Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lanugo Dreams

Deep Magic of lanugo dreams written in patterns of soft hair.
They remember to me the tides of the womb, and the sea that was mother.
Still they long to rest at her shores.

Babies breath music carried on an ocean breeze.
Gentle waves of sighs on my senses.

For Daniel. For David. And for Arcadia.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


It's odd how I'm reminded that I still have a lot in common with my Judeo-Christian roots.

A few days ago I picked up a fossil in the yard. No big deal. It's a bit of striated material that might be part of a plant, or maybe even a sea creature like a crinoid. It may be something else entirely. They're pretty common around here. I'm always picking up little pieces like that. This one was bit enough and complete enough to make it into the house to be rinsed off an placed in a curio cabinet next to the megaladon teeth and the trilobites. Treasured like a relic of some long dead saint, revered for being traces of the creatures that shaped the world where our ancestors evolved.

Just because it's the new oddity in the collection, I've looked at it several times over the last few days. tracing the rows of parallel lines like footsteps traced in a meditative maze inlaid on some cathedral floor. I am entranced by the incense of curiosity and the ancient.

And then we come to this morning's coffee. nursed slowly after my shower; I didn't sleep well. I have a big mug filled with creamy coffee that I'd half drained before getting into the shower. I stood in the kitchen taking long slow sips, allowing the incense of java sooth me, with my lip and nose ensconced in the mug.

The mug is one of clear glass, and so I can see that creamy sacred beverage quite well. The bottom of my mug is filled with a fine haze of black coffee-bean powder that has settled out of the coffee while I was in the shower. And as I tip the cup's contents up to my lip, and away, up to my lip and away, the black dust streams away from the bottom of the cup in a series of lines, just like the lines in my fossil. But they're moving. I've stopped drinking now and I'm just moving the coffee, back and forth, watch the lines move as they evoke in my mind an ancient sea. My movement continues in genuflection to this mirage, imagining delicate life forming in ancient tides.

At that point, my wife wanders into the room and asks the perfectly reasonable question, "What on EARTH are you doing?" I tried to explain, and of course failed miserably, then tried to show her, with coffee that was by then hopelessly mixed up. The vision was gone. I shrugged. "I just had the evolutionists' version of finding an image of Jesus in my toast."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Rube Goldberg Culture

A Rube Goldberg Machine is defined as a device that is over-engineered to complete a simple task in too many steps. So as not to emulate, I'll get right to the point.

Our lives our filled with labor saving devices. We use them at home. We use them at work, and even at the grocery store. We use them to get to and from work and the grocery store. In fact, we use so many labor saving devices, we're headed for an energy crisis trying to power all of these labor saving devices. Then, we go to a gym to hop on a treadmill to work off the flab we've built up whilst saving all that labor. In all likelihood, that treadmill is also plugged in and using energy in order to make us work harder and beep at us when we've officially worked off enough flab for the day.

So we have a Rube Goldberg Culture. Too many steps to achieve a simple set of goals. I could go on, but I've got to go hop on the treadmill. Remember that term now; Rube Goldberg Culture.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Biotech Fusion

I remember a futurist once predicting that human-made artificially intelligent robots, not humans, would be the "Earthlings" to colonize the universe beyond our solar system, and outlive our own sun. Now enter biotechnology, ala cyberpunk: the Digital Tattoo Interface, shown off at the recent Greener Gadgets Design Competition hints at a different outcome. By the time "Earthlings" leave this solar system, there may not be a difference.

It's a sub dermal GUI that works with your Bluetooth. The simple fact that this little piece of technology is powered by the user's own body instead of some sort of battery makes it attractive from an environmental standpoint. Even better, any risks associated with it are of direct consequence to the user, rather than to comparatively abstract future generations.

Of course, beyond the medical implications of being able to monitor things like your blood sugar or vitals, or the impending blood clot and cancer questions, there is a cultural slippery slope. Ad space, skins, pop-ups, and spam will take on whole new meanings when we're wearing the internet, as will nudity. "Ahem. Excuse me, but, you've left your personal skin up..." And for the incurable couch potatoes, the inevitable implant of view screens on our bellies will turn us all into Teletubbies, and give new meaning to the phrase "staring at your navel."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Science: It works, dummies.

