• Making the Book Talismanic: An Interview with Robert Ansell

    Robert Ansell is the Director of Fulgur Press, which has published the work of esoteric artists for 20 years.

    'We who proudly make ourself every graven image,

    Shall have great copulations

    And are allowed to love our Gods:

    -Austin Osman Spare, The Witches' Sabbath

    Avi What led you to work at Sotheby's?

    Robert: Well, my formal education was somewhat erratic, but I decided to pursue a career in fine art, starting out as a saleroom porter—in those days, this was considered an apprenticeship of sorts. I joined Sotheby's in September 1984 and within months was transferred to the Book Department, working under the tutelage of Simon Heneage. He proved to be an inspirational mentor and a lasting influence, because it was Simon who introduced me to the work of Austin Osman Spare. (more…)

  • Design Thinking for Social Good: An Interview with David Kelley

    David Kelley is the founder of IDEO and the Stanford d.school

    David Kelley shares the IDEO Design Process

    Avi Solomon: Were the seeds of your future career planted in your childhood?

    David Kelley: I don't know, I feel I was just a lucky kid. So many kids are not allowed to flourish their creativity. But I was the kind of kid that would take apart the family piano. I can remember I had a perfectly good bicycle I got for Christmas and a few days later I had sandblasted it and painted it a different color. Not that my parents understood why I was always ripping things apart and redesigning them but I was certainly tolerated. So I think it did contribute in a lot of ways. I wish for a lot of other kids that they could tinker like I did. (more…)

  • Searching for Magic in India and Silicon Valley: An Interview with Daniel Kottke, Apple Employee #12

    Daniel Kottke lives and works in Palo Alto, Ca. Here, he talks about the genesis of his 1974 trip to India with Steve Jobs.

    Daniel Kottke was one of Apple's first employees, assembling the company's earliest kit computers with Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs in a California kitchen. In 1974, Jobs and Kottke backpacked across India in search of themselves; now, they are industry legends. Along the way, he debugged circuit boards, helped design the Apple III and the Mac, and became host of Palo Alto cable TV show The Next Step. (more…)

  • The Butterflies of India: An interview with Isaac Kehimkar

    Isaac Kehimkar is an avid naturalist and the author of The Book of Indian Butterflies
    Isaac's photostream of Indian Butterflies is at Flickr.

    Avi Solomon: What early influences drew you to the study of nature?

    Isaac Kehimkar: I grew up in Deonar, a suburb of Mumbai. It was a time when black and white television had just started in India with only one channel and no video games in sight. But Nature offered so many options. Deonar was still green and water in the streams was sparkling clean. The Monsoons were my season and catching fish and crabs with local Koli and Agri boys in the rice fields was my favorite pastime. That's the time I even dared (rather foolishly) to catch snakes too! With the rains gone and rice harvested, cricket pitches were soon paved in the rice fields and we played cricket till the rains came again. (more…)

  • Making Shelter Simple: An Interview with Lloyd Kahn

    Lloyd Kahn is the editor-in-chief of Shelter Publications. His latest book is Tiny Homes: Scaling Back in the 21st Century.

    Avi Solomon: What do you see in your childhood that pointed you onto the path that your life took?

    Lloyd Kahn: When I was a kid I had a little workbench with holes in it, and the holes were square or round or triangular. And you had to pick the right little piece of wood block and hammer it in with a little wooden hammer. And so I'd hammer with it, put the round dowel into the round hole, and hammer it through. And then maybe the most formative thing was when I was twelve – I helped my dad build a house. It had a concrete slab floor, and concrete block walls. And my job was shoveling sand and gravel and cement into the concrete mixer for quite a while. We'd go up there and work on weekends. One day we got the walls all finished, and we were putting a roof on the carport, and I got to go up on the roof. They gave me a canvas carpenter's belt, a hammer and nails, and I got to nail down the 1" sheeting. And I still remember that, kneeling on the roof nailing, the smell of wood on a sunny day. And then I worked as a carpenter when I was in college, on the docks. I just always loved doing stuff with my hands. (more…)

  • Game Design with Kids: An Interview with Charley Miller

    Charley Miller is a game designer and producer based in New York City.

    Avi Solomon: Tell us a bit about yourself.

