Thursday, April 21, 2011


The image above is a cosmic microwave background radiation map of the universe, bright colors hot, dark colors cold. The circled bit at the lower right is a part of the sky deemed too large and too cold to be easily explained by science.

The reason I'm posting this is because of one sentence in the explanation of the map and the CMB cold spot on the Astronomy Picture of the Day, where I found it. The sentence is this:

Published speculation has included spectacular progenitor hypotheses that involve a supervoid, a cosmic texture, or even quantum entanglement with a parallel universe.

These are actual scientists speculating about this, not addled callers to Coast to Coast. I'm not saying I understand what that sentence even means. But it sure is fun to read.

Monday, April 18, 2011


The last time I posted an excerpt, it was of a paragraph I cut, as it was a little too over the top.

This one I'm keeping.

When he got the call in the middle of the night he packed the barely-awake kids into the back seat and drove to his mother’s home, expecting to be greeted by ambulances and the flashing lights of fire trucks, but of course they had all left by the time he had completed the three hour drive. Pools of fog lay in the pre-dawn fields and shallow valleys between his house and hers; months later now and he still thinks of grief in this way, laying low to the ground, indistinct, inert. He remembers how during the drive he wanted to gently pull the car to the side of the road so as not to wake the kids, get out and lie down in it, cool grass against his back, damp air against the skin of his face. How he wanted to be blanketed by fog, asleep in its arms, the rest of the world disappeared into the wide hazy distance forever.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spooky Action at a Distance: The Home Game

I saw this article a couple weeks back in Scientific American. If you have $28,000 lying around, you can buy a "quantum eraser," which will show proof that quantum entanglement is an actual thing (Einstein was leery of the concept, and called it "spooky action at a distance"). According to the article, the device
...produced pairs of particles that acted like magic coins: when flipped in unison on opposite sides of the lab, both coins always came up with the same side, either heads or tails. Aspect's apparatus produced about 100 spooky coincidences per second. The qutools kit, which would fit on a living room end table, sees more than 10 times as many.

What Einstein found spooky is that there's no way for the particles to communicate with each other, as the effect is simultaneous, whereas information can only travel at the speed of light. The only way for it to work is that the particles, even though physically separate, are entangled in some way that science doesn't entirely understand. We can prove quantum entanglement exists - from your living room coffee table, no less, thanks to the folks at Qutools - but don't yet fully understand the mechanism at work.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Unwilling Suspension of Disbelief

I was never a big fan of Disney growing up. Too cute, too soft, too cuddly. I liked the Warner Brothers cartoons: Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote. They were anarchists. Trouble-makers. Anti-social slackers. Not a cute one in the bunch (well, maybe Tweety Bird, but even she was pretty cruel to that cat).

I decided Disney was evil with a small "e" after learning that they hired an army of lawyers and lobbyists to change copyright law so they could own their creations for over a lifetime (overturning the notion that artistic work falling into public domain contributes to the public good).

Disney became evil with a big "E" to my admittedly biased mind with their hyper-sexualization of pre-teen girls and glorification of celebrity on shows like Hannah Montana.

But I digress.

Disneyland is great fun (to help insure this, I left my prejudices at the gate). It's great fun because they do several things very well. Lines are long, but they get you on and off the rides quickly and efficiently. And while you're in line, there's stuff to do, things to look at (the people watching alone is worth the price of admission). It a well-designed park, laid out with crowd-handling in mind, and something for everyone always within eyesight. It's cheaper than I expected (much cheaper than, say, a major league baseball game). And everyone there does their job very well. They are knowledgeable, polite, well trained. The Mad Hatter and Alice even knew why a raven is like a writing desk!*

Most of all, though, they make sure that the illusion they want you to buy into is so wildly appealing you are willing to suspend your disbelief. The costumes and makeup and sets and animatronics are all so detail-perfect you are more than willing to throw reality out the window and just go with it.

