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The Payoff

A word on astronomy.

Sometimes you get payoff in friendly Hubble shots, nebulae like deep sea life, mysterious plasms. But the excitement isn't in the specifics, the pictures; that's for us proles. It's in the radio waves, the signals and numbers. You deduce and from that deduce some more, and out of the deductions you draw a universe, an expanding egg with grid lines across it, and other universes pressing up against it. That's where the real excitement is: drawing conclusions from waves and numbers.

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time, so I can tell everyone what happened. I have their future on the shelf; my desk reference would be worth all the gold in the world, 400 years ago. I can learn more than Tycho Brahe, given a few months and a library card. He had to build Uraniburg, and I have Google.

I know I shouldn't ache for the preceding souls. They were a pretty foul and exploitative lot. But I know how much they wanted to see this world. 2003! It still sounds like the future. If I had to give up the rest of my life in exchange for one day 2000 years from now, I'd do it, as long as someone knew the language. Show me where to sign.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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