The month of July, brought to you by the letter S: science and space, sports and sex. Summer.
Basic truth: at the beginning of July, I didn’t know that the sun is a star.
More truths: I didn’t know how many planets there are in the solar system. It goes without saying that I didn’t know their order—or how far apart they are from each other—or us.
I kind of knew that the earth rotates around the sun. Honestly, that was even shaky.
I didn’t know the age of the earth. I didn’t know when the Big Bang happened or the age of the universe. I didn’t know that the earth and our solar system are part of the Milky Way.
I did know that the Milky Way is a galaxy—but I thought it was the only one. In case you, like me, didn’t know: there are billions of them.
Neil deGrasse Tyson's remake of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos had been on my list since airing on Fox last spring. I watched all 13 episodes this month. And, after recovering from my deep embarrassment at how little I knew, I loved it. Obviously, I learned a lot.
The show covers lots of ground—and not just about space. There’s science, history—from Mesopotamia to the mid-Twentieth Century—and culture. Parts are unabashedly corny—Tyson zooming through space and time, piloting the Ship of the Imagination, for example.
The show is designed to appeal to curious kids and unenlightened adults, and mostly, the balance is just right. Tyson's enthusiasm and his passion for his subjects are infectious—he’s corny, and he’s fun. Highly recommend, hope there’s a second season.
Now that I have reference points and context—a sense of where we sit in the universe—I have a profoundly heightened level of appreciation for space exploration. NASA’s New Horizons was on its final approach to Pluto, just as I started watching Cosmos. What an accomplishment.
If we humans can launch a tiny object into space and have it end up precisely where it was meant to end up—4 billion miles away—exactly when it was meant to end up there—ten years later—surely, we can do anything.
Early in the month the Wall Street Journal published a great interactive crib sheet to the solar system and a guide to exploratory missions through space over the past 50 years—including a summary of New Horizons' journey. You can play with it here.
Rounding out the month's science and space binge, I read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein. What a slog. It was a coincidence that I picked it up at the same time that I started watching Cosmos. And Cosmos saved the day, giving it color and bringing it to life.
Isaacson’s command of Einstein’s complex theories is extraordinary, and I wish he’d delved deeper, providing even more explanation, detail and historical context to them—perhaps including the material as an appendix, however, rather than as part of the core biography.
As it is, if you’re a theoretical physicist, the book is likely an easy read. For the lay reader, the technical parts are cumbersome. I wanted to learn more about Einstein, the person—and still do.
I didn’t know the name Carli Lloyd before the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup. And then, just before the final match, I read this very funny SB Nation article about her.
Kevin McCauley, the article’s author, took a lot of flack about hating on Carli, after she turned in her mind-blowing performance—but it seems to me, he got it just about right: Carli Lloyd is a big-time player who scores big-time goals in big-time games. So fun to watch.
Oh, Le Tour. Le Tour. I love everything about it—even the ugly parts.
And as much I am inspired by the battle for the yellow jersey and deflated, yet also fascinated, by the never-ending doping dramas, I am also entertained and informed by the behind the scenes maneuverings of the sport’s most bombastic team owner—Oleg Tinkov—and his foil—team manager Jonathan Vaughters.
Cycling is surprisingly big business—teams have budgets ranging from $15 to $40 million a year. Vaughters’ team is on the low end of that scale, while Tinkov’s is on the high—but both struggle with year-over-year uncertainty that they would like to eliminate—or, at least, reduce.
Their pointed and often funny Twitter exchanges and Tinkov’s blogs on the subject provide great insight into their thinking on how to get there. Velon, a collaborative group of eleven of cycling’s top teams, including Tinkoff-Saxo and Cannondale-Garmin, is one of the vehicles.
Before this year’s Tour, Tinkov was threatening to boycott the 2016 edition. We’ll see if he goes that far. I doubt it—but he does have a knack for keeping things spicy.
In early July pro triathletes Jan Frodeno and Daniela Ryf dominated at Ironman’s European Championships in Frankfurt, breaking the men’s and women’s course records on a day when the thermostat topped 100 degrees.
For their efforts, each was awarded $30,000 and a slot to compete at the World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in October. One week later, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic pocketed just under $3 million each at Wimbledon.
The driver of the difference in prize money available to the two disciplines: an exponential difference between the two sports' global viewer and fan bases. If pro triathletes are to bridge the gap between their pay levels and those of other pro athletes, long-distance triathlon has to become a spectator sport.
Earlier this week, a group of pros announced the launch of a Pro Triathlete Union. I’m rooting for them. But based on Executive Director Rich Allen’s first interview with TRS Triathlon’s Ben Hobbs, I’m skeptical that his vision for the group is powerful enough to effect meaningful change on the pros’ behalf. I hope I’m wrong. Some serious skidmarks on Twitter yesterday didn't do anything to bolster my confidence.
I would bring Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead. 💃
Looking Ahead to August
In the next week or so, I'll publish an article exploring strategies for turning long-distance triathlon into a spectator sport. Stay tuned.
Hoping you'll be on a beach in Southern Europe or the Hamptons when you read it. 😎