There was a moment, at the very end of the first day, with the fireworks display lighting up that famous Disney castle, when Tinkerbell appeared over the castle, amid the fireworks. I couldn't figure out how they did it. She was higher than the castle! How were they doing this? She must really be...flying!

Minutes later, all the cordite in the air revealed the cable tethered between the Matterhorn and the castle, and you could kinda see how they pulled it off. But it was too late by then. I had already bought into the illusion, hook, line and sinker. I was a kid again.

Damn you, Disney.

*because Poe wrote on both

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Damn Leprechauns

This a is a leprechaun trap. The Keep Out sign is to appeal to their mischievous nature. The shiny tin foil is to lure them in. They see the quarter, pull it, the string pulls the pencil, the box drops down.

You've caught a leprechaun!

At least that's how it's supposed to work in theory.

This is what we woke up to this morning. Those leprechauns are smart!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Grace and Commerce

I'll lift the veil of vagueness just a bit here, to let some light into the past couple of posts, and my glancing references to wolves in the darkness.

We took our youngest to the doctor last week. She hopped up on my lap, and later Hux's lap, and told the doctor what was going on. She said what she had to say calmly, without fear, without confusion, without self-pity. She told it succinctly, and accurately, and well.

She became in that moment our role model, in terms of facing the vagaries of the future with grace and strength.

We will do our best to emulate her.

And with that, we're going to D1sneyland! It's Spring break, and things just fell into place to make it happen. Hux and I have mixed feelings about giving money to the mega-corporate monument to commerce that is D1sney (one of the first presents I ever gave her was Carl Hiassen's anti-D1sney diatribe "Team Rodent: How D1sney Devours the World") but who knows when we'll get the chance again?

We'll be staying with a friend of mine from my wild and reckless NYC days. He's a very talented writer and actor (here's his blog). I directed him in a handful of shows back in those heady days. They were good shows. We work well together. And he and his wife are opening up their house to our traveling circus of a family. For a week!

Thanks, Clif and Angela.

Bookending the week are the road trips there and back, cutting through New Mexico and Arizona. I'm looking forward to those drives as much as I am our destination. Blue southwestern skies, endless highways, greasy spoon diners, roadside motels.

All roads lead to the sea.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wolves, Books, Moons

Things are better, by the way, since my last post. They tend to do that. They get better. No more images of wolves peering in from the edge of the darkness. I'd be less vague were it my own life, but it is not. Or at least not mine alone.

So, I'll be vague. But things are better. Trust me.

Finished an excellent book last month, good enough that it deserves a passing mention. Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story is a dystopian novel set in the very near future, in the waning days of the United States, a country that is broke, stuck in a military quagmire in Venezuela, and run by one party: the Bipartisan party. People are benumbed by commerce, by social media, glued to iPhone-like apparati that continually stream credit ratings, net worth, and f*ckabilty rankings to the masses.

The words alone and lonely seem to appear on almost every page.

No one reads books anymore. People find them smelly.

It's a very funny book, and very telling satire, but the truth worth of the book is that a turn of the page can find the book leaping to melancholy, to anger, to delicate lyricism.

Anyway, this isn't a book review, merely a recommendation, so I won't blather on. But you should read this.

My favorite moon, Saturn's Enceladus, has a unknown power source near its South Pole, one that vents geysers of water ice into Saturn's rings from huge cracks in the ground called the "tiger stripes." They've known that for awhile. What's new is that Cassini (the space probe currently orbiting Saturn) has found the power source is 10 times more powerful than anyone expected. Here's the key quote from the JPL report:

“The mechanism capable of producing the much higher observed internal power remains a mystery and challenges the currently proposed models of long-term heat production.”

Trippy. It churns out 15.8 gigawatts of energy, the equivalent of 20 coal-fueled power stations. What's hiding under those tiger stripes? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Angels and Demons

I have been down and out with a bad back these last few days. Watching the second season of Nurse Jackie, getting lost in the looping sentences of TC Boyle, keeping an eye on Spring Training.

