All About the Moon

The man in the moon is flat, too. To some, the dark side of the moon is the stuff of folklore, but I take it very seriously. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the moon has no electricity to speak of, which means there isn't enough light to see what is or isn't there. This would include the moon's backside.

I've never put much stock in all those stories about the Apollo astronauts and their fancy equipment, because everybody knows what happens when you try to use flash through a closed window. All those photons just bounce off the window and come back and hit you in the eye, so those astronauts would have been too blind to see the dark side of the moon anyway. I've seen the kinds of photos you get in that situation, so anyone who says the snapshots turned out okay hasn't done any professional photography.

Some people say the astronauts might have rolled the window down, but I don't believe that, either. They were going pretty fast, so the wind would have been blowing in their faces. You can't see the moon in your viewfinder when the wind is blowing in your face, and I don't think they would have wanted to put on a pair of goggles just so they could take a picture of something dark.

I'll bet the moon is flat, like a saucer. I have some saucers in the kitchen cabinet above the sink, next to the doughnuts, so I know what a saucer looks like. My saucers all have little stickers on them that say they're made in China, and I think that's where the moon was made, too.

Like your friend the dog, every myth has its day, but it's always nighttime on the dark side of the moon.


Dream Envy

My dreams are never like this My dreams are boring. Mostly they're just regurgitations of everyday life, although there's a certain lucid quality to them that just isn't there during my waking hours. In my dreams no detail goes unnoticed, and I ponder minutia that simply wouldn't be worth contemplating if I were awake.

For example, a recent episode featured yours truly entering a café for lunch, and although the host's voice was perfectly clear and understandable when he asked whether I preferred a table or booth, I insisted on asking him to repeat the question anyway. Then, after I had shrugged off the choice completely, he led me to a table covered with jackets, which he unceremoniously brushed to the floor. With my enhanced dreaming-perception, I noticed the college student seated to my right was wearing shiny black ear buds, and that they were much longer than ordinary ear buds. I woke up before I had the chance to order my food, so I can't say anything about the texture or quality of the lunch.

Where mine are excruciatingly mundane, the dreams of My One True Love are rich in symbolism, and make for fine conversation over morning coffee. In one particularly symbolic installment of her mind's nocturnal handiwork, a leaf-green baby squirrel is accidentally dropped into a snake's lairalthough it more closely resembles a rabbit hutchand immediately clings to the snake, which is evidently the maternal sort since it has human breasts.

In another, slightly less symbolic but no less entertaining dream, she stars as a security guard armed with a remote control that causes the rabbits on the lawn of the office building she's guarding to hop on command, and also in the direction of her choosing. A dog approaches and sits on her foot, which she instantly recognizes as the behavior of an official Security Dognot to be confused with an ordinary watchdog, of course.

Now if only there were some way to capture those dreams on video . . .


Digitizing an Analog World

Bits and pieces in, bits and pieces out. As it turned out, the music-related theme triggered by last week's monologue continued into the weekend. Although some of the more profound questionssuch as why I might like a particular song in spite of idiotic lyricsare still blowing in the wind, there are many avenues left to explore. For example, the old analog versus digital debate hasn't ever really gone away, which may say something about the brutality of subverting the aural experience with the cold rationality of computers.

On the other hand, it may also be a testimony to the technologies that make it possible to carry an entire music library in a shirt pocket, and the apparent lack of widespread disappointment at the sound quality of such a compact arrangement. If there's a tradeoff, it must not be the sort of thing that causes sleeplessness, becauseat least outside the context of brawny speakers and their similarly substantial power requirementsanalog anything is getting hard to find.

This morning's Web-crawling turned up an actual example of one man's frustration with the digital listening experience, and what he did to convince himself that the superior audio he remembered from his analog-tape days was more than mere nostalgia. His digital versus analog shootout was particularly interesting to me because I, too, have the Sony WM-D6C Pro (a.k.a. Walkman Professional) he chose as one of his weapons. His conclusion was, as he says, a bit of a shock.

