More information on the topics discussed below can be found on the Internet!

Custom Search

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Beanball time

I no longer feel like my brain is caught in a taffy machine. Now I feel like a batter surrounded by eighteen pitchers at various distances, all throwing balls at random. Many of these balls are aimed at my head, and many of the ones that aren't are aimed at my groin. And I have no choice but to keep swinging.

I am leaving work every day with a feeling of not having accomplished anything, even though my friends point out that we are getting a lot of things done. I think there are two reasons for this: the number of projects in process on any given day vastly exceeds the number completed on that day, and we have gotten so fast and efficient at what we are doing that there's very little sense of accomplishment when we actually do complete a project.

Run, rabbit, run
Dig that hole, forget the sun
When at last the work is done
Don't sit down, it's time to dig another one


- Pink Floyd, Breathe

(I was gonna include a Pink Floyd link, but it made my browser crash...)

Sunday, June 27, 2004

A beautiful day, and my first political rant

This has been an absolutely gorgeous weekend. Yesterday was a great day to mow the lawn, which is good, 'cause I was gonna have to do it anyway. For the past two mowings I have used an old-style Craftsman 18" manual reel mower that I bought from Sears a few years ago. (Here's a picture of the current model available from Sears, but mine doesn't have the training wheels in back, which I imagine make the new model a little less maneuverable; mine looks a lot more like item B on this page from Lee Valley, which is where I buy a lot of my gardening stuff these days. Mine doesn't have the rear bag, item C.)

I was going to write a post about Dick Cheney's use of obscene language towards Senator Patrick Leahy in the Senate chambers, but I somehow don't feel like it. This sort of behavior is nothing new, but this time Cheney is trying to spin it to suggest that he was actually justified in saying this, that it was something that needed to be said and was long overdue.

Well, you go, girl. If that makes your twisted little heart happy, fine. I regretted that Trumpmania had passed before the final heat of the presidential election; "Hey George - You're FIRED!" would have made a great bumper sticker, but by now it seems dated, like, so four months ago. But now it seems that Vice-President (Unelected) Dick Cheney (may I call you Dick? Dick. Yes, quite appropriate. Dick. Dick Dick Dick Dick Dick Dick Dick.) has given his opponents a new catchphrase.

So the American people do have something to say to the Unelected Cheney/Ashcroft/Rumsfeld/Rice administration, and maybe one of them could pass it on to Dubya the next time they see him on his ranch in Crawford, Texas. As Dick says, it badly needs to be said, it's long overdue, and we'll all feel better after we've said it.

Hey, Dick? John? Donald? Condoleeza*? Dubya?

Go F**K Yourselves.

Hey, I do feel better! Now I can go outside and play.

(Oh, look at that. I wrote the post anyway!)

* A note on the spelling: There seems to be some confusion about the actual spelling of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's first name. Her official White House bio - which I finally got around to looking up - spells it with two z's. Yet other places on the official White House site (including, for the moment, this page) spell it with only one. A Google search of the whitehouse.gov site lists 30 hits for "Condoleeza" and 371 for "Condoleezza". So I guess the consensus is for two z's. Still, you'd think the White House would want to get its facts straight on something as basic as how to spell the National Security Advisor's name?

Friday, June 25, 2004

Brain taffy

My brain feels like it is caught in a taffy machine. Work has me more than halfway to becoming a gibbering idiot and a drooling moron. Can't wait for the weekend. Maybe I'll post more then.

Vacation in two months...

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Vacation in the works, perhaps

My friends and I are tossing around the idea of heading out on a vacation. Even as I type these words, they are hard at work scanning nearly-identical ads, looking for a place that meets our criteria for location, spaciousness, comfort, availability, and price. I bugged out early because I had an errand to run and I wanted to get to bed. And write this post.

If everything works out, in about two months I will either be just leaving for or just returning from a trip to the New Jersey shore. This will be my first trip there in 10 years. In the intervening decade I have been to several beaches in the Los Angeles area (all during a single trip, most of them in a single day; Venice Beach and Hermosa Beach stick in my mind), I have watched and listened to the ocean from several different condos in Cocoa Beach, Florida, and I have looked across the Atlantic back towards America from a beach on the southwestern coast of Ireland.

