Lecture No. 45 – June 2017


I was recently reminded that I have another birthday approaching. They seem to come around quicker than they used to when I was much younger. Not that I have any regrets.

When I was very young, I was pleased that my birthday was safely removed from Christmas so that the likelihood of getting “combined” gifts was remote at best.

I come from a loosely aligned family. I haven’t seen my cousin Patty since we were both in high school. I saw her older sister, Linda, for the first time in over 40 years when I went to Rochester, New York for my 40th high school class reunion. There are a handful of others that I have never met. My wife comes from a very closely-knit family. To hear her tell it, there was a family reunion of sorts at least monthly if not more often. So, we compromised and celebrated everyone’s birthday with a family gathering that, as time passed, included in laws and grandchildren. As the family grew, it got to the point that we were having a family celebration of some sort at least monthly and, when you added in Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, etc., the gatherings approached more than once a month.

We just celebrated Mother’s Day. Another day that is safely removed from Christmas and, in this case, my wife’s birthday. After our first child was born, I realized that Father’s Day was only about a week from my birthday – too close not to combine the two celebrations. A few years ago, my oldest son proposed we combine his birthday celebration (July) with his wife’s (August), thus reducing the get-togethers by one. This was so successful that we have now evolved the family birthday parties into quarterly events. Which usually moves my birthday celebration a few weeks away from Father’s Day. Now that all the kids are married and have families of their own, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have become a phone call or a card and maybe a stop by instead of the full-blown, sit-down family dinner at our house.

As this next birthday approaches, I began to reminisce about the events that I have experienced or witnessed. I can recall wondering at one time if I would live long enough to witness the turn of the century. At the time, it seemed like a long way off, far into the future. At the time, I didn’t realize it was also the start of a new millennium. Well, I survived K2000.

The number of events is overwhelming. I have selected eight to relate here with the hope that you will take the time to recall the events that made an impression in your own life.

In 1955, I was part of a test group that tested Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. A year or so later, we also tested Dr. Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine. Dr. Salk’s vaccine was a shot while Dr. Sabin’s was served on a sugar cube. Polio has almost been eradicated worldwide.

I have been a science-fiction fan forever or at least since I read “Tunnel in the Sky” by Robert Heinlein in junior high. A few years later, I was excited to hear one of my heroes announce that “by the end of this decade, we will put a man on the moon and safely return him to the earth.” Unfortunately, President Kennedy did not live to witness “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” I was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina that evening when “Houston, the Eagle has landed” came over the TV.

When I started school, our solar system included nine planets. Today we are down to eight and a half, maybe a quarter, planets in our solar system. We have flown by most, if not all of the planets and several of the moons of our solar system and landed unmanned explorers on what appears to be our next target, Mars. And we have discovered hundreds of exoplanets orbiting stars in our relative immediate vicinity. When I started school, the word “exoplanet” did not exist.

Shortly after I was born, the atomic age began. In 1945, radiation was used to kill and destroy. Today, it is used to cure and enhance.

A few decades ago, during an annual physical, my doctor discovered I had an overactive thyroid gland. She referred me to Dr. Fred Ciarochi, who told me it had to go. Instead of the usual throat surgery I had envisioned, he used radioactive Iodine to kill it. I took the pill on a Friday morning and was back at work the following Monday. Today, radioactive “seeds” are used to treat several types of cancer that at one time required surgery.

Anyone recall the Jarvic-7? It was one of the first artificial hearts. Today, its decedents are used to keep patients alive while undergoing heart transplants. Many of us are walking around on replacement parts. It seems like every year there are advancements in medicine that we could not even dream of a few decades ago.

I vaguely remember an issue of Popular Science published in the early 1950s that had predictions for the year 1960. The year 1960 came and went, and those predictions failed to materialize. The writers of the TV show “The Jetsons” must have seen that issue. This year, Uber has announced the flying car by 2020, just 60 years late. Remember “Star Trek” and the flip-top communicator? That preceded the flip-top mobile phone by about a decade or two. The Next Generation put the communicator in their badge. And don’t forget Mr. Data.

I recall when a calculator was a pencil and a sheet of paper. Then came the hand-held TI calculator. This was followed by the IBM PC, Apple’s MAC and several others. Now, my laptop has more power and capabilities than the IBM PC, the early MACs and all the others combined, and it is out of date.

My first car did not come with seat belts. It had an AM radio, four doors, a back seat that folded down, and the trunk was up front because the engine was in the rear. Ralph Nader said it was “Unsafe at any Speed.” It got me to and from school, 1,300 miles each way several times. It had a whole 87 horsepower engine.

My grandfather’s car had a clock built in the dash. It couldn’t keep accurate time, but the dial changed colors. Our family car has five seat belts with shoulder straps, an AM/FM radio with Sirius, a GPS system, a sun roof, a clock in the dash that keeps accurate time and a CD player. It also has four doors, and a portion of the rear seat folds down to give access to the trunk. The car is 11 years old. Today’s car has capabilities well beyond what I’m driving.

I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. Our generation has experienced more during our lifetime than probably every generation before us experienced. Our knowledge of virtually everything is growing exponentially. Take the time to realize what you have witnessed in your lifetime. What’s next? Literally, only God knows. I envy my grandchildren. Their world will be as different from mine as mine is from my grandfather’s.