Okay, so we are now talking about tapes recorded on two of the best tape decks every made and replayed on what is amongst the finest portable audio devices ever made. But really, the obvious, massive and indisputable superiority of the ancient cassette technology over the latest compressed audio codecs on a highly rated MP3 player was a shock (if not really a surprise).

Of course, the subject is larger than that. An Apples to iPods comparison makes some sense, and even bouncing a pocket-size collection of microchips designed to play music against a device specifically designed for capturing the audio portion of our analog world isn't entirely meaningless. Ripping tracks from a CD isn't recording in the traditional sense, but converting sound waves to electrical current with a microphone adds an extra A to D step that doesn't exist in the computer-with-CD-drive scenario.

But even after subtracting every possible difference and disadvantage of either mediumanalog or digitalwhat remains is really more of a debate over subjective matters such as warmth, space, and yes, the sweetness of the listening experience. Quantifying the difference is more difficult, and perhaps impossible; in the end, it's up to our earsand our mindsto decide what sounds better.

And then there's that pesky pocket issue.


Why I Hate Butterflies

Cuteness doesn't grow on trees When we think about soft and gentle thingsthe purring of kittens, four-ply toilet tissue, and butterfly sneezes for exampleit's easy to forget there's a dark side to everything, and that cuteness doesn't grow on trees.

This sobering truth occurred to me as I was examining a pair of butterfly wings I found among the radishes this morning. At first I was overcome with sadness because there was no butterfly to go along with those beautiful wings, which made me wonder if someone had eaten the butterfly's body, which made me think about donuts.

I love chocolate donuts, so I went back inside and found a whole box of them in the cabinet above the sink, which is a pretty good place to store donuts when you think about it. As the sugar and grease began to take effect, I returned to the vegetable patch to ponder the tragedy of butterflies. I wondered what might cause them to abandon their wings in the first place, and whether they regret it afterward.

Then, with a dull thud, the light came on. Butterflies are always sneezing, and that's why they're forever losing their wings! All over the world the explosive force of butterfly sneezes wreaks havoc, so it's only fair that their wings should be blown off in the process. Devastating hurricanes, spawned by the incessant sneezing of butterflies in Madagascar. Wildfires in California, fanned by the combined exhaust from the mouths of Mexican butterflies. The polar ice cap, melting under the hot breath of sneezing Icelandic butterflies.

Butterfly sneezes aren't cute.


A Higher Fi

Goodbye, evil lo-fi listening experience. Yesterday's monologueand the conversations it triggeredfired a few more music-related synapses in my brain. One e-mailed comment in particular made me smile, just because its author basically insinuated that my musical tastes seem to be improving since I'm okay with Johnny Cash now. This is because she happens to enjoy the country genre, while I generally do not.

Not that Ricky Skaggs' rendition of Cajun Moon isn't jiggy. It's in one of my playliststhe one I turn to for jigginessbut that's as far as I'm willing to go with it. One song. No more.

I've always liked the Last Train to Hicksville album, which doesn't exactly qualify as country music, although it's probably closer than the rest of my collection. But Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks aren't everyone's cup of tea, or coffee, genre aside.

On the much heavier side of my musical scale lie creations such as Jean-Michel Jarre's Zoolook album, Tom Waits' Rain Dogs, and of course songs like Leonard Cohen's Tower Of Song, and Everybody Knows. Ani Difranco's rendition of Amazing Grace counts as one of my more memorable sonic experiences, but on the other hand, there's also room in my playlist for the Crash Test Dummies' A Cigarette Is All You Get.

I've never met a Nora Jones tune I didn't like, but I can probably say the same for the Talking Heads, too. Not so when it comes to Smash Mouth, although a number of their songs live quite happily in at least one of my playlists. When it comes to sheer numbers, there are more Beatles, Grateful Dead, and Lou Reed disks on my shelf than anything else. Go figure.

But John Stewart is there, too, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Nirvana, and Peter Gabriel, and Tracy Chapman, and Dave Grusin, and that's all I'm going to say about it. Oh, and the Velvet Underground.

