Every Color I Need

Palette of the day.

Everything I love about this season was perfectly arrangedin a mosaic wayon the driveway this morning at eight. How many leaves in this palette? I didn't count them all, but it seemed to me there was one for each color. At least the colors I need today.


Thanks, Gary, for the inspiration on this one.


Time Shifting, Fat Squirrels, and the Smallest School in the World

This is no time for gloating. One problem with writing in advance of publication is the risk of outdated information. I had writtenand prepublishedMonday's flu-inspired verse on Sunday, fully expecting to be in the same bedridden, feverish condition that characterized the latter portion of My One True Love's weekend. I figured this would give me more time for things like vomiting and diarrhea, not to mention eliminating at least some of the trouble that comes from spewing fever-fueled monologues.

Not that I'm disappointed, but Monday dawned with only the occasional hint of any of the symptoms I noted above. Even the ominous gurgling in my stomach has gone away, and if I'm delirious it has nothing to do with fever. Still, I'm only halfway through Monday as I write this, and we all know what can happen when premature gloating replaces sober judgment, and fear.

In other news, I've noticed an alarming trend toward obesity in the many squirrels that call this place home. I say alarming because they've metamorphosed from scrawny tree urchins to rotund furballs with attitude, which can only mean we're in for a long, cold winter. Or not, if it's simply due to their increasing dependence on anabolic steroids.

For those who wonder what that citizen journalism tag is doing in a blogologue that, after all, appears to have precious little to do with journalism, or citizens, or anything worthwhile for that matter, I would simply point to the Global Voices button near the top of this page. I rarely click the links on my own blog, partly because I can't stand looking at what I've done, and partly because I already know what I've done, so I don't really need to look at it over and over, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, I did click that link today (by which I mean yesterday, unless you happen to be remarkably adept at time travel) and immediately ran into a brief but potent article on the smallest school in the world, a very literal assessment supported by UNESCO and amplified by media such as CNN and YouTube. To quote the author, it's a "story about how blogging can change lives in a positive way and attract attention to invisible parts of this world." And in typical Global Voices style, it's an interestingand encouragingside trip into the everyday realities of people far removed, and at the same time nearer and more similar than we might want to contemplate.


My Stomach Flew

Blowing chunks I felt the special gnawing days ago
A sign of things to come
And things to go
Flying from my mouth
While farther south
The end of lunch as we know it
Leaves me dry as a bone
In a bagful of powdered desiccant
In the Sonoran desert
At noon.

Conflict Resolution

Not very diplomatic.

Like charity, diplomacy begins at home. Like so many of you out there in Netland, I live and die by the e-mail, and Outlook is the last place I need any kind of conflict. Since forewarned is forearmed, I decided to take the proactive approach and nip the whole thing in the bud right now, before WWIII (the big big big one) breaks out in my inbox.

Fortunately, I ran across a nifty code-hunk that, I'm told, will notify me of any insurrection that might be brewing before it becomes a brouhaha, or a hahabrew, or whatever it is these things turn into when they're fueled by cheap whisky.

Sub CheckConflicts()
 Dim myOlApp As Outlook.Application
 Dim myItem As Outlook.MailItem
 Dim myConflicts As Outlook.Conflicts
 Set myOlApp = CreateObject("Outlook.Application")
 Set myItem = myOlApp.ActiveInspector.CurrentItem
 Set myConflicts = myItem.Conflicts
 If (myConflicts.Count > 0) Then
    MsgBox ("This item is involved in a conflict.")
    MsgBox ("This item is not involved in any conflicts.")
 End If
End Sub

I'm no programmer, and I'm certainly no diplomat, but I know a can of worms when I'm told to. Now, thanks to a bit of clever programming, I won't have to worry about a few malcontents turning my e-mail to gewgaw.



