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


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 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


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.