Neither Paul Simon's Graceland nor Joan Osborne's Relish require much in the way of introduction, but there are only a few tracks on the latter that really grab meSpider Web, for examplewhile Graceland is one of those rare works that has no skippable songs. In my humble opinion, of course. Same goes for the Brandenburg Concertos, but that's another story entirely.

Then there's Kiln House, which generally does require some introduction; virtually everyone is familiar with Fleetwood Mac, but most people don't remember the band without its female members. Juluka's Scatterlings album is similarly unfamiliar, but for an entirely different reason.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers make an appearance in my playlist; Walkabout is one song I'd really hate to be without. In the compilation department, there's a Northern Exposure (right, the TV show) disk that offers an eclectic variety of music, from Magazine 60 to Etta James.

It wouldn't be right to ignore Bob Dylan, but like the Beatles, there's so much music that it would be pointless to point it out. So I won't, except to say that, these days, I'd rather listen to Things Have Changed than Tangled Up In Blue, just because . . . well, because I've heard that song before. I've also heard way too much Pink Floyd in my time, so only one of their songs survives in my playlist now, and that's San Tropez, from the Meddle album.

The rest is random stuff I've picked up here and there. A few Phish tunes here, a little J. J. Cale there, a couple B. B. King tracks to round things out. I still like to hear Steppenwolf's Magic Carpet Ride from time to time, or Snowblind Friend. The B52s' Love Shack is fun sometimes, but so is David Bowie, or Yaz. It's A Beautiful Day is on the shelf with a few other notorious classics, but mostly, it stays right there.

Where's Neil Young? I don't know, but then, there's always something missing, isn't there?


Fast-forwarding Johnny

When is the end not the end? It happens, I think, when we reach a certain point in life. The insight may come amid that disconcerting stretch commonly referred to as midlife crisis, or it may come much later, when life is nearly gone. For a fortunate few, the realization that it's never too late to be what you might have been comes early in life, but then, life is notoriously unfair.

I wonder if Johnny Cash awoke one day with just such a realization. I know it's tough to imagine the man burdened with regret over his obviously successful music career, but when I listen to the songs he sang as he neared the end of his life, I have to wonder where he kept them all that time, and why. Contracts, maybe.

It's been years since I first heard the newand also quite oldJohnny Cash on the local college station, so I'm a bit surprised at the reaction when I ask people what they think of his later stuff. Most haven't heard it at all, and it isn't easy to convince them to even give it a try. Not that I blame them; I was never a fan myself, and I liked it that way.

Anyhow, if you think you know Johnny Cash but only associate songs about trains and prison with the name, you might want to listen to Hurt (from the American IV - The Man Comes Around album) just because that one is easy to find on the Web.

I'm not saying you'll become a fan, but you may reconsider your position on whether it's really too late, ever, to be what you might have been.


The Cat's Meow

Not unlike a Great Pyrenees Some of the most interesting stories are made incredible after the fact. I especially enjoy those that seem credible enough while they're unfolding, then abruptly lose their plausibility for reasons that don't necessarily put the story to rest.

According to week-old media reports, folks spotted an African lion roaming the plains of east-central Colorado, prompting them to notify the county sheriff's office. Someone had taken photos of the beast, and besides, there's at least one exotic-animal sanctuary in the area, so the idea of a lion on the loose was easily within the realm of possibility.

Wildlife officials agreedjudging by one article at leastthat the photographs did, in fact, seem to indicate the presence of an African lion. Then there were the tracks, which, again, seemed to belong to . . . well, an African lion. The local police department sent a helicopter, the local zoo sent large-cat experts, and the Department of Agriculture sent professional large-exotic-animal tracking dogspresumably with equally professional handlersto aid in the search. And needless to say, more than a couple law-enforcement officers were deployed that day, beginning somewhere around 7:30 in the morning when the first reports began to come in.

This story might have taken an ugly turnlions do like their meat a bit on the rare sidebut it didn't. It did, however, take a turn toward the incredible when the search was called off shortly after 3:00 in the afternoon of the same day. According to one news release, it wasn't a lion at all.

Authorities now believe it could be a Great Pyrenees dog.

Of course. When you think about it, those do look a lot like African lions.


