When I meet impressive people, I always wonder how they spend their time. Let’s suppose you meet someone who can play effortless bluegrass on the banjo, quote Shakespeare at length, write luminous heartbreaking prose, and throw together an award-winning web site with their right hand while simultaneously juggling five flaming tomahawks with their left. Not bad, right? But those skills are all frozen snapshots. Those are recorded performances, and you’re just pressing the “play” button. What I want to know is: how did they get there? How in world did they load up their brain bins like that? How do they carve up the same twenty four hours that I get every day and manage to do so much with it?
I suspect, but I’m not sure, that they didn’t watch as many episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies as I did in Junior High.
When someone writes a fabulous book, or even an eloquent blog for that matter, I don’t feel like I get much insight into the crucial question of how they got there. It’s a performance. How many rehearsals did it take? But when somebody impressive twitters (there he goes about Twitter again), I feel more like I’m inside the secret process of how they load their brain. Tim O’Reilly, whom I rank in the “impressive” category, was twittering away this afternoon, and it was like peeking over his shoulder while he packed his brain for another good sprint.
One of the things that O’Reilly mentioned today was Celestia, an astronomy program. I’m a sucker for astronomy programs, especially free high-quality astronomy programs. So off I went to download it and install it. For improving the experience of stargazing, I would give the edge to Stellarium. For access to the best astrophotography, you’ll want to use Google Earth’s doppelganger, Google Sky. But Celestia has another trick. Here’s how they describe it: “Unlike most planetarium software, Celestia doesn’t confine you to the surface of the Earth. You can travel throughout the solar system, to any of over 100,000 stars, or even beyond the galaxy.” It is a fun game to play.
Naturally, I flew to the most distant star I could find (HIP 88879) and looked back at our little star, and this is what I saw. What are all those blue squiggles radiating from the Sun? Those are the constellations, those curious cartoons of assorted animals and people that inhabit our sky. We’re used to seeing them flattened against the inside of the dome of heaven. But there’s no dome, right? Those zodiacal doodles connect stars that differ wildly in their remoteness, anywhere from tens to thousands of light years.
It’s very thoughtful of them to put on an animal show for us every night.