But there is something special about going to the beach for the explicit purpose of going to the beach. Having your brains baked by the sun and your ears lulled by the sound of waves isn't quite the same as the visual and auditory experience of a dance floor, but it comes close. The olfactory experience is different, though - one is of sulfurous odors and salt air, the other is of pheromones, sweat, perfume, and smoke. I'll leave it to you to sort out which is which.

By the time the middle of August rolls around I will be badly in need of a vacation, anyway. If I don't go to the beach, I may just head off into the woods or the mountains, quite possibly ranting and raving. Luckily for me, the woods and mountains are just a few hundred yards from my front door, so it won't be a long trip. I may simply take some time off and rant and rave at home.

Now, where can I find some sufficiently tacky Hawaiian shirts and a nice Panama hat? And I wonder if I should think about taking some acrylics to the beach (on a stay-wet palette, of course), or maybe get some colored pencils or oil pastels? Or maybe just take a camera? Or a writing pad? Or maybe Bill Clinton's new book? Or...

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Hi there!

I'd like to take a moment to say hello and thank you to everybody who's been stopping by. I've been seeing visitors (as shown by my Sitemeter thingie) from the U.S. (including one or more people apparently in Alaska!), Australia, Norway, Italy, and Ireland, to name a few. I've also fired off announcements to most of the people in my address book, including some people I haven't emailed in years. At least one of these people required some solid Google detective work to find her address.

I've noticed that at least one of my visitors is apparently from a law firm. I'm guessing that this is probably someone who read about my blog on Bill's site, IndustrialBlog, or possibly Sammie or Camilla's sites. Welcome, welcome, dear visitor from a law firm! All are welcome, all are welcome!

But I couldn't help but feel a touch of paranoia. After all, most (if not all) of the patents for basic CD (and possibly DVD) technology have been sold by the original patent-holders to consortia of lawyers whose sole interest is the relentless pursuit of patent infringers and the money derived from bringing litigation against them. Which is all well and good and right and as it should be. But I got to wondering...what if, say, Coca-Cola or the NRA or the RNC or the RIAA or some other corporate entity were to hire lawyers whose sole task was to scour the web (particularly blogsites) in search of sites that post potentially defamatory or even libelous statements about individuals, groups, products, or services? Don't laugh. Have you ever heard of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP? Or how about Food Libel laws? These aren't exactly the same sort of thing I have in mind, but what I'm thinking of would have a similar effect.

I think we're in the waning days of the "Wild West" era of the Internet. Right now pretty much anyone can set up his or her soapbox on the commons and spout off. Very little of it is listened to by the public at large, except for the stuff that gets turned into spam or urban legends, like the nine billion uses of Bounce fabric softener (rub it on lead items - they turn into gold!) The only way someone would really get widespread attention for their radical opinions would be if someone else tried to openly suppress them.

But in the near future, I suspect individuals and corporations will learn the value of monitoring what is said about them in the back alleys and shadowy corners of the Internet. And I fear that, in time, the suppression of controversial speech, dissenting speech, or speech that is not in the best interest of them what gots the power, will become a matter of course.

But until that day, let me again state: Welcome, welcome! All are welcome. All welcome. Go into the Light. There is peace and serenity in the Light...

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Satanic Goat Lawn Ornament

I'm feeling fairly relaxed after a feast at an Indian restaurant with some very good friends, including the newlywed couple whose wedding I participated in two weeks ago. After our get-together I drove through a brief rainstorm and stopped off at Big Lots! to do a little shopping, and was greeted with an enormous double rainbow in the eastern sky opposite the setting sun. I stood next to my car in the parking lot and looked at it for a good long time, rotating my polarized sunglasses this way and that to emphasize first the legs of the rainbow, then the top; twisting them to maximize the appearance of one made the other disappear. If you can, get your hands on a copy of Carl B. Boyer's The Rainbow: From Myth To Mathematics. You'll never look at a rainbow in quite the same way.

