Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dance of the Moons

Worth embiggening. I could watch this stuff all day. And may do just that.

Thanks to Space Gizmo for the link. And Cassini. And the JPL. And NASA.



Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Known Universe

The entire known universe. Every satellite, moon, planet, star, galaxy and quasar known to man. To scale, and in the correct location. Deeply cool.



From the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Interlude

I get up in the middle of the night, most nights, to go to the bathroom. A habit of middle age, I am certain, but I find myself enjoying it, savoring the moment each night. I awake with scraps of dreams in my head. Get out from under the covers. The soft hardwood of the bedroom under my feet shifts to the heavy pile of the hallway carpet, then the cold tile of the bathroom. As I pee my dreams are already disappearing, like fine sand sifting through the gaps between my fingers. I finish, pad back, tile to carpet to hardwood, walking between worlds, between dreams and waking life. I crawl back under the blankets, chilled by the night air. I press myself against the warmth of my wife's back, relax, return to sleep. The alarm rings and I awake from dreams, only to give myself to them once again at the end of the day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Powerful Comforts

Our furnace went out last week, Tuesday, right in the middle of a cold snap. I guess it must have happened in late morning, but I didn't notice until afternoon, when it got too cold to work in my upstairs office. I called a local heating guy, took off the rest of the day from work, and settled down in the living room with a book and a blanket. There's a gas fireplace in the living room, so I could keep it heated in there until the heating guy showed up. Kinda cozy.

The cats usually sleep in the upstairs bedrooms all day, but they showed up cold and confused in the living room within the hour. They hung out with me in the only warm room in the house, while we waiting for the heating guy together.

Our bedroom was 52 degrees when he finally showed up. He had the furnace up and running within a half hour of showing up, and it was warming rapidly by the time the girls came home.

For the rest of the week, every time the furnace chugged on I was caught by surprise. Such a primal fear, to be caught in the cold with no way to get warm. Such a powerful comfort, to have a source of heat in the winter. I'd argue that the abiding popularity of Christmas stems not from Christianity, or commercialism, but from the simple archtypical need to stay warm, and have food on the table, and a safe place for your loved ones, on the shortest day of the year. Hearth and home.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trippy



This isn't Photoshop; it's a real thing, appearing over the skies of Norway this morning. What kind of thing is less certain. UFO'ers are typically certain it's a spaceship, the smart money says it's a rocket spiraling out of control and ejecting fuel as it does so. Neither of those explanations are particularly satisfying. Cool picture, though.

I'm sure it'll make the rounds of the news shows tonight, in the last five minutes they reserve for cute kittens and general weirdness. Then it'll be forgotten.

My own opinion is that there's a lot of unexplained stuff out there. Doesn't mean it's paranormal, or extraterrestrial. We just don't know what it is. We're not as smart as we think we are. Google "electrical sprites" sometime, you'll see what I mean.

Video of the damned thing is here, along with ominous space music in the background.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole

Just pushed myself to finish Beautiful Children, by Charles Bock. Had some soaring moments, but I was frequently frustrated with it. I don't trust writers who spend pages and pages inside their character's heads, doing the whole interior monologue thing. It's easy. It's false. It posits that people think in sentences and paragraphs and a calm, reasoned emotional logic. It believes in a kind of linear a-to-b psychology that only happens in books, not in real people's heads.

Show me with dialogue. Show me with behavior. Make something frikkin happen.

This last week I've settled down with Stephen King's behemoth novel, Under the Dome. I like Stephen King. I trust Stephen King. He's a generous writer, with large casts of characters and epic plots. He can be a lazy writer - I find myself wishing with about half of his books that he'd have taken it through one more draft - but he delivers what he promises to deliver. A good story. At least one or two Interesting characters. And, in his best books, a metaphor at the center of the story that you can pursue if you choose to. I though his last, Duma Key, was an effective meditation on grieving and loss.

Anyway.

I haven't been able to read very much of this year because I've spent my free time writing. So it's a great pleasure to be able to kick back with a book this last week. I've talked before in this blog about how starting a good book gives me a sensation of falling, that I'm being taken to another place, like Alice going down the rabbit hole. I think that might be the simplest requirement of great writing, or any great art for that matter. Take me to another place.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Scattered

I've put the novel to bed. Second draft is done, if a little hurriedly. Not gonna look at it again til the Christmas vortex has sucked us in and spit us out on the other side. Til then I'm gonna read a big, fat, utterly undemanding Stephen King novel.

Speaking of, I've bought no Christmas presents, put up no decorations. That will all start happening this weekend. Repeat after me: I will not get stressed by Christmas, I will not get stressed by Christmas, I will not get stressed by Christmas...

My eldest, I've learned, now reads the nutrition panels of the cereal boxes every morning. And chooses the one with the most sugar. I'm not sure that was the expected result of posting that information on the boxes.

Not alotta structure to this post. I'm pretty scattered, not unhappily. Here's a short clip of the parade I was in last weekend. No, we're not in it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

At Their Mercy

I fired up the laptop Sunday to learn it was no longer "recognizing the AC power source." Called customer support and, after 20 minutes of being on hold, learned that this problem is apparently so common the guy could diagnose it within the first 2 sentences out of my mouth, and tell me I need a new motherboard. I need to send it in to the manufacturer so they can replace it. I had about 40 minutes of battery life left, so I had to then quickly dump my most important docs (e.g. the novel, family pictures) to my back-up hard drive. And I'm now awaiting a box they are sending me so I can send my laptop to them, which they can then send back to me, fixed, in about two weeks.

The laptop is less than six months old, so the replacement is free. But it is shockingly difficult to be without my laptop, even though I have a work desktop in my office upstairs. What, I can't edit the novel while making supper tonight? I can't check Facebook while on the toilet? They've made me (okay - I've made myself) utterly reliant on having a laptop by my side at all times. So now that it's broken, I'm utterly reliant on them.

Scary.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Mandelbrot Set



The Mandelbrot set refers to a set of equations that create fractals, the patterns that occur in clouds, coastlines, mountain ranges, brocolli, spiral galaxies.

These two pictures were grabbed from Mandelbulb, a site devoted to three dimensional fractal imagery. These are not images taken from nature, but rather mathematical constructs that closely mimic natural forms. Cool, huh? There are a bunch more at the site I linked to above.



One of the cool things about fractal images is that look pretty much the same no matter what magnification you are looking at. Double the size, triple the size, centuple the size, it all looks similar. Here's a "fly-by" on a three dimensional fractal. I believe the word you are looking for is trippy.



Thanks to the always interesting Bad Astronomy for pointing out the site.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beginnings and Endings

A good day yesterday.

Got a story accepted by the U of Montana's lit magazine "Camas: The Nature of the West." I haven't had alotta luck getting published in academic circles. Perhaps because I use words like "alotta." So, a nice acceptance to get. It's print, not web, so I can't throw you a link. I think it comes out in January.