Events have been unsettling here at Casa de la Clowncar as of late. Nothing to fret about, nothing we can't handle, but at one point I had an image of myself standing in the center of our living room, swinging a torch, keeping demons at bay. Predators lurking at the edge of the shadows.

So. I had a choice between going to a doctor and going to a chiropractor for my back. Equally skeptical of Western and Eastern medicine, I've been to both in the past, they both did the trick. But the chiropractor is in the neighborhood, I walk past her office daily. And, that keeping-demons-at-bay image has been in the forefront of my mind, and I kept thinking of the criminally underrated movie Jacob's Ladder, the literally angelic chiropractor who teaches Jacob the true purpose of hell.
"The only thing that burns in hell, Is the part of you that won't let go of your life. Your memories, your attachements, They burn 'em all away. But they're not punishing you. They're freeing your soul. If your frightened of dying, and your holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. If you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth."
There's a clip, but you can't embed it. Here, go watch:

I went to the chiropractor. Haven't yet turned those demons into angels. But my back feels better.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Jewels shimmering in the sky this weekend: Jupiter and a sliver of crescent moon right after sunset. Go out. Look up.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Big Fat Dog And Other Dogs

My oldest daughter is calling this her first novel. The happy implication being there will be others.

There is a darkness at the edges of this that as a writer I like very much, but as a father I find disquieting. I'm trying to get used to the tension between these roles, as this surely won't be the last time I feel it. Life can be a dark ride. They've seen more than their share of that already.

I like that she gave the chapters individual titles. Not a new trick by any means, but it is one she learned from me.

And that last sentence of chapter 3 is simply good, strong prose.

The Big Fat Dog And Other Dogs
By Shay

Chapter 1

The Dog Ran Away

So it all started with the dog. It was on a leash. The dog was fat. He was so fat that the leash broke and he ran away. The owners were sad. Their names were Lee Ann and Jade. The kid Jade cried all the way to school.
It was really sad. I had to go home. It was in the newspaper that his name is Marley. The next day the guy found the dog called the number the number changed. They had moved to California. So the he drove to California but they weren't there.
The person found the owner. They were happy.

Chapter 2

They were happy

The family was so happy. The people saw the tag. It was the dog. They were so happy. They played with the dog all day long and gave him a bath.
They got a new dog because their dog had died. They braided him. The second dog was named Mane. They were so happy. They could not stand it at all. They loved it so much they got more and more dogs. They sure love dogs. They had 5 dogs. They played with the dogs all the time. It was the dogs’ birthday. They had so much fun at the birthday.

Chapter 3

The vet

The dog was sick. We took him to the vet. He was ok. We love the dog so much. The dog had babies. We kept the puppy. We played with the puppies.
They are as small as a hand.

Chapter 4

The dogs had died except for the puppy. And the puppy was safe. The dog has food and water. He lived happily ever after.

The End

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gravity's Rainbow

No, I haven't read the book. Hux has, but she is more tenacious than I. I gave Pynchon's V a try last year, and never even made it to the 50 page mark. I find him impenetrable. Henry James level impenetrable.

I digress. I'd been debating building one of those Estes rockets for a few months, and we finally pulled the trigger last weekend. Bought the kit, built 2 rockets Friday night (I built, the girls painted), let the glue dry overnight. Pictures are below; dig that crazy spaceman. I love how art begets art: you start out painting a rocket and end up making clay spacemen. Notice the clay heart and arrow off to the side.

The next afternoon I, Hux, the girls, my Dad, and a couple tag-a-long kids from the neighborhood, drove out past the city limits for our first test flights. Ten minutes of setup for 90 seconds of excitement, and well worth it. I doubt I'll become an enthusiast, but it sure seems like a fun way to spend a summer afternoon. Next up: double stage rockets. Woo-hoo!

Plus, I got to sneak some science in, about Newton's third law of motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Next time out I'll talk about parabolas, described so elegantly by Pynchon as "gravity's rainbow".