I was going into Big Lots! because I was looking for a very specific lawn ornament. I saw it there a few weeks ago and didn't buy it. It was a small black goat, or maybe a ram, about 14 inches tall, made of polyresin to have the look and feel of weathered polished stone without the weight. But this goat stood on two legs, like a mythological faun or satyr, and like them, it was playing a fife - or was it (more appropriately) a set of pan-pipes? It seemed a little weird, and my friends and I decided that such an anthropomorphic horned creature could only be a minion of evil...hence the designation of Satanic Goat Lawn Ornament. In any event, I didn't buy it.

I thought about it afterwards. Something jogged my memory about a statue of a goat, and I remembered something I saw during a driving tour of the Ring Of Kerry in Ireland two years ago. It was in the city of Killorglin (which is fun to mispronounce as "Kill Organ" - something Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme must have hypertrophied versions of), where they have an annual Puck Fair every August, a three-day festival during which a goat is crowned King Puck. This must be very confusing for the goat, and seems very pagan for such a notoriously Roman Catholic country as Ireland.

I told my friend in Ireland about the Satanic Goat Lawn Ornament, and she thought it sounded hysterical. I decided to go out and, dammit, make that goat my own.

Of course, by now the goat was gone. A thorough search of the store turned up a similar one, but this one was playing a concertina - hardly the same thing. But, a deal is a deal, and I had promised myself that if I found the goat, I would buy it. To declare that this was a different goat would be splitting hairs, would it not?

So now my kitchen is graced by a small black plastic goat (or ram) playing a concertina while standing upright. Very nice, yes, very odd, but not exactly what I was looking for. And so I search, like some soul doomed to complete a task, looking through all of the area Big Lots! for a slightly different Satanic Goat Lawn Ornament.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Scientist

This is my favorite photo of me as a little kid. I think I was maybe 3 or 4 when this picture was taken. And, like most things, there's a story behind it.


Me with Monarch Butterfly Posted by Hello

I had been playing in our back yard and I spotted a Monarch butterfly in our garden. I wanted to reach out and touch it, but my mom shouted "Wait!" and ran back into the house. (This was in those long-ago days when you could leave your child in your own back yard for upwards of several minutes without worrying that somebody was going to come along and do something horrible to him.)

She came back a few seconds later. "OK, now!" she said, and I continued to reach out to the butterfly. It was so beautiful, so delicate, like something made of living paper. I wanted to touch its wings, to see what it was made of.

This picture really gets at the heart of who I am. Curious, fascinated by the natural world, tentatively reaching out to engage it. A three-year-old Naturalist. A budding Scientist.

I don't remember exactly what happened next. I swear I didn't crush it or do anything else to kill it. But I do remember that the butterfly flew away a few feet...and then dropped out of the air, dead.

Yeah, that's me, too! Can't engage the world without causing some sort of damage.

Of course, I was horribly traumatized by the incident.
***
I may have made up for this crime against butterfly-kind many years later. How many years later, I just realized.

It was during my brief and horrible stint in graduate school. I was in grad school for a few months when I was 21, and dropped out shortly after my 22nd birthday. I am now 36. Assuming I was 3 when this picture was taken, there was a span of 18 years between this picture and my grad school experience. 15 more years have passed from then to now. In just three more years, there will be as great a distance between the present and my grad school experience as there is between my grad school days and this photo. Phreeow.

It was Autumn, maybe a month into the semester. I was walking the mile-and-a-half from my apartment to my office on campus when I came across an injured Monarch butterfly. Monarch butterflies taste terrible (or so I am told), and are brightly colored to warn predators away...don't bother, their colors say, go try eating somebody else. Not all predators get the message. Apparently one hadn't in this case; it had taken a chunk out of one of the Monarch's wings and spit it out, leaving the butterfly crippled and flightless.

I picked up the wounded butterfly, and it clung to me like a desperate child. I thought, what the hell, and carried it with me the rest of the way to my office in the Physics building.