Also finished the novel, and rather well. Wrote about 1500 words in the last two days. Some of them words I've had in my head for nearly a year. I'm happy with the last few chapters. Now, of course, I have to go back and rewrite, and likely a third draft after that. Plus, pull down the LMP database, find some agents who might fit the material, compose a query letter and a one paragraph synopsis (which I hate doing). So that's another six months of work staring me in the face.

Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a great deal of satisfaction about it. A year of hard, focused, nearly daily work.




The gravy on my plate: the old house closes next week. All significant deadlines have passed, so nothing other than acts of God can get in the way of it now. After six months of paying two mortgages, several thousand dollars will be dropping into our bank account like freshly fallen snow.

Thanksgiving indeed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Regression

One of the big perks of the new house was that the girls would each have their own bedrooms for the first time. So, when we moved in, they got their own rooms, right across the hall from each other. Large immediately took to hers, arranged the furniture herself, and rearranges it every week or so (she has a strong intuitive understanding of feng shui). Small did not fare quite so well, and hates being by herself in her own room at night. She's used to always having her big sister around. She complains of stomach aches, monsters, ghosts.

Well. They've decided - on their own - to share a bedroom again. Which is odd, as they tend to fight like wolverines during the day. But so be it: both beds are now in one bedroom, and the other has been designated as the play room. It's only been a couple days. But while they still fight during the day, over toys, over territory, over the very air that they breathe, they seem extremely comforted by the idea that at the end of the day, when the lights go out, they won't be alone.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Dog Welcoming His Owner Back From Afghanistan

Taken from Cute Funny Sexy Awful. Though this is simply sweet.

Posting it because I'm on a business trip and in a motel room and homesick, and watching it makes me feel better.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Excerpt

Wren:

Well, we’re gonna try it another way. A whole new way. I’m gonna sit in my chair, and turn my radio up, and have a beer, and maybe a smoke, and lean back and watch the sky go by. Stars and planets and satellites and galaxies. And all the thoughts I think when I sit there I’m gonna send out into the air, and bounce em offa the stars, and a whole bunch of other people are gonna be doing the same thing, bouncing their thoughts offa the stars, and all of our thoughts are gonna kinda mix around together out there. Thoughts and feelings and poems and pictures and equations. Stories and memories, truth and lies, all mixed together. Colors and textures and smells and sounds. And they’re gonna get all jumbled and tumbled and spider-webby, all crazy, and then they’re gonna come back all different, like nothing no one has ever seen before, showering us with a whole new language, new words falling down like cool rain to whoever is willing to listen to them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Last Dollar

Pedro takes the mound against the Evil Empire tonight. Might be the last time he takes the mound, ever. Worth a watch. He's made a career of taunting Yankee fans, so they'll be giving him the serious business tonight. Should be fun. Maybe he'll even push things to a game seven.




Got a flash fiction - Last Dollar - up at Fiction at Work. An early version of it appeared in this very blog, inspired by Mona's sadly departed word of the week.




What else? Broke 78K on the novel last night. Small lost a tooth yesterday, and I even remembered to play tooth fairy (I'm batting about .600 in that regard). The house sale slouches toward completion. They did their inspection, we approved their revisions. Closing is the day before Thanksgiving. Fitting.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sundial Project Update

Met with two representatives from the city, and one from the Parks Dept., last Thursday on the sundial project. They were all very nice, very supportive. Most of the hoops I need to jump through now are reasonable ones: submit a letter of intent; give them a diagram to make sure I'm not digging up electrical lines, sprinkler pipes, etc.; and submit a list of all materials I will need. I'm awaiting a .pdf of the park itself so I can plop the diagram below on top of it, align it, and send it back to them.



I got the layout from a wonderful site in Denmark: http://www.jgiesen.de/hsd/hsd300.html. Just put in your own longitude and latitude, print the result on graph paper, and you got yourself a blueprint. I love the fact that it's simply two flowing lines: an ellipse and a figure eight. The final product will be about 18 feet by 9 feet. 12 markers along the upper half of the ellipse. A 2 x 6 ft. slab for the figure eight.

Anyone wanna throw me a fancy-pants name a little more colorful than "the sundial project" I'd be delighted to hear it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Triptych

Not much to say. In the middle of many things. Nearing the end of a couple of two big undertakings (the New Novel and selling the old house) and at the beginning of another (the sundial). Gearing up for Halloween by making costumes for our Oz-obsessed daughters, who will be Glinda the Good Witch and Dorothy. Lil Hux and her Mom are doing the lion's share of the work. I'm in charge of the Glinda's wand and crown.

So, since clowncars and nature both abhor a vacuum, here's a trio of gorgeous images cherry-picked from the ever fascinating Space Gizmo. They are, in order, phytoplankton blooms off the coast of New Zealand, the ao-Rusyr caldera of the Kuril Islands in Russia, and the Tanezrouft Basin in Algeria. Thanks, Space Gizmo! I could look at this stuff all day.





Monday, October 26, 2009

Pogue Mahone*

Saw a great Pogues concert this weekend with Tolstoy in Denver. It takes a lot to get me outta the house and to a real concert these days, but the toothless, drunken, and still brilliant Shane MacGowan was fronting the band again, so I went.

The place was like a huge crowed Irish bar. Everyone singing, dancing, hugging, fighting, surging, screaming. I've been to concerts before where the crowd was singing along - Springsteen comes to mind - but the singing was self-conscious, more like they were replaying the album in their head, or pretending to be a rock star. This was different. Singing as communion. What I'm guessing it must've been like to be at a bar or a beer hall before TVs, before jukeboxes, when all people had to entertain themselves was each other.

Here's one of my top ten songs of all time. Shane and the band look a lot older now. So do I.



*Kiss my ass in Gaelic.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Space Art



Looking down this time, for a change.

This is the Republic of Cape Verde, a group of volcanic islands off Africa’s west coast. It's worth clicking to embiggen it, just to check out the detail.

I got it from my most recent favorite website, Space Gizmo. He posts lots of satellite images of Earth. And you gotta dig the name.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Seven Christmases

Signed off on an offer on the old house. Lotsa daylight between an offer and the money being in your bank account, but it looks pretty solid. It'll be nice to be paying only one mortgage again. No more Ramen!

We went over to the old house on Sunday to clean up, rake, decide on some repairs before the inspection. It was different looking at the house without the anxiety of preparing it for sale hovering over things. This was the first house the lil hux and I owned, the second we lived in together. Had a wedding reception there. Celebrated seven Christmases in that tiny living room. Taught the girls to ride their bikes in the parking lot across the street. Played with Play-do on the kitchen table. Pitched whiffle-ball in the front yard. Birthday parties. Skinned knees. Thunderstorms. Memory collects like dust on your skin. Time is a wind at your face.






