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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Enigma Of Solar Aphelions And Perihelions

For this investigation, I have relied greatly upon a book prepared by the staff of Popular Science Monthly for publication by Grosset & Dunlap in 1934. In fact, since it found me among my parents' shelves in the 1950s, I have always relied upon it for important instructions in building philosophical instruments and derivation of cosmic principles. 
I could find such information nowhere else. By following its directions...

I built a Latitude Box...

...which tracked the Sun's motion from north to south, but as we know, its daily motion from east to west is far more vigorous. Observe:
Sun rises from the Atlantic in the East, but appears smaller as the day goes on. This is because it is getting farther away. However, to those of us in the West, the Sun is getting closer. It gets so close, Norma went back out to the Monterey Pine the other day and took a Normaphoto of it when it set. Not only is the Sun quite large but its descent is a big event in California.

From the pine tree you can see the Sun hit the ground just beyond the olive orchard, about a mile off. Doesn't stop there. Sun goes real fast and builds up enough momentum everyday to roll, bounce and ricochet through the Coast Ranges then fly into the Pacific Ocean.
We are over 70 miles inland and can hear the sizzle with all our doors shut. I don't know how or by what route the Sun goes back under this continent to the East by morning --my parents didn't have that edition-- but I have deduced the etymology of Aphelion as opposed to Perihelion: During the evening impact, the Aphelion's "p" is displaced and, to those familiar with Greek etymologies --yes, extra credit!-- causes a split and you get two helions (Gk: pair;pl, peri), or a Perihelion.

It's been a pleasure to substitute in this class. Your regular Astronomy teacher bumped his head on a gravitational anomoly, a Black Hole, and should be back tomorrow. Let that be a cautionary topic to raise in Health class. I'd hate to bump my head on a Black Hole --not again anyway.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Errata 2 And Coronation

Happily, I have got through the worst of withdrawal and am bothered  only by occasional panic, attempts to remove my trousers over my head and a sort of fizzing sound between my ears. I believe the fizz is because my serotonin has got carbonated --like kings and queens undergo carbonation and afterward wear crowns. However, I can still think, so how important can brain chemicals really be? Hah?

Last night I decided it would be an excellent time to service our lawn mower, then got into the '71 VW Bus and disassembled its headlight and turn-signal relays which were full of brackish water from our last rain. I used watchmaker's tools, a blow-dryer, tiny scraps of emery cloth and WD-40. It worked! I was done by 3 a.m.
I just fixed the hell out of everything last night and everything worked this morning but I am well now and will not indulge in such foolishness again. My solace from this ostentation of modesty and industry is directed toward calmer joys. One of my favorite, calmest, joys is a good hotel and a good visit. So let's draw a curtain over the poor specimen above and look at some heretofore unposted recent photos:
This, I recognize as our room at Hotel Monaco in San Francisco on a very special evening last month. I was meditating and sampling the contents of a delightful cupboard at lower left. A surprisingly good sauvignon blanc occupied my attention for some time. Norma, however, was feeling enclosed --"bunchy" she calls it-- and wandered off to take Normaphotos of Normaphotos and so on until she had exhausted the possibilities of a quite attractive mirror frame.
After which, she returned to finish the glass of wine I had poured for her and thereupon retired. I stayed up a bit longer to plan our next day of business --besides, I retired nearly 6 years ago and needn't rush into it every night like it was something I forgot to do.

The phone call went like this: "Hello?"

"Hi, it's Mom."
"I hear static. Are you far away?"

"That's not static. That's the Pacific. If we were farther away we'd get wet."

I interject: "Tell him to put his shoes on and walk 2 blocks west."

"Ohmigosh! Be right there."

There was a five-minute wait, during which Normaphotoed The Ascent Of Man , followed by a lanky figure galumphing over the dunes to hug us and say, "It's so nice to run to the seashore and find my parents on it!"

Sometimes one must take one's thoughts --if not whole self-- to the continent edge to get one's bearings and I have done this, recently enough to regain mastery of myself. Coronation --or is it carbonation?-- is important and I have reclaimed my crown. The world is mine. Where ever shall I put it?

Friday, February 20, 2015


I am currently undergoing a medicine change and suffering withdrawal symptoms, so errata are all I am capable of de-enigmatizing at the moment. I begin with weather because my powers are under a cloud.

Yesterday, Norma hiked out to a favorite Monterey Pine to photograph fog over the south field. You may recognize the spot because I've used this vista in recent posts. Here's one from a couple weeks ago :
The scene changes day to day, sometimes hourly, and reminds me Earth is spinning through its weather at 800 miles per hour. We get plunged into mist, blue hours, heavens opening...
...and make incredible progress among the elements just by standing still. It's very Zen. But that's not why I include this in the post. I am trying to lure people in the Midwest and East states into a less agitated meteorological attitude. I know two people who have fallen out of their icy yards back east and got banged up. I just want to remind them there are still places in this great land where the weather stays in the sky. But it's time to discuss pronouns.