    Charley Miller: My name is Charley, I'm from Kentucky and I'm a game designer based in New York City. I split my time between personal game projects, teaching game design, and working with clients. The client work is split between game design and helping non-gaming projects think through their user experience. I think of myself as an ambassador of games right now because so many people want to gamify their product but most are doing it wrong by just adding static incentives. I'm currently working with a team on an iPhone location and social game about spreading viruses in the real world called Outbreaker—not as scary as it sounds—that plays with the idea of what it means to go viral. I'm also hoping to release games about running for President and walking the streets of NYC this year. (more…)

  • The Grammar of Happiness: An Interview with Daniel Everett

    Daniel L. Everett is Dean of Arts and Sciences at Bentley University. He is the author of Language: The Cultural Tool and the subject of the documentary A Grammar of Happiness.

    Avi Solomon: Were there any formative experiences in your childhood that shaped your career?

    Dan Everett: Well, by far the most important experience in my childhood was the death of my mother when I was eleven. She was twenty-nine. That changed my life, and it taught me that life is extremely fragile. And I knew from that point on that I was going to die and never feared dying. Because I felt that if my mother had died, I certainly didn't have any fear of dying. (more…)

  • Working Undercover in a Slaughterhouse: an interview with Timothy Pachirat

    Timothy Pachirat, Assistant Professor of Politics at The New School for Social Research and the author of Every Twelve Seconds, is not the first to see industrialized violence and political analogues in the slaughterhouse. But rather than write an exposé, he took a job at one to see how it works from the perspective of those who work there. I interviewed him about his experiences on the kill floor.


  • The Botany of Bible Lands: An Interview with Prof. Avinoam Danin

    Avinoam Danin is Professor Emeritus of Botany in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He curates Flora of Israel Online. His latest book is Botany of the Shroud: The Story of Floral Images on the Shroud of Turin.

    Avi Solomon: What first sparked your lifelong fascination with botany?

    Avinoam Danin: My parents told me that when I was 3 years old I always said "Look father, I found a flower". My grandparents gave me the book "Analytical Flora of Palestine" on my 13 birthday – I checked off every plant I determined in the book's index of plant names.

    Avi: How did you get to know the flora of Israel so intimately? (more…)

  • Filmmaking in Bollywood's Shadow: An Interview with Jaideep Varma

    Jaideep Varma is an author, filmmaker and professional cricket analyst working in India.

    Avi Solomon

    Tell us a bit about yourself.

    Jaideep Varma

    I was in advertising for 12 years as a copywriter, then gave it up in 2000 to be a full-time writer. I published a novel, Local, in 2005. I directed a feature film, Hulla, which was released in 2008, and a full-length documentary feature film called Leaving Home – the Life & Music of Indian Ocean, which was released in 2010 and won the National Film Award this year. I also, purely accidentally, invented a statistical system in cricket called Impact Index, which is what I am running and co-developing full-time currently. (more…)

  • Robert Sapolsky on Stress: An Interview

    Prof. Robert Sapolsky on Coping with Stress (Audio link) Photo Courtesy of Indiana University

    Robert Sapolsky is a Professor of Biological Sciences and Neurology at Stanford University. He is the author of A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons.

    Avi Solomon:

    What event or person influenced your decision to study Primatology?

    Robert Sapolsky:

    Reading The Year of the Gorilla, by George Schaller, when I was in middle school. Schaller was the first person to do field work with gorillas (long before Dian Fossey). I had a vague sense of wanting to do primatology before that (sufficiently so to be reading the book), but that book cemented it. (more…)

  • Eyal Ophir on the Science of Multitasking

    Photo: Eyal Ophir with his daughter Sahar, courtesy of the subject.

    Eyal Ophir was primary researcher on the pioneering Stanford Multitasking study. He now designs information interfaces for the browser RockMelt.

    Avi Solomon

    How did you get to studying multitasking at Stanford?

    Eyal Ophir

    While I was at Stanford, Cliff Nass (my advisor, and a global expert on human-computer interaction) introduced me to some great ethnographic work done by Ulla Foehr and Donald Roberts at the Dept. of Communication looking at media consumption among youth. They saw that young people were reporting more media-use hours than actual hours, and figured out these same young people must be consuming multiple streams of media simultaneously in order to fit it all in. This is where I was introduced to the concept of Media Multitasking. I came from a cognitive psychology background, and I was inspired by Anthony Wagner's work on memory and cognitive control (Anthony was my reference for all things cognitive, and ended up being the third author on the paper). So for me, the interesting question was simply how these kids are managing to process and control so much information all at once. (more…)

  • An interview with David Eagleman, neuroscientist

    Photo: Poptech

    David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and author.

