Monday, June 30, 2008

Time Travel

The Big Heat settled in to our little patch of the high desert last week, mid-90s every freakin day, so we retaliated with one of my favorite things about Colorado: a Friday night trip to the drive-in. All three towns I've lived in here in Colorado have had a drive-in, and I've been to all of them. A lot. It's like a little chunk of 1950's Americana accidentally dropped into the 21st century.

I'm guessing a photo of the drive-in screen would have turned out pretty trippy; sadly I didn't bring a camera. Here's an image I stole off the intertubes:

We have a three-screener here in Huckyland, and it's usually full on a weekend summer night. There's always a solid hour of waiting before the movie starts. Families spread out in folding chairs, bigger kids play catch, little kids already in their jammers and sleeping bags settle into the backs of pickups and station wagons and SUVs. When it begins to get dark people start honking their horns and flashing their headlights, not so much out of impatience as much as knowing that this is what they've done before every drive-in movie they've ever been to. It's ritual. And you don't f*ck with ritual.

No car-window speakers anymore - you tune into the movie with your radio (a different frequency for each screen). There are no ads before the movie. They show 3 or 4 previews and then the movie starts. There is an endless stream of people to the concession stand and the bathrooms, threading their way through multi-generation families eating twizzlers and melting ice cream cones and the worst popcorn ever made. Teenagers prowl the parking lots, hormones tap-dancing in their brainpans like popcorn. If you get bored with the movie you look at the sky; we were lucky enough this weekend to have a good thunderstorm in the distance to watch. If you get bored with the sky you watch the people. If you get bored with people watching, well, you're jaded beyond hope. Seek professional help.

The movie was Wall-e, a suprisingly good flick (you don't often see post-apocalyptic dystopia from Disney) until it remembers it's a Hollywood kid's movie and settles into requisite plucky-underdogs-band-together-and-save-the-day mode. Gotta send the kids home with a smile, right? I'm not complaining. I had a great time.

They even gave out free Wall-e watches, which hearkens back to my days of visiting the drive-in, when they always gave out free stuff. My favorite: a pouch of "green blood" given to everyone before showing the spectacularly weird "The Abominable Dr. Phibes." There's no mention of green blood in the movie. No matter.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I Need a Nap

"I’ve suffered for my art, now it's your turn"
- Neil Innes

Currently recovering from S’s rollicking birthday party last night (and the prolonged after-party after the kids fell asleep), but as Mona’s Weekly Word is “art,” I thought I’d throw this quote out there from Neil Innes, former Bonzo Dog Band member, as well as an occasional member of the Monty Python crew. His great claim to fame was playing the John Lennon role (Ron Nasty) in the brilliant, pitch-perfect Beatles parody, All You Need Is Cash, starring the pre-fab four, the Rutles.

See you next week.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Date Night

I promise this blog will not turn into an endless parade of family photos.


When you go on a date with your youngest daughter to see...wait for it...Pedro Martinez pitch at Coors Field, you've gotta write about it. Last year I took my oldest to the park for a Mets game while my huckylicious wife took the youngest out for a night on the town. This year we reversed it, and the oldest spent a Saturday night downtown with her Mom, while our youngest got to go to the game with me.

A dull-ish picture of Pedro warming up before the game. He got rocked (4.1 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 1 BB , 5 K), and the Mets lost BIG, 7-1, but we didn't care. He's still Pedro, there's still cotton candy and hot dogs to eat, beer to drink, baseball to watch. The older I get the less the score matters to me. I'm less a fan of any particular team, more of a fan of the game itself. Sue me.

Besides, the whole family (plus Grandpa!) went the next day, and the Mets won, 3-1.

Here's my oldest at the game on Sunday. Check out those missing front teeth! Her birthday is Saturday. She'll be seven. And riding a sugar-and-presents fueled high all weekend long, until the inevitable crash-and-burn Sunday night. God help us all.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Secret News

Selfishly, I rarely comment on the world outside the walls of my life, unless it's really far outside those walls. But George Carlin's mix of humor and honesty and anger deserves some mention. I remember my sister playing "The Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" for my parents on our ancient record player, and the sight of my parent's faces frozen midway between laughter and disapproval (to their credit, they eventually fell rather easily into laughter). I felt my own little world open up, and the absurdity of the adult world get deliciously closer.

Anyway. Heard this on the radio today, and it stuck in my head. I stole it from a blog called Meow. She stole it from Carlin's book When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?

