Author Archives: Philip Hoeck

About Philip Hoeck

Someone said to me not long ago, "I know your parents, you must be opinionated." He was right.

Homer Simpson : The Last Renaissance Man

Leonardo da Vinci had some game… I guess. Yes he was a painter and a sculptor. And sometimes an architect. And yes a musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer, but really, who during the Renaissance wasn’t those things?

  • Galileo studied the heavens and drove understanding of the physical laws of nature and the universe. He is known as the “father of modern physics”. (c. 1600)
  • Pascal described fluid dynamics and developed his own theorem which is used in acoustics, hydraulics, oceanography, architecture, and later lead to the invention of the pump. (c. 1650)
  • Michelangelo was the greatest artist of all time, and despite his own low opinion of his painting abilities, his most famous fresco still adorns the walls of the Sistine Chapel and draws four million visitors a year. (c. 1512)

But with the Michelangelos and Galileos long gone, the Renaissance Man has gone the way of the Dodo.

Same shape as Homer too!

Danny Devito taught those kids some Shakespeare!

Sometime between the invention of sliced bread and the development of a pocket-sized object that would allow for instantaneous communication with almost anyone on earth, combined with access to all the information collected by every person that has ever lived, specializing in everything became a thing of the past. Ken Jennings may have won $2,522,700 for his 74 day win streak on Jeopardy! but even he admitted it was from years of studying trivia.

With the rise of technology and new advances in all areas of knowledge being made daily, the ability to revolutionize more than one small area of expertise is gone. Because specialization has become the norm and a mass of general knowledge and pioneering has disappeared, I’d like to celebrate the last remaining Renaissance Man; Homer Simpson.

On top of his day job and main source of income as a Nuclear Safety Inspector, Homer Simpson held 187 jobs in the first 400 episodes of the show. He has invented cars and shoveled snow, been the CEO of his power plant and an executive at a national organization that took over the Eastern seaboard. As an entrepreneur, he started a baby proofing company and an internet service provider. He has written music, sung Opera, and even won a Grammy Award.

At closer inspection, Homer is not perfect. He is certainly a functioning alcoholic and has forgotten his children’s names on occasion, however, Churchill did alright as an alcoholic, and as Homer pointed out in an interview, “You should just name your third kid Baby. Trust me — it’ll save you a lot of hassle.” Homer Simpson may not be the archetypical Renaissance Man, but he is the last of his kind, and we should celebrate him in all his glory.

Someday in the distant future, anthropologists will stumble across old box sets of DVDs, and after raiding the local museum for a player, wonder aloud why Christopher Columbus got a national holiday after enslaving and murdering Native Americans, while Homer Simpson was shunned despite winning a Pulitzer, going to space, and saving Springfield from a nuclear meltdown… twice.

Plus, it's green!

“When I step on the gas, I want it to sound like the end of the world.”


Our Pale Blue Dot

When I want to get to know people, one of the first questions I ask them is, “What is the best job in the world?” The answers I have gotten have run the gambit from English teacher to Playboy photographer, but they all provide me with some level of insight into the persons mind.

When I was six, I would have told you that I wanted to be an astronaut. I still love space and the idea of exploring it, but since then I have had to come to the sad conclusion that I will likely never lead an expedition into space(let’s not talk about that anymore, I may cry). My answer now is that I want to work for and eventually become the Administrator of NASA.

Who wouldn’t want to help NASAs scientists and engineers inspire not only Americans, but an entire planet of citizens towards new amazing frontiers? After all, NASA has put a man on the moon, landed on Mars with three rovers, helped establish an international space station, and photographed our galaxy from near and far. Funding NASA has also proven to be good business.

Economic studies of NASA’s spin off technologies have shown a long term rate of return between seven and 23 times the original investment. Simplified, this means that for every dollar invested in NASA, the economy will gain between seven and 23 dollars in both scientific and everyday technology that we would have otherwise not produced. If that return on investment could be directly recognized, there would be hedge fund managers lined up with suitcases of money ready to throw it at anything NASA deemed worthy.

Funding something that is profoundly misunderstood is obviously a challenge though. In a Dec. 2008 survey performed by the California Academy of Sciences, only 21% of adults were able to answer these three questions correctly:

– How long does it take for the Earth to revolve around the Sun?(One year, 53% correct)

– Yes or no, did the earliest humans and dinosaurs exist during the same time period?(No, 59% correct)

– Approximately how much of the earth is covered with water?(65-75% was considered an acceptable answer, 47% correct)

How can we reasonably expect, with only one fifth of adults being able to answer three basic science related questions, that Americans will understand the benefits of spending $2.5 billion on a rover to land on Mars, a planet that is at first glance literally a wasteland?

At roughly 1/125th of the US budget, NASA’s budget for 2013 comes to $17.8b, a number that may be hard to put into perspective with the media constantly sometimes representing the $700b bailout as a necessity, and the $800,000 GSA Las Vegas retreat as a catastrophe of our time. Here is an amazing graphic from the NYTimes may help to illustrate the point. NASA’s budget is just a part of that fourth box from the left on the bottom(General Sciences).

Put another way, the ~$1b lost in the NASA budget between 2010 and 2012 is roughly 4% of the increase in the US military budget over the same time, despite the fact that the United States pulled the rest of its troops from Iraq during that time, thereby ending a war. In fact, the $23.8b increase could have covered NASA’s entire budget.

“There has never been a greater need for investment in scientific research and education, many of the most pressing issues of our time—from global climate change to resource management and disease—can only be addressed with the help of science.” – Cal. Academy of Sciences Executive Director Dr. Gregory Farrington.

Science will continue to be one of the most important area of study if the United States wants to be competitive in a world market, and we must not only keep funding it, but add to their budget which will add to our accomplishments. NASA’s advances in the scientific community are still among the most impressive and important. Not only are their efforts focused on solar energy(climate change), water purification(resource management), and pollution capturing technology(disease) but not two months ago, after sending a spacecraft ~145 million miles, they plummeted at 13,000 mph through the atmosphere and egg dropped a 2,000 pound rover from a hovering sky crane onto a martian surface.

Carl Sagan once said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” He was right, and in the future as NASA asks for money claiming that they can bring cameras and rovers and space ships and people to extraordinary places, we need to fund them, because their evidence is a list of extraordinary and overwhelming accomplishments.