Just because I haven't read it doesn't mean I don't catch the reference.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


A new one. It's been awhile.


The hard gray wall of winter had set in, with the flush of Christmas and New Year’s long past, the sugar fueled rush of Valentine’s Day still weeks away. Toby’s morning was typically harried, with his wife late for work and in the shower, his eldest daughter glumly searching the dresser drawers and clothes baskets for something to wear to school, his youngest home sick, huddled under a blanket on the couch watching old She-Ra cartoons, sniffling and sneezing, coughing with the violent shudder of a car backfiring. The doctor had told them both repeatedly not to bother with over-the-counter cough medicines, they did no good, chicken soup was just as effective, but how could you help yourself, how could you not try something, try anything, with the bark of each cough blasting through the brainstem like a guilt-ridden jolt of electricity.

When his wife was out of the shower and keeping half an eye on the girls, he made his way out to the car to make a run to the drugstore for cough medicine. The cold hit him like a rock to the chest. The trees and power lines were covered in ice, the sky was cloudless, a perfect blue. The sun hung low in the sky, shining directly down the center of the street as if it were Stonehenge at solstice, and Toby had to walk with a halting, old man’s gait, careful of the slick patches of ice amid the piles of snow. The car door was frozen in place, but flew open with a loud crack when he threw all his weight into the act. The report reminded him of his daughter’s cough. He started up the car, got out and scraped the ice off the windows, the fin of thrown crystals dazzling as stars in the sunlight. The car was reasonably warm by the time he was done, the heated seats doing their job and seeming not at all the luxury he had pegged them as when he and his wife had bought the car two years ago. He turned on the radio and eased out of his parking spot.

The first stop sign at the end of the block showed him in certain terms how slick the streets were when he hit the brakes and the car floated dreamily past the stop sign and into the cross street, barely even slowing. Toby sat at the wheel rigid with adrenaline and fear, a spectator. Luckily, the street was deserted. He drove to the drugstore at a crawl, feeling like that same halting old man who had walked to the car minutes ago but unwilling to speed up to gain a few relatively unimportant minutes. There was a traffic light at the busy intersection just before the store; he had to began pumping the brake pedal twenty yards before the lights to get the car to stop in time. The sun, now directly behind him, cast the low shadow of his car into the junction before him.

A rumpled young man and woman shivered at the entrance, hands out, eyes down. The car in the lot directly behind them was a swaddle of clothes, fast food wrappers, wrappers, sleeping bags; it appeared to be a makeshift home. Toby spotted what may have been a child’s booster seat peering from the back seats, started to look closer and decided he didn’t want to know. He reached into his pocket, held out a dollar midway between the two of them, not even noticing which one of them had taken the money as he hurried past them toward sliding doors.

It was warm inside the store, soft jazz playing, employees regarding him with half-awake smiles. Toby stood before the rack of bottles and pills, lozenges and inhalers, and finally picked the bottle directly in front of him because it was cheap and large and filled with brightly colored liquid, and because if they didn’t do any good anyway why did it matter which one he picked? He paid for the medicine, pulled his coat tightly around him, and walked out into the cold. The couple at the door were gone, but a sweep of the eye found them trudging down the icy sidewalk to the liquor store. Toby felt a momentary disappointment, but it didn’t last. He hadn’t told them how to spend the money. They hadn’t offered. You did what you did, Toby thought. You put your actions into the world and hoped for the best but it was out of your hands the second you let go of it, out of your hands and into the world.

He hoped that hadn’t been a child’s booster seat in the back of their car.

He got back in his own car, now cold but still so much warmer than the outside air, cranked up the engine, and rolled slowly out of the parking lot. When he turned onto the main thoroughfare he was greeted with a bright blast of sun from the vanishing point well beyond the end of the street, straight into the windshield and bouncing off the glass, the ice, the snow, the polished metal of the hood. Stonehenge at solstice. He was blinded by sunlight.

