Saturday, May 26, 2007

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'
Isaac Asimov

Sometimes our lives become so weighted by perceived limitations, it is good to hear (or read) of interesting discoveries that just 'happened'. It is wild to imagine that Alexander Flemming discovered Penicillin by complete accident! A discovery that revolutionized the treatment of infections and illnesses, discovered by something as simple as a petri dish accidentally exposed to the air!

X-Rays; a complete accident while Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen researched cathode ray tubes.

Velcro came from an inspired George de Mestral after observing how cockleburrs would cover his pants and dog's coat.

Microwave ovens came into existence after Percy Spencer's candy bar was melted by World War II RADAR equipment.

Quinine, the cure for Malaria was discovered quite by accident when a severely ill South American native drank from a bitter tasting pool of water near a Cinchona tree. The bark from the Cinchona tree, previously though to be poisonous, became a tremendous life-saver.

Safety glass, the kind used in automobiles was discovered by complete accident in 1903 when someone accidentally knocked over a flask filled with plastic. The plastic partially evaporated and the person cleaning up the mess discovered that it all stuck together in a way that made the glass stronger.

Dr. Roy Plunkett, working with gases to keep things cold, discovered a mystery item in a device he was using. He had no idea how it got there, who made it or what it was. He and his lab assistants ran some tests on it, only to discover that it adhered wonderfully to metal, but to most other objects it was very slippery. Any guesses??? That was the birth of Teflon (a.k.a. Tetraflouroethylene)!

So, get out your spoons and knives and soldering irons and saws and a cup of serendipity. Leave all your preconceived notions and limits aside.

Anyone up for tabletop fusion???

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ugly just dies; Beauty lasts forever.

Nature not only abhors a vacuum, but it also abhors 'ugly.' Can anyone admit to seeing a truly ugly flower or tree or bird? I don't mean something that is simply distasteful like the odd little flowers in the desert that smell like rotting meat, or trees that are gnarled and grotesquely twisted, or birds with no feathers on their heads that consume only carrion. I mean ugly as in the actions of people; the abuse and desecration and disregard for another human being.

Ugly as in rape.

Ugly as in genocide.

Ugly as in murder.

Ugly as in physical, verbal and emotional abuse.

I see photos of concentration camps, and the grass and trees are overtaking them. I see photos of great battlefields from years gone by, and the plants are healing the scarred earth. Nature will, in the end, replace all the ugliness in the world with beauty. There is no ugly powerful enough to survive nature's light yet eternally persistent push.

Through my distant memories I inhale the softly moist air of the wild woods and hold it in my mortal lungs for as long as I can. If, perhaps, only through proxy, it heals the wounds and helps make me whole again.

The way of nature is healing. The way of nature is nurturing. We are made from the dust of stars and to the dust of stars we shall return.

We are the expression of nature and this should not be wasted. We should embrace it with every heartbeat. We only have a finite number of them. They are ours for the taking or the wasting. It is up to us to choose the former or latter. I choose the former but it is not easy. For some, for me at times, the fight against lethargy of the heart is a regular battle. One that I am determined to win.

There is beauty in all of us, and it is eternal.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.
Anne Lamott

Hope: Such a small word with such huge meaning.

There is eternal hope, false hope, childish hope, forlorn hope, and further divisions and subdivisions as to be nearly innumerable. But they are all 'hope,' a purely human function.

According to WordNet, hope: “the general feeling that some desire will be fulfilled”; and “expect with desire”. And there you have it. Hope is based on feelings. Feelings are personal; therefore there is no shared hope without shared feelings.

Hope is ephemeral and fleeting like that of a light spring breeze but yet as solid as a mountain. Hope is not something that disappears with a whim. It is built through hardship or sincere desire. Once built, it can only be willingly deconstructed by the same person who built it. If not deconstructed, it is simply ignored; pushed aside by the builder, perhaps to be rediscovered later. Or if not acted upon, to die with its creator.

If you have hope; if you have dreams. Do not deconstruct or destroy them. Ignore them if you must. Push them aside if you must. But never, ever, destroy a single one, for they are precious and they are truly you.

Friday, May 11, 2007

There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you.... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.
Ruth Stout

Perhaps that is why winter is my favorite season. And perhaps this is the cause of my terminal distaste for Las Vegas; the incessant crowd and hell borne summers. I do manage to capture minute moments of blissful solitude by walking alone in the desert among the rocks and scorpions and scrub brush and snakes. But this is different than the solitude of walking quietly on a virginal white blanket of snow, covering a gently slumbering forest floor.

The stillness is almost a tangible patch-quilt of comfort and warmth. It envelops and embraces me and I gladly embrace it in return.