Writing odds and ends: got a story accepted at Fiction at Work. Goes up Nov. 4th. I'll post a link.

Eric has an excellent story up at Splinter Generation. Go read it. Now.

73K into the New Novel. A handful of chapters left and I'll be done. Of course, all that means is that I turn around and start the second draft. So, no cause for great celebration. But still. It is cause for some celebration.




I noticed during the Yankee-Angel game that the website they advertise on the dugouts is "bankofamerica/yankees." So rooting for the Yankees is no longer like rooting for Bank of America. Rooting for the Yankees quite literally is rooting for Bank of America.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Beauty



Not a tattoo on human skin.

Not a design on cloth.

Not a work of art.

It's sand dunes on Mars. Sand dunes, dust, swirling dust devils. Go to Bad Astronomy for a more complete explanation of what's what; it's where I stole the picture from.

The picture was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

I'd say more, but am frankly left rather speechless. Just gorgeous.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gnomonics

No, it's not the study of gnomes.

There is a dull, barren triangle across the street from our house and I am trying to convince the city to let me build a sundial there. I emailed them, they emailed me back and are ready to set up a meeting with me and as many of my neighbors as I can drag with me. Now that they've called my bluff, I'm in the process of learning how to build one.



There are lotsa different kinds, and you can get lost in the details fairly quickly. The easiest to build would be the one pictured above: find true north, put up the pole (it's called a "gnomon") at the appropriate angle, pour the concrete, measure the angles and put down the marker lines. You can get the angles for your latitude at many different sites.



The one above is the one I'm gonna push for. A human sundial! You stand on the month, and your shadow tells you the time! Much cooler, but the process is quite a bit more complex, as you've got to figure out the standing positions for each month, and I can't quite figure that part out yet. There are companies out there who will sell you the layout, but no place I've found that will allow you to calculate the values themselves.

Here's a picture of a finished one.



Of course, were I a little more ambitious, I'd build me one of these.



Anyone have an idea of how to calculate positions for the human sundial (I think they are called "analemmatic" sundials), gimme a shout.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Boo!

So.

We watched The Wizard of Oz with the girls a few weeks back. The were not scared by the flying monkeys or the Wicked Witch.

This last weekend we watched the first Harry Potter movie with the girls. They were not scared by the giant three headed dog or Valdemort (and he was scary!).

We check out this goofy book of scary stories from the library. One of them goes like this: A boy meets a girl. She tells him never to remove the green ribbon around her neck. They fall in love, get married. He asks about the ribbon, she says he must never remove it. Finally, on her deathbed, she says he can remove the green ribbon. He does, and...wait for it...her head falls off!

That stupid story gave them both nightmares.

Go figure.

I suppose you can tease something out of that about how the printed word is more powerful than the celluloid image, but I'm not going to bother.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Crackpot

I've written several times now about the paranoid and gullible ravings of Coast-to-Coast, the late night radio show I've been addicted to for over a decade. Their territory: UFOs, Bigfoot, the chupacabra, hollow Earth theories. I don't listen because I believe it (though I do believe maybe 10% of the time). I listen because it's interesting and entertaining. I think of it as the bubbling Id of the true American psyche.

The CtC listeners are all abuzz about the Friday morning LCROSS impact on the moon. Some background: NASA is slamming a spacecraft into the south pole of the moon at 5600 mph, to kick up a plume of dust and see if it has water in it. It'll happen at 5:31 Friday morning MST, and should be bright enough to see if you have a big enough telescope, as the cloud is expected to rise 6 miles or more above the surface.

The crazy bit: CtC's resident space conspiracy theorist, Richard C. Hoagland, says that the real reason for the impact is so NASA can destroy their secret moon base there, used in the US's secret war on UFOs. Who knew? They want to get rid of any evidence of the base before other countries discover it. He goes on to say that the result will not be a 6 mile high cloud, but a huge fireball, as ammunition and fuel and oxygen ignite. So, if there's a huge flash at the bottom of the moon as you're going off to work tomorrow, well, you heard it here first.




I will not be awake to watch the impact, though I am tempted. I'm on the right part of the globe, and my scope is at the bottom end of the range big enough to see it. If you are interested in trying to see it, NASA has a very informative page on how to do so (you can also watch it online). The crater is called Cabeus A, and I stole a picture from NASA and posted it above.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mama Comet

Comets, it turns out, can have babies.

Just before I started this blog I got to see one of my favorite comets ever - Comet Holmes - in the December sky. It was supposed to be a ho-hum not very bright comet, invisible to the naked eye, but suddenly exploded in brightness, becoming a million times brighter in less than a day, surprising everyone. It became easy to see, even through the glare of light from a small town. I watched it from my backyard for several nights running.

What happened was, Holmes spawned a bunch of mini-comets, rushing away from it at 280 mph, some of them big enough to have their own tails. No one has ever seen this happen before. Even though Comet Holmes was/is only a coupla miles wide, the sphere of dust and ice ejected was bigger than the sun. You can see the sphere of material pretty clearly in the picture. This is actually what it looked like through binoculars. Not as detailed, of course, but you could see the bright center and the less dense cloud surrounding it.


There is a theory that comets brought water and amino acids to Earth, thus providing it with the building blocks for life. So those baby comets may go on to create babies of an entirely different kind one day, on a planet, a moon.

The comet remained intact, and is returning in 2014, six years later. I'll be looking forward to seeing what happens this next time.

Friday, October 2, 2009

6 Sentences

Got another piece up over at 6 Sentences I wrote in my head while mowing the lawn last weekend. Go read it now, I'll wait.

Other than that everyone over here is sick, so not much to report. Luckily, we have The Wizard of Oz to watch while we cough the day away.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What a world! What a world!*

The clowncar clan were all atwitter last week upon learning that The Wizard of Oz was going to be in the movie theater, lil hux in particular. Then we learned that tickets were a criminal $10 each. And that's before popcorn!

Screw that.

So. We went to Amazon and ordered the DVD instead (and since the theater showing was meant to promote the release of the DVD, we were playing right into their greedy hands, but that's a horse of a different color). I haven't seen the movie in two decades or so. I had forgotten how good it was.



I think a reason, beyond plot, beyond character, that movie has stayed popular for as long as it has is that the imagery is so arresting. The tornado. The poppy field. The first wicked witch's legs curling up when she loses the slippers. The second wicked witch melting. The red sand running through the hourglass. And those deeply disturbing flying monkeys, which still seem like something straight out of a nightmare.

They scared me to death as a kid. My girls just thought they were cool.

* It's what the witch says as she is melting.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Books

So at the end of year last year I announced I was in a "good book vortex," where everything I picked up was a good, satisfying read. Of course, right after saying that, I didn't read anything good for like six months. Ah, hubris, thy name is Clowncar.

Anyway. I'm back on the horse.

