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Out In It

Sunday, 10 Feb 2019, 14:40 UTC

It was in the low 40s, which to be honest almost passes for a “hard freeze” in Central Texas. Break out the winter gear! 

It was drizzling, and my glasses were speckled with raindrops. I was coming back from a 4 mile run, heading downhill. In the distance, I saw a man walking the other way.

As he got close, I could see that he had red lips and pink cheeks and was huddled in a meager (albeit unzipped) jacket. He was walking briskly. His eyes were tearing slightly, likely due to the breeze. He looked up and smiled.

“Good for you getting out in it!” he said. “Rock on, brother!”

I smiled and mumbled “Thanks” and headed home.

Uncertainty

Saturday, 02 Feb 2019, 20:33 UTC

It was Saturday just after lunch. Tony was on the floor of our kitchen. There were ice maker parts spread about. 

When he had arrived, Tony had pulled the ice maker out of our freezer and tested the water supply, which was fine. He mumbled something about how the valve must be ok, so he went to his truck for a new ice maker, one which didn’t have a wiring harness. (Why would we replace that if we don’t need to, he explained.) He put everything back together, and … no joy. So he went for a third ice maker, one with a new wiring harness. He put this third unit into the freezer, and … no joy. Unflustered, he went around the back of the refrigerator and tested the water supply valve again. This time, it didn’t work.

He had tested it once, and it had was fine. And then he had tested the ice maker itself, and it had was fine. Then with everything reinstalled, nothing worked. Every time he was almost done, the problem moved around. 

In the end, it was the valve. 

“Do you know anything about quantum mechanics?” I asked him as he was packing up his tools.

“No,” he said.

I explained the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (which I probably mangled — sorry Dad). You know: that the exact position and momentum of a particle cannot be simultaneously measured, that the more precisely you know one, the less well you know the other. I smiled contentedly at the silly analogy for what we had just been through — that the fault moved around each time he tested something, that we had witnessed our own little uncertainty principle in action.

“Hmm,” he said. He packed his tools and rebooted the two new ice makers. Trudy wrote him a check. And Tony left 30 minutes late for his next appointment.

Sore Throat

Thursday, 31 Jan 2019, 22:46 UTC

One of the students in class was holding her throat. She had a look on her face as if she hurt. I asked her if her throat was sore. She nodded, squinting her eyes to milk the moment as much as she could.

“It’s the little round things,” she said.

“Lymph nodes?” I asked.

“That’s it,” she said.

A student standing nearby said, “I had mine removed.”

I gasped. “You had your lymph nodes removed!? I don’t think so. You must mean your tonsils.”

I pointed to the scar on my neck. “If you had your lymph nodes removed, your neck would look like this.”

“Wrinkles?”

Well… yeah. That, too.

K

Sunday, 27 Jan 2019, 20:35 UTC

Thursday Afternoon

On Thursday afternoon after school, I was in my room winding down. A few students had been getting help, but they were gone. K came running around the corner. She was in shorts and a jersey and was covered in sweat. She had a smile on her face.

“I was worried you might be gone,” she gasped. And she handed me something that looked like a certificate.

It was an invitation for teacher appreciation night. She had chosen me to come stand with her at the beginning of Friday’s home game.

“Can you be there?” she asked.

“Of course!”

Friday Evening

When the time came before the game on Friday, they lined us up on the sideline for the national anthem. And then, athlete by athlete, teacher by teacher, they planned to call us out to center court.

“Let’s run,” K said. “You used to run marathons, so we can run, right?”

“Right!” 

And when the announcer called her name and mine, we dashed through a tunnel of up-held arms. We ran out to center court, where we stood, athlete-teacher-athlete-teacher while the crowd applauded for the girls and for the teachers they chose to recognize.

“I have a gift for you,” she said as we left the court.

Each of the girls had a little bag for each of us. In my bag, was a tall can of Arizona green tea, a bag of Chex Mix, and an autographed ball — in my case, a ball with a bit of a math pun K had written on it.

That ball will be featured prominently on my desk tomorrow morning.