Rethinking Perception

A naked mole rat might perceive this differently As humans, one of our defining characteristics is the ability to perceive ourselves in the act of perception. Although this ability is shared, they say, with certain other intelligent lifeformsthe dolphin comes to mindit's an important distinction when the time comes to make decisions concerning who's important and who isn't. For example, a naked mole rat would be less important than a human, because naked mole rats don't like perceiving themselves in the first place, so there's no way they'd want to repeat the experience even if they could.

But even with clothes on, our perceptions aren't necessarily the same as our neighbor's perceptions. What's the point in perceiving our own perceptions if they're all buggered up from the start?

Maybe naked mole rats are smarter than I thought.


The Little Big Bang

My own personal mockup of the Large Hadron Collider, with which I hope to create my own universe, and popcorn. As we approach next month's final countdown at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, this may be a good time to reflect on the scientific accomplishments of the human race. I say this because if the experiment goes terribly wrong, we may not be in a position to reflect on much of anything. This isn't to say we won't be reflective, but it may be in much the same way a chunk of molten glass is reflective, which isn't quite the same thing. The aim of this grand experiment is to smash protonsmoving at only a hair or two under the speed of lightinto each other so as to recreate conditions a split second after the big bang. This will be done in a large circular underground tunnel, because if there's one thing you want when creating the little big bang, it's privacy.

Assuming they don't accidentally create a black hole during the course of their experiment, the scientists will have petabytes of data to sift through, which means they'll need plenty of snacks while they're staring at their computer screens. As you might imagine, a device of this caliber doesn't take all day to produce large quantities of delicious popcorn, so it isn't like the LHC will be idle when the experiment is done. As any scientist will tell you, funding isn't always easy to come by, so it's fortunate that most people love popcorn.

According to a Wikipedia article on the subject, the LHC may produce the rather bashful entity known as the Higgs boson. It may also produce strangelets, micro black holes, magnetic monopoles and supersymmetric particles, although pseudosymmetric slices of cheese pizza certainly aren't out of the question, and would be welcome.

Although some believe this experiment will result in the end of life as we know it, the folks at Universe Today believe otherwise, and aren't afraid to say so.

Question: Will the Large Hadron Collider Destroy the Earth?

Answer: No.

There are, of course, worse things than the utter annihilation of the planet. Rebel hordes from the wrong side of our galaxy, streaming through the newly created tear in the space-time continuum could be worse. And how much popcorn is too much?


Pamcakes and Meebus

For the love of incomprehensible gibberish Very young children often have a remarkable facility with words. Not all of those words make sense to the adult ear, but that only means we get dumber as time goes on. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, which would account for the occasionally incomprehensibleto the average mind at leastutterings of My One True Love.

For example, a familiar phrase such as "pancakes and eggs" becomes "pamcakes and meebus" when it exits her mouth. Although this may seem, at first, to be nothing more than mutilation, the genius of it becomes evident once the phrase is seen for what it really is. It's an anagram, and therein lies the splendor of the thing.

Since the Web-based anagram processor I used returned 58,824 possibilities for the pamcakes and meebus phrase, uncovering its true meaning required above-average powers of discernment. Fortunately, above-average powers of discernment are among my underling's talents, so I merely asked him to point out the most likely translation in the list. He did, and as usual, he was correct.

A Aback Upends Me Ems

The deciphered phrase is plainly a reference to her English professorone Adolph Abackwho had the loathsome habit of crossing out em dashes in his students' papers, then inserting long vertical marks of his own in their place. He did this, she thinks, because he was bored.

In any case, I've learned to think twice before I dismiss incomprehensible gibberish, no matter the relative age of its source. After all, isn't that what life is all about?


My Forgotten Relative

But she seemed so familiar . . . During the course of a particularly grueling household move, I stuffed things in boxes intending to go through them later, when I had more time. That was over ten years ago, which simply means I've been really, really busy. It has nothing whatsoever to do with procrastination.

Anyhow, I finally found the time to open those boxes a couple weeks ago, and in one was an odd picture frame that seemed vaguely familiar. The handsome woman whose photo graced the frame was similarly familiar; I wasn't sure who she was, but felt a certain kinship just the same. After all, I'd been lugging her around with me all this timethrough several moves in factso I knew she was important.