The traffic light hanging above the intersection was still visible as a vague dark shape, and he thought it was green but couldn’t be sure. He looked to the sides but was met with a featureless glare; no way to tell if anyone was coming, from the left or right. Or, if they were coming, whether they saw him. Or, if they saw him, were able to stop in time. No way to know. All he knew was that the intersection lay between him and his home, where his life was, where he was needed. He looked up, tried one more time to get a read on the state of the traffic light and failed, looked to the left and the right and saw nothing but the couple from the drugstore, standing patiently in the cold for the doors to open. The liquor store didn’t open for another two hours. It was going to be a very cold two hours. Out of your hands and into the world, he thought, easing up on the brake pedal and ever so gently pressing on the gas, bracing for calamity as he entered the junction as blind and vulnerable as a newborn, he on one side of the street and the whole wide world on the other, waiting.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Krishna vs. the Nephilim

I heard this story on the alien-and-bigfoot-obsessed Coast to Coast, just as I was falling asleep. It does have a rather dreamlike quality to it:

A secret ancient technology has been found by the US army in a cave in Afghanistan. ...It is a flying machine called a Vimana, The report...alleges that a Vimana (a flying machine described in ancient Sanskrit epics) was entrapped in a “time well” in an Afghanistan cave, and that various world leaders had made recent trips there to view the discovery. “There’s a war going on, the Chinese, and the Russians, and the US, and everybody else is vying for the ancient technology,” he commented.

Quayle reported two years ago that US Special forces were in pitched battles with ancient demonic hydrid Giants know as the Nephilim.

Talk about burying the lede. We're in a war with ancient demonic hybrid giants, and it doesn't get mentioned until the end of the second paragraph.

Apparently, world leaders from Germany, the US, England and France have made secret visits to view the Damned Thing. Sadly, it is "entrapped in a 'Time Well' that has already caused the disappearance of at least 8 American Soldiers trying to remove it from the cave it has been hidden in for the past estimated 5,000 years."

Krisna drove one, it turns out. Wikipedia says it had some pretty powerful weaponry, including "Indra's Dart" which "operated via a circular reflector which, when switched on, produced a shaft of light which, when focused on any target, immediately 'consumed it with its power'."

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Go out. Look up.

There was an X-class solar flare on Valentine's Day, flinging a coronal mass ejection right at us, like a bullet out of a gun. Except faster. And much more powerful. It doesn't mean the end of the world, or even a zombie apocalypse, but it does mean some seriously cool auroras for the next several days. Don't know if it'll make it as far south as I live, but if you live in Minnesota or Canada, you might want to keep an eye on the sky for the next few nights. Could be the chance of a lifetime.

Here's what it looked like in Norway last night. Thanks to Space Weather for the pic and the info.

And thanks to John at One speed: Go for letting me bastardize his slogan.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wherein I Continue the Kraken Metaphor

A few weeks have passed since the girls last brought up their bio-parents and adoption documentation. Not forgotten, certainly, just dormant, waiting underwater, stoic and inscrutable. Then, youngest found an 8 year old phone number scrawled into the margins of the medical forms documenting her birth, with the note "need phone # of mom" above it.

The girls got all sorts of excited when they saw it. I spent about 45 minutes sitting on youngest's bed that night, patiently answering questions. Yes, we'll call it this weekend. No, I don't think she'll be there, it's a pretty old number. Yes, we can meet her if she answers. Yes, you can talk to her. Yes, she can have dinner with us at our house. Yes, she can spend the night if she needs to. No, she can't live here. Well, okay, if she doesn't have anywhere to live she can live here. On and on, well past bedtime, breaking my heart as I knew the eventual disappointment that would follow the call.

And so, the call was necessarily anti-climactic; we called (on speakerphone so all could here), I asked for the Mom's name, the man who answered said "wrong number." That was it. We went about our day. Their questions, their fears, their hopes dive once more fathoms deep under the surface of our daily lives, enduring, waiting to rise again.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

This Is What Aliens Look Like

Or their signals anyway.