I'm glad to hear that scientists are actually discussing the problem of getting scientific ideas across to the public. But this article also underscores how much I miss people like Carl Sagan, and dare I say it, even C. Everett Koop.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An Automotive X-Prize Hopeful

A German automaker out of Munich is scheduled to release a production model entry for the Automotive X-Prize in 2009. The company boasts their 2-cylinder turbodiesel model, lightweight and aerodynamic, will attain an impressive 130 to 150 mpg. The car looks to be a mixed bag of ingenuity, and small sacrifices to economy. Instead of side opening doors the front of the car, windshield, steering column and all, tilt upward allowing driver and passenger to step into the tight cockpit "like stepping into a bathtub." The base model LS and a somewhat more powerful 3-cylinder GT model will debut in Europe, with plans to hit the US market the following year. The reviews anticipating this car are mixed, but then, nobody thought much of the Beetle at first either. With a price-tag under $20K and fuel economy of 150mpg, pocketbooks might be making all the decisions about this one.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Common Ancestors

At least once a day, I receive in my email one of those endlessly forwarded editions of one witticisms. They seem make their way from inbox to inbox like the common cold goes through an elementary school. I rarely take the time to read them anymore, and as a rule, I forward them only very selectively, when I have something to say about them. And though in some ways it will seem like a tired subject, I received one yesterday that I’m compelled to respond to, if only because it’s an idea I hear a little too often. What I read, partway through an otherwise innocuous list of queries about life, was this:

> If people evolved from apes, why are there still apes?

I can answer this one!

Because we didn't evolve from apes. We evolved from a common ancestor with apes, and subsequently filled differing, though overlapping ecological niches, both through a process of geographical isolation, and a process called punctuated evolution. Since humans have only been around for a few million years, it can hardly be said that that apes will survive our taking over of those ecological niches. We're competing directly with them for habitat, to say nothing of hunting them for meat or amusement, and we're winning on both counts. Neanderthals also evolved from those same common ancestors, and lived in competition with Homo Erectus (our ancestors), and Homo Sapiens (us). Neanderthals could probably offer you some insight into living in competition with Home Sapiens, but of course, they're extinct. In fact, at one time there may have been as many as five closely-related species of human in direct competition with each other. We are all that remain.

The process of evolution is neither as simple, nor as linear as the popular conception depicts. But if you take the time to study and understand it more fully, it's complexity is matched only by it's beauty.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Not in my Backyard!

Torture is in the news a lot these days, and the news items often include such high ranking officials as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. If it weren't downright scary, it would be laughable to hear a supreme court justice reference a fictional television show when discussing the constitutional merits of torture. But then, discussing should we be discussing the constitutionality of torture at all? I don't think the point of a governing document is to look for loopholes that allow us to do questionable things. I think we would be much better served if Justice Scalia were to stick to imagining one of his own nine children as the terror suspect to be interrogated. It's so much easier to ignore the torture of other people's kids.

In fact, it's becoming easier to ignore other people's children all the time. It might take a village to raise a child, but that village no longer includes some shopkeepers in England. First tested in Wales the Mosquito emits an annoying, high-frequency sound that for the most part, only younger people can hear. The device has proved successful at disbursing gangs of hoodlum teenagers from harassing people in front of shops with the device installed, so they can, I suppose, go harass people in front of shops that don't have such a device. Ironically, the shop owner where the device was tested had planned to install a system that would broadcast classical music in front of his store, a tactic also known to disperse teenage gangs, while also introducing them to the likes of Bach and Mozart. However, the shopkeeper had never gotten around to it, and in fact, did nothing until the maker of the Mosquito gave him a device in order to test it. So by doing nothing, he's found a way to continue ignoring these teens, now with technology on his side.

I wonder where those hoodlum teenagers are now? Perhaps they're busy becoming terror suspects.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tow Truck Drivers and Three Legged Dogs

It's snowed a lot here recently, and lucky me, the heater in my car broke. So I took it in to my mechanic this morning. He's a really friendly guy, and we joked around about the weather and all the automotive trouble thereto appertaining. He commented that "When people make that phone call to the wrecker or the shop, the car is no longer their problem," and told a story about a really beat wrecker driver who shoveled people's cars out of snowbanks while they stood and watched. We concluded that it was a question of empathy.

So on the way home, I saw a lady and her kids walking their three legged dog. Now there's empathy for you. The dog had clearly been in some sort of accident, I'm guessing with a car, and had to have one of his hind legs surgically removed at the hip. That must have been a considerable expense, to say nothing of all the extra care that dog must have needed through all that. Empathy, and lots of it. It’s odd that we can have so much empathy for our dogs, but fellow human beings are little harder for us to empathize with. It’s so much easier to see a person’s flaws if they don’t have fur and big eyes to compensate for them.

To put it another way, it's easy to see the good side of someone going out of their way to help an injured dog, but a lot more telling to see how someone treats a waitress who's having a really bad day.