Archive for June, 2009

Kevin Kelly: Why Technology Can’t Fulfill

June 29, 2009

At the beginning of this summer an Amish guy I met online rode his bicycle out to our home along the foggy Pacifica coast. Online, is of course, the last place you’d ever expect to meet an Amishman. But he contacted me via my blog, and then a few months later he appeared at our door hot, sweaty and out of breath from the long uphill climb to our house under the redwoods. Parked a few feet away was his ingenious Dohan foldup bike, which he rode from the train station. Like most Amish he did not fly, so he had stored his bike on the 3-day cross-country train ride from Pennsylvania. This was not his first trip to this neck of the woods. He had previously ridden his bike along the entire coast of California, and had in fact seen a lot of the world on train and boats.

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A more mystical concept of animals

June 23, 2009

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

– Henry Beston, The Outermost House

This quotation was on a poster at our vet’s office in Atlanta, and it stuck with me so that I eventually read Beston’s book, which is a wonderful piece of nature writing that documents a year he spent in a tiny cottage at the very tip of Cape Cod.

It’s much on mind today because I am going to the vet later on today, but will leave that place alone. It sucks  – hard – that we outlive our animals, but that’s the deal we strike when we bring them into our homes and lives.

We say to God, “I will take your creature to our home, provide for it and together we will grow and learn about each other. We will make each other happy and fill voids and we will all be better for it.”

And God replies,  “So it shall be, but only for a little time of years.”

We sayd “Deal!” and dive in. Then our time is up, and we’re sad, but it must be, for the final boon the steward grants to those in his care is relief from pain, darkness and confusion.

And then, what? I really don’t know. Animal heaven. Warm grass, cool shade, and endless hamburger.

Another comes to take that place, and we begin again.

The beginning and end and midpoint of times

June 22, 2009

Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.

– Hippolyta, I.ii.8-12

Yesterday I finished Infinite Jest, but I think it’ll be awhile before I can form a full opinion of it. Parts of it are brilliantly funny, but it’s a long, long book and even the footnotes have footnotes.  There is no real ‘end’ to speak of, and several things are left unresolved. Wallace’s writing style is infectious. Last night I was drifting in and out of twilight sleep while trying to make sense of the book, and found that I was doing it in his long sentences and characteristic expressions (cf, “the howling fantods”).

I’ll probably be revisiting the book every so often, since it very definitely seems like the sort of book in which you discover (or re-remember) new things at each go-round.

Work is slowing somewhat as we reach the end of this quarter. The technical stuff is pretty much done and the various teams are in closing mode. My job, at this point, is to answer any remaining little questions but mostly to stay out of the way and let the account managers manage accounts. July begins the next quarter for us. The circle of life continues.

We had a very good Father’s Day around here – strawberries and homemade pastry (!) for breakfast, Mass, a long day on the couch reading (see above), burgers on the grill and pie for dessert. We played with the cat, watched fireflies and tried to stay cool.

Our oldest girl is traveling with her grandparents out west to Colorado and Iowa. She seems to be having a good time, but is calling home every other day or so. Make of that what you will. Her brother will be going with the other grandparents out to the Arkansas/Oklahoma/Missouri quadrant next month and is looking forward to that, since most of that time will be at the lake. The others are flitting to and from friends houses and generally having a pretty good time of it all. One of them opines aloud that since we have a dog, a cat, two rats and a handful of fish, the time is ripe for a chinchilla; these wonderings generally go unremarked-upon.

Smallest girl and the cat chase each other around. The baby is starting to eat a bit of cereal, and the dog abides.

The garden is doing quite well. The tomatoes that I thought were dying have actually come back quite strong. I pull them off as they start to blush and we stick ’em in the kitchen window to finish off. The real success story, in terms of pure vitality, are the zucchini plants which have complete taken over their part of the patch and are on the verge of swallowing up the two squash plants. Whatever it is that cucurbits need as regards soil, sun and moisture, we seem to have it.

Most of the sunflower seedlings got eaten by the rabbits, as you may recall. A few managed to survive and one of them is topping out at about six feet tall. It’s got a nice looking bud forming in the middle, and everyone’s looking forward to see it gyrate slowly as it follows the sun.

