31 July 2009


i was fortunate to happen across the broadcast on PBS of richard bangs' series "Adventures With Purpose," this installment focused on new zealand. richard bangs is legendary among kayaking and whitewater enthusiasts for his skill and daring in seeking out first descents of extremely challenging, even lethal, rivers around the world. at least, during his youth. he has aged wisely, and devotes his time and energy to promoting adventure tourism which is in harmony with the environment and local ecology. i was particularly taken by the new zealand episode, since that nation is high on my list of fantasy destinations. the hour-long tour emphasized not only the stunning natural beauty of the country (seen in the epic "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy), but also explored the history and present state of kiwi/maori culture. new zealand is foremost among world nations in revering and protecting the natural environment. this activism combines traditional maori values with enlightened attention to science, resulting in an ethos of stewardship which the rest of the world would do well to emulate.

30 July 2009


during my third marriage, i followed my wife's career around the country. it seemed that each move was transcontinental -- from tucson, az to charleston, sc. thence to philadelphia, pa, to vancouver, wa, to johnson city, tn. while moving is wearying, expensive and generally a pain, it also allows one the pleasure of new landscapes, new people, new sights.

such an adventure awaited us when we drove from charleston to philly. our route followed u.s. 17/13 up the east coast, avoiding the interstates and metro areas. serendipity found us passing through norfolk, va and north..........out onto the water, across the mouth of chesapeake bay. on a bridge. and not just any bridge, but a 23-mile long marvel linking mainland virginia to the delmarva (delaware-maryland-virginia) peninsula. and not just any marvel, but an engineer nightmare and a tourist's delight a bridge/tunnel complex. imagine my astonishment to be driving on a highway looking DOWN on passing ships and birds in flight -- and within minutes finding oneself UNDERWATER, passing through tunnels beneath the shipping passing overhead. at each end of each tunnel, there were manmade islands large enough to accomodate parking, so that one could stop, stretch, stare, and take it all in.

i love bridges and tunnels, passageways between realities. i love the sea and the open air. i love being spectacularly, totally in the moment, all my senses alive. that day in the late summer of 1990 was a peak experience.

29 July 2009


here's an example of a playful polyphonic (two or more musical voices), and in particular a contrapuntal (voices that are independent in contour and rhythm, but harmonically interwoven) popular song from the 1959 romantic comedy "pillow talk" -- listen carefully as doris day weaves a musical tapestry -- here. familiar contrapuntal forms include the round and the fugue.


on this day in 1947 (the year of my birth), ENIAC, the world's first general-purpose electronic digital computer, was turned on at its new home at the ballistic research laboratory at aberdeen proving grounds, remaining in continuous operation until 1955 (the year of my brother's birth).

28 July 2009


carter aviation technologies is developing a GA (general aviation) aircraft base on the gyrocopter or autogyro concept, using modern materials and propulsion designs. specifically, their slowed-rotor aircraft are capable of vertical takeoff and landing, with projected horizontal airspeeds approaching 500 mph. as with all concept designs (e.g. adam air's twin-fuselage, or the javelin jet), i'm waiting to see how this pans out, but the aircraft just plain looks good. i've flown virtual gyrocopters before, and they are easy and intuitive to pilot. the field of view is excellent, and with the forward propulsion engine and propellor located behind the cabin, the ride should be quieter than on aircraft with the engine and prop up front. could be fun ! ! -- click on the photo to enlarge. i mean, doesn't that just look SLICK??

27 July 2009


amid all the controversy and finger-pointing following the arrest of dr. henry louis gates, jr., by cambridge police last week, and president obama's subsequent comments, on friday night the charlie rose show on PBS hosted an erudite, reflective and elevating discussion. i invite my readers to check it out -- there is something of value that will add dimension and depth to anyone's initial gut reaction (including my own -- see my entry for 24 july).

26 July 2009


during the four years i spent as caretaker at canelo hills cienega, a nature conservancy preserve in southern arizona, one of the many natural events that marked the cycle of seasons was the arrival of monarch butterflies, which lay their eggs on milkweed plants. monarchs are famous for their astonishing transcontinental migrations -- those living east of the rocky mountains fly to central mexico. their milkweed diet provides monarchs with a foul taste, an effective defense when coupled with the distinctive colors and markings which advertise their toxicity to would-be predators.

monarchs can be confused with viceroy butterflies, a non-toxic species whose coloration resembles that of the monarch, thereby benefitting since predators avoid both. this apparent mimicry, or aposematism, is a fairly common natural event. over the course of evolutionary generations, a trait is accidentally introduced by genetic variation during reproduction. if that trait confers a survival or reproductive advantage (in this case, visually resembling a toxic species), the organism survives to reproduce, and the gene is passed to succeeding generations, eventually spreading throught the non-toxic species until the trait becomes a defining feature.

