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.