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Archive for May, 2014

 

As a twerp of about nine or ten, I thought it would be an excellent career choice to merge two jobs into one nifty life:  part time astronomer, and part time rancher.  Growing up in Nutley, New Jersey, I had seen cattle with the same frequency that I saw the star-filled night sky through the glow of nearby Manhattan…that being approximately zero on both counts.  It was a typical kid decision:  firmly based in nonsense, and somehow now manifesting itself, albeit incrementally.

On the first and less likely point of astronomy, I found myself moving beyond the entertaining visions of my beloved Star Trek and science fiction books to the hard core Physics, Astrophysics and Space Sciences works.  I began to read them–for fun–and could not get enough.  In the early nineties, I was actually halfway through my coursework for a doctorate in Rocket Science, when I received a letter from the FBI.  It seems they had raided LaSalle University (of Louisiana, not that other one), and found them to be fraudulently unaccredited.  They had shut the place down…I had been learning things (gravity, propulsion, guidance systems, electronics design, higher math) for NOTHING.  Well, not exactly “for nothing”…  I had at least begun work on my prototype invention that will probably change the course of human existence, as soon as I have the $900 worth of parts I need (I know, I know:  “learn ‘Kickstarter'”…).

The second point is a bit of a stretch.  I could never slaughter a cow, though one might commit suicide if it saw we only have about a sixteenth of an acre–barely enough room to turn around.  I can however picture raising chickens.  I can even envision goats, on a larger, future plot.  Assuming the Homeowners Association covenants change to accommodate post-apocalyptic scenarios.  But it wasn’t really animal husbandry (my God, what a bizarre term) that drove my adolescent “rancher” choice; it was the unspoken word:  “cowboy.”  Though we moved to Arizona when I was in high school, I have still never in my life ridden a horse.  It is actually the lower technology, historic aspects of the romantic vision I had that drive the choice.  I have always been obsessed with history; it’s a shame that there is about as much money to be made with history as there is with, say, poetry.  Neither will get my goat-appropriate acreage.

I realize–today, just now, thanks to this Prompt–that my Steampunk obsession, which occupies a scandalous amount of my waking thoughts, is in fact, cowboy technology.  If it wasn’t at least available to cowboys, be “it” a steam locomotive, a Gatling gun, or a balloon ride…I’m not really interested.

“Futures Past” is so doubly appropriate, given that my two extremes are the future of Astrophysics and the past of the Victorian frontiers.  It is said that if you would like to really be successful, find a way to combine your two competing interests into one endeavor.  While it would seem on the surface unlikely in my case, I actually have a plan…a plan upon which I am further along than the prototype invention.  Because my plan requires fewer moving parts, and is no less than the basis of my next (drum roll) seven books.

That’ll get my goat.

If my wife allows it.

 

 

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This is in response to the Daily Prompt, which was “Mutants and Hybrids.”

 

It is not so much a matter of fancy or fantasy, as to which animal, plant or inanimate objects to merge as equal thirds; it is my definite plan already underway.

The first choice is:  cat.  But not the entire cat, only a specific part.  There is a difference between cat brains and human brains, that plays out each time either is faced with a choice.  The human instinctively chooses based on that which he or she wishes to avoid.  Cats, on the other hand, choose based entirely on that which they desire.  Cats will take wild risks, and undergo remarkable contortions to achieve their goals. 

It is so admirable, and so “how to live.”  They also seem to have a thoroughly enjoyable lifestyle, no matter where they find themselves.  They seek that which they desire, every time.

Since I am not good at manipulating DNA, my plan is to simply emulate the philosophy of the pair of four legged overlords already ruling our home.  That will be a close enough “merge.”

My second choice is no great surprise.  Just enough electronics to enjoy the best of cyborg abilities.  I would choose two, specifically:  an infrared eyepiece, and a “continuously on” internet connection, hardwired right into my brain–no keyboard, no vulnerable gear.  There was a story by Robert Heinlein entitled Friday, which I believe featured this convenience.  I may be confusing that for one of Charles Sheffield’s stories, come to think of it. 

Although our increasing reliance on the “distraction” of such connections shall undoubtedly lead to the invention of some new phrases, designed to assure people in proximity that we are indeed paying attention to them.  Just not undivided attention.  But I believe the upcoming generations are completely up to the task.  The devices do not serve to sever AS MUCH AS they serve to unite, to connect us.  We did not begin to ignore everyone around us when transistor radios added their voice–why should this be any less possible?