I happened to have a broken pocketwatch whose glass face had popped off at my desk, so I decided to turn it into a butterfly feeder. A few grains of sugar and a little water, mixed together with a coffee stirrer, became a poor substitute for the nectar the Monarch would have stocked up on before the long flight to its breeding grounds in Mexico - a flight that now it would never take.

I coaxed the Monarch onto my forefinger and then thought about the problem of how to convince it to drink. I vaguely remembered that butterflies taste with their feet, so I thought this would be a good place to start. I maneuvered my finger so the butterfly's front feet waved in the air, then gently touched them to the sugar water. It moved the delicate clawed sticks of its forelegs tentatively in the mixture for a few seconds, and then, amazingly, its coiled proboscis gradually straightened and extended and reached into the liquid. It sucked up the sugar water until it had had its fill, and then recoiled its proboscis and pulled back from the watchglass.

Sugar water does not contain the nutrients necessary for butterfly survival. You should never fill a butterfly feeder with colored sugar water; you will be doing the poor insects a disservice. But I did not have the means to acquire the proper solution, and I did not expect my rescued butterfly to live very long. But it did live, in a hutch above my desk, for something like two weeks. I would occasionally take a break from studying or preparing labs or grading papers to let the butterfly cling to my finger as I inspected its insect anatomy. Sometimes I would blow softly on its wings, and it would tense its broken wings and flap them gently, perhaps remembering the sensation of wind and flying that would be denied to it for the rest of its life.

And after a time, it died. I came back to the office one afternoon to find it still and lifeless. I felt a little sad, but also felt that in some small way I had repaid a debt to a butterfly that may or may not have died because of me some 18 years before.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Maybe it's not just me

There are reports of new vulnerabilities being discovered in Internet Explorer. (Well, not exactly new, but new variants of old problems.) These vulnerabilities could allow nefarious sorts to do nefarious things to your computer. Microsoft seems to be a little tight-lipped on this one - no new patch (sorry, "service pack") has been released in the past few days to deal with this.

What's worrying me is that I'm hearing about other people having unusual PC problems recently. I know someone whose company has gone so far as to ban the use of Internet Explorer altogether.

I'm still thinking my problem is the heat, and also something to do with opening multiple Google searches simultaneously. Yesterday it was a search for information on James Joyce's Ulysses that did me in; today it was a search for a good informational link regarding Alfred Bester's Fondly Fahrenheit (a short story about an owner trying to deal with an android that malfunctions murderously when the temperature gets too high!)

I have a long posting I started working on this morning that I will eventually finish. In the meantime, I just wanted to let everyone know that tomorrow, June 16,2004, is the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday! Start reading James Joyce's Ulysses now, and you might be finished by next Bloomsday!

Sunday, June 13, 2004

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LISA!

I am terrible with birthdays. They are fixed dates, and do not move around from year to year, so they should be pretty easy to remember. But still I manage to chronically miss them.

I have a friend whose birthday is on December 31. I usually combine his birthday and Christmas presents in a single package, which I then present to him in June. Or July. Or whenever.

(While I'm confessing to my chronic birthday and gift-giving tardiness, I should also point out that I have, in a suitcase, a gift I got in Ireland last year for a friend who got married...well, I don't even remember when she got married! It was, like, eight months ago. I will get that out to you, honest!)

My friend Lisa's birthday is tomorrow, June 14 (at least, it's tomorrow from when and where I'm writing.) It should be easy enough to remember. I've known her since high school. We graduated from high school on her birthday. I always manage to get confused about whether her birthday is the 4th or the 14th, but when I spoke to her 9 days ago, she confirmed that it is actually the 14th.

And still I've been too much of a bum to think up a present, or make a card, or even go out and GET a card from a store and mail it to her.

So, for the moment, this will have to do. A birthday posting! How cheesy. But, thanks to Google archiving, maybe this posting will last a bit longer than any card or gift I could have sent. I will send something soon, I promise.

But in the meantime, let me say again: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LISA!

Chess variations

I just got done losing an a game of chess to Bill. I did a lot better than I expected, considering that a) I have not played in a very long time, b)I have had way too much coffee this morning, and c)I'm not a very good chess player.