25 July 2009


63 years ago, on 25 july 1946, the u.s. military detonated the "baker explosion", part of operation crossroads, a nuclear weapons test series at bikini atoll to determine the effect on military naval vessels. it was the second u.s. nuclear detonation since the destruction of hiroshima and nagasaki, hence the designation "baker", second letter in the phonetic alphabet of the time. (click on the image for full effect -- those tiny dark shapes beneath the mushroom cloud are navy ships.)

24 July 2009


henry louis gates, jr. is a distinguished professor at harvard university. he is one of four hosts on the PBS series "history detectives", and the host and co-producer of "african american lives." gates is an articulate, gentle man who nevertheless has profoundly clear views on racism. he is 58 years old, and walks with a cane. gates was arrested at his own home, on suspicion of being a burglar, and ignonimously handcuffed and put in the slammer. he was justifiably outraged, and calling a spade a spade, angrily accused the arresting police officers of racial profiling.

yesterday president obama weighed in on the issue, saying that the cambridge police had acted "stupidly". well, guess what. they DID act stupidly. it would have been stupid and prejudicial to arrest any person in his/her own home on such transparently flimsy charges, based on a phone call from a neighbor, when the suspect had produced identification. to arrest a highly respected and highly recognizable public figure who happens to be black, yeah, that's pretty stupid. any reasonable person, black or white, would have reacted with the moral outrage expressed by both professor gates and president obama.

here is a NYTimes editorial debate on the advisability of president obama's remarks, along with a CNN link to a video of his delivery.

22 July 2009


speaking of things solar, the longest-lasting total solar eclipse of the 21st century took place today in parts of asia and the pacific ocean -- check out the very cool moving graphic.

i was privileged to view the eclipse which transitted across portions of the northwestern u.s. and into canada in february 1979. the visual effects were beyond stunning -- they were hallucinogenic. at onset, you see a curtain of darkness sweeping toward you at 1000 mph (the approximate rotational speed of the earth), and once you're in the shadow, the landscape is surreal, lit in dim salmon tints while all around the horizon the atmosphere remains daylit. wierd undulations of light seem to rise from the ground. as totality nears, you notice the diamond ring effect as the sun's remaining rays peek between the mountains on the moon. during totality, you can safely view the sun's corona and solar prominences arcing past the moon's edge. wildlife runs in confusion, dogs howl, and people cheer. eventually, the chain of effects is reversed as the moon's shadow passes. i experienced a natural high for hours afterward.


regular readers know that my interests include the natural world, aviation, music/art, social justice, and astronomy/cosmology (along with much else). today i spotted a NYTimes article about a possible comet strike on the planet jupiter, leaving a bruise the size of the pacific ocean near jupiter's south pole. jupiter's vast size (its diameter is roughly equal to 12 earth diameters) reminded me of a problem in perspective which i encountered while i was a teacher of math, science and environemental studies. i wanted one of my classes to devise a physical scale model of the solar system -- but one quickly realizes that a choice has to be made, for there are really two comparisons to think about. one model could show the sun and planets in true size-comparison to each other (using miles or kilometers), but with their orbits represented only in symbolic proportion. the other model could show the orbits in true size-comparison, but with planetary sizes in symbolic proportion. the reason for this is that to combine both into a true scale model, using (as an example) a golf ball to represent the earth, one's total solar system would be miles in diameter. ~~NOTE: click on each image below to enlarge ~~

even portraying the planets isn't without challenge. the four inner terrestrial planets (mercury, venus, earth and mars)

are miniscule in size by the outer gas giants (jupiter, saturn, uranus and neptune), and all are dwarfed by the sun itself.

this is the problem that most artists encounter when trying to depict the planets. it is relatively easy to compare their sizes to each other, with circle of appropriate size. but the orbits....the orbits include distances so vast that the mind boggles. the average distance from the earth to the sun is about 93 million miles, or one astronomical unit (AU). the farthest planet (not counting demoted pluto) out is neptune, at 30 AU. multiply 30 times 93 million, and you begin to see the scale problem. at a puny 8000 miles in diameter, our earth is a tiny speck in this vast spinning system.

and of course, we're just talking about our solar system, itself the tiniest possible sand speck on the monumental beach that is our milky way galaxy. still, it would be fun to have a large, open tract of land, and actually create a true scale model of the solar system. complete with telescopes, so the visitor could actually see those tiny globes we call planets.

