Friday, February 27, 2009


What a nice way to begin the weekend. Be sure and look up tonight, dusk-ish, toward the west.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


A tough few weeks. My parents' health problems are slowly beginning to rear their heads. The dogs of mortality nipping at my heels.


Went out with the big, dumb telescope and a few cans of beer in a cooler to see Comet Lulin last night, as it passed as close to the Earth as it's ever gonna get. Frankly, there's not much to get too excited about, visually. It's a big, green, fuzzy blob, with no real detail (neither of it's two tails visible, for instance).

The fun comes in when you imagine what's happening out there, send your mind out there to hang out with the comet awhile. The thing is leaving debris of rock and ice in one direction, and ionized gas is being boiled off by the sun in the other direction (thus the two tails). It is going impossibly fast, on it's way out of our neighborhood and back into the far cold of...wait for it...the Oort Cloud.

It will return in 5 million years.

That's a big orbit.

Huge forces at work in empty spaces, seen from impossible distances.

A feeling quite similar to being in church. Back when I was a kid, and went to church. And had those kind of feelings about church. Of course, in a church, you aren't allowed to bring beer. So that's a plus.

It was a clear night, and warm. Other stuff was out in the sky as well. Spent quite a bit of time on Saturn, as it was close to the comet. What a pretty sight. The Orion Nebula was in full glory - I've never seen it in this much detail before. Looked for, but did not find, the Horsehead Nebula. Found the Andromeda Galaxy, big and bright but as it was low in the sky and guttering in the remnants of the city glare, no real detail. Still, it is a jewel in the sky.

Here's a picture of the comet from NASA's Pic of the Day. I didn't take it. But it shows the two tails in all their glory. Lulin will be bright for a few more days. Go out and look for it. Send your mind out there for awhile. Imagine you're in church.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Beware the Stare

It's Monster Monday!

Yes, I am aware it's not actually Monday. Monster Monday, like love, art, sexually transmitted diseases, betrayal, and epiphany, adheres to no schedule. As a thief in the night, just like a certain popular Messiah.


I was reminded of this movie after encountering those sullen, Alpha-female cheerleaders who will no doubt go on to fulfilling careers as trophy wives for Congressmen and ex-football stars (can you tell I'm still a little angry?). But I suppose that scary death-stare of the children of Midwich can be a metaphor for lots of things. Status-crazed tweener girls are merely what occurred to me.

This is one of my favorite movies ever. From a very good book too: "The Midwich Cuckoo" by John Wyndham.

Monday, February 16, 2009


You may remember my angst and agita when my girls got sucked into the hellish vortex of cheerleading a few weeks ago. Cliques and cattiness and unhealthy competition. Anxious faces. Mean girls. Elaborate hairstyles my oldest began to imitate almost at the very moment she encountered them.

Well. Oldest started gymnastics last week. I was a little worried it would be a continuation of what they went through during the cheerleading thing. And what did we find? Girls helping each other with backflips and jumps. Girls cheering when others did something well. Girls offering a hand up when others failed. Girls (and more importantly, role models) learning and teaching each other. Oldest had a beaming smile on her face virtually the entire time, a smile so bright I get a lump in my throat describing it even now. When she fell, she smiled. When she succeeded, she smiled. And, success or failure, there was always a girl there to cheer her on and teach her how to do more, go further.

My faith in sisterhood is restored.

I'll let Annie and Aretha tell it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lizard Comet

Comet Lulin just lost its tail.

The picture is from NASA's frequently mind blowing Astronomy Picture of the Day, and shows a clear before-and-after of the comet, with the bottom picture showing the tail floating away from the body of comet itself.

How does it happen? The tail is made of ions (atoms stripped of electrons) streaming off the comet. There is a "wind" of particles and magnetism coming from the sun that creates the tail in the first place, by blowing the ions away from the comet. If that wind is strong enough, it'll rip off the tail. Here is a deeply, deeply cool video of the tail getting blown off Comet Enke by a blast of energy from the sun (you can even see bow-shock of the blast coming in from the right side).

Remarkably, the tail is gonna grow back. They always do. Just like a lizard tail.

Comet Lulin rounded the sun in late January, and is now headed very close to us as it leaves the solar system. It's gonna get brighter and show up in the sky earlier and earlier in the night as it gets closer. Mid to late February it might get bright enough to see with the naked eye, as a fuzzy, indistinct star. You show easily be able to see it with binoculars. You can find out for yourself if the tail grew back or not.

This is gonna be cool.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Health Care Reform

My youngest, after skinning her knee while riding her scooter, told me, "If people were made of fur on their insides they wouldn't get hurt."

Instead of being made of, you know, bones and blood and lungs and stuff.

She does have a point.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mute Nostril Agony

I'm quite fond of saying that there's nothing easier in the world than writing the first 50 pages of a novel (it's not original, but I've long forgotten who I'm quoting). That early on, it's all possibility, no logistics. No holes in character, plot, motivation to fill.


Having said that, I've blasted through the first 10,000 words of the New Novel in just one month, and riding high on the euphoria right now. That's roughly the first tenth of the thing. I am sure in six months I'll be wallowing in the horse latitudes of writer's block, but right now it's like turning on a faucet.

The weird bit is that, other than some short stories, this is the first time I've done any sustained writing with the girls in the house. With the Old Novel, while kid-less, I'd write at exactly the same time every day, and at the same place. I'd sit and build each paragraph slowly, methodically, thoughtfully. I'd ponder for long minutes which exact adjective to use.

This go-round, if the perfect adjective doesn't jump out at me, then fuck it, I go straight to the noun. I write when I can, where I can, trying to get as much down as I can before the girls start arguing over the Wii, or someone skins a knee, or the phone rings for a playdate or a birthday party. Gotta stay fast, and loose, and lean. Otherwise it's not gonna get done.

And it's made me a better writer. I think.

I worry at times that it's a little too loose. I'm juggling 8 different points of view, and this odd literary/sci-fi hybrid thing I'm trying to build might ultimately prove unwieldy when it gets a little bigger. Lotsa balls in the air.

So. We shall see. But right now I can't wait to flip up the screen of the laptop and get to it.

Anyone get the title reference? No fair using Google.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mean Girls

The little clowncars did cheerleader training last week, where they spent a week learning cheers and then did a little cheer session with 120 other little girls at halftime of a basketball game.

And while they were cute (and they were very cute), you could see the beginnings of cliques and competition and an obsession with hair and clothes and social rank. Boys grow up learning how to compete, how to win and lose and move on regardless of the outcome. I don't think girls get that kind of training. Perhaps I'm being sexist. But my experience has been, when girls compete, they get mean. Some of them do, anyway. There were mean girls at the cheerleading training. And these girls are like 6 and 7 years old!

My youngest is strong-willed and independent enough to develop a healthy self-image on her own, I think. But my oldest is already trying to style her hair and clothes like the big girls every morning. I fear she will get sucked into the whole social status abyss.

And while they were cute (and they were very cute), watching them quite literally made my stomach hurt with anxiety.

It is so much easier growing up as a boy than it is as a girl.