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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.

A Week As Sleep Sponge

Sunday, 25 Nov 2018, 23:17 UTC

I visited my dad and Khadija last week. The school district had the entire week off, and it’s not often I have the luxury to travel to the Great White North.

And it was indeed white there, and cold. But I was prepared, with boots and mittens and a warm hat and a scarf and warm shirts and a pair of long johns that The Fair And Industrious Trudy reminded me were in the (very) bottom of my chest of drawers. Few of those things get worn here. But they did there.

Or rather they were put to use on one day in particular. On that day (and only on that day), I ventured out into the elements, taking the bus downtown and walking to the National Gallery of Canada (Klee, Anthropocene, Halifax Harbor). Past the Chateau Laurier. Beneath the Peace Tower as the Carillon bells played. Past the locks. Down a windy street or two. My rarely worn winter clothes served me well. As did a couple stops at Tim Horton’s for coffee (and yes, I confess it now — a donut).

Yet despite the fact that I had come prepared for the weather, it was only on that one day that I went out. Other than a few other outings for food and groceries and … Tim Horton’s with dad for coffee, I did little else than hang out with the two of them.

And I confess it here, a fair amount of said hanging out was in fact spent napping. Because last week until this very day, I was a sleep sponge. And now it is time to go soak up some more, because it’ll soon be time to make the donuts.


Sunday, 18 Nov 2018, 18:40 UTC

The second Pyracantha gave up the ghost this summer. The first one died years ago. Neither of them was in a good place, planted under the eves where even when it rained they probably got no water. The passing of the first one never bothered me, and the demise of the second was neither a surprise nor a disappointment. They are non-native invasives. Good riddance.

With a week of vacation ahead of me, I went outside to dig up the second one. I lopped off a branch. And then I leapt back. There was a creature lurking there. 

There behind a sprig that was still alive. There behind the non-native, invasive berries. There on the wall of the house, certainly taking advantage of the warmth to counter the cold front that had just blown in. There was a prehistoric eye staring at me.

I pulled back the bush thinking it was pinned to the wall. It didn’t move. I poked gently at it. It moved lethargically. 

So it was alive. But heck, it was cold. That’s what cold blooded creatures do when it gets cold: they stop moving. So I left it alone.

Hours later, Trudy returned from the store with a reptile cage. She wasn’t convinced by my point of view. She was worried about the lizard, thought it was hurt. She wanted to let it get better. So we put some mulch it the cage. And two sticks. And a Pine cone. And I went outside to get the lizard. 

I pulled back on the pyracantha and picked it off the side of the house. It didn’t flee, but after I had it in my fingers, the lizard started twisting and bending and turning its head and snapping its jaws. It turned and twisted, and each time the lizard managed to assess the geometry of the situation better. Each time, its snapping mouth seemed closer to my fingers. 

It is at this very moment that the Fair and Industrious Trudy came out with the reptile cage into which I promptly deposited the lizard, and we took him inside.

The story ends well, we think, for the lizard. As it warmed up, it became more active. And as it became more active, we convinced ourselves that there was nothing wrong with it. So although we’ve never seen a Texas Spiny Lizard ever sitting still on the side of our house, we figure that the lizard knew that the neighbor’s cat was on the prowl (much to our dissatisfaction) — that the cat had the lizard pinned down. And that since it was cold outside, the lizard couldn’t dash off in the way that Spiny Lizards usually do. 

So we release our guest into the undergrowth of the backyard, hopefully far enough away from that cat (for a while, at least), that a refuge might be found. It watched us warily from the cage after we opened it. It moved slowly at first, unsure perhaps of what this new turn of events meant. And then with a poke or two from some Pine needles, it dashed under some wood.

And we probably won’t see it until next spring.

Old, Bad Habits

Saturday, 17 Nov 2018, 21:25 UTC

In the mornings in his room, you’ll find boxes of donuts. They are available free for the taking, although you have to buy a napkin.

One morning last week, I walked into his room to fill out a form. Some kids were sitting at a lab table, huddled around a 3D printer. They were eating donuts, although to be honest, I didn’t watch them long, as my eyes were drawn to the boxes of donuts on the other end of the room and the prospect of a donut and a cup of hot coffee.

But here’s the thing of it…

My taste buds don’t taste sweet, anymore. It’s been a few years, but my brain won’t adjust. It keeps thinking that sweet things will taste sweet, but they don’t. And the donuts didn’t on that morning. It’s not that they tasted bad. But they just didn’t taste like my brain thinks they should. 

Old, bad habits die hard.

Driving Into the Darkness

Friday, 16 Nov 2018, 20:53 UTC

Tonite I drove into the darkness. Under the overpass. Around the turn. Past the corner where the street lamp shines. Up the ramp. Into the darkness.

The city was shining in the distance. Skyscrapers punctuating the black along the river.

Over the bridge. My exit approached. In no time, I was speeding back thru the darkness, across the bridge, over the river, back past the shining city. To the corner where the street lamp shines. And the driveway where Trudy’s car had beaten me home.

She arrived before me, because I had driven out into the darkness and back. And she had to feed the doggies. And she was waiting and laughing in the driveway when I came home. Because I was supposed to get home first and feed the doggies. Except that I didn’t. Because… of the driving into the darkness.