Until such time as we evolve the ability to achieve such connections, almost telepathically, I shall be satisfied with the array of gizmos continually made available… for…our…assimilation… 

Resistance is, after all, quite futile…wouldn’t you tend to agree?

 

 

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My laptop now gleams with smears of suntan lotion from my fingers.  It is Memorial Day weekend here at the beach (well, it actually is EVERYWHERE, but especially seems to be so at the beach…).  I pause to reflect on my two decades in the army, and have nothing but admiration for every soul I ever encountered in uniform. 

How damned misguided we were.

It is no one’s fault.  From the moment I can first recall memories, my favorite toys were always the military ones:  Monkey Division toy weapons and all the associated gear that makes the real military-industrial complex so very profitable.  Little guys in smart, distinctive uniforms that I just knew I would look dashing in as well.  The ladies I attracted with all that turned out to be the wrong ladies.  More accurately, they discovered that I was the wrong man. I am with exactly the right lady now, and she has never seen me in uniform.

I have the wounds that make me feel so very justified, lying on the beach, doing nothing for a week.  I am reminded every time I try to stand up, or turn my head too fast, just what the price of freedom is.  But we all of us carry a different sort of wound, and it is not PTSD.  It is simply a bad habit we all picked up.  The old saying goes “when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

I would so like to revamp boy’s toys, to un-glamorize guns.  They are indeed interesting, and fun to shoot.  I’m really good at it too.  Too bad it is such an obscene activity.  Too bad it is such a piss-poor solution to problems.  As nations, we reach for this solution way the hell too fast, every time.  All of the guys I knew, above and below me in rank, were all great.  They were great at that one activity.  They are less than great as political leaders, and captains of industry.  So many can be tedious, in their reliving of the past.  So many are trapped in their definitions of their own lives:  it was a phase, and so often a briefer one than my decades.  How I wish they could all forget the whole thing, or at least file it away on a less frequently visited shelf. 

There are many tools, not just hammers…not just guns.  The late Mr. King’s words echo in my ear–Rodney King’s plea “Can we all get along?”  This is a tool, this internet.  As I learn about everyone, and every place, I am so impressed with the human heart that speaks of common goals, shared wonder, and beautiful generosity of spirit, from every diverse breast. 

We knew how to use our guns, and how to survive.  But we did not know how to live.  That’s where a different, post-adventure boot camp is really needed.  I’m ready to live now.  I’m getting a late start, but the second half of my life will be so much more meaningful as a result.

I wish everyone a wonderful Memorial Day.  Remember, yes; but more importantly:  enjoy the hell out of yourself today! 

And above all, peace be with you.

 

 

  

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Mrs. Dash

 

This is in response to the Daily Prompt, which was “First Sight.”

 

This is crazy.

I mean, I could so easily write about the actual love at first sight that was meeting my wife for the first time.  And I shall indeed write about that moment at length, another day.  There is something I want to describe that can only be told in response to this prompt, that is today’s topic.

I turned off Bell Road, onto one of the nameless, destination-less roads that trailed off into the desert north of Phoenix.  I could not get enough of my first car, a 1969 Firebird (white with black top, blue interior).  That was also love at first sight, but this story is not about that day either.  I drove around aimlessly, up dry river beds.  I spent hours and even days in the desert.  Although I would not have called it “meditating,” that’s exactly what I did.  So many of those days featured views that each qualified as “love at first sight,” as well.  Yet this story is not about any of those dramatic views, either.

The sun slipped over a horizon that was as unobstructed as any in the solar system.  The last rays painted the desert in hues that coaxed hints of life from the rocks themselves.  I said goodbye to my friends, the various reptiles who had stopped hiding and decided to ignore me and go about their lizard business.  Today’s show was over.  I turned the ignition and stared in the fading dusk…at my dashboard.

Technologically, a 1969 dashboard was nothing to marvel at.  But I found the small glow, illuminating various gages, more than mesmerizing.  I found in that glow an inexplicable level of comfort and delight.  There seemed to be more dimensions to the machine serving me than I had appreciated, in daylight.  The controls were more satisfying, with that tiny, pleasant light show.  Beyond my windshield was a flawless, Arizona night sky with its dusting of stars.  Yet I was spellbound by my dashboard display.  And have been so enthralled, ever since.