I've had some ideas for a while about combining chess and alcohol in a way that balances out the game in favor of the less skilled player. I'm certainly not the first one to have this idea, but I've decided to write out my simplified rules, plus two variations.

Note: Please don't misconstrue this to mean that I in any way endorse or condone irresponsible drinking. I don't. If you're going to do this, you'd better be planning on spending the night wherever you're playing. And it had better be someplace where they're not gonna stick your hand in a bowl of warm water or shave your head while you sleep.

Alcoholic Chess:
The goal of this game is to correct any relative imbalance in players' skills by handicapping the better player. Players must drink whenever they capture an opponent's piece.

Each pawn is worth one-half of a shot.
Every other piece is worth a full shot.
"Fancy maneuvers" - castling, capturing en passant, turning a pawn into a queen - are worth an additional shot.
Checkmate is worth two shots.
In the event of a stalemate, draw, or surrender, both players must drink one shot.

Works best in a series of games, preferably played with unbreakable pieces on a waterproof board.

Beer Chess:
Same as Alcoholic Chess, but getting up to go to the bathroom counts as a surrender.

Caffeinated Chess:
Fun for non-drinkers. Replace shots with cups of caffeinated coffee. Same bathroom rules as Beer Chess. Warning: May result in uncharacteristically aggressive play. Best played early in the day, but can also make for an interesting all-night series of games, or even a multi-day marathon!

Remember, play responsibly.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Farewell to a great man

Today America, and indeed the world, mourns the passing of a great man.

He made us feel good about ourselves. He made us feel good about America.

He was at times a controversial figure, but no one can honestly deny his accomplishments.

He did much in his long life, and his works shall resonate down the corridors of history. Yet, like all beloved individuals, he died too soon.

Maxim magazine put it best when they said: "He made being a blind black piano player so cool that someone else did it."

Farewell, Ray Charles. And if there is a Heaven, its music just became a little sweeter.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Again with the hating my computer

Even though yesterday's post is marked 8:44 PM on Wednesday, June 9, which is the time I started writing it, it didn't really get posted until a few minutes ago.

This time my computer waited until I had saved my post before it died. Actually, I think it might have been the act of saving the post which was the last straw as far as the computer was concerned. This time it died hard, with a vengeance. Cascade failures and repeated appearances of the blue screen of death weren't enough; now it got itself into a loop where it would boot up so far, begin giving me error messages, and then reboot. On approximately the umpteenth try at getting control of the beast, I was able to run Norton Disk Doctor and found errors that I have never seen before. I was able to correct most of them, but that still didn't cure my computer, as the next reboot was met with another chain of failures. So finally, I decided to shut the damned thing down for the night.

This morning it works without a fuss. I was able to retrieve the saved draft of yesterday's post, spell-check it, and publish it.

I think the problem is temperature-related. The last time I had a problem like this was last summer. Maybe the air temperature of this room is too high. Maybe the computer is running hot, which is helping to increase the room temperature. The clumps of dust I pulled out of the cooling fan couldn't be all that good for my four-year-old PC. Maybe it's time I pop the hood (hood = "bonnet") and have a look inside.

Maybe I'll take the Queen of Spades' advice and look into buying Alienware. But only if it comes with a guarantee to never, ever, ever give me any problems. Ever. I don't want to hate my computer anymore.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Ode To A Large Green Insect That Bounced Off My Windshield Yesterday Morning

In yesterday's post I noted that I had heard the Brood X cicadas locally for the first time. (We have cicadas every year, and usually refer to them as "heat bugs", but the Brood X cicadas are periodical and only emerge in their adult breeding form every 17 years. They sound very different from the more common "heat bugs".) It was not long after I wrote that post that, on my drive into work, I saw my first cicada. And about three seconds later, I hit my first cicada.

Seventeen years ago was the summer between my Sophomore and Junior years in college, and I was spending my time off working in the TV faceplate factory where my father worked. I remember my father, my sister, and me driving through a swarm of cicadas in more-or-less the same place where I hit one yesterday (and two more this morning.) This isn't really surprising, since I believe cicadas tend to mate, lay eggs, and die fairly close to their spawning ground, so the next generation will tend to cover the same turf as the one that preceded it.