    Avi Solomon

    What fascinates you about the nature of time?

    David Eagleman

    We all go through life assuming that time is an external river that flows past us. But experiments in my laboratory over the past decade have shown that this is not precisely the case. Time is an active construction of the brain. We can set up simple experiments to make you believe that a flashed image lasted longer or shorter than it actually did, or that a burst of light happened before you pressed a button (even though you actually caused it with the button), or that a sound is beeping at a faster or slower rate than it actually is, and so on. Time is a rubbery thing. (more…)

  • An interview with William Powers, author of Hamlet's Blackberry

    Photo: Anne Ghory-Goodman

    William Powers is the author of Hamlet's BlackBerry.

    Avi Solomon

    First of all, I understand why you're having all these interviews because I think you've really touched on a sensitive issue for a lot of people, of being connected all the time.

    William Powers

    I've realized that it is sensitive, Avi, but I think we're only at the beginning of people recognizing it. People like you are the cutting edge of something and I'm not sure what it is, but there's some kind of dawning realization happening out there. It's fascinating to see it kind of blossom and I think that it's really just the start of something actually quite wonderful because I think we're going to wind up being a lot smarter about these digital tools. (more…)

  • Interview: Apollo astronaut Al Worden

    Col. Al Worden is an Engineer and Apollo 15 CMP. His autobiography is called Falling to Earth.

    Audio: Al Worden on the view from the back side of the Moon and the scale of the universe. Photo: Stuart Crawford

    Avi Solomon: What were the major formative influences as you were growing up?

    Col. Al Worden: There were a number of major influences on my life. My grandfather was probably as big an influence on me as anyone. He was a farmer in the upper part of the state of Michigan. He actually homesteaded the land. My granddad had a team of horses and everything was done with them. Back then it was one guy against the dirt on his farm and against mother nature trying to make a living out of owning a farm. I used to go up there and spend the summers with him on the farm and what I got from him was a sense of responsibility and a sense of perseverance and dedication to the job at hand. And then when I worked my way through school my high school principal was a great influence on me and he always told me that I could do anything I wanted to do if I just put my mind to it and worked hard at it and that's the way it worked out. He actually got me a scholarship to the University of Michigan, my first year, and during that year because of the family financial situation we were in, I applied for an appointment to West Point and received that from from one of the state senators and went to West Point. That kind of set me a path into the air Force and then back to college and then off doing work for the Air Force after that. I think that Earl Holman, my principal was probably a huge influence on my life.

    Avi: That probably explains why you're so interested in childhood education.

    Al: That's part of it. I was very involved with everything at my school. In fact at one point I actually took under my wing a fellow in my class who was having problems with the police and they actually paroled him to me and while he was with me he did very well. I was very interested in his education and keeping him going and that kind of translated into a real interest in motivating and getting young kids to go to school and do well.

    Avi: How did you get into the Apollo program?

    Al: I flew in the Air Force for a number of years and it was quite obvious to me that the next assignment would be a staff job somewhere and I decided that if I was going to be sitting at a desk I should do it for my benefit as well as the Air Force's. So I got myself an appointment to go back to the University of Michigan to graduate school. and while I was there I met a couple of guys, one was the deputy director of the USAF test pilot's school at Edwards and the other was the head of Academics there. Because of my friendship with them they interested me in applying for test pilot school which I did and I got an appointment to go to Europe to go through the Empire test pilot school in England. It's one of those things that you do the best and everything you can in the career path you've chosen and when you get all the way through that pipeline you find that other doors open. It turned out that NASA had an application program about a year after I'd graduated from test pilot school and I kind of had the stuff that they needed.

    Avi: So you had the right skills at the right time?

    Al: That's exactly right. I had both the academic background and the test pilot school background. As a matter of fact when I was selected into NASA I was an instructor at the Aerospace Advanced Research pilot school at Edwards, California.

    Avi: What was the secret sauce to being an Apollo Astronaut?

