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.