Phone calls to relatives were fruitless. No one seemed to know the person I described, or if they did they pretended not to. I took a photograph of the photographpeculiar frame and alland e-mailed it to everyone I could think of. Same result. In desperation, I began posting the mystery woman's likeness on the Web, but the only response was from someone in Africa who wanted to give me 20% of her missing father's $14.9 million fortune. The private investigator I hired cost nearly that much, but also turned up nothing.

After three weeks of mental torture, the resolution cameas it so often doesby way of a few simple words from the mouth of My One True Love.

"You idiot!" she said, not altogether unlovingly. "That's the sample photo they put in picture frames you buy at the store! Anyone can see it's just a piece of paper!"

"Oh," I replied.

As you can probably guess, I haven't been allowed to sleep in the house anymore, and it's going to take a very long time to pay off that investigator. I guess I feel a little bit sheepish right now.


Pen & Ink

Jeff's tree, now with cool sunlike object!

Much as I love computers in their many configurations, there's a lot to be said for the simple, unplugged freedom of a good black pen on a nice white sheet of paper. More than just an expression of minimalism, inky black marks on a colorless field restoreif only for a whilemy faith in simplicity for its own sake.

Besides, I really like the smell.


Calibrating Stonehenge

Sol in my sights If you live, as I do, in the central United States and haven't yet calibrated your backyard Stonehenge, it's possible you (1) forgot, (2) enjoy stress, or (3) procrastinated your time away, and in fact have no actual scale model of Stonehenge at all. Assuming you aren't in that nearly unthinkable third category, you're running precariously close to the deadline, but there's still hope.

By Saturday evening our sun will have already begun its slow southerly drift, which means we'll soon be scraping our windshields again, and crying ourselves to sleep in order to stay warm. Although Friday's sunset will occur at exactly the same time as today's and tomorrow's, by Saturday it will be happening one minute earlier, and then it all goes to hell from there.

So that's it. You have a couple days to align your rocks, your plastic chairs, your permanently mounted rifle scope, or whatever you happen to be using to track the exact point of the setting sun, because after that it's too late. No Stonehenge for you, and you won't know what day it is, ever.


Rebooting the Twerp

Like a splinter in my mind One of the defining events of the past few months has been my attempted reanimation of the Twerp. As you may recall, near the end of last year this rational, logicalnot to mention irritatingentity had been bound and gagged and made to sleep under the bed with the dust mites, but recent circumstances seemed to call for the kind of reason, logic, and general git 'er done attitude that earned the Twerp his unsavory reputation in the first place. But when cannonballs are whizzing past your head, what you want is a highly organized, single-minded field commander with one purpose in life, and that's to win the battle at hand. That way, you're more likely to win the next one, because fighting becomes considerably more difficult after a cannonball lops off your head.

So the Twerp was rebooted, and when he came online he immediately set about the task of gittin 'er done, which is how the Administrator ended up under the bed, bound and gagged, with the dust mites. You can't have two commanders on the battlefield, and the Twerp isn't big on compassion, because . . . well, because compassion can be sort of counterproductive in the git 'er done scheme of things. It isn't like the Twerp pulls the wings off butterflies, but he can't very well stop the battle to administer first aid to a butterfly who forgot to keep its head down, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, there were repercussions. The deposed Administrator was quickly forgotten, and although it was clear to everyone that something was missing, the exact nature of that something couldn't be so easily identified. It was as if everything that truly mattered had disappeared, and the more time went on, the more questionable it became that there had ever really been things that truly mattered. Where life had been mysterious it became mind-numbingly predictable, which is a clear indication that existence has been compressed to fit within the confines of a predefined system of some sort. Although such systems often work splendidlyhighly organized and generally efficient processes tend to work wellthey're systems nonetheless, and therefore intrinsically limited.

As Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor might sayor not, since I just decided she mightthat calculating, linear, methodical left hemisphere is useful for a lot of things, but then, that's true of computers in general.