    Al: To get into the program it was a question of your background and all the requirements that you met like academics, flying time and being a test pilot and all that. Once in the program I think just dedication to learning everything you can and doing everything right and not playing office politics were the important things, as far as I was concerned. I was an engineer by training, I was a test pilot and I very quickly got into projects that required those particular values and that helped me in the program. I don't know that there's a secret sauce. The funny thing about the astronaut program is that everyone who was in the program was an individual. And there were very individualistic people. I think that's testament to their backgrounds and their dedication to getting all the training they could get before they got into the program and they had to do that on their own. So there were pretty individualistic type of people in the program and once they got assigned to a crew then they molded themselves into a crew of three people to go to the moon. But that's how they got there. Very hard-driving type people that were going to get all the training they could get. It may not have been for the space program, it could have been for other things like being a test pilot in the Air Force. But once they got all of those qualifications in their kitbag then they were acceptable to the program. Once in the program we all had to apply ourselves to all the things we had to learn about space and how to navigate and how to fly. In my particular crew we learned an awful lot of geology because we were going to explore the moon and those kinds of things. It's a dedication to the job and the ability or the willingness to work long hard hours to amass all of the knowledge you need to be able to make the flight.

    Avi: Were there project management or design principles that made the program as a whole a success?

    Al: Yes, I think that's absolutely true. When I was in the program back in the late sixties and early seventies there was no bureaucracy in the program. We had a goal of getting to the moon and getting back and everybody worked to that goal. I really didn't see a lot of bureaucracy. I think that crept into the program later on when the shuttle program came about. But when I was there everybody was focused on the goal and there was nobody that was trying to protect their job – they were all trying to get the job done. I think that's the thing that made the difference. And of course we had a fantastic design team in Wernher von Braun and his team that put the Saturn V launch vehicle and the Apollo spacecraft together, plus the architecture of how you go to the moon and how you land on the moon with the lunar module, that was all pretty much worked out years before we started making the flights, but that all came together very well. I think it was a lot of hard work, some excellent engineering and some very dedicated management people who were only focused on getting people to the moon safely.

    Avi: How important were simulations in the Astronaut training?

    Al: It's a great difference between flying an airplane and flying a spacecraft. In an airplane you can go up with an instructor and he can show you all the things that an airplane can do and he coaches you through how to fly an airplane sort of on-site – you get in an airplane and you go fly it. With a spacecraft you don't have that ability to just fly that thing around a little bit so you've got to do it in simulation. Simulation is the only way you can learn how to really fly that thing. So our simulator was absolutely perfect. It did everything that we would see in flight: all the visuals, all the noise, the mechanical part, the computer, the navigation; everything in the simulator worked exactly like it would in the flight. And that really trained us for the flight because once we in the flight it was sort of like doing the simulation all over again.

    Avi: What made the Saturn V so special? Would it be easy to build it again today?

    Al: That's a good question! Saturn V was obviously the largest launch vehicle ever built. It was designed from the ground up by the people at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and that's where Wernher von Braun was the director and he kind of oversaw the design and the buildup of the Saturn V. It was early in the space business and all the engines on the Saturn V were liquid fuel engines. Liquid fuel engines are more complicated than solid boosters but they have some attributes that solids don't have. In fact on some of the engines we could start and stop them in space, which you can't do with a solid. The Saturn V engines had an attribute called center line of thrust: the engines were stacked close enough together at the base of the launch vehicle so that if you lost one the others could tilt slightly to take over for that one engine. As a matter of fact on one of the flights they lost the center engine and they just kept on going, it took them a little longer to get into orbit but everything was fine. With solid boosters that's pretty tough to do because if you lose one you have to lose both. The Saturn V was an absolutely wondrous machine: Seven and a half million pounds of thrust to get it off the ground and as I said it's the largest machine that's ever been built. There are three Saturn Vs that are still around on display. Most of the parts of those three are actual flight-type vehicles. The question of whether you could resurrect the Saturn V today or not, I'm not really too qualified to answer that. I would think that it could probably be done. They could go back and get the old designs and the plans and have it rebuilt. It's not a question of having to demonstrate it or prove it, just to build it. I think it could be done but I'm just not sure that that's something that is in the cards, I'm not sure that the direction of the program is going to allow that.

    Avi: So it was kind of good that the last missions were cancelled so we have the Saturn Vs on display!