My little Toyota Tercel is a sleek, aerodynamic piece of equipment that regularly gets between 35 and 40 miles per gallon. It slices through the air like a flying wedge, and creates a nice airflow up the hood, over the windshield, along the roof, and back down the rear window and trunk (or "boot", as some of you danged furriners call it.) In an earlier model of the same car I watched a bird fly straight at my windshield and get drawn up and over the top of my car without touching it. (It was probably promptly killed by the car behind me, but its blood was not on my hands, or my car, for that matter.) The cicadas that I have hit have not been so lucky; while I have not actually had any of them splatter on my windshield yet, I have heard distinct thunks that could not bode at all well for continued success in their mating efforts.

Every living thing on Earth represents the end product of over a billion years of evolution (a thousand million years, for you consarned funny-talkin' furriners again.) Every amoeba, every tsetse fly, every blade of grass, every duck-billed platypus and every annoying jerk in line at the supermarket checkout can trace his, her, or its respective lineage to that great primordial unknown from which all life developed. Each of them has come from an unbroken chain of forebears which, it can be demonstrated, managed to reproduce in some way. Every fly you swat, every germ you kill as you wash your hands, every weed you poison, and every bug that smashes off your windshield is the end of the entire history of life as represented by that individual's heritage. Death is no small matter.

So, to those cicadas who bounced off my windshield yesterday and today, and to all those who shall bounce off tomorrow and in the days following, I say this:

Sorry.
-or-
Hey, watch where you're flying! Stupid bugs.

***

My state modified its motorcycle helmet laws last year to permit most adult riders to forgo the use of a helmet while riding a motorcycle. I'd like to go on record as stating that it was perhaps unwise to do this just before a major eruption of freaking giant hardshelled flying insects. I suspect that the number of motorcyclists killed or injured in motorcycle-cicada collisions will be higher this year than it has been for the past seventeen years.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

I saw it! I saw it!

Woke up this morning and checked the weather radar which is conveniently provided on its own channel by my local cable television company. The sweep was clear, which seemed like a good sign for transit-viewing.

When I eventually made it to a window, I saw a terrifying sight: pea-soup fog. Uh-oh.

After about 45 minutes the sun broke through the fog to shine onto my kitchen wall, and I knew it was time to get out the $20 binoculars I bought this weekend just for the event. (I have better, more expensive binoculars, but I have temporarily misplaced them.) Using the binocular-projection method, I was able to cast a two-inch image of the sun onto the kitchen wall.

And, damned if I didn't see it! A HUGE spot near one edge of the sun!

It's almost time for third contact. I doubt I'll be able to see anything interesting - but I DID get to see the transit! I hope you did, too!

Oh, and the Brood X cicadas have finally decided to start their phaser-set-on-stun serenade by my house. I was starting to get worried that they wouldn't show up!

Monday, June 07, 2004

Transit of Venus tomorrow (and I mean it this time!)

Venus will pass across the Sun's face for the first time in almost 122 years on Tuesday, June 8, which is tomorrow from when and where I am writing this. Rather than repeating what I said in my premature posting last Wednesday, I'll simply direct you to it for more information.

While I was totally embarrassed by my error regarding the date of this transit (which I initially listed as Thursday, June 3 instead of Tuesday, June 8) I am very pleased to have been proven wrong in another aspect of this post: there has been plenty of news coverage of this upcoming astronomical event, even with the wall-to-wall coverage of the death of President Ronald Reagan. It's been on CNN, network and local news, and has even made it to the front pages of the AOL and MSN sites.

If you get a chance, read up on how to view this SAFELY and see if you can get a peek. Even if you don't see it yourself (and, if tomorrow morning is anything like this morning, I doubt I will), you can still have a look online by going to some of the links of the previous post on this topic. (I was going to suggest you go to the Jack Horkheimer Venus Transit links page, but it doesn't seem to be working right now. Maybe it's crashed from too many people trying to use it!)