Speaking of the sun, I got some celestial geekery in on Father’s Day, since it fell on the summer solstice this year. It was plenty bright and hot, and I made the most of my day off by parking it on the couch to read and recover from the prior day’s bike ride and a little niggling head cold that we’re passing back and forth. Right sunset, something along the horizon formed a very nice crepuscular ray pattern in the sky. Whatever it was cast a long shadow in the sky that went right down to the horizon, which was ultimately obscured by trees and houses.  I’ve never noticed it before, so maybe it only happens on the solstice. This would be nifty as can be, and I’ll be looking for it next year if the weather is clear enough.

The quote at the top is from Act 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I dropped it in here because we’re about 2 days from Midsummer and also because we’re in a new moon as I write this, so it makes good lunar sense. Little by minuscule little, the days are getting shorter. They’re not going out quietly, mind you. It’s well nigh 100 here today. But they are starting to diminish, to decrease a little. In a sort of celestial liturgy, the days begin to decrease with the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, who also had to decrease. The days will shorten, and night will fall, and it will keep falling until the next Feast of Nativity, when the rising sun retakes the sky and the daylight wins again. The shadows beneath the trees, moving in slow arcs across the ground, the analemma, solstices and equinoxes, the

…organization of the universe and the force of its elements, the beginning and the end and the midpoint of times, the changes in the sun’s course and the variations of the seasons. Cycles of years, positions of the stars, natures of animals, tempers of beasts, powers of the winds and thoughts of men, uses of plants and virtues of roots – such things as are hidden I learned and such as are plain; for Wisdom, the artificer of all, taught me.

These things all play out, for me, in the ever-changing shapes of light and shadow on the ground, the thick green smell of the countryside in its peak and the slow wheeling of the sun, moon and stars. They’re a slow celestial liturgy – majestic and quiet, and but sometimes also silly. Chesterton noted in Orthodoxy that joyous repetition is the delight of a child’s game. The thing repeated (“Do it again!”) is done for the sheer happiness of it, whether it’s making a funny horse noise to amuse a three-year-old or creating thousands of little daisies on a roadside. He may have made the mountains and set limits for the ends of the sea, but He also seems to be quite fond of thistles and goldfinches, at least around here.

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

The 100 most beautiful words in the English language…

June 17, 2009

...according to the folks at alphaDictionary (via kottke). I am pleased to see tintinnabulation, pyrrhic and dulcet included.

So there’s this cat…

June 13, 2009

On Friday, I rode my bike for 16 miles, cleaned up, ate breakfast and then headed out for an early morning appointment with a partner of ours and (hopefully) a new customer. It’s a good 40+ miles into town from here, but most of that is interstate and I can make pretty good time. The night before, the weather had been pretty heinous (heavy thunderstorms, tornado watches, &c), but the morning had broken pretty nicely. I pulled into the parking lot, idled for a bit with the AC running while I checked e-mail and my teeth one last time, then got out of car. I hit the button to lock the doors, which also turns on the alarm.

Chirp-chirp! and then: meow

Wait, what?

I hit the button again: chirp-chirp, and then: meow meow meow meow as regular as can be. My first thought was that the alarm was flipping out. A woman passing by and I looked at each other while the car continued to meow. Oh Lord, I thought, I’ve run over a cat. I looked under the car. No cat. I walked around the car. No cat. The meowing was…in the car. I popped the hood, and the meowing got louder.

There was a cat somewhere in the engine compartment of the car.

I couldn’t see it, but the woman and I could both hear it.

Well, says I, the engine will certainly cool down in a little while and I’m sure Felix, or whatever his/her name is will slink out directly. No doubt the cat wants to calm its nerves after an 80 mph ride up I-24 before slinking away. I certainly would. I lower the hood, assure the passers-by that I will not restart the engine unless I can confirm that the cat is gone. And, of course, I won’t, since I don’t to risk turning the cat into mincemeat should it happen to contact the serpentine belt or radiator fan or whatever moving component is nearby. I closed the hood and went to my meeting.

About an hour later, I come back out and chirp the alarm a few times. Nothing. The cat seems to be gone. One last time: chirp-chirp, and then: meow. The cat is not gone, and the meows are sounding a little…faint. I join  another meeting via conference call and everyone on the line has a good laugh about my predicament:

  1. I seem to have a cat, which I cannot see.
  2. If I can’t see it, I can’t get it out.
  3. If I can’t get it out, I can’t leave, QED.

The woman comes back and the two of us poke around the engine compartment to see if we can get a look. I call some cat-owning friends for advice. I tweet my predicament, which also updates my Facebook page. Internet advice starts rolling in, of varying degrees of helpfulness.

Drop some food, but I don’t have any. Obtain a small dog. Get on the highway and really open it up. Wait it out.