Whose spreadsheet is this, anyway? Maybe it's a known feature of the human trajectory toward codgerhood, but I just don't enjoy a challenge as much as I used to. The idea of solving impossible problems no longer thrills me to the point of obsession, which is generally the point at which I stop drooling on my pants and start focusing. No challenge, no obsession. No obsession, no focus. No focus . . . well, let's just say I go through a lot of trousers.

In an effort to rekindle the flame, I decided to modify a spreadsheet used for employee scheduling in a small business. It works perfectly well in its intended capacity, and it isn't like anyone asked me to fool with it. But there it was just the same, and one thing led to another, and by the time I came to my sensesin a relative way, that isI had already saved my changes and it was too late.

The thing is, none of the numbers that indicate what time of day each employee is expected to clock in and out are really times, at least not in any way a spreadsheet might understand. They're numberslike 9 - 5 or 10 - 6:30but they're formatted as text, not time of day. This is fine for human eyes and minds; we immediately grasp the intended meaning in the context of work hours. But in the simple-minded world inhabited by computers, there is no context until one has been deliberately fed to the application responsible for the particular task at hand. Especially if that application happens to be a spreadsheet, any context is purposely absent. This, of course, is exactly what makes spreadsheets useful in such a spectacular variety of circumstances, but if you want to crunch time-related numbers, you have to feed time-related numbers to your spreadsheet in the first place.

For those of you who wonder what, after all, might be keeping me from just formatting those text-bearing cells as time quantities and being done with it, I would simply indicate that (1) this is not my spreadsheet, (2) the spreadsheet's actual owner has no stated desire for that sort of capability, (3) the spreadsheet's actual owner might wonder why I'm messing with his stuff, (4) the spreadsheet's actual owner probably wants to enter his employees' shifts that way, otherwise he wouldn't, and (5) this is not my spreadsheet.

Still, I'm only human, and have, now, only limited patience with these sorts of things, as I said. The problems that lurk in improving things that don't require itor that didn't ask to be improvedare exactly the kinds of challenges I hate don't need anymore. But in my heart I know I won't really be able to avoid this crap writing a script to parse every cell in that spreadsheet, searching for the telltale signs of a text-formatted time quantity so the characters on either side of the colon if it even exists dammit can be extracted, processed, and then reintroduced I'm melting to the cells from whence they came.

After that, it should be a simple matter to tally those hours.


How Was Your Weekend?

Can you spot me in this weekend picture? If your weekend was nothing like mine, you spent it thinking about all those little tasks and errands you put off during the past week, month, and year. Then you fell asleep with your mouth open, angering your spouse and inviting a throat infection.

If your weekend was anything like mine, you spent it in the branches of a nearby tree, attempting to apply deodorant to the wingpits of the many delinquent hatchlings with no sense of personal hygiene. Then you fell out of the tree, angering the local authorities with your incessant emergencies and inviting retaliation from their spouses.

If your weekend was nothing like mine, you spent it driving aimlessly until the gas tank went dry, forcing a similarly aimless hike into a blind alley in the restaurant district south of town. There, you were accosted by thugs and left for dead in a dumpsterful of rancid leftovers from last week's Squid Festival.

If your weekend was anything like the one coming up near the end of this week, you know exactly how it's going to go already. If you're such a psychic, why not just tell me about it right now, huh?


Spotting Character

Primal canine rage, or something else? There's never been any doubt that Styx is a character, but after reading Craig's Decipher Your Dog's Character By the Spots, I began to question the exact polarity of that character. Following the procedure Craig had outlined, I performed a little spot-gazing of my own and discovered that Styx has spots on his coat, and on his skin. They don't align properly, and are of markedly different character, spotwise.

Those on his coat lead me to the conclusion that Styx is the nervous, sensitive type, while the spots on his skin tell me he's strong and protective. This leaves me with a bit of a quandary. Which spots speak the truth?

I'd like to believe otherwise, but now I fear I'll wake one morning to discover we've been burgled, pillaged, ransacked and otherwise unburdened while Styx cowered in the closet. All because I misinterpreted the readings, or perhaps more to the truth of the matter, because I chose to ignore the warning signs. Maybe it isn't primal canine rage, after all, that causes Styx to tremble.