I am on my twentieth car, and the dashboard show now rivals a 70’s stereo display.  But it was my first love, that Firebird with perhaps its two bulbs at the most, that I recall with such fond nostalgia.  It is a myth that we are actually in control to the degree that our dashboards suggest.  We no longer shift gears based on the RPMs, for example.  Even when we did used to shift gears, we went by feel, not the dashboard reading.  But we somehow appreciate the option…the extra confidence that that extra measurement offers us, if we ever could determine a need.  Actually, I was simply satisfied with the wavering, phosphorous painted needles and dimly lit numbers.

So much of the dashboard is a form-follows-function story.  As it is with life.  We seek the art, the warm glow, that is so far beyond the utilitarian.  We accept the movie version of events we know to have been more mundane in reality.  We remember the impulsive as well reasoned, the considerate as heroic.

And the bumping along on default settings as “in control.”  How ingenious of John Z. DeLorean and the other designers at Pontiac to give me such devices, to lend me such control.  I recall learning that when instant cake mixes were first invented, they did not need anything except water.  They were a dismal, unpopular failure.  It was not until they took out some ingredients…made the purchaser add eggs and perhaps milk…that consumers finally felt as if they were in fact cooking something at all.

We are funny, wondrous beings for that.  That’s why I need to know the RPMs.  That’s why I need the glow, to remind me that a machine of so many dimensions has dimensions that are standing by, just in case I should need them.

Confidence through consideration…which is just the way I like things.

Admit it now; don’t you, too?

 

 

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This is in response to the Daily Prompt, which was “The Kindness of Strangers:  When was the last time that a stranger performed a particularly kind or generous act for you?”

 

At first, I was going to write about the near-daily acts of kindness that I experience during my commute, which is the second worst in the nation (Northern Virginia near DC).  I used to focus on those few A-holes who dart in and out of lanes, trying to cut to the front of every line.  But they are so few, compared to the vast majority who patiently take turns, letting each other in.  Now that I “see” this invisible body, I actually take a great deal of comfort from it, matching their pace…and grace.

But then I recalled that defining word:  “particularly.”  My daily commute is a universal generosity of strangers.  One thing that fits “particularly” occurred yesterday however, as I sat alone on my living room couch…

I was suddenly curious about mushrooms.  How can we tell which ones are nutritious, versus which ones are poisonous? As usual, the vast, anonymous internet comes to the rescue.  The website http://www.foragingguide.com had scores of color photographs of mushrooms, grouped as either poisonous or good for eating.  The author had selected species that were easily distinguished, among the thousands, and could not be mistaken for the other category.  There were narratives of likely locations and growing seasons.

A stranger, with no hope of being thanked, had not only gone to all of this effort…but had also willingly accepted the liability of “getting it right.”  It was undoubtedly a labor of love, in their field of interest; but still: they went out on a limb, for an unknown audience.

The internet, including all of you fine folks reading my humble blog, comprise a unique body the world has never before experienced.  Before Wikipedia, there were only the expensive, bound encyclopedia sets.  Before Google, there was only…what exactly?  The Yellow Pages?  And before a variety of instant messages and e-mails, there were phone calls and messages made out of paper.  Four things make the internet remarkable, in my estimate:

1.  The speed of communication.  You might read this on the other side of the world, the same instant I post it.  You should really be getting some sleep about now though, instead, shouldn’t you?

2.  The  breadth and reach of subjects.  Even with a full set of encyclopedias, I could not in them be learning about Unimogs, Steampunks, Star Trek, Traffic directions, or a million other things not generalized enough for World Book’s selection.  Converting the internet to paper would take more trees than have ever existed.

3.  The quality of the conversation.  The internet is the most sparkling example of freedom of speech imaginable.  We can say whatever we like, whenever we like…and the vast majority of what is said is both respectful and helpful, in nearly every case.  Even criticism is generally constructive, rather than flaming or trolling or abusive.

4.  The increasing generosity of the internet community.  Someone anonymous taught me how to tell poisonous mushrooms from edible ones yesterday, in careful, well-crafted detail.  Those of you who comment on my blog and write your own articles, will share insights about your own experience that leave me feeling great about life.  I have the ultimate safety net, a few taps away at all times.  What could be more incredible?