By the way, even though I do not share his opinion of the man, here is my friend Bill's posting on the passing of President Reagan.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

I AM somebody!

Hooray, hooray! After three weeks of existence, Another Monkey is finally showing up on Google! I AM somebody!

(Note: Only the www.anothermonkey.blogspot.com site is me. I'm currently showing 91 hits for "anothermonkey" and 9,190 hits for "another monkey" [in quotes; not in quotes, you'll see over two million hits.] So obviously I wasn't the first one to think of using this name, just the first one to use it for a blog on Blogger.com/Blogspot.com. Which just kinda emphasizes the point that Robert Wilensky made in his quote upon which I've based this site's name. Every one of us posting on the Internet is just another monkey banging away on a typewriter.)

A new beginning, and an ending

A friend of mine got married yesterday. A group of us had been preparing for this wedding for several months, taking care of all the arrangements that might otherwise be dealt with by parents or wedding planners. But both of my friend's parents passed away years ago, and a professional wedding planner was not in the budget, so a group of us stepped in to do what needed to be done.

My role didn't involve much heavy lifting. I was the graphic designer, creating an image that we used on all of the invitations and the cake itself - my friend, her son, and her fiance/husband in the central portion of an inverted trinity knot, with smaller symbols representing each of them tucked into the three lobes. (This image came to me in an eyeblink, but it took the better part of a morning to sketch it out on paper to explain it to my friends. And creating the trinity knot with the specific geometry I needed - a large open area in the center and three smaller open lobes - took a bit of finagling. And it didn't hit me until just now that the trinity knot - a traditional Irish symbol - was appropriate because my friend is, in fact, Irish. Duh. My subconscious mind is always a bit more on-the-ball than my conscious one.)

I also created two mix discs for the wedding, only one of which we wound up using. There were so many musicians at the wedding, which had been advertised as "open mic", that (other than during dinner) there were no lengthy gaps that needed to be filled with recorded music.

I also served my usual role of floating photographer. And I briefly served as videographer, using the same borrowed full-size VHS camcorder that I used to record the final 3 Brix Shy show. Unfortunately, an equipment malfunction cut this short during the cake-cutting - the camcorder is fine (I think) but I need to get a new quick-release mount for my tripod. Luckily, there were several other people armed with camcorders there, so maybe we'll be able to assemble a semi-complete wedding video from multiple sources.

The wedding was fun, and beautifully decorated thanks to other friends who did the vast majority of the hard work. The food was great, the music was fun and was enjoyed by people ranging from 16 to 65 (I can't vouch for the two 7-year olds who were there, or the kid who looked to be about 12.) It was neat to see my friends dancing, even though I played the role of the wallflower again. And I was glad to finally get a chance to see my friend's new husband play guitar.

At the end of the night, I hung out to help clean up, and got a new appreciation for what janitors go through.

***

Yesterday morning there was a story in the news about a trucker who had lost control of his rig on a nearby stretch of highway and had been killed. I didn't pay much attention to this - there are a lot of trucks on the highways around here, and my primary concern is not getting killed by them, especially not by the ones who like to tailgate my little subcompact at distances of just a few feet. Every year I see articles that advise drivers to give truckers a wide berth. Unfortunately, the lawmakers and state police don't seem to be in agreement with the physics required to make this happen, which would involve creating a variable speed limit for non-truckers based on the speed of the truck that's following you plus the speed necessary to create a safety cushion of distance between the back of your car and the front of the truck.

Later in the day I found out that the trucker who was killed Thursday was someone I met at a party this past Sunday.

Met, talked with, drank with, laughed with, argued with.

I didn't get to know him - I only knew his first name (which, in fact, was his middle name, which is probably why the name in the newspaper article didn't ring any bells), his speech patterns, and some of his expressed opinions. This isn't a punch-in-the-gut sort of thing for me, more a sort of well-whaddya-know thing. Just one of those things. Here today, gone tomorrow. Carpe diem. Could happen to any of us.