The Art of Interference

Repeating interference patterns

As I've mentioned before, the years I spent in a failure analysis lab were very good years indeed. The range of disciplines meant never having to say "I'm bored," and the resulting knowledge proved useful in many of the seemingly unrelated endeavors that followed. But there were other perks that had more to do with the creative, artistic side of life. Art is where you find it, and sometimes it's found in rather unexpected places.

One such unanticipated art form lay in the materials testing we did in the lab. There are a number of ways to measure the relative strengths of materials, but my favorite method used the principle of interference patternsor moiré patternsto examine stress levels. The resulting patterns were always intriguing, and frequently beautiful in much the same way fractal-generated patterns are beautiful.

During a period of random doodling over the weekend, interference patterns resulted in the graphic you see above. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, so I'll leave it to your eye to decide what's what. A larger version is in the Graphics folder of my Picasa collection.


Waking the Dreamer Within

If the rich aroma doesn't get you, the caffeine will. I don't remember my dreams, mostly. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the occasional recollections have convinced me that my dreams are highly detailed, richly colored expressions of nothing. They're three-dimensional in much the same way a computer-rendered object is three-dimensional, which is to say, not really.

But every once in a while my mind surprises me with a production worthy of the dream label. This is more likely to occur during the daytime, when I'm face down in the dirt because I hit my head after tripping on a piece of wood. That's pretty much what happened today, only it wasn't a piece of wood.

I was dreaming about being asleep, and someone was trying to wake me but I couldn't speak because I was asleep. Speaking is hard enough when I'm awake, but I'm even more mushmouthed when I'm not. All I could get out was "mumph," so the person who was trying to wake me had to ask me to repeat myself. Meanwhile, the part of me that was dreaming about the other dream had to sit there and watch, knowing full well how pointless it is to have conversations with someone who's already two layers down, dreamwise.

I finally woke up from the dream-within-a-dream. Not because I wanted to, but because the outer dream was beginning to lose patience, and wanted to wake up and drink coffee. It's a little bit foggy, but I'm pretty sure Dream #1 grabbed Dream #2 and shook it until it stopped the mumphing and came to.

Anyway, next time you're dreaming about being asleep and don't like the way things are going, wake up and smell the coffee.


Rapid Transit

Starkle starkle little twink . . .

After yesterday's monologue, it wouldn't have been right to just go out and watch the International Space Station pass below Jupiter; such an event requires a record of some sort. So when the ISS first appeared in the western sky, I was ready for it. With my camera on the tripod, pointed at Jupiter and set for a 30-second exposure, I waited for the space station to appear in the viewfinder.

Half a minute later, I had a memento of the grand occasion. A much larger version of the photo is in my Picasa gallery, but even the scaled-down example you see here proves the value of sitessuch as the one I mentioned yesterdaythat provide accurate time and location information for interesting photography subjects in the night sky. Half a minute may be a long time in the context of camera shutters, but isn't nearly long enough if you don't know what time the subject will arrive, and where it will be when it does.

According to the star chart I got from Heavens-Aboveand my camera's internal clock, which was synchronized with the NISTthe ISS passed below Jupiter at 14:02:34 GMT this morning, and disappeared from view at 14:02:56. The camera's shutter closed at 14:03:18.

This event obviously didn't last long, but considering the space station orbits our planet slightly more than fifteen times per day, there ought to be plenty of photo opportunities yet to come.


Star Charts and Ground Tracks

Jupiter's lucky day.

From the vantage point of most inhabitants of our small planet, the International Space Station is a bright object in a clear nighttime sky. Until its arc casts it again into shadow, the ISS basks in sunlight we won't see until dawn. Unfortunately, that reflected luminosity only lasts a few minutes at a time, which is why we need sites like Heavens-Above to keep us informed of its relative when- and whereabouts.

