Saturday, December 24, 2011

Over the World a Star

"We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south,
probably in polar orbit....Looks like he might be going
to re-enter soon....I see a command module and eight smaller 
modules in front.The pilot of the command
module is wearing a red suit."

"Stand by. He's trying to signal something."

-- Command Pilot Wally Schirra
Gemini VI
December 1965

The trajectory of the spacecraft traces the number six
on the mission's official patch
The brightest stars in the constellation Gemini 
Castor and Pollux appear inside the capsule.

When you find Gemini in the night sky, 
the direction you are looking in is 
towards the outside of our galaxy.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains about 500 billion stars, according to 
the Khan Academy video above.

Andromeda, the galaxy nearest to us, (above) 
is 2.5 million light years away.
It may contain one trillion stars.

There are about 500 billion galaxies

The universe, as we know it today,
has a diameter of 26 billion light years.

If you do the math, 
this is a whole lot of zeros
that add up to something.

O, Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Art of Mooknar

The Art of Mooknar (a.k.a Margaret Spencer)
For more, go here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vollis Simpson — "Junkyard Poet"

Dubbed the "Junkyard Poet of Whirligigs" by The New York Times
Vollis Simpson, 92, comes to work every day in Lucama, N.C.
holding court for visiting video crews, all 
while eating a lunch of Nip-Chee crackers and Pepsi. 

He curses like the B-29 airman he once was. 
He spins a bawdy tale about a miniskirted visitor. 
He worries about thieves coming to 
steal his metal. He tells a visitor 
he'll jump them, if he gets the chance, 
the same way he tackled a shoplifting customer.

His mind is sharp, his body strong. 
Vollis will be king of his spin-dizzy kingdom
for years to come.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Still Life

Turtle Joke

Turtle crawls into a police station. Head is bruised, shell dented.

Cop says, "What happened?"

"Ittt wasss awwwfulll," says the turtle.

"Whaddaya mean?" replies the cop.

"Ohhhhhh," says the turtle. "I wasssss mugggged."

"Who did it?" asks the cop.

"Threeee snailsss," says the turtle.

"Snails! What did they look like?" asks the cop.

"I don'tttt knowww," the turtle replies." Itt alll happenedddd soooo fast."

Action Adventure

Can't You Just See the Sunshine?

"Carolina On My Mind"
The Insteads

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Lime Lizard

I went into the woods yesterday to eat lunch and read. I found a spot by a fallen tree and put my sweater against the trunk and my jeans jacket down so I could sit on it. Next to me I put my white plastic Apple backpack that contained my lunch. I read the newspaper. Sad to read about Steve Jobs' passing. Then I had lunch---salad and tuna fish.
            After that, I picked up my book "In Love and War," a memoir in alternating chapters by a Naval aviator and his wife. He was shot down in 1965 shortly after the start of the Vietnam War. He was the highest ranking officer held as a POW and was tortured, held in solitary confinement, and remained a prisoner for seven years while his wife raised four children and led a national campaign to raise attention to the plight of her husband and other American servicemen. It is hard to imagine such courage. And for seven years. 
            After some time passed, I thought I noticed something on my backpack. At first I thought it was a leaf. Then I looked again. It was a five inch long brilliant lime green lizard, probably an anole. It whip-like tail was three inches. I thought it wanted to sneak in my bag to eat a crumb. I stayed still, sitting on the ground, my back against the tree trunk, legs stretched out in front of me, the book open in my lap. 

          After a few minutes, to my surprise, the anole leapt down to the ground and sprang onto my thigh. It climbed up my leg until it poised by my right hand at the edge of the book. I think it liked the warmth of my leg. Maybe it sensed the heat from several inches away.  
           It crouched there. I could see how thin, even emaciated it was. It is not easy living in the woods. Down the center of its spine ran a grey stripe. On top of its head I could see how its green coloration fractured into plate-like shapes. Its toes were long and terribly crooked. 
            More time passed. I noticed that to the side of my right thigh I had kicked away leaves and disturbed the earth. Where I had done so, ants had crawled in. A one-inch long worm writhed terribly in the soil from their many bites, and the ants tormented it. 

            From where the lizard crouched, the eye on one side of his head looked at me. The other eye could see the ground. I wondered if he could see what I saw. The one eye I could see looked very wise. Shrewd even. 
            With sure movements, the lizard sprang down, landing first on a leaf sprouting up. Soon enough, he had the worm between his powerful jaws.  Chomp, chomp, and the worm was down his gullet. A merciful death. 
            To my surprise, he hopped back up on my thigh. He breathed heavily, his sides moving in and out like a bellows. There he rested to digest, partly under the shadow of the bottom edge of the hardback book. I think he was considering whether to go underneath this giant overhang.  Instead, after a while, he skittered down my legs and rested at the top of my hiking boots. I think he also was deciding whether to explore inside my shoes. 
            Instead, he marched back up the tops of my thighs. By now, I knew what he was going to do. He jumped up on my open book and stood astride its pages, somewhat looking up at me. From there, there was no question he was going to sit on my left hand in my lap which was clasped on top of my right hand, enjoying a commanding view. In my right hand I held a pen. Next time, I will get him on my pen.             
         But this was not enough, and quick as lightning he ran up my bare arm,  jumped onto my T-shirt sleeve, then to my shoulder and leapt onto my  sweater which lay on the downed tree. From there he headed up a dead tree limb which stood up almost directly behind me. Perhaps he wanted the best possible vantage point. 
            I turned back to my book. No bird saw him.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Statue of Responsibility

A counterpoint to the Statue of Liberty, 
this 300-foot tall monument would be built 
on an island at a west coast port.