Like most well-stocked homes, mine contains an 1898 Annual Compilation of Harper's Round Table, from which I selected this page at random:

We seem to be looking at an early aquanaut in deep-sea gear surrounded by impossible creatures --on all of which it looks like you could really get hurt. It appears some melee or fiasco is in progress. If you're writing or talking about such a disturbance --in which lives may be lost, arrests made and legally actionable outrages incurred-- and you can't spell fiasco or melee, it may be acceptable to substitute other words like taffy-pull or extended-family-reunion (especially if the latter includes lunge-feeding). Or you could just say "it". "It" is a pronoun.

A pronoun is a word you use when you can't remember what or whom you are talking about. It is especially useful in social situations (hello, uh, you) and permits us to avoid small errors as we forge ahead to grand disasters. It is also useful during the psycho-meteorological jumps attendant to discontinuing a medicine to which one is addicted. My only counsel is, lay in your favorite tobacco products and a few bottles of good wine --it's a stormy few days ahead.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Lupercalia And Romance

This essay originally appeared in February of 2013 and was entitled
Romance Books, My Favorite Hot Parts but I thought it appropriate to trot it out again in observation of St. Valentine's Day. There are a few alterations  in  an  attempt  to "tighten it up" like I  was  taught to do in  school  but  they have largely failed. I believe the serious questions and subject matter it deals with will withstand its few flaws in construction and research.

What is romance really, hah? Having got to another Valentine's Day, we still have little idea how it came to represent romance, especially since the saint it is named for didn't have any head --clearly not an ostentation of sentimentality. I am more inclined toward the Roman frolic it replaced, Lupercalia, which took place from February 13 through 15 and included the 14th --our modern Valentine's Day-- as a sort of recess reserved for apologizing to relatives and livestock and trying to stand up.
                                [The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing, circle of Adam Elsheimer : Luperci dressed as dogs, goats, Cupid etc.--source Wikipedia (public domain)]

Plutarch described Lupercalia: "At this time many of the noble youths and magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter, striking those they meet with shaggy thongs." The apt pupil of the human pageant has no difficulty understanding the decline of this strenuous recreation and its replacement by "romance books" --a very popular genre in our less aerobic modern culture.

One of my favorite romance books is The Romance Of Modern Engineering, by Archibald Williams (also author of The Romance Of Modern Inventions, The Romance Of Petroleum, etc.). It was published in 1904 and contains interesting descriptions of the Panama Canal, Niagara Falls Power Co. and the Bermuda Floating Dock. But we cannot life-longly spend our noses in romance books, can we?

No. We must consider for ourselves what truly comprises the most Romantic technological and engineering milestones of all time. I would choose Velcro, gas-driven airplanes, two-sided paper and "even" numbers.

Velcro, still widely used, was invented by the Romans specifically for early horse-drawn elevators. They needed something to keep the horses' hooves stuck to the walls. It allowed horses enough traction to climb vertical shafts, pull elevators up from floor to floor, then back them down again.

Unfortunately, Romans failed to solve other modes of automatic ascension. Nothing short of propellers spun by internal combustion could lift the limitations of the horse-drawn airplane, which was confined to very low altitudes and velocities, but elevators are powered by Velcro-climbing horses to this day.

Romans wrote everything important on scrolls, or a single long strip, which they rolled up onto spools and corded on library shelves. If you check a scroll's table of contents, you'll find all subjects, chapters, everything listed on page one. That is because a scroll technically only has one page. It was not until the invention of two-sided paper that modern books appeared and tables of contents made any sense. Mathematicians were called in to decide what to call the back of page one. They suggested "two" and the even number was born.

Now if that isn't Romantic, I give up.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I Was A Teenage Adolescent!

                                                  {Normaphoto of early universe}

In its quark-gluon plasma phase, the universe cooled and fundamental forces took their present forms.  The first neutral atoms, mostly hydrogen, began to mingle and wander farther from the nozzle in nothing that was their home. Still, because all electrons are identical, there was no variety in the universe until their orbits interlocked. That is when reality expanded into adolescence.

When I entered the same climacteric, I imagined the universe looked like this and rather liked me:

As each electron was --and will always be-- surrounded by a virtual charge of possibility, I wondered if the process extended to our persons. I wondered if each real particle of us is the most probable of a cloud of virtual particles. I wondered if the mind could not only direct us toward knowledge and maturity, but also seek umbrageous shelter that protects us from ignorance. I still don't know, which proves my point in almost all directions at once.

So I asked Norma to go out and take some new photos of the universe, stipulating she stay on Earth --which is asking a lot from people who levitate-- and see what sort of overhead protection we have. Here's Monday's:
Then, she went out to the same place in the yard 24 hours later and got this:
The obvious variation in celestial shielding from Monday to Tuesday indicates a radical mood-swing consistent with cosmic adolescence. This could cause my own ignorance to increase in the same time-span (but how should I know?).  Atmospheric changes reflect the formation of complex mass and subsequent dominance of gravity as a fundamental force. Things got all mixed up and sporadically rebellious. So  yes, I was a teenage adolescent but so's the universe.