It's a graph; the x axis is time, the y axis is frequency. The dots are background noise, but that big line is a signal. There's a slight but actual chance it really is a signal from extraterrestrial sources, more likely it is a glitchy GPS satellite.

The picture and the explanation are from APOD. I am merely the humble messenger.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


This is a rock the size of a house rolling down a slope on the moon. It seems so unlikely; we grow up assuming the moon is a cold, dead rock.

Clearly, something is going on. Moonquakes, perhaps?

Maybe it's the same thing that causes this. Rocks rolling around in Death Valley. No one knows why. Trippy.

I've read (but am to lazy to bother Googling it for a source) that water molecules dance about on the surface of the moon when sunlight hits the surface. They fall to the ground when it's dark, take up the dance once again the next time the sun clears the horizon.

The photo is from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. I grabbed it from Bad Astronomy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Freemasons and Oddfellows

Went on another outing in a cemetery this weekend, to look up graves for my Dad's Find A Grave website. Me, Hux, my Dad, the girls, as well as another little girl from the neighborhood. Gorgeous day, cut unfortunately short when all the kids started arguing and we had to go home (that youthful-energy-in the-face-of-death thing I wrote of before cuts both ways).

Outwardly, cemeteries seem to be an march of tombstones with little variation, little room for individuality beyond the names and dates, but time and attention reveal this to be false. Gravestones made of marble, of granite, of concrete, even of wood (found three of those, badly worn, all details long faded). Varying amounts of aging and wear, depending on the type of stone, the age. Symbols abound for Freemasons and Oddfellows. Christian Crosses, praying hands. Mentions of various wars (the Mexican American War the oldest I could find). Engraved pictures of favorite activities of the deceased, mostly fishing and hunting. Quotes, mostly biblical, with a few poems thrown in (Frost's "miles to go before I sleep"), a few personal quotes. Flowers, teddy bears, photos, painted rocks left on the cold earth with love, sorrow, regret, longing. Several had tinsel and Christmas ornaments; one was outlined with ornaments and tinsel and had a large plastic candy cane laid in the center.

The girls are particularly interested in the graves of infants. They've learned to do the math, subtracting the birth date from the death date, and will stand at the gravesites and wonder silently at the little girl who dies at the age of two, the boy who died a month after his birth. You watch them trying to grasp at the magnitude of it all.

Below is a song - ignore the video and just listen - that runs through the closing credits of the Coens' True Grit. I downloaded it immediately after coming home from the theater, and it choked me up the first several times I listened to it. I know the hymn from way back, from my Baptist upbringing. Now, of course, it reminds me of that white clapboard Baptist church in southeastern Oklahoma, that hard red clay, those resolute wildflowers scattered among the stones.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I'm writing again, though still daunted by the idea of rewriting the novel.

Here is a paragraph that ended up on the cutting room floor, or the recycle bin, or wherever pieces of writing go that never see the light of day. It's a little hyperbolic, though it does have a nice rhythm working for it.

Jetsam, incidentally, is cargo that has been purposely discarded. Flotsam is unintended wreckage of a ship or its cargo.

People kept telling him to go see a counselor, go see a therapist, a priest, an old friend; get drunk, get laid, go to church, go for as walk, take up a hobby, lose a bad habit, and he wanted to give one or even all of these things a try, he really did, but never pulled the trigger. It was just too tiring to contemplate. Life was a river, they’d say. Life was a garden that needed careful tending. And the nature imagery resonated, albeit in unintended fashion, as life felt to him like half-starved grizzly bear that had wandered into camp late at night looking for food and found the beer instead, drank all of it and then found the whiskey, smashed the bottle to open it and got the glass shards in his throat and was now stumbling through the campfire, drunk and angry and hungry and mean, fur singed and stinking, mouth agape with drunken hunger, eyes burning demon red as the Damned Thing staggered in the dark toward the flimsy, listing tent where he and his family lay sleeping.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A great name for a zombie repellent, innit?

