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Rough Out There

Sunday, 03 Mar 2019, 21:32 UTC

I wonder what the birds do on nights like tonite. The front blew thru, and the temperatures are going to be below freezing for three nights in a row. There go the Apple blossoms, although as for that, the fruit might like those temperature for setting. And there go the Wild Onion blossoms, although as for that, they are wild, after all. The purple Verbena and Spiderwort and Texas Mountain Laurel blossoms should weather the weather ok, since they’re used to this kind of thing.

But the birds. What do they do on nights like tonite? They must be fluffed up and the shrubs in the back, down below the level of the fence, where the cold wind doesn’t blow so hard. Yet… it does blow, and it is getting cold. 

I wonder about those Herons and Egrets I saw the other morning. I was driving eastward into the rising sun and passed a place on the road where two vultures hurled themselves aloft. With big flaps of their wide wings… Wait. Those weren’t vulture wings. They reached too far. And they were jointed in ways no vulture wing is jointed — jointed in a pterodactylic kind of way. Herons, they were! Two of them hurling themselves aloft from the margin of a pond in the early morning sun, making a slow arc, first over the highway and then away somewhere to the southwest.

As I drove by that pond, I looked over and saw an Egret with its neck extended. It must have been staring at the flight of the Herons, just as I had been, although from the look on its face, I wonder if that bird was wondering if it had missed the time-to-hurl-aloft memo and was afflicted with a fear of missing out whatever the Herons had departed to do.

So now I’m wondering about them in addition to our backyard Wrens and Titmice and Sparrows. Where are those two Herons and that FOMO-afflicted Egret? And what are they doing to stay warm on a cold night like tonite?

It’s rough out there.

She Took It To School

Wednesday, 20 Feb 2019, 20:49 UTC

“Mister,” he said.

The classroom was full of students milling around in the moments remaining before the bell.

“Mister,” he said again. I looked over at him. “She took it to school!” 

He was talking about his sister. She is very sick and until recently had been getting chemo. The other day, he told me that the treatment was over — that they weren’t giving her chemo, anymore. And when he told me that, I told him I wanted to draw his sister a picture, at which point we walked over to my desk, and he watched me draw a full page “stick figure” extending an arm that grew large in cartoonish fashion similar to the Keep On Truckin’ bumper stickers from decades ago. It was a simple picture with a ballooning hand reaching out to do a high-five with the words “Good job” underneath and a big cartoonish exclamation point. 

At the time, he said, “She’ll want to draw you a picture herself, Mister” which made me smile.

But it turned out even better than that: she took the picture to school to show to her friends. Because she needs to be proud of having made it through what she made it through.

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.


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.”


Well… yeah. That, too.


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?”


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.


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.