The Kt we loved

The Kt we loved
"I just might hurt you if you don't move that camera." — Kt

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Real-world Science Fiction

Katie defined "voracious reader". From the age of four, when I got home from work and she sat on my lap and read The Bob Books, she read everything. On car trips, she'd sit in the back of the minivan with a stack of books and be happy — until she ran out of books, anyway. And one of the (many) lasting images we have is of her sitting in the recliner in her room, largely buried in books, reading quietly to herself.

I've been an SF reader for a long time: I remember being in the library in Croton-on-Hudson and hearing some kid about my age trying to describe a book to the librarian as "about aliens, with a metal octopus on the cover". I suggested he meant War of the Worlds, and I was right. This was before we moved to Canada when I was 8, so I must have been reading SF for a while already.

Anyway, Robert A. Heinlein was always one of my favorites. In the 1950s, he wrote a series of books known as the "juveniles", which were targeted at teenagers (or "young adult readers", as we'd call them now). While of course horribly dated in many ways now, they're still eminently readable.

So when Katie was in maybe fifth grade, I started reading them to her. Not, of course, that she couldn't read them herself, but we enjoyed the time together, and I could answer (some of!) her many questions that the books raised.

Red Planet was one of her favorites: "Willis WARM!" was something she'd say when she got cold, although I suspect I was the only one who knew what she was on about.

SF has a tremendous range, from stories in the near future to "space opera" taking place centuries and light-years from here and now, but one basic form involves making an assumption and examining the changes that would result, on society and humanity: What if the South had won the Civil War (or Germany WWII)? What if a cheap, unlimited source of power (such as safe cold fusion) were found? What if we discovered a method of faster-than-light travel, and could thus visit other stars?

It's occurred to me recently that we're seeing some things happen in the world that are true SF events. For example, if tornadoes in the midwest become the norm, that will reshape where (or at least how) a huge number of Americans live:  "tornado alley" might become largely empty, with farmers living in homes belowground, and the dispossessed squatting amongst the ruins of former towns. Or if the volcanic eruptions continue, air travel and thus our mobility will change. Railroads and steamships might return to ascendancy. And of course global warming in general may do things we can't even begin to anticipate.

My father told me many times that when he first had kids, he never realized that he would actually enjoy talking to them — that he had just kind of thought they'd always be kids and wouldn't have anything to contribute to adult conversations, and that he was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was wrong. He wasn't being rude or obnoxious; on the contrary, he was putting himself down, for having been so na├»ve.

I gotta say, we never felt this way about Katie. From the time she was little, she had interesting things to say and could synthesize concepts like someone far older, and we learned a lot from her.

So I keep wanting to discuss these SF events with her, because I know she'd have ideas about them that I don't, and that I'd come away with a new perspective.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Quite an evening

It's taken me several days to write this.

The Oakton Media Group banquet Wednesday night at Kt's high school was quite amazing. I have to admit that I was kind of dreading it, figuring it would be ripping the scab off the wound again. And it sort of was. I hadn't been in the school in about a year, hadn't even driven the route, so just getting there put me in a bit of a state.

But once the thing kicked off for real, it was better, albeit still very emotional. It was good to see a bunch of her friends, many of whom we knew by name but had never met.

The Katie Smith Spirit Award was presented to a student who "...exemplifies the spirit of cooperation among OHS publications...[t]he goal of the award is to recognize someone who enthusiastically offers strong journalism skills and a service-oriented spirit, exemplified through good publication relations and regular attendance at OMG events, including speaker series, car washes, conventions, and work nights".

Kt would have been very proud to know that such criteria were applied to an award in her name. Frank Driscoll created a beautiful plaque for the award, with room for 36 names, so it will be a while before it's filled!

On the way home, Anita asked me (not for the first time), "How did we manage to have such an amazing child?", to which I still have no answer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Been buried at work

This is mostly good: it's distracting and thus therapeutic. The downside is that I don't sleep enough — I wake up early thinking of things I need to do.

We've been on a forced march getting a Beta (pre-release) of a new product out the door. I'm excited about this product: it's my vision of how our technology should work on the mainframe, and customers seem to agree whole-heartedly.

Anyway, it's kept me busy. Now the Beta is out, and we're waiting for customer feedback. So things have backed off a bit, although I'll be busy handholding those customers through their installation for the next while.

It's also the end of the school year. Tonight we've been invited to the Oakton Media Group banquet at Katie's high school, where an annual award has been created in her name. The theatre department is doing something similar.

And this is, of course, profoundly depressing, even while it's also quite moving.