Finished Dave Eggar's Zeitoun this weekend. Very good book. Elegant and understated (the only other book of his I've read, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was a great read but not one that the words "elegant" or "understated" would easily apply). It's a non-fiction account of one man's experiences in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. It'll get you pissed off at the Bush administration all over again. Fun! It's my firm belief that Katrina, even more than the Iraqi war, will go down as the defining parable for the heartlessness and avarice of the Bush years.




Also finished an audiobook, Chuck Palahniuk's Rant. I've been doing a lot of driving for work these past two weeks and Palahniuk seemed like the perfect fit for an audiobook. He's not a great writer but he's certainly an entertaining one. He's good enough to make me wish he'd put his books through one more rewrite. Some great ideas bouncing around in there among the unfinished plotlines and holes in logic. The thing about the Halloween party haunted house was good enough to make me wish I'd of thought of it myself.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Primal Comfort

I came home last night to confront the first cold day since moving into the new house. The cats weren't outside exploring their usual neighborhood haunts, but were instead huddled in blankets or near our feet. Blankets were out, and the Lil Hux was wrapped up in one on the couch.

So, for the first time, I fired up the furnace. After a bit of futzing, it came on.

A deeply comforting feeling, to be in a new house, on the first cold day, and hear the furnace slowly grumble to life. To reach down and feel the warm air in the vents, then move from room to room, finding each vent in working order. To smell the slight scent of burning dust in the air, accumulated during all those summer months.



I showed the girls where the heater vents were in their rooms. They reached down, felt the warm air on their arms, looked up smiling. A bit of Small Magic for them, I think, for me to play with a box on the wall, go down to the basement, come back up and play with the box some more, and suddenly the house is warm. Or warming, anyway. Large moved the head of her bed, to be closer to the vent.

It's a primal comfort, to be able to heat your home on a cold Fall evening. Comforting in ways you can't fully understand, felt in your nerves and bones and blood, left over from fires lit in caves ten thousand years ago.

The cats seem happy too.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh Really?

At the dinner table this weekend, Large told Small (and this is as nearly verbatim as memory permits), "I know where babies come from. Mommy gets in bed with Daddy. And I'm not gonna tell you what happens after that, because it's disgusting."

We would've corrected her, but were too busy laughing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

HP Lovecraft and The Weirdest Object in the Solar System

Space.com calls it the weirdest object in the solar system, not me (I'd say Enceladus gets that title).

It's called Haumea, a dwarf planet named after the Hawaiian Goddess of fertility and childbirth. Originally it was named "Santa," as it was discovered around Christmas back in 2004, but the folks in charge of those things made them change it. It's from the Kuiper belt, a bunch of rocks between Neptune and the Oort Cloud. Just like Pluto.



It rotates so fast - a day is 4 hours - that is no longer round, but rather football shaped. It has a couple moons. And just recently they found a big red spot on it. No one knows what the spot is, though the theory is it minerals beneath the ice that were uncovered by a recent impact.

Sounds like a good candidate for an artificially made object to me. I'm not saying it is. I'm saying it's fun to think about. That red spot is a landing strip. Or a giant red eye.

H.P Lovecraft's Cthulus Mythos said there was a race of ancients called the My-Go who lived on a planet called Yuggoth. He patterned it after Pluto, but maybe he was off a couple dwarf planets:

"Yuggoth... is a strange dark orb at the very rim of our solar system... There are mighty cities on Yuggoth—great tiers of terraced towers built of black stone... The sun shines there no brighter than a star, but the beings need no light. They have other subtler senses, and put no windows in their great houses and temples... The black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious cyclopean bridges—things built by some elder race extinct and forgotten before the beings came to Yuggoth from the ultimate voids—ought to be enough to make any man a Dante or Poe if he can keep sane long enough to tell what he has seen..."

—H. P. Lovecraft, "The Whisperer in Darkness"

There is, according to the mythos, a hideous creature - Cxaxukluth, and I won't even try to pronounce it - kept in a pit on Yuggoth. So maybe the red spot is the Cxaxukluth pit.

I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Temporary Moons

Jupiter has at least 63 moons orbiting it, and thousands of asteroids and other rocks littering its orbital path (not considered moons because they don't revolve around Jupiter). Between 1949 and 1961 it had another one, when Jupiter grabbed a comet and turned it into a moon. The comet goes by the romantic name of "147P/Kushida-Muramatsu" and it hung around for 12 years, roughly two orbits, before traveling back out into the black.

Like so much in the world of orbital mechanics, the closer you look at this, the weirder it gets. The comet is a "quasi-Hilda comet," meaning it's from the Hilda family of asteroids. These asteroids - there are thousands of them - form a triangle within Jupiter's orbit, around the 2 main Lagrange points (where the gravity between Jupiter and the sun cancel each other out), and the point opposite Jupiter. You don't see alotta triangles in space. Circles, spirals, ellipses are the usual suspects.



Apparently, according to the wiki article, the triangle "breathes," meaning the density of the wall of the triangle relative to the points is constantly shifting (at least, that what I think it means; I've read the sentence about ten times and am still not sure).

As I've said a hundred times in these posts, random movements form non-random structures, many of them quite complex. The idea that they are formed due to a few simple laws - namely Kepler's three laws of planetary motion - is to me infinitely more interesting, and more beautiful, than the idea they were put in motion by some kind of intelligent design.

I pulled the illustration of the Hilda triangle from the wikipedia article.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Heart of Scorpio

Scorpio is hanging low in the Southern sky this time of year, and comes up pretty early. It's a favorite of mine because it's one of the few that actually looks like what it's supposed to be: a scorpion. Go out and look tonight. It's pretty east to spot. There's a picture of it below.



The particularly cool bit about Scorpio is that bright star in the center. Antares. I think of it as Scorpio's heart for two reasons. One, it's bright red, a red super-giant star. Two, it actually beats, albeit much slower than a human heart, because it is a variable star, pulsing brighter and dimmer every 4.75 years.

Antares means "rival of Mars", because of it's red color. The Arabian name is much cooler: Kelbalacrab. It means "the scorpion's heart."

One more bit of Scorpio lore. The reason Scorpio and Orion are on opposite ends of the sky is because Gaia, the Earth Goddess, sent Scorpius to sting Orion, because he bragged about sleeping with her. Orion runs into the sea to escape, and dies there, but Apollo feels bad about the whole deal and hangs him back up in the sky, where he is put on the the opposite side as Scorpio, to keep them apart. So, as the sky revolves, he is forever running away from the deadly scorpion.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Senses


Things I saw, smelled, heard and tasted during Labor Day weekend: the full moon: coyotes howling in the night; several pelicans (they are huge); a bear (we were in a car); Jupiter; Tolstoy blown helplessly across a lake in a rubber raft with his son and my daughter on board (everyone is fine); lotsa deer; the best campstove dinner I've ever had - Dancehall's fried knish and marinated portabello mushroom poem of a meal; the patter of rain on the roof of the tent as we fell asleep; Scorpio, Sagittarius, Cassiopeia, the Dippers; morning fog drifting across the surface of a lake; a rainbow; the Florissant Fossil Beds; sitting at a campfire with good friends as the night sky revealed itself; the evocative smell of the campfire on my clothes the next day.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If Lewis Carroll Wrote Spam

So. I wrote a post a couple weeks ago about the Japanese spacecraft Kaguya crashing into the moon (on purpose), and the folk story of Kaguya, the bamboo princess. A few days later I started getting spam in the comments. Japanese spam. Now, I deeply love observing the bizarre Joyce-ian nonsense that spammers use to get past spam filters, and having to use Google translate to decipher it adds to the fun.