I grew up around death. My grandmother's sister died when I was four, my grandfather when I was six, and my grandmother's brother when I was eight. I was an altar boy for my Roman Catholic parish from the age of six. (I was going to say "since First Grade", but that might be meaningless for readers in other countries.) Like most altar boys, I spent more time in funeral homes and around dead bodies than most kids. I think you get a better appreciation for mortality when you're being pulled out of class once a month to put on your cassock and fire up the censer and go for a visit to the funeral home, a quick stop at the church, and then a slow ride to the cemetery to stand next to a freshly-dug hole.

Still, it certainly was one of those things. Most of us who sat around a table at the party with the trucker last Sunday found ourselves at a table together at the wedding yesterday. The expressions of "take care" and "drive safely" at the end of the night were perhaps a little more heartfelt.

I wonder about death and the internet sometimes. If someone you know only through a blog or a screen name dies, how will you know it's happened? One of my favorite bloggers stopped posting for a few weeks last year, and I began to worry that something had happened to her. Luckily, I was able to find out through one of her fellow-bloggers that she was fine and had just decided to take some time off. But a few years ago another friend of mine lost touch with one of her internet chat buddies, and discovered only months after the fact that this was because he had died.

I've made arrangements, sort of. My username and password for this site are kept in a book in an obvious location, and I'm hoping that if something should happen to me, certain people might go through that book, find those passwords, and figure out how to post a final message.

How freaking morbid. I don't think I'm going to be permitted to die anytime soon, if ever. No way I'm getting out of this life that easily.

Drive safely, everybody.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

I am an idiot

I was disappointed as I scanned the channels this morning looking for some mention of the Transit of Venus. Nothing, even on the normally astronomy-friendly weather forecast on one of our local stations. The fools, I thought bitterly.

As I made my morning ablutions I pulled out my copy of the June issue of Sky & Telescope to double-check the timings of the transit...and got a smack in the face.

THE TRANSIT IS TUESDAY, JUNE 8, NOT THURSDAY, JUNE 3.

Now, I'd like to blame my latent dyslexia for this. After all, what is an 8 but a mirrored 3? Both symbols are encoded nearly identically in my brain. And Tuesday and Thursday are both "T" days, and at symmetrical positions in the week - one is the second day of the work week, the other is the second-from-last day of the work week. See? It all makes perfect sense, right?

I'd like to do this, but I'm not gonna. This was just a screw-up on my part.

I'm taking the extreme step of correcting the previous post. I won't try to cover-up my error, just make sure that the correct information is actually out there.

Sorry.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Transit of Venus: June 8, 2004

There's a very rare event happening TUESDAY, JUNE 8 2004. Venus will pass across the Sun as seen from the Earth.

If you know a little something about the structure of our local cosmic neighborhood, you may think So what? Venus is between the Earth and the Sun. Shouldn't it pass in front of the Sun all the time?

Well, no. The cosmic ballet is a little more complicated than that. Orbits aren't exactly in the same plane, distances are huge, and Venus and the Sun subtend surprisingly small angles in the sky. (Translation: they look a lot smaller than you think. The sun looks about the size of an eraser on the end of a pencil held at arm's length. Don't believe me? Check it out.)

Part of this transit will be visible in Australia around sunset. Part will be visible in the Eastern U.S. just after sunrise. For Europe and Africa, the whole transit should be visible at some time during the day.

This is the first transit of Venus visible from Earth for over a century. Another one will happen in 8 years, and then after that you'll have to wait over 105 more years to see one. But I bet this event won't get a fraction of the news coverage normally devoted to the winners of Survivor or American Idol or water-skiing squirrels or other important news stories.

Details of the transit are pretty complex, and I would just be copying information if I were to go into any more detail. Instead, here are some links to articles on the transit. Please have a look.

Article from astronomy.com

Article from skyandtelescope.com

Script from Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer episode "Venus Crosses the Sun! A Rare Cosmic Spectacle No Living Human Has Ever Seen"

Jack Horkheimer's Venus Transit links page! (I love this guy!)

Correction: This post originally gave the date of the transit as both June 3, 2004 and as the non-existent Thursday, June 4, 2004. Both are wrong. This post has been revised to show the corrct date.