R

Sunday, 27 Jan 2019, 13:22 UTC

At the end of the day on Friday, they called the faculty together. Afterwards, I walked slowly down the hall. Someone was walking next to me, but we were both silent. I was looking at the floor. I don’t know who it was. And when I got to my room, I wasn’t sure what to do. I stood at my desk for a while. My head was in my hands. I stared blankly at the desktop and then turned on some music. 

School was over. The kids were gone. I turned the speakers up, so that I might swim in the harmony, hoping that this might help, which it did a bit. After a couple songs, someone came into my room, and we spoke briefly.

R was supposed to come back soon. He hadn’t been in my classroom for a while, but he was coming back. I was looking forward to it, because he used to sit in the back and make direct eye contact and ask a good question every once in a while and sometimes even smile. Questions are a good thing. Smiles are better. I wanted him back.

But he won’t be coming back. Not to my classroom. Not to his friends. Not to his sisters or his mother or father. He won’t be coming back. And although the music helped me a bit. I can’t imagine how hard it is on them.

 

Bilobate Planetesimal

Wednesday, 02 Jan 2019, 14:13 UTC

The images have begun to arrive from Ultima Thule as New Horizons begins a long, slow data dump.


Lest you misunderstand, this is not one of those.

New Year’s Day

Tuesday, 01 Jan 2019, 14:23 UTC

The strings of gravity are attenuated out there. Out at ultima Thule. Yet celestial music plays even in those farthest reaches.

On New Year’s Eve 2018, the spacecraft that visited Pluto approached, encountered and promptly left behind a second celestial body orbiting our sun in the distant, primordial quiet. A body beyond Pluto in the Kuiper Belt. They call it MU69. They call it Ultima Thule. On that New Year’s Eve, New Horizons was there.

At the appointed hour on New Year’s Day, a DSN dish in Spain, scheduled with care, locked onto a stream of downlinking data. The mission operations team confirmed that the spacecraft was healthy. C&DH reported that the SSR pointer was as expected. The data recorder was full.

With luck, there will be pictures to follow. Happy 2019!

A Small World

Monday, 31 Dec 2018, 20:10 UTC

Tonite, New Horizons will scream through the darkness past Ultima Thule.

Going Around the Corner for Coffee

Sunday, 09 Dec 2018, 11:48 UTC

I went to Ottawa during Thanksgiving to visit my dad. Mainly just to visit. To spend time.

I wasn’t much help doing anything other than putting dishes in the dishwasher and carrying stuff out to the car from where they had been staying. But there was one day when my dad and I went to have coffee.

My original plan was to walk around the corner to the Tim Horton’s. It’s very close to where they live. And I was chomping at the bit to get outside in the Canadian snow and cold. 

Ok, that picture comes from a walk I took later. I provide it here as evidence that, “Yes it was cold and there was snow.” That walk involved bus tickets and walking downtown. But on this occasion, I was merely contemplating a walk around the corner.

“I can drive you,” Dad said. 

“No thanks,” I said. “It’s close. I can walk.” 

During the course of the morning, he offered again. I repeated my plan to walk.

“Perhaps you should go with your dad,” Khadija said.

Well, ok. She didn’t actually say that. She is more gentle and discrete than to phrase something quite like that. (Message to self: It’s not too late; emulate this!) But I finally figured out that perhaps I should accept my father’s proposal. So we drove.

Dad paid. We drank hot coffee. He had a donut. I managed to resist.

We sat. We talked. For a good long time.

What the Disembodied Head Said

Sunday, 09 Dec 2018, 10:02 UTC

Perhaps you have heard about this Apple ad from 1984 (even if you weren’t watching the Super Bowl halftime on TV that year). The ad never played again, but it was a watershed event, the dawn of a new age.

But even if you know the ad, have you paid attention to exactly what the disembodied head on the screen said — to his full speech up to the point of the hammer throw?

Here is a transcript:

We have created for the first time in all history a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests of any contradictory true thoughts.

Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth.

We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause.

Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion.

Relevant today? Why or why not? Discuss.