The second one I got even had me constructing scenarios involving runaway Japanese girls kidnapped by unscrupulous ne'er-do-wells trying to get a "help" message out through the blogosphere. Here it is, translated:

Young people on board ran away from home has been recently introduced in the media has been runaway girl wrote a number of messages that stay the local cafes in walking across the country. They are going to play as soon as I met a man I have no money on board. Why even write you back an answer?


Interesting, eh? Sadly, the subsequent comments have been mostly nonsense, with vague allusions to sex. Today's:
I simple and once your diagnosis SM, SM checker checks the tendency was once hidden! That girl is a serious and night S De Queen, there is a desire to want to be Me and him actually a tsundere Idi! fun tool no mistake that everyone gets off and drinking comparator.


Oddly, there are no links or phone numbers or email addresses to lure you to. Just nonsense. It's like Lewis Carrol has given up the priesthood and devoted his days to writing spam.

Anyway. If you see Word Verification turned on one of these days, it means I've grown bored with the whole thing. But I can't bring myself to do it just yet.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Just Under the Wire

It's been a missing summer, what with buying a new house, moving in, my operation, and my Mother-in-law's broken ankle (and subsequent surgery). So we've missed out on some summer staples like camping and Rockygrass.



But all is not lost: we went to the drive-in this weekend! Didn't think we were gonna be able to squeeze that one in. We saw the mildly diverting and utterly forgettable "Shorts." No matter, the drive-in is not about the movie. It's about playing catch til it gets too dark, about the pre-teens flirting at the concession stand, about everyone honking their horns impatient for the show to start, about the Twizzlers and the popcorn and the pleasure of seeing a movie in a lawn chair under a summer sky.

Better than the movie was the thunderstorm that came rolling in over the course of the show, louder and louder, brighter and brighter. We watched the last fifteen minutes huddled under the hatchback door, and drove home in pouring rain. By the time we pulled into the drive the storm was over.

Mercurial, this life of ours.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sunday Best



My sister dressed up in her Sunday best.

Clearly, that tyke in the background is up to no good.

Happy Birthday, Jennifer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Moonshadow

I read about this yesterday, and dreamed about it last night. Vividly. So I'm gonna try to go out and see it, if only to see dream imagery appear in real life.

Trippy.

Two moons of Jupiter (Europa and Ganymede) are going to be simultaneously casting shadows on Jupiter Thursday and Friday. A pretty rare event. Jupiter clears the horizon about 8 p.m. or thereabouts, so go out and take a look. Admittedly, you need a telescope to see this one, and I think Gordo is the only one out there with access to one, but go out and look anyway. It's such a pretty planet. It'll be the brightest thing in the eastern sky. Take your wife, your husband, your kids, your neighbor, your girlfriend. Point it out to them. Impress them with how much you know. Maybe you'll get lucky.

Here's video of one moon shadow (Ganymede's) on Jupiter, taken with an amateur camera and telescope, no less. Imagine how cool two will look.



Thanks to the One Minute Astronomer for the heads up, and the video.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Unlikely

We visited the 45 foot climbing wall at the new YMCA this weekend. Seriously Big Fun. Small made it to the top twice, and Large went all the way up so many times we lost count. Me? I got about a third of the way up until my still-recovering stomach muscles began complaining. They hurt all weekened, and are still barking a little today. Worth it? To quote Sarah Palin: you betcha!



This Sunday the Mets had two runners on, the winning run at the plate, when they hit into an unassisted triple play (where one guy makes all three outs, with no help) and lost yet again. Eric Bruntlett, the second baseman, caught the ball (out 1), stepped on 2nd base before the runner could return (out 2) and tagged the runner coming from 1st base (out 3).

To put this in context: this is only the second time in the 109 year history of baseball that a game ended with a triple play. The other time was in 1927*.

Halley's Comet is more common than a game-ending unassisted triple play.

I guess there is some satisfaction in that the Mets don't merely lose, but lose in epic, historical fashion.

Alright. I'm done venting. You may continue with your day.


*The baseball statistician in me requires me to add a footnote: there have been 15 unassisted triple plays in the 109 year old history of modern baseball, but only 2 of them were game-ending unassisted triple plays. It is the rarest play in all of baseball.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Otherworldly

Sweet picture, eh? Looks like a sea creature to me, or perhaps some microscopic organism.

Actually it's Victoria crater on Mars, as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It the one the robot Opportunity has been exploring for the last year or so. If you click on the image you can acually see the rover's tracks off to the left.

The weblike structures at the borrom of the crater are sand dunes.

Thanks to Bad Astonomy for the picture. And to NASA, of course, for actually taking the picture.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Speed Scrabble

Life is returning to normal, or as normal as it ever gets around here. Back to work full time (full time-ish; I work 6 hrs/day and then hang with the little clowncars after school/daycamp), as of yesterday. And my Mother in Law is out of the hospital, in a wheelchair, with a large cast on her leg. She got a "Fall Risk" bracelet at the hospital too! We're gonna wear em to parties together.



Lotsa family in town last week for a family reunion, my mom's sister's branch of the tree. Cousins I grew up with. Then watched their kids grow up. And now my own kids get folded into the mix, threaded into the tapestry, insert your own metaphor here, as so many apply. The same stories get told over and over again, the same lame jokes, the same memories. My girls are hearing them all for the first time, though certainly not the last. A fine week. I ignored all doctor's orders about taking it easy and played whiffle ball, swam, ate too much. But whaddaya gonna do?

Learned a new game. Speed Scrabble. You don't use the board. Just dump all the tiles in the middle of the table, letters down, everyone chooses seven. Yell "Go!" and you try to make a crossword out of all seven letters. First one who does yells "Pull!" and everyone grabs two more letters. Once alll the letters are gone, first person who uses all of theirs wins. Fast-paced, and allows for multiple winners.

Of course, my 15 year old niece handed us all our butts on a platter, and won 3 outta 4 games.



Saw District Nine last night. Pretty good. Coulda been better, if only because the premise is so rich with possibilities. It ultimately succumbs to the belief that the only way to whip things up into a climax is to blow up a bunch of crap.

