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Thoughts on ordinary and not so ordinary adventures in the life of one Mom

Saturday, November 20, 2010

One in a Million

          Contrary to what you may think, it's not all fun and games 24/7 here in Hawaii.  Well, at least not for Steve -- he has to work.  We are here as part of Steve's sabbatical at University of Hawaii. This is a way for him to collaborate with others in his field in addition to all the research he continues from ASU.   His work can be fun too, though.   This week, he hosted a public outreach event for anyone in Honolulu interested in space.   The usual educational lecture was replaced with a fun-filled game show format based on the popular show  Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.   Steve's  version, Who Wants To Be A One-In-A-Million-aire, explored how likely it is for life to evolve in other solar systems in our galaxy.

         In order to to see how the scientific community is working on answering the question, What are the odds of intelligent life and civilization in our galaxy?,  Steve led us through each variable in the Drake equation,

N = R^{\ast} \times f_p \times n_e \times f_{\ell} \times f_i \times f_c \times L \!

Each contestant had the opportunity to chime in on a specific variable.  For each, a question was

posed, such as "What is the average number of planets in each solar system that can potentially support life?," represented by the variable, ne  and  "What fraction of these planets actually go on to develop life at some point?," represented by the variable f.  These are deep and complex questions with many "right" answers.   As contestants took their turns on the hot seat and used their lifelines (poll the audience, phone a friend and ask a panel of experts) to provide their best guess, Steve explained cutting edge research in each specific field so that everyone in the audience could understand.   This event, part lecture, part game show, was a hit. Steve wove these complex ideas into a  format that was fun and informative for all 270 in attendance, even the kids.  His easy rapport with the contestants and quick one liner jokes reminded me of why I fell in love with him in the first place.  Plus he looked like a million dollars!

           We saw some surfers at work this week, too.  Surfers from around the world come to Oahu in the winter to participate in surfing tournaments including the Eddie, the nickname given to the Quicksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau.   Eddie was the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay and was lost at sea when he volunteered to voyage on the Hokule'a, a double-hulled voyaging canoe, for the Polynesian Voyaging Society.  The Hokule'a recreated the early Polynesian route from Tahiti to Hawaii.  When the canoe developed a leak 12 miles off the coast of Molokai, Eddie offered to paddle on his surfboard to get help.  While the rest of the crew was rescued by the Coastguard, Eddie was never found.  Although this happened over 30 years ago, it seems fresh in everyone's memory here with signs and paintings honoring Eddie, and the popular bumper sticker Eddie Would Go.

            While the actual competition hasn't started yet, and may not, due to a requirement that open-ocean swells reach a minimum of 20 feet (wave face height of over 30 feet), we had the opportunity to see these experts in action.  There was a large Northwest swell that produced advisory-level surf on the North Shore with face waves at about 22 feet.  Armed with this information, we packed the snacks and headed to Waimea Bay and the famous Banzai Pipeline.  As we approached Waimea Bay, it felt like just a normal day at the beach, but once we got close enough to see the actual waves, it was unreal.   I realize I lack the words to describe it since all I can think to say is that these waves were huge, dude!  We sat on the beach and watched as surfer after surfer wiped out on the shore, only to get back on their board and try again.  Non-experts were not even allowed in the water and the lifeguards did a great job of keeping the spectators far enough offshore, safe from rogue waves.

          At the Banzai Pipeline, we saw the best-in-class surfers riding the waves as if they were just slides on a playground.  On the way from the car, a man told me this would be the  most memorable thing we do in Oahu.   While there is too much competition for this experience to win that particular title, it did give me the best video of the trip.  Though my camera work leaves a lot to be desired (and I can't post the highest quality clip), you can see the magnitude of these waves and the skill of these surfers.  Look for the speck on the right.  That's a guy surfing the Pipeline.

          As with the formation of life on a planet, the odds of catching the perfect wave can be determined using a complex equation with many factors, including wave face, position, equipment, skill, etc.  This and the Drake equation are just special cases of the following master equation for the odds of a positive outcome: 
Success = Opportunity X (Skill + Work)
Those who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to follow their dreams and passions (remember, not everyone can, despite the onslaught of reality TV success stories) need to hone their skill and work at being successful.  This is true of life here on Earth, the perfect wave, Steve, Eddie Aikau, those surfers and so many of my friends who took a chance and have turned their skills and passions into successful endeavors.

          I am inspired by the success stories of this week to find my own one-in-a-million chance.  My chance to take a passion and turn it into something more, perhaps a career (I am due for a new one, anyway) or even a new and rewarding hobby.  On my journey (which is much more than a long trip to Hawaii), I have discovered many opportunities I can and want to pursue.   To be successful, I first have to work up the courage to go into unknown territory, though.   It may be hard and uncomfortable for me but Eddie Would Go, and I plan to as well!  

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