Funny and brave, angry and true:

The Secret News

by George Carlin

Announcer: Good Evening ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the secret news. Ssshhh. Here’s the secret news:

All people are afraid.
No one knows what they’re doing.
Everything is getting worse.
Some people deserve to die.
Your money is worthless.
No one is properly dressed.
At least one of your children will disappoint you.
The system is rigged.
Your house will never be completely clean.
All teachers are incompetent.
There are people who really dislike you.
Nothing is as good as it seems.
Things don’t last.
No one is paying attention.
The country is dying.
God doesn’t care.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Mona, of the Barbaric Yawp, tells us yet again that the word of the week is Deja vu.

this all seems so familiar, she thinks to herself
looking across the expanse of just mopped hardwood floor
the curtain wrestling lazily with the breeze
the cat flicking her tail in and out of a shaft of sun
the note placed neatly on the kitchen table

she actually speaks it aloud: so familiar, she says
before kicking the chair out from under her feet
the startled cat bolts from the room
the note glides gently to the spotless floor
the curtain dances on, oblivious

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bush Says He Still Believes Iraq War Was The Fun Thing To Do

I've said this before, but the Onion quietly produces the most consistent, and consistently funny, satire out there. Their humor can get pretty dark:

"I urge those who have grown tired of this war to lighten up and live a little," Rice said on CBS Evening News, adding that Bush had furthered his commitment to having a rip-roaring time in Iraq with a recent troop surge. "What detractors of this war don't understand is that when it comes to fighting terrorism, there's no harm in letting loose and painting the town red."

The president also stated that he would not succumb to those who had pressured him to set a date for withdrawal, insisting that U.S. troops would remain in the region for as long as his administration was enjoying itself.

The whole article is here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Girls, Grow Giant Psycho Desert Ants In Your Basement!

I am easily besotted by fatherhood, as the 2 or 3 regular readers of this blog likely already know. We've had a couple deeply memorable Father's Days over the last few years - Sands Dunes, AAA baseball games - but this year was low key and merely fun. Which is fine with me. Greeted with presents in the morning - homemade cards and pictures, silk shirts, a camping hammock (dibs!) and a grill brush so large and sturdy it could be used as a weapon. And probably will be used as a weapon by one of my daughters before the summer is over: the kitten-inspired ceasefire is long over. They are once again fighting like cats and dogs. Sunnis and Shiites. Mets and Yankees. Matter and antimatter.

Presents were followed by swimming at the State Park (and a waterslide charging an unconscionable $1.75 per slide). Swimming was followed by eating tasty NY strip steaks with my own Dad as we watched Pedro pitch his best game of the year (6IP, 1ER, 1BB, 4K), making the hapless Rangers look like helpless little kittens at the plate.

Nice day.

Thanks Dad. For making me a better Dad, teaching by example. Among many other things.

The girl's new kittens got out of their room while we were gone. They had all day to explore the house, get lost, rip furniture to shreds, terrorize our other old and boring cat. And yet when we got home they were both within six feet of the bedroom door.

I thought cats were supposed to be more curious than that.

More pet news: we got a fancypants antfarm on Christmas (filled with weird transparent gel instead of sand). We sent out for mail-order ants, and when they came half were dead. The survivors built maybe 4 inches of ant tunnels before they died as well. Wimpy. S and I went out this weekend and got eight - just eight - of our homegrown giant psycho desert ants. They've already dug to the bottom of the antfarm several times, and are now digging across the bottom, with tunnels heading back up interspersed every few inches. They've disposed of the corpses of their wimpy precursors. I'm not sure how. I'm not sure I want to know.

I fear what will happen when they run out of gel...

p.s. - Extra credit for spotting the Bradbury reference.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Buffalo Nickel

Mona asks us to use the word "change" as the word of the week. And I'm just a boy who cain't say no. This is fiction, by the way, not a confession.

This kinda crazy but basically pretty nice girl named Juliet who I was science partners with for a semester - kinda crazy because she actually thought she could mentally communicate with spiders, kinda crazy because she went out with guys who were way older, like out of school and with jobs already - anyway, she had stole some communion wine from the the Catholic school down the street, and we were in the cemetery drinking it, sitting against a headstone, passing the bottle back and forth. And Juliet told me this story about how one time she put a buffalo nickel on one of the graves. She liked the name on the gravestone, she said. She said she felt like she knew the guy, and so gave him the nickel, as a sort of present. She hopped the fence, went home, came back the next night.