    Al: In a way. Of course there were a lot of us back in the day really disappointed that Apollos' 18, 19 and 20 never flew. They were flight ready vehicles – they could have gone and there were crews to fly them. But NASA around about that time back in 71 before we flew decided that the money that it would take to fly those Saturn Vs they needed to use to continue the development of the Shuttle. So that money was taken away from the Apollo program and put in the Shuttle program. There could have been other reasons too that I'm not aware of. But it would have been nice to fly 18, 19 and 20 for sure. You know, I look back upon it now Avi, and when I go to the Saturn V center at the Cape and look at that Saturn V sitting there in the building I kind of think in a way, that's not so bad. I got my flight, I made my flight to to the Moon so I'm not missing anything. But a thousand years from now, it's going to be really, really something for people to walk through that Saturn V building and see what we were able to do back in the 1960s.

    Avi: I was there a few months ago and it was astonishing.

    Al: That's quite a machine isn't it!

    Avi: It's on the scale of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, which I've visited, so I can compare.

    Al: I think a lot of people compare the Apollo program to building the pyramids of Egypt and I think that's right. It took as many people! I mean there were half a million people around the country that were working on the Apollo program at the time. So a lot of people, a lot of engineering, a lot of tough decisions made and most of them were right because we had very little trouble to getting six flights to land on the moon.

    Avi: You spent a lot of time circling the moon alone. Could you describe what it was like?

    Al: Well, it was kind of a wonderful time for me Avi! I was trained as a single-seat fighter pilot to begin with and so I like to be in a flying machine by myself. Lot of people think it's pretty lonely up there but on my flight I was there for three days in orbit while Dave Scott and Jim Irwin were on the surface and during those three days I was busy like 20 hours a day doing all the experiments and the science that were called for in the flight-plan. So I was really, really busy. I enjoyed the time by myself, I enjoyed looking at the moon's surface and describing features which Dr. El-Baz and I had worked out before the flight. He was my geologist instructor. So I was very busy not only doing visual observations but mapping the surface of the moon, taking high resolution pictures of the surface and doing a lot of photography work both of the moon and other features like star-patterns and that kind of thing. So it was a good time for me, I enjoyed it. I have to admit that I wasn't really very lonely after flying with those two guys in a spacecraft about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, I was glad to get rid of them for a while, so it was very comfortable for me.

    Avi: What's the view from the back of the moon?

    Al: There are two things that are important: there's the back side of the moon and there's the dark side to the moon. They are two different things. The back side is the side away from the earth and the dark side is the side away from the sun. So they're not the same thing. On our flight the moon was about half lit, so there was about half a moon. So there was a little space around the back side as I was going around it where I was shadowed from both the Earth and the Sun and that was pretty amazing. I could see more stars than I could possibly imagine. It really makes you wonder about our place in the Universe and what we're all about. When you see that many stars out there you realize that those are really suns and those suns could have planets around them and all that kind of stuff. But probably the most spectacular part of going to the back side of the moon was coming around the moon and seeing the earth come up. And of course home planet is a pretty spectacular place. It is the only planet in the solar system that has all of the ingredients we need for life. It has water, it has land, it has the atmosphere and so it's a pretty gorgeous thing to look at from out there. And so no matter what I was doing, when I came around the side of the moon and the Earth was rising over the lunar surface I got to a window to watch it. That was pretty spectacular.

    Avi: Like the crescent earth photo you took.

    Al: Yes, it's my favorite photo. The crescent part of the earth you see is covered with clouds.

    Avi: Could you see the outline of the milky way or were there just too many stars?

    Al: Too many stars, Avi, yes. As you know we're part of the milky way galaxy and we look at it sideways, we look through it. When there's so many stars that you look at out there it's very hard to make out anything like a milky way or anything like that. In fact, there were so many stars I had some difficulty finding any of the 37 brighter stars that we used as navigation stars because they were so bathed in starlight from the other stars around them.

    Avi: So, for example, you would try and find Sirius and…

    Al: …and it would be very difficult to find. And there were times when I had to let the computer drive the optics to the star that I wanted to use for navigation because I had difficulty finding it with all the other stars out there.

    Avi: The number of galaxies, let alone stars is truly astonishing!

