and remaining well-respected in both. Not many creators could pull that off. 

She was just one of those people whose personality was a beacon of light: happy to be there, happy to meet you, happy to see you again, happy to discover a comic she'd never seen before. I don't know if Trina was naturally humble or just mastered the conversational trick of asking the other person about themselves, but she always reflected the spotlight onto others. 

I've met a number of old pros who welcomed me to the comics community with open arms, treating me like a peer even when they'd never heard of me or seen my work. It's a classy quality that the most accomplished and secure creators pull off with grace. Trina will always be at the top of my list.

A gallery of just some of Trina's work. She had a huge bibliography in both fiction and historical nonfiction.


Friday, April 5, 2024

Asked and Answered

Snappy, accurate answers to actual headlines I found in newspapers and online this morning, to save you the trouble of reading the accompanying articles:

Q: "Did That Earthquake Have Anything to Do With the Solar Eclipse?"--Slate

A: No.

Q: "Were the Quakes in Santa Rosa (Calif.) and Taiwan Related?"--Santa Rosa Press Democrat

A: No. 

Q: "Why Was the New Jersey Earthquake Felt Several Hundred Miles Away?"--Washington Post

A: Because it was an earthquake. That's what they do.

Q: "Is A.I. Already Taking Jobs?"--New York Times

A: Yes.

Q: "Buy Groceries at WalMart Lately?"--Associated Press

A: No.

Q: "Want an Elephant?"--Washington Post

A: No. 

Q: "Why Is Technology Mean to Me?"--New York Times

A: It's mean to everyone, columnist David Brooks. You're not special. 

Q: "Will Animals Act Weird During the Total Solar Eclipse?"--Associated Press

A: Some. Your cat will sleep through it.

Q: "Michael Douglas as Ben Franklin?"--Washington Post

A: Sure. Why not?

Q: "How Much Would You Pay to Make Sure you Never Sawed Off a Finger?"--New York Times

A: $10.

Q: "How Well Do You Remember the Week?"--CNN

A: Frankly, much of it is a blur.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Covid Shmovid!


Covid Update, Day 5 and Final: Though still testing positive--the line was so bold this morning it almost felt sarcastic--I feel about 91% back to normal so I'm calling myself over it. Will continue to follow CDC guidelines and take extra care around vulnerable folks. Unless I take a dramatic dive, this'll be the last I have to say about my bout with the 'Vid. Thanks, everyone, for your encouragement and caring emojis!