21 July 2009


here's another piece that patricia turned me on to, from the movie Amelie -- "comptine d'un autre ete l'apres midi".


my thanks to my slovakian friend patricia for sharing one of her favorite arias with me on facebook. while i find much of opera is more enjoyably orchestrally, sans voices, there are many passages in which the human voice is indispensable. my favorite aria is "E Lucevan le Stelle" ("And the Stars Were Shining"), from giacomo puccini's opera Tosca. the artist cavaradossi is awaiting execution for fomenting political unrest, and is composing a final letter to his beloved tosca, unaware that she has arranged for his safety. i cannot hear the opening bars without becoming teary-eyed -- it breaks my heart. click on the links to the aria, and the opera description, and you'll see why. transcendent.

20 July 2009

FA-22 Raptor

according to an email from a tucson friend, the first FA-22 Raptors, the newest generation air superiority stealth fighter, have been delivered to langley AFB. designed to replace the aging F-16, the Raptor has capabilities most pilots can only fantasize about. because of their stealth design, speed, armament, and high maneuverability at both subsonic and supersonic speeds, Raptors are undetectable by ground- or air-based radars, allowing them to operate with impunity.

now let's hope that civilian and military leaders will have the wisdom to deploy these aerial weapons systems with caution and foresight, rather than the chip-on-the-shoulder politics of the recent past. below, a Raptor goes supersonic.

19 July 2009


here is what the record for the past 30 days' visits looks like (click on image to enlarge):


following is the dialogue from this week's commentary cartoon "This Modern World", by tom tomorrow. since i cannot post the cartoon segments here, i'd like to offer the conversation between a doctor, a patient, and an insurance company agent: this week, health care and the free market -- with your host, Doctor Hand. the setting is a hospital admissions office.

doctor: i'm not REALLY a doctor, but i dress like one -- so as to appear implicitly TRUSTWORTHY.

patient: aren't you supposed to be invisible?

doctor: oh, will you PLEASE shut up about that?

patient: ~cough~

doctor: speaking as someone dressed like a doctor, i must say -- you're not looking very well ! let's take a closer look -- at your WALLET. ah, we're in LUCK. you seem to be INSURED.

patient: so can i see a real doctor now?

doctor: you know, it's interesting...some people think insurance should be a way of pooling society's resources, so that those who fall ILL can receive the care they NEED. of course, that would be SOCIALISM -- and we certainly can't have THAT.

patient: ~cough cough~

doctor: fortunately the genius of the FREE MARKET has given us a system of PRIVATE insurers, committed first and foremost to healthy PROFITS -- and hey, speaking of the DEVIL --

agent: hello ! i'm from the insurance company -- and this must be the liability -- er, the PATIENT.

doctor: yes -- i don't know what's wrong with him...but it looks EXPENSIVE.

agent: hmm -- what's THIS? it looks like you didn't tell us about a trip to the PODIATRIST in 1986. that means ANYTHING wrong with you can be considered a PRE-EXISTING CONDITION -- and THAT means we're cancelling your coverage.

doctor: best of luck ! don't let the door hit you on the way out.

doctor: and there you have it, folks. it's another success story for the prime beneficiary of our health care system -- the AMERICAN INSURANCE INDUSTRY.

agent: we're here to help YOU help US.

doctor: now let's get out of here. all these sick people -- it's SO depressing.

patient: but -- but --

18 July 2009


late yesterday, radio and television newsman walter cronkite died following a lingering illness. he was a true pioneer in broadcast journalism, starting when edward r. murrow picked cronkite to be one of his elite war correspondents during WWII. cronkite went on to anchor the CBS evening news, and reported on everything from the civil rights movement, the assassination of president john f. kennedy, the first human landing on the moon, the vietnam war, and the watergate scandal which drove disgraced president richard m. nixon from office. for decades, cronkite was the most trusted man in america, a reflection of his personal and professional integrity. in his later years, cronkite was an avid sailor and an eloquent supporter of america's space program. here is a link to a moving tribute to america's voice of conscience, walter cronkite.

17 July 2009


during the time i've spent at facebook, i've made a number of friends from around the world. this morning i googled "world time zone maps" in order to grasp what time of day it is for a given person with whom i'm corresponding online, and found several useful results. above are two examples -- click on each image to enlarge it.

16 July 2009


during most of my growing up, it was a running joke that each year my mom turned 26. i still believe it -- she has the energy and stamina of a woman many decades younger than she. that gene must have skipped me, somehow. here's looking at you, mom........