In little more time than it takes to say orbital parameters, it's easy to find out exactly where and when the space station will drift into view, and for how long. If you know (1) where you live, (2) where the sun sets, and (3) which way is up, you have all the information you need. Heavens-Above will do the rest.

This eveningfrom my particular viewpoint here in the nation's midsection anywaythe ISS will float by in the southern sky, directly below Jupiter and heading for the moon. It won't make it to the moon, of course; it will wink out before it has that opportunity.

But hey, there's always the next orbit . . .


Because I Said So

Saying so makes it so. Always. My daughter's first words were "Daddle" and "Mim," which may seem to describe separate entities, but don't. In fact, they were three cohesive syllables she used to name the inseparable whole. The more refined designators that followed were used to issue commands to the Parental Blob, especially on Saturday mornings when her high-volume "MomEhDaddeeee!" informed us that she was awake, and expected us to be, too.

This use of language as command, of course, is equally familiar to anyone who's spent any time at all living in a cave, or hanging out in bars. The primeval communication of our hairy ancestors remains as useful as ever, and certainly no less effective. As Craig Conley points out in a recent interview, the primitive mind makes no distinction between cause and effect. Saying so does, in fact, make it so.

Language has the power to reawaken vestiges of humankind's earliest communication our ancient ancestors' savage cries of anger or love. All such cries were commands; to the primitive mind the command was inseparable from the act, much in the way that a small child learns to conjure up a parent from the unseen void of an adjoining room, simply by employing a magic word like 'Mama'.

Although her language has become noticeably more precise and less commanding, the modern version of my daughter has little need for verbal communication of any sort. In addition to text messaging, her devastating I'm rolling my eyes maneuver never fails to get the point across, especially when it's delivered as she's walking away with one hand in the air.


The Color of Herring

Some herrings are more sensitive than others. They're known troublemakers, but red herrings have feelings, too. If they didn't, they wouldn't be blushing all the time. The technical difficulties that rendered this blog invisible during the past 24 hours aren't directly attributable to the infamous red herring, but the fishy character didn't exactly help, either.

It seems Blogger experienced a few hiccups that affected certain blogs. To wit, some of those hosted on the Blogger platformbut connected to a different domain, like this onewere intermittently unavailable. This led me to believe that mine, too, had been affected by said hiccups. This was not the case.

Timing, as they say, is everything. As it turned out, the problem had to do with my own hosting provider; the Blogger phenomenon was purely coincidental; the Blogger phenomenon was a red herring.

The moral of the story, of course, is twofold. First, don't fry your fish until they've had the chance to blame stuff on someone else. And second, your fish may be red-faced, but that doesn't necessarily make them red-handed.


Tilting at Windmills

Don Quixote would be proud. Recently, an acquaintancewhose name I do not want to rememberaccused me of having lost my mind. This, he said, is the predictable result of too little reading and far too much time at the keyboard. He said the satirical monologues I've left strewn about my blog are proof enough of that, and suggested I take up a more worthwhile pastime. He recommended collecting spent .22 cartridges, or seashells. I've never seen any seashells around here, nor a sea for that matter. I've seen plenty of the other kind up on the hillside where people go to test their marksmanship on abandoned appliances and cans, so I may have a go at that.

But there's work to be done in the meantime. Although I'm sure they haven't gone unnoticed, no one seems to be doing anything about the accumulation of wind turbines. Soon every unoccupied square of land will harbor at least one of those monsters, and yet no one seems to know who's putting them there. I've been told they're supposed to make the wind blow, but I haven't seen the proof of that yet. My German friend Panzer thinks they're pretty, but this is art?

It's suspicious, that's what. In my heart, I know there's only one sure way to handle this kind of situation, and that's with good old-fashioned chivalry. Horses frighten me, but I don't really need one of those because I can run pretty fast. I found an old suit of armor in the dumpster, so I figure I can get through those blades without losing my arms and legs.

All I need now is a greyhound and a helmet, and I'll be off.