    Al: Oh yes! People don't understand. I've developed the attitude that there's something like no beginning or end of time and there's no such thing as infinity because everything just keeps going. In the milky way galaxy there are a couple of hundred billion stars and there are a couple of hundred billion galaxies out there. So we really don't have a very good concept of the universe. I think we're getting to it with the Hubble and Kepler and a few of the other satellites that are out there now. Eventually we'll kind of figure it out but we're a long ways from understanding the universe.

    Avi: There's probably like a few billion stars per person alive.

    Al: Well I would think so, yes. I have never looked at it that way, but yes, my guess is that's correct.

    Avi: So how do you keep this kind of wonder alive?

    Al: Well, you talk about it a lot. Every time I give a talk I talk about the universe out there and the numbers of stars and how beautiful the earth is and all that. You talk about it, you write about it, you try and get people involved in what you're saying and I think that most of us are fairly successful at doing that.

    Avi: The other amazing thing you saw was on your EVA. It was the first interplanetary EVA?

    Al: Yes. And as a matter of fact I was further out from Earth than any of the others. I still have the record for the furthest out EVA. A little about 50,000 miles this side of the moon when I did that. It was kind of unique because as you know when the spacecraft comes back from the moon it doesn't come straight back – it loops around. It makes a big arc path to get back to the earth because of the motion of the moon and the earth and all the rest of it. So we were off the center-line of the moon and the earth and I could see the both of them at the same time. Pretty spectacular – you look at the moon and there's nothing there except craters and ancient lava flows and that kind of thing, then you look at the Earth and it's very dynamic, it's got cloud cover and all the stuff that we know about. The difference between the two is pretty dramatic. Spectacular sight, I have to say from out there, especially when you're standing in the middle of a spacesuit with a bubble helmet and you can kind of look around. Jim Irwin was standing in the hatch at the time watching me and making sure that everything was OK. The moon was behind him, in fact there's a painting at the Smithsonian that Pierre Mion did of my EVA since I wasn't allowed to take a camera out, and it shows Jim Irwin standing in the hatch with the moon behind him and I was reflected in his visor. Kind of a neat painting.

    Avi: Even if you had a camera would you have been able to capture the earth and the moon together?

    Al: No, I couldn't do that because they were too far apart for that but that really wasn't the purpose. I really wanted to take a camera out to photograph the outside of the service module and we found some things where photographs would have been helpful. We found that there was some scorching from the reaction control system jets. The mapping camera had stuck out and wouldn't retract. Some pictures and all of that stuff would have been useful for the engineers back in Houston. And I kind of sensed that there might be things like that I would really like to take pictures of but not the earth and the moon because I'd already done that when I was in lunar orbit.

    A page from "Hello Earth", Al Worden's book of poetry

    Avi: So is this what inspired you to write a book of poetry? I think you're one of the only astronauts who's composed a book of poetry.

    Al: You know what happened. When we got back from the flight we went into two weeks of debriefing. We were pretty exhausted from the flight and we spent all day long from early morning to early evening debriefing and when I'd get home I'd just be totally exhausted and I couldn't go to sleep. So I'd sit in my living room with a pad of paper and a pencil and just start writing things and when we looked at it later it was just kind of like poetry so I rearranged it a little bit and the poetry came out. Poetry is kind of a shorthand for the feelings and the thought processes that you're going through and that's kind of what came out on the paper so that's what ended up as the book of poetry.

    Avi: It's really a very personal piece of work. You talk there about "rebirth at thirty-nine".

    Al: Yes. That was on the EVA. I had the thought that it's just like being born because you're getting out of the spacecraft out into the world on your own. And that's what brought that up. I was reborn at thirty-nine because that EVA did that for me. As a matter of fact I kind of had that feeling of rebirth going outside. A whole new perspective on everything.

    Avi: And it's also interesting that one of the poems ends with "God made it all".

    Al: Well, that's kind of feeling that you get. And that really doesn't answer the question of what you think God is. But when you look at the universe out there and you see all those billions of stars and you see they're all formed in galaxies, and the galaxies break down into stars and some of those stars even further break down into planetary systems, you say – man, there is an organization to this universe that we just can't comprehend. There had to be something, somewhere, somehow that made this all happen. In my mind it just didn't spring out of nothing. How better do you describe it? You have to say that there's some other force, some other power whether you call it God or chairman of the board or CEO or whatever you want to call it. Something somewhere had to work to put all this together in the consistency of what we see of the universe.