"You can't tell anyone this next part," she said.


Promise," she said.

"I promise."

"There were five pennies there, on the grave," she said. "The next night. Instead of the nickel." She paused dramatically. "The dead gave me those pennies. Like, you know, ghosts or something."

I wanted to ask her if she really thought the dead had made change for her. If she really thought that was in the job description of a dead person, handing out change like the clerk down at the 7-11. But I didn't want to hurt her feelings. Plus, I guess I was sorta trying to get laid.

I didn't get laid. But we spent alotta nights out there, leaning against the tombstones, talking about whatever, passing the bottle, when we could find a bottle. And I kept my promise. I never told anyone about the nickel and the five pennies. About how the dead had made change for her.

Until now, of course.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In Your Head

I brought enough beer this time.

Bug spray too. And a long list of stuff to look at.

I started out with the young crescent moon, 4 days old, while the sky darkened around me, the birds chirped their goodnight songs, the bats began to swoop. I've had the telescope for a couple months now, but for whatever reasons have never looked at the moon before. Gorgeous. Very detailed view. In low power (I don't know the exact power I'm using yet; figuring it out involves the focal lengths of the scope and the lens and math I have little interest in doing), the whole disc of the moon fits neatly inside the field of view. That may be by design, as it fits so perfectly. I don't know many features of the moon, but learned one: the Sea of Crises. It's the circular thing (a "sea" of hardened lava), low center in the photo. It looked quite dramatic with those long lunar shadows falling across the crags and crater rims.

I also realized how much light an 8 inch mirror gathers. I walked behind the scope and the image was thrown onto my shirt, and then my hand. Bright as a flashlight (okay, an exaggeration; a keychain flashlight then). Can't wait to show El Huquito and the girls how to catch the moon in their hands. Full moon is next week!

This is a pair of galaxies in Leo, M81 and M82. Very cool because you can get them both in the eyepiece at the same time at low power. The one on the right was kind of an amorphous blob of light, but the one on the left was elegant, symmetrical, with hints of the spiral arms and dust lanes. Nice.

I've mentioned before, but will reiterate, that what I see in the scope is not nearly as detailed as these photos (which are mostly from NASA). Astronomy, I'm learning, takes place largely in your head. At first glance, these things are just fuzzy blobs of light. You tease out details like arms and dust lanes with patience and imagination, filling in the details implied by what you can physically see. The mechanics of what is happening, the vast distances involved: also in your head.

The thing above is not a galaxy, but a star cluster in our own galaxy: M13, in the constellation Hercules. It's composed of about a million stars, all buzzing round a gravitational center like bees swarming a hive. These stars are very old, not much younger than the universe itself. This was actually almost as bright and detailed through the scope as it is in the picture.

Another star cluster, M93, also in Hercules. This one was not nearly as impressive, and detail could only be seen at high power.

I set my sights on the Virgo Cluster of galaxies after that, with little luck. Too much light, from both the moon and nearby campgrounds. I saw M87 and M100, both Virgo Cluster galaxies, both disappointing blobs with no detail. The Sombrero Galaxy, M104 (pictured below), was a little better. You could just barely make out the giant dust lane in the middle and the central bulge (heh, heh).

So, I'll leave my musings on the Virgo Cluster (and the larger Virgo Supercluster) for another day, when I get a better look at them. There's some seriously weird stuff going on in there, amid all the dancing galaxies.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Your Own Personal Unicorn

Had a nice outing with the scope last week, but we have two new family members in our house, and since cute conquers all, I'll leave the astronomy post til later in the week.

These are our two new kitties, picked up at the animal shelter this weekend. We went with the understanding we were going to get one kitten, but when you have three sets of beautiful females eyes batting at you, and an endless loop of "Can we please get two kitties? Please? Please?" in your ear, it'd be inhuman to say no.


This is Precious, S's kitty. Prior to Precious, she was named Gracias. Prior to Gracias, she was named Star. She'll almost certainly have a new name by tomorrow morning.

This is Bellatrix, KK's kitty, Bella for short. Bellatrix is a star in Orion, his right shoulder, if you care about these things (the left shoulder is the more famous Betelgeuse, pronounced Beetle Juice). I must admit to having a little influence on the choosing of this name. But what's the point of being a Dad if you don't occasionally appoint yourself Minister of Propaganda?