15 July 2009


also known as love of maps. when i wore a younger man's clothes, living in southern arizona, before hiking into a backcountry area, i would buy a topo (topographical) map and carefully highlight the elevation contour lines, using different colors to mark the ascending 500 ft. or 1000 ft. intervals. it was time-consuming, but when i was done, i was intimately familiar with the ridges and canyons of the terrain before ever setting foot there.

road maps, topo maps, satellite maps, they all have their own fascination. recently my old friend bill in chicago sent me a link to a great website, one that is devoted to trails and campsites in national parks and recreation areas across the country. when you click on the link, you can get your bearings by first clicking on the "map" tab, then on the "home map" tab. this will give you an overview of the continental u.s., with road, satellite, terrain or topo map options, as well as representative photos. you can explore from there.

because it's all about exploration, isn't it?

14 July 2009


it was three years ago today that i officially adopted my two half-siamese cats from the local humane society animal shelter. they are brother and sister. at the time they were nearly five months old, and both the same size. the white male, Chiaro, surged in growth and now weighs 12 lb. -- he is the alpha cat, but also a big cuddler at bedtime. the calico female, Mao, is shy, but takes no crap off her brother. it's hilarious to watch her play-wrestle with him, as though she has no idea that she is 2 lb. lighter than he.

i love them both to pieces -- they've helped me through some tough times, and are always happy to see me. incidentally, let's dispell a myth about cats vs. dogs right now. with regard to training, while cats are more independent (just as they are in the wild -- except for lions, no wild cat species are pack animals), they are also more intelligent than dogs, in my opinion. one simply has to adapt to their particular personality. my own cats respond readily to an array of verbal and non-verbal cues. as with any animal, one has to get inside their head, and their heart, and treat them with love and respect and patience. a little playfulness goes a long way.

13 July 2009


yes, it's a rare two-entry day. could not resist including this APOD image and description. i'm not given to using superlatives, but this is stunning! (click on image to enlarge)


during my son and his family's visit (described in yesterday's entry), we'll try to minimize road trips, since they're already driving clear from northwest oregon. in addition to the requisite tour of glacier national park by way of going to the sun road, our only other planned outing will be to a wonderful gathering of hoodoos called rock city -- no, not the one in tennessee, or various other states. this one is a bit more modest, but still magical. below you'll see a photo of what the local maze of eroded formations looks like.

12 July 2009

HOORAY ! ! !

my son ian, his wife michelle and my grandson ryan are coming to visit at the end of the summer, staying with my parents in conrad. among other firsts, this will be the first time that my parents have seen their seven-year-old great-grandson. i am SO very much looking forward to this!!! here is one of the montana landscapes that michelle and ryan will see for the first time, the rocky mountain front:

and of course, glacier national park:

11 July 2009


whether they are called sailplanes or gliders, these silent and graceful aircraft can be the ultimate challenge to a pilot's skill. they come in two flavors -- those without engines, and those with an engine and retractable propellor. in either flavor, many sailplane pilots consider this to be the purest form of flying, short of becoming a bird. the pilot sits well forward of the wing, beneath a wraparound canopy that affords unparalleled visibility.

for planes without benefit of an engine or propellor, a tow plane will assist them aloft by means of a tow cable, which is then cast loose when at altitude. at that point the sailplane is free to do one of three things: (1) glide back to earth, with it's extreme aerodynamic design and long wings giving it a very generous glide ratio; (2) seek out thermals, rising columns of air which are differentially heated by the sun shining on heat absorbing/reflecting land surfaces; or (3) seek out updrafts created when the horizontal movement of air masses (wind) is deflected upwards by ridges or mountain ranges.

for planes with an engine, the tow plane is not needed. there is the additional benefit of having backup propulsion in the event of flying too far from a suitable landing area. the trade-off (and there is always a trade-off in aviation) is the added weight, which can mean a slight decrease in glide performance.

recently a new design in engine-assisted sailplanes was announced, the Antares DLR-H2. unlike most such craft, this model is a twin-engine, single-propellor sailplane powered by fuel cells rather than traditional internal combustion engins. this makes for a much quieter, environmentally cleaner plane whose only emission is water. here is a link to a video of the test flight.

10 July 2009


the eagle nebula, as shown on today's APOD (astronomy picture of the day) -- click on the image to enlarge.

08 July 2009


i discovered this marvelous aircraft in the lastest issue of AOPA Pilot magazine. the AirCam is unlike any other flying platform -- a taildragger with fore-and-aft seating for two people, but the primary pilot's seat is so far forward of the wings, and there is so little fuselage (other than a small windshield) surrounding him/her, that the view is virtually 360 degrees. with so much sensory exposure to the air, the experience is compared to riding a motorcycle in the sky -- though with much more safety, since small planes don't have to contend with nearly as much traffic as bikes do. this is a low-and-slow machine, designed as a photography platform, for sightseeing, and the general joy of flight. check it out.

