Thomas Edison in American Mythology

A story has come down concerning one of the famous camping trips which Thomas Edison took with Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and the naturalist, John Burroughs, in the hills of West Virginia shortly after the First World War.  A village mechanic was inspecting the motor of their ailing car when a … [Read more...]

The Best Year

Until the age of eight, I had always lived in the city, in old hotels and second-floor flats.  During the war we had moved around with my father until he was shipped overseas for the invasion of France.  When my mother died in the summer of ’44, my father was allowed to return, just missing the … [Read more...]

Bid Time Return: Time-Travel Romance on Film and TV

We are indebted to H. G. Wells not only for the notion of voluntary time travel but also for the image by which we conceive it: a sunny, Edwardian gentleman perched on an ornate steam-age contraption that moves through time in much the same manner that a streetcar moves across town.  This linear … [Read more...]

An American Epic: Gordon Moore and the Legacy of Fairchild

In 1939, Sheriff Walter Moore was the only law enforcement west of the mountains on the coast of San Mateo County.  Promoted that year, he moved with his wife, Mira, and three young sons from the small village of Pescadero to the county seat in Redwood City.  “The area was a bunch of small rural … [Read more...]

Carl Sagan: Visionary

Originally written as a memorial speech delivered by Buzz Aldrin, this was subsequently published in the Planetary Society’s Planetary Report, May/June 1997. I can’t think of Carl without seeing that windblown figure strolling on the beach, telling us, over the roar of the breakers, in his emphatic … [Read more...]

Political Half Truth

The current political dilemma lies less in the problems themselves than in the people who appraise them.  As with all living organisms, the ills in social systems are complex, interwoven, and multilayered.  Just as a psychiatrist might prescribe drugs for one patient and therapy for another, one … [Read more...]

The Only Real Place

I was four years old in 1942 when the army sent my father to Fort Ord on California’s Monterey Peninsula.  We left a dreary flat in the gray mist of San Francisco for a sunny cottage near the cypress-lined, white-sand beaches of Carmel.  As if to ritualize this rebirth, my mother took me for a walk … [Read more...]

Lofty Days: Ode to a Childhood Friend

When I met him in 1946, Tommy Alden was a chubby third-grader with merry eyes, curly black hair, and a jovial intensity.  He lived in a white house with green shutters on a poplar-shaded street in old Palo Alto.  We grew up together a few blocks apart, waiting at the same bus stops for the same … [Read more...]

A Leap of Faith

Perhaps it had no beginning.  Perhaps, being spacetime itself, it is neither where nor when.  Like the scarlet ribbons of song, it came “I will never know from where.”  Yet here I am, awake in this vast improbability for a nanosecond of cosmic time, a mote of life on a fleck of rock afloat in the … [Read more...]

In the American Mold: The Founders of Fairchild and the Pioneer Ethos

In his first-hand account of the voyage of the Mayflower, William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, noted that those set on going to America minimized the threat of savages, disease, famine, and the journey itself, believing that “all great and honourable actions are accompanied with great … [Read more...]