First things first: during my vacation from blogging in December, the zombie satellite came back to life. It's power supply fully drained, it died, then unexpectedly rebooted and came back to life. Ah, sweet resurrection! Sadly, my dreams of an interstellar apocalypse are now dashed.

I perfected my Alan Rickman impression during the Christmas break. Huzzah! The trick, it turns out, is not to try and ape his performance as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies, which is surprisingly difficult, but rather to hearken back to his dizzyingly effective work as the bad guy in the first Diehard, specifically when he pulls down the sweatshirt of the dead guy and reads "Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho." It's on Youtube, but embedding is disabled; seek it out, you can play at home!

I wrote last week about how my Dad is part of a crowd-sourcing find-a-grave community. Fresca commented that crowd-sourcing maked her feel optimistic about the human race. I'd agree. Here's more proof: KY Tunstsall asked her fans to recreate the music tracks behind her song "Glamour Puss" and submit them via Youtube. The result is a mash-up - video and audio - of their efforts. All that's left is her original vocal track; the music is all crowd-sourced. Pretty cool. Plus, she's kinda cute. Be sure and look for the guy playing the carrot.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Clockwork Universe

This thing is called the Antikythera Mechanism, and according to the IPOD entry was found at the bottom of the sea aboard an ancient Greek ship, thought to have sunk around 80 BC. It's an analog computer used to predict the motion of the planets, sun and moon, and display the results on a clock-like face. It even predicts eclipses!

No one thought such mechanical sophistication was possible back in 80 BC, and some have offered it up as proof of ancient alien contact. More likely it is proof we don't give those old Greeks nearly enough credit.

Anyway, as cool as all that is, it is not as cool as this: somebody made one out of Lego! Not an exact replica, as is uses, according to the video, twice as many gears as the original. But still. For a discussion of some of the math involved, skip to about halfway through the clip.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Prairie Flowers

My Dad is a member of a find-a-grave internet crowd-sourcing tool, where you can ask for pictures of specific gravesites, and in turn find graves for others. This weekend he and I and the girls drove out to the local cemetery to take pictures of graves for people requesting them on the site. It's a pleasant and relaxing task, walking the rows of gravestones, searching for a specific name, looking at the dates and doing the math, pondering the lives (and deaths) of others.

When I found one of the graves we were looking for, I yelled, and my youngest came running over, tripped and fell, cried for a few seconds, got over it quickly. My Dad told me that when my grandmother died, someone's boy was running around the cemetery during the service, and almost fell in an open grave. He said it was refreshing, to see such youthful energy at a funeral.

His sister Lois is in that same cemetery. She died when she was nine. Here is what he wrote about her in the family history:

Lois died 3 days before her 10th birthday. She received a small scrape on her foot that became infected. She died from what was then called blood poisoning.

It was the winter of 1934-35 and the whole country was in the grip of the Great Depression. The Wood family lived in the woods about 5 miles NW of Idabel OK. There was no money for funeral homes or caskets so her dad (Everett Ellsworth Wood) and her uncle Bud (Jesse B Clardy) made her a coffin of pine boards. Bud bought her a new dress in which to be buried. Walter Wood carried her coffin to Forest Hill Cemetery on the back of his truck. A line of wagons formed the funeral procession following the truck.

Her mother, Ruby Lorene Clardy, refused to continue living in the house so the family moved shortly afterward. When she was in her 70's her mother said she still thought of Lois daily.

Tough family. Tough times.

I've tended her grave several times now. It sits on a hill next to a white clapboard Baptist church in rural Oklahoma, tenacious prairie grasses and wildflowers rooted in the hard clay ground between the graves. I will tend it again this summer, when we take my Mom's ashes to that same hillside, and scatter them to the wind.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


As most of you who read this blog probably know, our two girls are adopted, and came to our home at the ages of 18 months and 3 years. We've always been pretty open with them about the process, though what we tell them about their parents is necessarily abridged. There has been one exception to this: they have a sister. Somewhere.

