SomaLogic is not the only company exploring proteomics to fix our broken healthcare system. There are a dozen firms whose endeavors I wasn’t able to include in my feature for The New York Times Sunday magazine. It seems biotech has turned its focus on proteomics—and not a moment too soon. We all know that person who was diagnosed unexpectedly with a serious, even terminal illness, despite appearing perfectly healthy. The tragic stories are commonplace and largely unpreventable when doctors rely on symptoms to diagnose disease. Our approach to health is inherently passive—we wait around to get sick before going to the doctor. I’ve always found this baffling, akin to driving my SUV until its tires are bald, and then continuing onward until the rubber tread disintegrates entirely. Evolution honed our bodies to endure despite impairment—we might feel terrific even when we’re gravely ill. Proteomics aims to make medicine proactive versus reactive, a smarter strategy since many diseases are curable if caught soon enough.
Remember when Matthew Broderick hacked into a DOD supercomputer and inadvertently started a simulation that threatened to launch a global nuclear war? I visited the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), where the film purportedly took place, and discovered that Hollywood did a darn good job of mocking up the most secure and impenetrable military bunker in the world. I live in Boulder, about a two-hour drive from NORAD, which sits deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, a natural granite fortress near Colorado Springs. Air & Space magazine sent me into the facility to write a feature pegged to NORAD’s 60th anniversary. I’m thinking, “60 years?” The place will be dusty and antiquated, with clunky knobs and dials, like the inside of an Apollo Command Module. I was wrong. Every aspect of NORAD has been modernized and upgraded. Its state-of-the-art imaging satellites can track just about every moving object anywhere on the planet—planes, trains, automobiles, watercraft, even my kids riding their scooters down our block. The last thing I expected was to leave NORAD feeling safer. While any lingering expectations of personal privacy quickly evaporated by the end of my tour—these folks can read the label on my jeans from orbit—at least I’ll get a 15-minute heads-up before the ICBMs detonate.
“Time does not fly when you’re having fun,” is what I insisted to anyone who claimed otherwise. Whenever I broke from the mundane, time slowed down, or at least my perception of it. It irked me that nobody else seemed to notice this phenomenon. So I proposed a story about it to 5280 magazine. As it turns out, neuroscientists had been investigating the so-called “vacation paradox” for decades. Hooray! I wasn’t delusional. Time actually does pass more slowly when we’re doing out of the ordinary stuff. For me, it occurs while engaged in outdoor pursuits—skiing, backpacking, mountain biking, trail running. While researching the article for 5280, I learned that a key trigger for altering time perception (that is, slowing it down) is the sensation of “awe”—when we witness something amazing. That discovery led to a second article, for Men’s Health, published in June 2018, about the health benefits we get during awe-inspiring experiences. Apparently having our minds blown is good for us.
I wrote two features last year about variations on the sport of paragliding. In September 2017, for Air & Space magazine, I chronicled a maniacal cross-country paramotoring race over the American Southwest. Paramotoring pilots take to the air with lawn mower-like motors strapped to their backs and huge propellers spinning inches from their heads. Paramotoring engines are loud but useful: they keep pilots aloft when they’re flying over sketchy ground with nowhere to land. Paragliders are braver (or more foolish) because they rely solely on their keen piloting skills to stay airborne. In 5280’s December 2017 issue, I followed a paraglider who attempted to traverse Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It didn’t work out so well. But he didn’t die, which in paragliding circles is a bonus. Having covered aerospace and aviation for nearly 20 years, I’ve determined that gravity works. I’ve also learned that our atmosphere is inherently chaotic and unpredictable, making it unwise to take flight harnessed beneath an oversized handkerchief. Aviators like to say, “There are old pilots and bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots.” Paramotorers and paragliders ought to heed a similar but appended adage: “There are no old pilots.”
The interstate that feeds Colorado’s mountain recreation areas is dysfunctional, at least occasionally. Traffic flows smoothly most of the time. But every summer and winter weekend, gridlock invariably snarls I-70. You might wonder what has improved since I wrote about I-70 for 5280magazine in March 2017? Answer: nothing. In fact, the situation is worse when you consider that in the past year about 100,000 more people have moved intoColorado. State legislators attempted and failed to pass sweeping transportation taxes to fix the roads; voters rejected similar ballot measures. Nobody who drives in Colorado wants to pay for actually driving. The situation frustrated CDOT executive director Shailen Bhatt, who stepped down in October 2017 for a job in the private sector. Meanwhile, a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympic Games in Colorado is making the rounds, a preposterous proposition unless the state magically finds the estimated $20billion needed to upgrade the roadway. Could Winter Games catalyze taxpayer support for an I-70 overhaul? I’m not betting on it.