The girls are insanely happy. They haven't fought for like 20 hours (of course, they were asleep for 10 of those hours). They have scratches all over their hands. They don't care. Those kitties could have laser-beam eyes, and the girls wouldn't care. It's as if we bought them their own personal unicorns.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Delivering Us Into Evil

Not much time for posts this week. A graduation from pre-school, a graduation from kindergarten, a trip to the zoo, a web design workshop to teach, and a stomach flu thing that made me feel like my stomach was being raked and prodded by the hellish, rusty prongs of a twisted metal spork (I overstate in order to work the word "prong" into the mix, the Word o' the Week c/o Mona and Irr). Now I mostly am over the stomach thing, but little S has it. Sigh.

Pedro's back! He pitched 6 uninspired but gutsy innings on Tuesday, and led the Metros to a 9-6 win. He got a standing ovation in the other team's stadium when he walked off the mound. Unfortunately, at the same time Barak Obama was giving a riveting acceptance speech, (and Hillary was giving the most ungracious un-concession speech in recent memory*), so I didn't watch much of Pedro. Hope he's not mad.

I'm leaving you with a clip from 25th Hour. I'm hit and miss with Spike Lee, but when he's on his game (Do the Right Thing, 25th Hour, Inside Man, When the Levees Broke) he's untouchable. This is one of my favorite monologues of all time. The set-up is simple: it's the last night in a guy's life before he goes to jail for dealing drugs. He's a tad angry about how things turned out. Watch the whole thing if you can; it starts out raw and hate-filled but ends up as a very moving homage to NYC. Be forewarned, Ed Norton says "f*ck" in this like a million times.

*Nixon remains number 1 with his "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore" speech. But that's not exactly recent memory, is it?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Curiouser and curiouser

Took the big, dumb telescope out again on Friday, to use it for what was it is really designed for: galaxy hunting. So far I’ve only used it as a backyard scope for planets and the splashier nebulae, but this time I drove out to a state park for maximum darkness, and went by myself so as not to have kids pulling at my shirttails every few minutes and dropping tiny pieces of cookie into the telescope. Again. I’m learning that astronomy, like writing, is a rather solitary pastime.

Not that I’m complaining.

Warmed up by looking here, at the middle star of the handle of the Big Dipper. It’s actually 2 stars, Alcor and Mizar (actually, it’s six stars*; but keep reading). I’ve read that American Indians used to test the eyesight of warriors and hunters by seeing if they could see both stars separately. I can’t. Peer down into the rabbit hole and you’ll see that it’s not a double star but TWO double stars, four stars altogether, and I was able to make out three of the four stars very clearly. Pretty cool. The colors are very pretty.

*I just read while looking for the picture that it is a six star system, not four, as both Mizar and its companion are double stars too. That rabbit hole goes down as far as you want to travel.

About then the wind blew down my collapsible chair, and dumped the beer in the cupholder, leaving me with only one left. I almost cried. Thus I learned Clowncar’s First Rule of Star-Gazing: Bring Extra Beer.

The two galaxies below were the find of the night (M51 and NGC5195). I tried to find then on my own but gave up after a frustrating half hour or so, and plugged in the star-finder (my telescope is dumb, but still smarter than I am). It doesn’t move the scope, but after you align it to 2 stars (you center it on the star and then tell it what star you’re centered on), it will guide you to whatever you wanna see with two arrows and the number of degrees you have to move the scope. Zero out the two arrows and you’re pretty close.

This is the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and a companion galaxy (NGC 5195). They are gravitationally bound, meaning the Whirlpool is slowly eating up NGC 5195. You can find this just below the handle of the Big Dipper, and if you have dark skies can find them pretty easily with binoculars. In a telescope they are truly spectacular, filling up the entire field of view at high power, with hints of the filaments and dust lanes clearly visible. Wow. I should point out the detail was nothing like the detail in the photo I've posted, which was taken by the Hubble.

Next up was the Black Eye galaxy. Not quite as stunning as the Whirlpool, but still pretty freakin cool. The Black Eye part is from dust clouds. I couldn’t see much detail, but was able to make out the “black eye” in the middle.

Down the rabbit hole again: the inner ring of this galaxy revolves in one direction, the outer ring in the opposite direction. The closer you look at stuff out there, the weirder it all gets. Or, as Alice once said, knee-deep in Wonderland, ”Curiouser and curiouser.”