It’s starting to get sort of hot out in the parking lot. I’m starting to form a plan involving a tow-truck, the closest Toyota dealership and lots of wrenches. In a last ditch effort, I start removing the plastic covers that hide the undercarriage beneath the front bumper. Neither hide nor hair of the cat is visible. Suddenly, a paw drops down right in front of my face. Right! I wedge my hand in the crack and start fishing around. After a minute or two, a tiny grey kitten emerges.

I hold it up, and the office people who have been watching me from an open doorway let out a cheer. They donate a box, and some water but – oddly enough – not a home. I haul the cat to our house. Plans form and reform. There’s no way, says I, that this cat could have traveled before secreting itself away in my bumper. Someone is no doubt combing this neighborhood looking for it. We should hang up signs announcing that we have FOUND: A GREY KITTEN and include our phone number.

Which we do, but really, the effort is half-hearted at best because the children have already seen the kitten and the result is a foregone conclusion, to wit, we own a cat. Today the signs came down and I bought some extra strength litter in which she can crap.

We named her Athena, because she is also grey-eyed and also because she too seems to have jumped fully formed from the brow of Zeus and into my car. No one has seen any cats around lately – strays or otherwise. It’s a mystery. So, anyway, we have a cat now.

grey-eyed Athena

Update: according to The Google, this whole cat-in-the-engine-compartment is not at all uncommon. Go figure.

With labor heated sore

June 8, 2009

Then came the iolly Sommer, being dight
In a thin silken cassock coloured greene,
That was vnlyned all, to be more light:
And on his head a girlond well beseene
He wore, from which as he had chauffed been
The sweat did drop; and in his hand he bore
A boawe and shaftes, as he in forrest greene
Had hunted late the Libbard or the Bore,
And now would bathe his limbes, with labor heated sore.

– Spenser, The Mutabilitie Cantos, Canto VIII

The container tomatoes looked like they were coming down with something, so I broke down and bought some organic everythingcide which is supposed to work on mites, aphids, scales and various fungal maladies. I’ve only applied it twice, and it doesn’t look like the stuff is spreading, so maybe it’s working.  I went  ahead and hit the zucchini as well, since a few of the leaves were starting to mottle a little bit. The plants themselves are…gigantic. Like, 3 or 4 feet across and probably 2-3 feet high. I’m not sure I could bear seeing them croak after getting so large. There seem to be a few miniature zucchinis among the foliage, so I think we’re on the right track.

I spent Saturday evening at a cornhole tournament that our scout pack organized as a fundraiser. There’s a late-summer trip to the Huntsville space center planned, and the goal was to take some of the sting out of the price.  Through a series of events too long to relate here, I have a cotton candy machine in my garage. I schlepped it to the event, but didn’t end up moving much candy. This was actually OK, since I’d never actually used the thing before and needed the practice. I also discovered that the plug really needs to be replaced.  A thick layer of electrical tape is not a proper substitute for a ground prong. Zot!

Yesterday I had to run the thing out of candy sugar before I could clean it and put it away, so the kids played in the sprinkler and ate gobs of blue cotton candy.  I don’t think it gets a whole lot better than that for the under-10-set. Everyone turned in early and the oldest girl chased fireflies around the yard.  Quintessential summer.

Century training continues apace (har).  I have a little bit of travel this week that’s going to interrupt some of my daily riding schedule. Dumb work. They’ve got their nerve.

Anyway, our school year is tapering down to a sort of trickle. The older kids are winding things up in between scouting day camp, VBS and upcoming trips with grandparents (one is going with my parents out west to Colorado, the other with E’s parents to Kansas). Some time in August, we’ll haul up to Maryland to visit family there, which ought to be a good time.

I’m about halfway through Infinite Jest. Parts of it are hilarious. The whole of it is simply amazing, in terms of scope and complexity. I don’t know how he kept on top of all of it. I think by the end of it, I’ll want to unwind with something a little less complicated. Chaucer in Middle English, or something along those lines. Chaucer is blogging, by the way.

We recently wrapped up BSG 4.0 and are waiting for 4.5 to hit the Netflix queue so that we can find out how it all ends. On deck after that is Mad Men with a sprinkling of movies that came and went without us (Cinderella Man and The Happening are sitting upstairs even now).

Looking ahead: midsummer – the summer solstice –  is approaching, and this year coincides with Father’s Day. The sun will reach its northernmost arc before starting the southern retreat. About this same time, the Church celebrates the Nativity of St. John the Baptist