Much better is the 6 minute short it was based on. Economical story-telling, no Hollywood bloat. My advice: save eight bucks, skip the movie, watch this instead.

Friday, August 14, 2009

And So It Begins....

The squirrel was said to be drawn to the camera by the sound of the auto-timer.

Either that, or he's studying it before beaming it up to his home planet for analysis.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Saturnian Weirdness

Something big and weird punched through Saturn's F-ring recently. Here's a picture.



To help you make sense of the image: the thing was approaching from below the ring, blasted through the ring and left a plume of material pointing toward the upper right hand corner of the picture, the plume is casting a shadow toward the lower lefthand corner.

No one knows what it is. Other than a great big space rock, probably.

I learned about it by listening to Phil Platt, of Bad Astronomy, on Coast to Coast last night (I got the pix from his site as well). For those of you not in the know, Coast to Coast is the gloriously strange radio show devoted to alien abductions, the Hollow Earth theory, the Taos Hum, Bigfoot, etc. It's about 80% silly, 20% interesting.

This is from the 20% interesting bit.

It comes on the heels of the comet slamming into Jupiter last month. Do I sense a pattern here? Did some passing object perturb the orbits of all those frozen space rocks at the edge of the Solar System? Are we about to be bombarded with shrapnel from the Oort Cloud?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Girls With Rainbow

We've had two rainbows this week, a result of the nearly daily mid-afternoon thunderstorms we get this time of year. Delightful. Me, la huquita and the little clowncars were basking in the cool breeze under the porch when this one reared its colorful head.




Monday, August 3, 2009

Whistling Past the Graveyard

My Mother-in-Law fell down a short series of steps in our house and shattered her ankle. She's in the hospital now. She's a good woman, and we are hoping for a quick recovery. The extended clowncar family is feeling a little worn down as of late.

The reason I bring it up: there was a small spot of blood at the base of the steps which the girls noticed before we did. We cleaned it up. The girls point it out - "that's where the blood was" - whenever they pass. They look to it solemnly, blank-faced but wide-eyed, as if they were passing a graveyard, or a holy place.

I recognize the look very well, from when I was in the hospital. It was the way they looked at me. In particular I remember the way they watched me when I took my first shaky walk down the hospital hallway, with folks on either arm to steady me. The look is a mixture of fear and confusion and reverence. Confronted with a sight they do not understand, unsure if they should be frightened or not. Like they are looking down the edge of a deep chasm, unable to see the bottom, fearful of what lies below.

Makes me want to sweep them up in my arms and protect them from the world, the unknown, the passage of time.

I can't do that, of course.

Wish my Mother-In-Law well.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sweep

Started on The Novel again, yesterday. Just broke 52K words. I'm delaying the first pain pill for a couple hours in the morning, so as not to be addled while writing. Or more addled than I already am natually. There's something perversely romantic about gutting out the pain to get the work in. Suffering for your art and all that.




Double-header today! The Mets have serendipitously been playing the Rockies since my return from the hospital, so they've been on TV, and during my recovery I've been able to, with the help of Tivo, watch every game. And they haven't lost! So, with my writing done today, I'm settling down with a cup of coffee for seven straight glorious hours of baseball. I smell a sweep.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fall Risk



This is a wristband I got at the hospital during the morphine haze. I'm still wearing it. It makes me laugh. I plan to wear it to parties.




365 Days of Astronomy posted my podcast yesterday. It's archived here. If you wanna hear my real voice, or learn my real name, or, I dunno, stalk me or something, check it out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

His head at one point was actually much larger.

I'm living in the family room right now, while I recover. TV. Wii. Radio. Bathroom close by. The cats wander around the fold out bed, their tails sticking up in the air like exclamation marks. When they find something curious to sniff at, their tails curl slightly, become question marks. It's fitting (pun incoming) that they look like punctuation, because after my operation (pun imminent) I now have a semi-colon (pun released).

Long way to go for a joke, I realize.

The time in the hospital was surprisingly painless. The morphine was the worst part. Just awful. Made me dizzy, nauseous, agitated, unable to stay awake. My current drugs are seriously lightweight by comparison, but much more pleasant. They'll do the trick.

During the first stages of the post-op, I felt very much like a ship at port, as they slowly untied the anchors, one by one. First the morphine epidural, then the Catheter That Shall Not Be Named, then the oxygen, finally the IV. The last day, being able to walk around without trailing three or four tangled lines trailing behind me was such an incredibly liberating feeling.

I've lost about five pounds. My kids are convinced my head has gotten smaller, and bring it up daily. Large actually told the nurse, and this is verbatim, "His head at one point was actually much larger."

Nice to be home.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Six Sentences

I've got a fiction piece up over at Six Sentences. Longtime readers of this blog may remember it as a poem I wrote last year during the halcyon days of Mona and her Word of the Week. Anyway, wander over there and read it if you find the time. Leave a comment. Look around. Submit. A compilation of six sentence stories is a great idea for a site. The quality is a little uneven, but there are plenty of gems in there. Including Eric's six sentence story, here.




I'm back, by the way, and doing fine. Tales from the Gimli Hospital will follow, soon, I promise.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Proof of a Benevolent God

They let me have coffee today. With milk. For the first time since last Sunday.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Luckily, Beer Is A Liquid

Liquid only diet today. Coffee, Otter Pops, and a vile liquid I have to drink twice to get me, uh, moving.

18 pills over the next 10 hours.

Tonight, and tomorrow morning, I have to shower with some weird anti-biotic goo that, I'm told, if it gets in my eyes, will quite literally blind me.

Three weeks of nothing but reading and (hopefully) writing after that, though. I'd given up pretty much all my reading time this past year in order to have time to write The Novel. So, that's good, right? Richard Hughes. George Pelecanos. William Gay.

Everything's a trade-off.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Drug Addled Blogging

Dancehall's husband, who we'll call Tolstoy (my kids once saw a drawing of Tolstoy on the back of a book and thought it was him), sent this to me. Delightfully weird, strangely addictive. I've seen it at least 10 times now. It haunts my dreams.






Broke 50,000 words on the New Novel last night. Feels like I'm turning the corner on the middle third. The move slowed me down a tad--I took two weeks off entirely from writing, as I was just too unfocused--but logistics have more to do with it. I'm having to pull the various strands of the novel together now, and with 10 narrators, it's careful work.

Hope to be done by Christmas, but that's probably wishful thinking.




I've got a Major Operation coming up on Tuesday. Nothing life-threatening, or even health-threatening, but I am told to expect several weeks of pain and discomfort. They're removing a lengthy bit of something I shall not name but which rhymes with "spolon." On the plus side, I'm sure to get excellent drugs to help me through.

I'll have lots of free time on my hands. Expect much drug-addled blogging.




Side note to Tolstoy: Shhhhh!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hike Faster. I Hear Banjos.