All of you on the ‘net…take a bow!  Have you hugged your internet buddies today?

 

 

 

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This is in response to today’s Daily Prompt, which was “If I Ruled The World:  if you were given the superpower to change one law of nature, how would you use it?”

I’m so glad the inventor of this prompt designed the mechanism:  “changing one law of nature.”  It now tends to focus on the universal, rather than the so-called enlightened self interest.  How quickly I fell under Ayn Rand’s spell, in my younger days.  How tactfully Franz Fannon and Victor Frankel coaxed me back to mankind in later years…

Insomuch as laws of nature are definitive, such as gravity and the like, I would definitely do away with the color red. Only kidding–that’s not my real answer.  But it’s close.  I would change our perception.  We imagine ourselves to be distinct individuals, anonymous to those we do not know firsthand.  Yet the space separating us is not a barrier; it is an illusion.  Consider dust…

Most of the dust on the floor of our homes comes from two sources.  Tons of matter fall on the earth every hour from outer space, most of it the size of dust, which in fact it is then called.  It is stardust, if you will.  The second most prevalent source is (brace yourself, this is disgusting) dead cells from our skin and from our pets.  Yes, I am blaming you, little grey kitty!  You don’t care…stop looking at you?

Back to our story, my point is that our bodies are continually recreating, sloughing off the dead cells and regenerating new ones.  In a sense, we are each a new individual every day, with new cells, new brain synapse connections, new memories and new survival algorithms (enlightened self interest priorities).  But we are not really the hard matter that our teeth and bones would suggest.  At its core, all matter is merely a tightly performing string of vibrating energy.  There is no matter.  The boundaries between matter are therefore illusionary as well.  I believe we all are indeed, truly one.

The possibility that I am right would appear to be borne out by the performance of electrons and other subatomic particles.  On the one hand, electrons can be extremely mischievous.  They can have either location or action, but not both simultaneously.  Furthermore, the very act of observing them, somehow alters their performance.  Electrons “know” that you are observing them, and react.  How the hell can that happen, unless all ARE one?

Further down the sliding scale of microscopic size, there are particles (and I forget what these are called) that have some sort of polarity–and I am really exceeding my abilities to explain things with this one…  These exist as paired particles (somehow, beyond my ken), and when one changes its polarity, the other particle in the pair changes its polarity instantly, to maintain the “balance.”  This happens whether those paired particles are right next to each other, or separated by miles or light years.  How is THAT possible, unless the separation is an illusion or these three or four dimensions (among the dozen or so that physicists suggest actually exist)?

But less physics, and more kitties would be good…  If there is no separation, then our atoms blur with and interact with the things surrounding us more than we are aware.   Have you ever “just known” that someone directly behind you was staring at you?  You turn around to find you are correct.  Yet how did you “know,” if you do not have eyes in the back of your head?  Could we be interacting in different ways?  What are kitties staring at, when they look at that corner of the ceiling?  Are they just trying to drive us crazy?  Or do they see something we used to also see, as infants?

Physicist (whoops!) J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atom bomb, once stated:

There are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago…

If we could perceive the ways in which we are all quite connected, we would value each other differently…as we value ourselves.  If we could find a place and a highest purpose for everyone in our radius of influence…if we could consider every impact of our actions…if we could love, in the least conditional way?

What d’yer think?

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“No Worries”

 

This is in response to the Daily Prompt, which was “Pick Me Up:  what word or phrase immediately picks you up?”

 

It may seem silly, or even trite, but the phrase “No Worries” does it for me every time.  I have never heard it used in anything but a sincere, generous manner.  Furthermore, it gives me such hope that the upcoming generation who invented it have their heads screwed on so much better than we did.  It is a “big picture” phrase, that the user says to move everything forward and/or to a higher place.

The phrase, and the spirit it evokes reminds me of an occurrence from Y2K.  On the eve of potential disaster, when the computers were suspected of being unable to process that upcoming date and the grid might go off all over the world, a reporter asked a senior public official in Malaysia what exactly their plan was to deal with the potential pandemonium.

“Our plan,” he said patiently, “is to love each other.”

That guy can be in my “no worries” club, anytime!

Do you use this phrase?  If not, try it on for size sometime…the next time someone is worried about your reaction to something.  See if it doesn’t put the world right, in one instant…

 

 

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