07 July 2009


the next time you take your partner's menstruation for granted, remind yourself that this is what it feels like for her (click on image to enlarge) --

06 July 2009


i'd like to offer the following extended quote from Elaine N. Aron's evocative book, The Highly Sensitive Person, specifically with reference to religion, spirituality, and the search for meaning in our lives. as an atheist-slash-animist [labels are so inadequate], i don't buy into any religion's dogma. i do, however, find nuggets of enlightenment (and much delusion) in every belief system. my views continue to evolve. i offer here not answers, but questions to stimulate discussion. please feel free to comment.

"ask yourself if the sun rises in the east. then see how you feel about your 'wrong' answer. because, of course, you are wrong. the sun does not rise. the earth turns. so much for personal experience. we cannot trust it, or so it seems. we can only trust science .... look at all the dogma that the priests or priest class once insisted upon. so much of it is "now proven wrong," or worse, found to have been only self-serving.

"not all of the blows to faith have come from science directly. there are also communication and travel. if i believe in heaven and a few billion people on the other side of the planet believe in reincarnation, how can we both be right? and if one part of my religion is wrong, is the rest of it? and doesn't the study of comparative religion show that it is all just an attempt to find answers for natural phenomena? plus a need for comfort in the face of death? so why not live without these superstitions and emotional crutches? besides, if there is a god, how do you explain all the troubles of the world? and while you are at it, explain why so many of those troubles have been caused by religion? and so the skeptics speak.

"there are many responses to the retreat of religion. some of us totally agree with the skeptics. some hang on to some kind of abstract force, or goodness. some hold firmer than ever to their traditions, becoming fundamentalists. others reject dogma as a source of great trouble in the world, yet enjoy the rituals and certain tenets of their religious tradition. finally, there is a new breed of religious beings seeking direct experience, not the lessons of authorities. at the same time, they know that for some reason others have different experiences, so they do not try to proclaim their experience as Truth. they may be the first humans to have to live with a direct spiritual knowledge that is recognized as fundamentally uncertain.

"as Marsha Sinetar wrote in Ordinary People As Monks and Mystics, 'the point of full personhood ..... is this: that whoever finds out what is for him good, and holds fast to it, becomes whole.' i would only add that what one holds fast to is not a fixed goal but a process. what needs to be heard may change from day to day, year to year. similarly, (Victor) Frankl always refused to comment on the single meaning of life -- 'for the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour ..... to put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion, "tell me, master, what is the best move in the world?" there simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game ..... one should not search for an abstract meaning of life.'

"the pursuit of wholeness is really a kind of circling closer and closer through different meanings, different voices. one never arrives, yet gets a better and better idea of that which is at the center. but if we really circle, there is little chance for arrogance because we are passing through every sort of experience of ourselves. this is the pursuit of wholeness, not perfection, and wholeness must by definition include the imperfect. in chapter 7 i described these imperfections as one's shadow, that which contains all the we have repressed, rejected, denied, and disliked about ourselves .....

"in getting to know our shadow, the idea is that it is better to acknowledge our unpleasant or unethical aspects and keep an eye on them rather than to throw them out the front door 'for good,' only to have them slip in the back when we're not looking. usually the people who are the most dangerous and in danger, morally speaking, are those who are certain they would never do anything wrong, who are totally self-righteous and have no idea that they have a shadow or what it is like."

end of quote. thoughts?

03 July 2009


my gratitude to my friend rebecca, who introduced me to this under-appreciated aspect of human psychology. highly sensitive people, who make up anywhere from 10-20% of the population, process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly than others do. often mistaken for shyness, introversion or inhibition (even by medical and therapeutic professionals), this trait can be a blessing, a burden, or both, depending on the understanding and support shown by family and friends, particularly while growing up.

i recommend elaine n. aron's book The Highly Sensitive Person to anyone who is an HSP, as well as to anyone who knows an HSP. the book is thoughtful, informative and accessible.

01 July 2009


erk. the 4th of july is nearly upon us. every year for forty years i have dreaded our nation's celebration of its independence. bursting fireworks, explosions, parachute flares, choppers overhead all restimulate my experiences in vietnam, march 1968 - march 1969. what others look forward to as party time, i dread. my solution is to insulate myself from the sights and sounds as much as possible -- create a pocket of quiet and calm amid simulated (or sometimes real) gunfire and the surrogate displays of war. you think i'm being overreactive, that it's all innocent fun? just listen to the words of our national anthem -- "the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air" -- then we'll talk. maybe. but for this vet, the 4th is a time of torture.