Saw that on the back of a t-shirt at the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival in Westcliffe this weekend. We went with Dancehall and family. And my Dad was there too, for part of it. It's a great spot for a festival. High in the mountains (8000-ish feet), with the Never Summer Range looming in the background. The bands were good too. Very purist approach, as opposed to say, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which allows folks like Elvis Costello and Barenaked Ladies to perform. I love Elvis. But he's not exactly bluegrass.

The only downside was that the crowd was pretty old (meaning, older than me, of course). Much older than the Rockygrass demographic, for instance. And some were not too tolerant of little kids. Or talking. Or any signs of human life. The woman next to us told us she loved children, but we soon found out this love was mostly theoretical, and didn't extend to actual children, displaying actual behavior. She actually stood up and loudly shushed Dancehall's husband for speaking in conversational tones. At an outdoor festival. At the back of the seating area.

I'm glad she was there, though. Without her, we might have experienced a moment of authentic joy, unfettered by guilt or angst or fear. And nobody wants that.




Pedro's back! The Phillies signed Pedro Martinez last week, so, pending the physical exam, he's pitching again. Now, the Phillies are divisional rivals of the Mets, but I guess I'm gonna have to start rooting for them every fifth day. Because Pedro transcends mere team loyalty.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reruns


I stole this graphic from Bad Astronomy, who in turn stole it from Abstruse Goose. It's pretty clever. Click it to make it big enough to read.

The premise is pretty simple: the signal from a show that aired 10 years ago is now 10 light years away, part of an ever-expanding sphere of electromagnetic signals emanating from our planet. Thus, the singing nine-headed cat people on Beta Aquilea are now doomed to watch old reruns of Gilligan's Island and The Munsters. Whereas the telepathic floating dirigible worms of Formalhaut are fortunate enough to kick back over the latest episodes of Night Court and Punky Brewster.

Lucky bastards.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Heart of the Neighborhood

There is a big green park in the center of our new neighborhood, about a block and a half away from us. S got a new big-girl bicycle for her 8th birthday a couple weeks ago, so we've been doing a lot of riding there. We're making the transition from sidewalks to streets, so the resultant freedom and danger is a little scary.

For us. Not for her.

There are usually kids to play with there. Our old neighborhood was mostly old people who never went outside, and the few houses that had kids living there rarely let them out the door (I guess on the debatable premise that television is safer than the outside world). Here, we have all sorts. The band of little boys from the house at the bottom of the hill who pants are always threatening to fall off, and who are incapable of not hitting each other every fifteen seconds. They play rough, but they're fun to watch. There is an 11 year old girl across the street the girls treat with the kind of awe previously accorded only to unicorns and Santa. This weekend we met a teenage couple who wander out far away from the playground to lie in the grass and neck.

It's a lower income neighborhood, mostly Hispanic (our kids are Hispanic, we are not). Lotsa old houses, some large and grand, some small and rickety, in varying degrees of upkeep. I'm guessing there's alotta sweat equity built up in these homes. Most have porches, and people actually hang out on their porches here, to catch that early evening summer breeze. The house right before the park has two very loud and very mean dogs, who the girls try to tiptoe past as if they were guardian trolls.

According to the previous owner, the railroad baron who built our house laid out the streets of the entire neighborhood, to mirror the one he grew up in back in England.

Nothing British about it anymore. It's about as American as you can get.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Death of the Bamboo Princess

The Japanese spacecraft Kaguya crashed into the moon last month. Before it did it shot some amazing HD footage of the moon, much of it viewable on YouTube, like this one. I don't know the name of this crater (as the captioning is in Japanese), but is sure is pretty.

Kaguya is named after the bamboo princess in the 10th century Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. A childless woodcutter finds a tiny baby growing inside a glowing bamboo stalk. He takes her home to raise as his own. She grows into an extraordinarily beautiful woman. At the end of the story it's revealed she is not of this Earth, but rather a child of the moon, sent to the Earth for her own safety. The citizens of the moon take her back to her home against her will. Her parents are grief-stricken.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Teenage Wasteland

Those mysterious space blobs are now a little less mysterious. To recap: last month astronomers found powerfully energetic blobs--the scientific paper actually called them "blobs"--at the very edge of observable space, some of most distant objects ever recorded. At the time the leading theory was we we witnessing the violent births of baby galaxies, with baby black holes at their centers.

As it turns out, they are teenagers. They are galaxies going through all sorts of crazy changes before maturing and stabilizing. James Geach, the lead researcher of the study, said that the chaos "is due to the violent processes occurring in the galaxies, black hole growth, starbursts, mergers. They're having a final 'tantrum' before they're done growing and then 'passively' evolve to the present day.

Sound familiar?




NPR was reporting rather breathlessly last week that Enceladus, the geyser-spouting moon of Saturn, has liquid salt water seas under it's crust. It might be true: Cassini flew through the geysers last year and, according to one set of scientists, found evidence of salt water in the geysers. That is deeply cool, in that salt water oceans were the cradle of complex life on Earth. However, the same issue of Nature has a paper from another team of scientists from Boulder, who say there isn't enough sodium in the samples to support the salt water ocean hypothesis. So the jury is out.

And NPR is a little bit busted.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ghosts

Furniture and piles of boxes drift around the house like ice floes. The larger chunks--couches and tables and comfy chairs--have found their spots in corners, along walls, in the center of rooms. The smaller bits, us included, float about bobbing among them, unanchored.

I love the house. I hate moving.

Here's a cool story about the house I heard from the previous owner. Apparently it was the home of a railroad tycoon, and when he died at the railyard, the railroad took over the house and permitted the widow to live there, as long as she offered the second floor up to boarders associated with the railroad. She went along with the arrangement. I imagine she had no choice. I like to look down the length of the second floor hallway and picture what it might have looked like. Almost makes a person wish for ghosts.

Almost.


Another story: the guy who told us that one, the previous owner, lovingly restored the place with his wife. They lived here eight years. Then they divorced. Clearly he loves the place. You can tell by the way he talks about it. He has mentioned several times now the parties they held in the backyard, the Christmas lights, the goldfish pond, the patio. How it all looked. Or how they found the fireplace at an estate sale and the hassle involved in getting it shipped here. Most of these wistful anecdotes end abruptly, as he moves on to another subject, embarrassed, distracted. Houses are a pretty potent metaphor for marriages, for families, for lives. Gotta be tough to fix one up, only to turn around and sell it.

He's kind of a ghost here too. Along with the railroad widow.

We'll add our own histories to the house, eventually, and become like ghosts ourselves, our stories passed along by word of mouth. Or blog, in this case.

There are no stories yet. We're still unpacking.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Symmetry

There is a pleasing symmetry to receiving a Happy Father's Day blessing from your kids in the morning, and passing one on to your own Dad in the afternoon.



The only blemish on the day was provided by those damn Mets.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sneak Peek



Stairs leading down to the front door. And to one of the countless piles of unpacked crap, there to the right of the door. That's a hand-painted mobile of the solar system, on top of the box.