Originally raised on a farm, I moved to the Chicago area in 1988. This was the beginning of my slight yet increasing decline into a depressive urbanism. From there, an ever so brief respite in rural Iowa was quite refreshing. A following year in Minneapolis was acceptable but this move truly started the spiral.

From there to Las Vegas. After moving initially, I still recall wondering to myself 'why?' There was just something not right. Something as tangible as “square peg – round hole” yet successfully concealed behind a concrete and glass facade of smiling faces and empty promises.

Many have written about successfully enjoying solitude while still sharing with other humans, the space I guard. I cannot and will not continue allowing myself the pain and aggravation of being more social than I wish. Than I wish.

I have friends that I regularly chat with. These friends share with me a commonality of circumstance. These are people I look forward to interacting with. Other than these rare, special few, I like the comfort of my patch-quilt and the quiet of the forest.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Men only think of their past right before their death, as if they were searching frantically for proof that they were alive.
Jet,a character from the anime Cowboy Bebop

For no specific reason; no obvious stimulus provided; no prompting or major depression I could determine, I thought of death today. Not in any morbid way was I thinking of my mortality, it was more of a productive introspection.

My first official job was walking soy bean fields in the Mississippi River bay area of western Illinois, pulling and cutting weeds and grasses. I worked for this wonderful gentleman everyone called 'Sparky.' He may have been old even in 1981 but his mind and body were as sharp and spry as someone half his age. He died an honorable death in 2000 at the age of 81. So the story goes, he was inside a large grain bin, inspecting and preparing it for that season's harvest. The top of these bins typically have catwalks that allow for typical maintenance. While doing his work, high on the catwalk, he suffered a massive heart attack and fell 40 some feet to a concrete floor. According to the coroner, he was dead before his feet left the catwalk. He felt nothing.

This is from his obituary:
“He was member or the Providence Baptist Church where he was active in the past as a deacon and usher. He was an active member of the Eliza Lions Club, Mercer County Farm Bureau and the Eliza American Legion. He was a World War II veteran, having served in the Army Air Corp in Hawaii. He loved people, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and was a good neighbor. He farmed all his life, growing grain and raising cattle. “

I think of my father and grandfather. My father passed in 1983 when I was 17. My maternal grandfather passed in 1990, just a few months before my daughter was born. I wonder sometimes if I and my actions honor the memory of these two gentlemen. Have I been honorable?

They were both physical laborers; my grandfather a heavy equipment owner and operator, and my father a farmer, working land that had been in the family for more than 100 years.
I can let a lot of things go in my life; the stupid; the idiotic; the childish. I find it difficult letting go of a particular childish choice; a stupid teenage mistake. Before my father sold the farm, only a few months before he died, he asked me, a young 17 year old boy, if I wanted the farm.

I said 'No.'

Regardless of whether he or my family or the world forgave me for this childish transgression, for me, this is a hurdle. I pray that before my time is done, I will make things right... not with anyone but myself.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
C. S. Lewis

The future comes, whether we are ready or not. Newton defined the first arrow of time, pointed it in one direction and let it fly straight and true. Einstein took the arrow and bent it in one direction and then the other. Then Hawking came along and tied knots in that once straight arrow of time.

In one way or another, regardless of the temporal frame of reference, the future does arrive. Your future. My future. Maybe it's the same future, maybe not. Or just maybe, is there a difference?

Some believe that the future is something that is destined to occur in a predefined fashion; fate. Some believe that the future is completely random, for the most part, and is defined by actions of individuals; Free Will.

Pierre-Simon Laplace, a French mathematician and astronomer in the late 1700's and early 1800's strongly believed in something called 'Causal Determination.' Casually stated, this is the theory that given the current state of the universe, as a function of the past, some all-knowing intellect could predict the future without error. In later years, this intellect was given the name, “Laplace's Demon.”

It is believed that this theory was crushed with the concept of entropy and the laws of thermodynamics. Extending Causal Determinism through Einstein's equivalence of matter and energy does give it some defense, however, the true death of Causal Determinism came with the advent of quantum mechanics. In this weird sub-atomic world, determinism is thrown out the door.

Here, nothing or everything is not only possible but actually occurs until something is observed. Once an object or result is viewed, its reality is snapped into place. Loose your quantum keys? They are everywhere until you find them. Your finding determines where they are. In this strange, whacked-out world, the future does affect the past!

As sentient human beings, optimally we learn from the past, evaluate the present and in some way attempt to direct our future. Within the scope of our lives, we are in charge of casting, titles, plot, setting and post production. If that isn't enough, we are also writer, director and actor.

None and all of this happens until it is observed. You get to choose; to observe.

Large responsibility; large reward. Join me. I'm all in.