Thursday, October 02, 2008

In Discover this Month: 20 Things You Didn't Know about Genius

In October's Discover Magazine.

1 The latest winners of the Nobel Prize—the big kahuna of genius awards—will be announced this month. Were you nominated? To find out, you’ll have to either win or wait 50 years, which is how long the Nobel committee keeps secret the list of also-rans.

2 Nyah, nyah. William Shockley, who won the 1956 Nobel in physics for inventing the transistor, was excluded as a child from a long-term study of genius because his I.Q. score wasn’t high enough.

3 History repeated itself in 1968 when Luis Alvarez won a Nobel for his work on elementary particles. He had been excluded from the same research program as Shockley. Who set up that study, anyway?

See "things" 4-20.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

New Beginnings

After I read an article suggesting that people could revive relationships by engaging together in exhilarating sports, I could have asked my husband to go skiing. But my marriage is not the only time-worn relationship I'm in. I have nearly grown children. Sure, our first years together had their passion, good and bad. But then things evened out--considerably.

A week or so after I read the article, I needed to make plans for my 15-year-old son's spring break. Did I want to spend it pestering him to clean his room? Did he want claim it's clean already? Or might we dispel our standoff and revive our relationship by, say, scuba diving?

Cut to: The Cayman Islands and a diving course that culminates in a descent to 120 feet.

Even I did not have "reviving our relationship" in mind as Ben and I began the final dive. I was wondering if my brain was going to explode, though at around 45 feet I remembered that "imploding" was the correct worry. But soon enough, I was swimming with Ben through a maze of coral as we descended to our record depth.

Emotion distorts memory. I remember seeing Ben shoot ahead, out of a cave, and hover over the 25,000 foot drop that is the renowned Cayman Trench. I remember holding my breath in fear. Ben has pointed out that it was the instructor who went first and that, if I had held my breath, I'd have died.

ANYWAY, we both agree that all the fish were behind us, grazing on the coral. Ahead and below was just blue. Without debris or life forms to define foreground from background, we couldn't tell if the blue was an inch thick or if it extended to the center of the earth.

When I was little I wanted to be the first person on the moon. When I was 15 Neil Armstrong was. Now, at the very age at which that early dream died, my son has experienced weightlessness and a sense of limitless space, and he's shared that space companionably with a range of aquatic animals, some of which we'd always thought would eat us. (What they actually do is swim lazily by, certain that we are not part of any food chain they recognize.)

Did a spring break of exhilarating sport give Ben and me a new beginning? On the way home he handled my luggage. I opened doors. We cheerfully survived a 2-hour wait at Immigration. And neither of us has mentioned the state of his room since our return.

All right. Days in our house bounce by as imperfectly as they do anywhere and, no, we can't afford to dive again soon. But I am sold as never before on the idea of families getting outside together when the going gets tough--or even when the going gets boring.

This was original part of Vermont Public Radio's "Commentary" series.

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