Dig that groovy colored tile at the base of the stairs.



Living room. Yes, those curtains are pretty gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

And the wooden fireplace mantle and frame is deeply, deeply cool.



A handful of wooden doodads that will eventually be added to the fireplace around the mirror as detail.



Detail from one of the doors.



More detail from one of the doors. This is a metal panel laid into the wood, about where your hand lands when you push the door open. Which I assume is the purpose. There are lots of these about the house.

We are all moved in. Exhausted, and a little overwhelmed. But we did it.

Back to work.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Remember To Breathe

We have the loan. We close tomorrow. Insert huge sigh of relief here. The competent and hard-working woman in charge of processing the loan told us a full hour before our loan officer called us with the news.

We are now the owners of a new home. And an old one too, as it turns out. Anyone need a cheap place to live?

We're off to the Sand Dunes within hours of signing, as it's a vacation that's been on the calender for a year, and reservations are made. So we don't actually begin moving in til Monday. It'll be a welcome break.

Banking trivia: The following types of people and/or things are actually qualified to be "loan officers" at the Bank of America: Dogs. Dead people. Circus clowns. Lawn clippings. Small piles of shiny objects.

Okay. I'm done venting. Time to move on.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ghost Blog

There was a blogger out there back when I first started blogging named Jo. She was a LA-based painter/photogrpaher, thoughtful and funny and talented. Some of you out there may have followed her. One day she causally mentioned that she and her husband were taking a look at a new house.

And she was never heard from in the blogoshere again. In that arena, anyway. Her blog is still out there, but it's like a ghost blog, unchanged for the last 8 months or so.

I'm hoping that won't happen to me, as we enter the hellish sucking vortex of closing on the new house.

Still battling with the hallowed financial institution which rhymes with "Skank of America" to get the loan finalized by the closing date. I get the sense my "loan officer" is doing bong hits in the bathroom stalls betwixt calls from me asking him what paperwork is still needed which he neglected to tell me about 2 weeks ago.

Hard to believe these guys had to be bailed out by the government.

Courage.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sermon

From the nearly perfect Synecdoche, New York, which I finally saw last night:

"Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won't know for twenty years. And you'll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it's what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn't really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved. And the truth is I'm so angry and the truth is I'm so fucking sad, and the truth is I've been so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long have been pretending I'm OK, just to get along, just for, I don't know why, maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own, and their own is too overwhelming to allow them to listen to or care about mine. Well, fuck everybody. Amen."

Amen.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why Your Brain Is Like Kevin Bacon

In case you were wondering.


From a Live Science article today:

"Researchers also checked children's brains for "small-world" organization, another organizational quality present in adult brains. This is the same idea as the game 'six degrees of Kevin Bacon,' which connects any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon in six movies or less through their co-stars.

In this case, the 'co-stars' are nodes in the brain.

'It's the idea of a large network that lets you connect one node with another in a relatively short number of steps via special nodes,' Fair says. 'Like Kevin Bacon, these special nodes have many connections to other nodes, allowing them to help shorten the amount of steps that have to be taken when connecting nodes.'"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fritter My Wig!

I'm so happy to be finally released from the prison of children's picture books. We finished Charlotte's Web last week; this week is Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark. It doesn't make any real sense to the girls, but it doesn't need to. It sails on the strength of the rhythms, the sounds of the words. Lewis Carrol was a genius.



These stanzas in particular made the girls laugh last night.

He would answer to "Hi!" or to any loud cry,
Such as "Fry me!" or "Fritter my wig!"
To "What-you-may-call-um!" or "What-was-his-name!"
But especially "Thing-um-a-jig!"

While, for those who preferred a more forcible word,
He had different names from these:
His intimate friends called him "Candle-ends,"
And his enemies "Toasted-cheese."


Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland is next. I cannot wait.

Monday, May 11, 2009

World Gone Mad

The Mets have won seven in a row, and now sit atop the National League East, albeit with a narrow lead. Their big man, Johann Santana, arguably the best pitcher in the National League, takes the mound tonight. Against the hated Atlanta Braves. On ESPN.

Can you tell I'm psyched?

I taught the little clowncars how to read the standings this weekend. Win column, loss column, streak column. They're a couple years away from learning the elegant brevity of a box score. So much information contained in such a small box of numbers.

Ah, Spring. Ah, baseball.




Our mortgage company, which I will not name, but which rhymes with Skank of America, has asked for: my last 2 pay stubs, my 401K, the last 2 months of bank activity for me and the huquita, our W2's for the last 2 years, and, oddest of all, our marriage certificate (since we have different last names).

Meanwhile, last week's banking stress tests says they may need to borrow another $34 billion. From me. The taxpayer.

What is wrong with this picture?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

This Lovely World, These Precious Days…

We're one chapter away from finishing reading the little clowncars' first chapter book: Charlotte's Web. What a lovely book. I didn't remember much of it from my youth, so I'm sorta rediscovering it as we read it.

I read this paragraph to the girls last night and actually got choked up. Charlotte is speaking to Wilber. She is (spoiler alert) dying.

“Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days…”

Gorgeous prose. Simple, sweet, evocative.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fly By


Beautiful picture snapped by Cassini, still orbiting Saturn, still waltzing amid the moons and rings. It does a fly-by of Titan in four and a half hours, according to the Cassini site.

I read recently that NASA uses Titan to make changes in Cassini's orbit. The fly-bys change Cassini's trajectory, and allow NASA to swing it pretty much wherever they want. That's how they got it to fly through the vapor plume on Enceladus last year. Quite cool.

That's Titan in the background, tiny Epimetheus in the foreground.

The picture is from the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lego Nation

I've cut the cord.

I have amassed a large, varied, and frankly, fabulous, Lego collection over the years. I've played with them from the age of 7 or so on, and never stopped.

Last month I bequeathed them to the girls. It wasn't easy. I've been holding out, because I didn't want them lost, broken, or scattered all over the house to be painfully stepped on at 2 a.m. whilst making your way to the bathroom. But they're old enough now. I made them take blood oaths to put all the Legos in the box when they're done, and put away the box, and they're been faithfully following my instructions. I've held a few of my best creations back: my space lobster, my submarine, my underwater mining tractor. Because they're just too damn cool. But the rest of them belong to the girls now.


The nature of Lego has changed over the years. You used to only be able to get sets of blocks with no specific purpose. You built whatever you wanted. Most of the Legos these days are kits with a specific thing in mind--a Stars Wars spaceship, a pirate ship--and included in the kit are step-by-step instructions on how to build it. It'd be easy to rail against the lack of creativity involved with including instructions in Legos. But disingenuous. Because a kid might build it according to the instructions the first time, but then they're going to rip it apart and build whatever they want. Because that is the nature of kids.

And that is the nature of Lego.