We didn't tell them right away. I'm not sure why we held that one huge piece of information back. Partly to spare anxiety on their part, partly because we know so little about her. No name, no age, no city.

Regardless, we decided to tell all this past summer. We told them they had a sister, and that we knew nothing about her, not even her name. We took out the deep pile of documentation and paperwork and let them see it, take it to their rooms, read it. My office functioned as kind of a lending library for this bit; they had to turn in what they had to get any more (there were detailed and sometimes painful histories of their bio-parents buried inside, but you had to really dig to find it). They were obsessed with the papers for awhile. After a couple of weeks they quit checking out the documents, seemingly forgetting about them.

Hux and I combed the stack for any info about their sister in there, and found not a single word. We called Social Services, got no answer, called back and got no answer, called again and finally got a callback months later with some basic info: name, who she lived with, where they lived seven or so years ago when all this went down.

We told the girls their sister's name. Told them the town she lived in back then. The pattern stayed the same: they were tripping over their words asking us questions, then the questions slowed, then stopped.

Thst's not to say they don't think about her. I suspect they think about daily. But there are no more questions to ask, nothing to say. Their sister's presence has moved beyond words.

So. The reason I bring up any of this is because a metaphor presented itself to describe the experience. I just finished China Mieville's clever genre-bender of a book, Kraken, which, amid all the very weird goings-on, talks of a monstrous being, deep under water, in silent motion, unseen, its true shape unknown. The thing is worshiped by some as a God. And it is rising slowly toward the surface, this huge mass. Rising. And when it breaks the surface, when its true shape is known, the world will change irrevocably.

Now that I reread that last paragraph it sounds oddly apocalyptic, and while I did not mean for that note to sneak in there, I won't edit it out. There will be a day when their yearning will break the surface, and they will want to seek out their sister, meet her. There is no way to know how that will go. There are a million ways in which it can go badly. And a handful of ways where it can go well. All I know is that we'll help them find her, if they ask for our help. And we'll be there afterward, whether in celebration or in sorrow. Or, likely, both.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tumble Into Darkness

The hand-off of 2009 to 2010 was accompanied by a full moon (a full blue moon if I recall), and I love that image as a visual metaphor of year's end: one orb setting just as another rises, with you at the fulcrum, balanced between them, the past calling from one horizon, the future from another (Marilynne Robinson describes this much better than I in the opening pages of Gilead). The sky becomes a mirror of the mind. We watched the moon rise from the bluffs of the Arkansas last year, came home, celebrated the New Year six-ish hours later.

This December's lunar eclipse didn't fall on year's end, but it came the day before solstice, the day before the darkest day, and mirrored my own mental landscape so well it follows me into January, as I write this. Perhaps the sky is not the mirror. Perhaps I am the mirror.

Skies were cloudy, it was cold out, and I wasn't expecting much. But clouds began to clear as the eclipse started, just before midnight, so I fired up the clay stove and set up the big dumb telescope. Just before totality I woke the rest of the family up, dragged them outside.

Eldest lasted about a half an hour, til totality began, then stumbled back to bed, familial obligations fulfilled. Hux fared much better, well into the thing, but she too wandered back inside after an hour or so. And then it was down to me and youngest. We snuggled close to the stove, talked some, went to the telescope a couple times, but mostly just watched as the moon turned eerie red, then dull brown as the moon slid fully into shadow. It was a long, cold wait for light after that, but light, when it came, was dramatic. It was preceded by that same weird red glow, and then, not quite suddenly, the edge of the moon lit up, and light slowly spread across the surface as the red glow faded. Lovely, startling, moving.

After that even youngest gave up the ghost, went to bed. I tucked her in, poured myself several fingers of good bourbon, and went out to watch the end. Things were about half in shadow by then. I sipped my bourbon and smelled the woodsmoke and watched the moon slide into sunlight, surrounded by darkness, and thought about that tumble into darkness, that long cold time in shadow, and the slow but inevitable progress back into the light.