    Avi: That's probably why many of the Apollo astronauts had a more religious or philosophical turn in their lives after they returned from the moon?

    Al: I suspect so. Several of the guys when they came back became quite religious. I think being away from earth that far and looking back at earth had a big influence on those guys too. Because we live in the only planet we know of that's habitable and something had to make that happen. In fact Jim Irwin founded High Flight foundation and he went all over the world giving testimony after the flight. I think that's great. Other guys like Ed Mitchell got into psychic phenomena because of the flight. He was already interested in it but he kind of focused his attention on it after the flight. It's interesting what happened to the guys once they made their flight. Some guys like Pete Conrad said that's just another flight and then there's guys like Jim Irwin who said he felt the presence of God on the moon. He gave testimony for christian fellowship organizations.

    Avi: So now, forty years down the line, do you still have the same intensity of feeling when you remember your experiences?

    Al: Not quite the same intensity. In fact I look at the moon at night and I say – hmm, that's kind of neat because I've seen it up close. I'll tell you what it's a little like. Through all the training and all the simulation you get so immersed in the project that you don't really look at anything else for the time you're in training. It's just so all consuming. And when you come back you go through two weeks of debriefing and then you're let out into the world. It's a little like going to a movie, and you get immersed in the movie and then when the movie's over you walk out on the street, cars are going by, people are walking and talking and doing their thing. And you're back in the real world again. And you say Gee, that was kind of an interesting little episode in my life, I watched that movie and got totally involved in it but here I am back in the real world. It's kind of like that after you make a lunar flight. I won't say that it's imaginary, but it's an experience that's so unlike anything you've ever had in your life that it's almost as if it's mystical in a way. And then when you come back to earth and you land and everything's OK and you do your debriefings, all of a sudden you're back out in the real world again. And now you remember what it was, but the sharp edges of the remembrances get filed off after a while. You remember some of the important things but a lot of the technical stuff I've totally forgotten. But I do remember the experience of going to the moon, being in lunar orbit for six days and coming back home – I remember all of that quite well. But some of the technical stuff like how did we do it I don't remember that.

    Avi: Could you tell us a little about your autobiography?

    Al: Most of the book is about where I come from, how I grew up and how I selected the career path that I did and going through school and all that.
    The first part of the book is about spending the days on the farm with my granddad and learning how to be responsible. You've got dumb animals out there that rely on you to do everything for them. That's a thought process that I've kept all my life. But I decided when I was a kid that I would not spend the rest of my time on a farm so that's why I pursued going to college and eventually to the Air Force.
    But then we get into the space program and the aftermath of our flight. As you know our flight was kind of singled out back in the day because we carried some postal covers that created quite a stir. The last part of the book is about how I sued the US Government. They had asked us to turn all of these things in while they investigated the incident, then they didn't want to return them. So I sued them back in the 80s on behalf of all the astronauts and we took that through the Department of Justice and got everything back. And what I've done since then because I've applied myself to helping charities and working with kids I think to try and get some respect back.

    Avi: What skills would you advise today's high school kids to acquire?

    Al: There's no question about it. I'm an engineer, Avi. My best subjects in school were math and science. There's no question that I'd go to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses and do absolutely the best I could at those because I really believe that as we go into the future we're going to need some very very innovative people to upgrade old technologies and invent new technologies. Of course that's the kind of thing that's made this country so great over the course of the last forty years is the technology. So that would be my course. And like I tell high school and college kids when I talk to them that the best thing they could do with their lives is to really apply themselves to learning everything they can because you never know what's going to come down the road and what you're going to need.

    Another page from "Hello Earth."

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  • Interview: Laird Scranton


    Laird Scranton is an independent software developer from Albany, New York. He is the author of several books and articles on African and Egyptian mythology and language.

    Avi Solomon: Who are the Dogon?

    Laird Scranton: The Dogon are a modern-day African tribe from Mali who seem to observe many interesting ancient traditions. In fact, their culture can be seen as a kind of cross-roads for several important ancient traditions. As just a few examples, they wear skull caps and prayer shawls, circumcise their young, and celebrate a Jubilee Year like ancient Jews, they observe the same calendars and establish their villages and districts in pairs called "Upper" and "Lower" like ancient Egypt, and they preserve a detailed cosmology that bears close resemblance to Buddhism, only expressed using ancient Egyptian terms.