Holocaust survivor Dr. Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist, proposed its creation. 

"Freedom," he said, "is only part of the story and half of the truth. 

Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon 
whose positive aspect is responsibleness. 
In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating 
into mere arbitrariness 
unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness."

There would, of course, be a gift shop
on the top level.

Making a Splash

Newcomer Lisa Hannigan

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Word: Touchfoil

Tablets are so 2011.
Scrolls are in for 2012.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Some Chicken...Some Neck."

So said Winston Churchill in a speech before the Canadian Parliament following the Battle of Britain, the air war that took place in the summer and fall of 1940. 

(Though the Blitz, the Nazi bombing of British cities and factories, continued into mid-1941, Britain's victory in the preceding air war crushed Hitler's ambitions of launching a naval invasion of England.)

Shortly before the Nazi onslaught began in July 1940, the commander-in-chief of France's armed forces Maxine Weygand predicted, "In three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken." (Of course, it should be noted that by the time Monsieur Weygand made his forecast the Germans had overrun his country.)

Nonetheless, England was at the precipice. No nation had been able to withstand the Nazis advances. The Luftwaffe's sinister shrieking dive bombers had proved terrifyingly effective in Poland and Spain. Worse, Germany's air force was twice the size of Britain's. Many British leaders, even its foreign minister, thought their best hope was a negotiated surrender. American ambassador Joseph Kennedy told FDR England was doomed. (Even after the British won the campaign and withstood the Blitz, Kennedy told the press in November 1940 that "Democracy in England is finished.")

Yet Britain won. And decisively, as recounted in this 2008 feature in Air Force Magazine, which is published by the U.S. Air Force Association. How did Churchill pull it off? The reasons run across the board: 

* The British had superior technology. They made better use of radar, allowing them to scramble their fighters at the last minute, saving fuel. Even the gas they used had more bang—100 octane shipped from the U.S.—which boosted their fighters' performance. 

* They had better intelligence, having cracked the German's top-level "Enigma" code. 

* Their fighters—the planes and their pilots—were equal to the Nazis. The Germans had no experience in air-to-air combat. The clumsy Stuka dive bomber was little use in dog fights. The Messerschmitt Me 109 fighter, though a formidable machine, lacked the fuel capacity to spend long periods over England, reducing its ability to escort bombers. The British more than matched both, sending slower Hawker Hurricanes against the Stukas and the faster, more maneuverable Supermarine Spitfires (below) to shoot down bombers protected by the Me 109s. (Even from a manufacturing standpoint, the British outclassed the Germans, building replacement fighters at a faster rate than the Nazis could.)

* The Nazis made tactical and strategic errors. Just as their bombing of British radar sites was proving effective, Hitler ordered resources diverted to a bombing campaign against civilians in London. Thus, the RAF had time to regroup. Meanwhile, British civilian morale rose, as Churchill ordered reprisal raids against Berlin suburbs, strikes that shocked Germans.

* It should go without saying that the British had Churchill, one of history's greatest leaders. His ability to inspire his citizens to fight for the light of freedom far surpassed Hitler's dark ambitions. One man's will can turn the tide of history.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Good Ca-Hoot!

Mavis Staples of The Staples Singers tomorrow night in Chapel Hill...


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Squash, Blossom!

One afternoon the farmer was trying to rest when he heard noises in his garden.

He went to find out what the ruckus was about.

He saw that all the squash were fighting. They were kicking each other. They were punching each other. They were biting and clawing and doing terrible things.

"Stop it," said the farmer. "Y'all need to meditate on what you've been doing."

So all the squash closed their eyes and stayed quiet for a while.

Then the farmer said, "Now, each one of you, put your hands on top of your head."

The squash did that. When they did, each one found that he had a vine growing out of  the top of his head.

It was then that the squash realized that they were all connected.

Ever since then, there have been squash blossoms.

From the book "365 Zen."

True Art

The designer True (that's his name) and 20 of his friends 
pasted these labels on NYC subway cars.

Here's another designer—Stephan Sagmeister—talking 
at a TED (Technology in Entertainment & Design) Conference
about True's prank 
and what goes into happy design.


            Determination. Character. Integrity. Virtue. Dignity.

            These are the words that come to mind when I think of my eldest daughter Eleanor Louie. She's named after her grandmothers Eleanor and Mary Louie, and she is living up to this honor, and her grandmothers would be proud of her.

            I am struck every day by Eleanor's commitment to her school work, even to the point where she studies on Saturdays to be prepared every day for her classes. She pushes herself in school, taking AP level classes and studying Latin. When I met with her teachers a year ago on parent day, to a one they all raved about Eleanor's performance in their classes. Not only is she prepared, they said, they added that she is an eager bright presence in their classrooms.

            Eleanor is determined. She has run track—specializing as a sprinter and relay team member—since middle school. Most interestingly, although she has won awards for her performance, she is not a show-boater. She does her part for her team quietly and with care.

            I also admire Eleanor's choice of friends. Many are from our church. I never have a moment's worry when she is out. I also notice that she has no shortage of friends. This also speaks well of her character.

            Eleanor is also active is our church. She has gone on mission trips to Appalachia, doing hard, sweaty work in the summer heat. She also sings in the church choir. She's not a soloist—yet—but she gives her all for whatever team she is on.

            Last but not least, she's patient, especially with me, her Dad. I do know that I have had to raise my voice to her more than once or twice in nearly 18 years. She is my favorite eldest daughter, and I would not trade her for the world, the stars, or sight itself.

            If I were a teacher, coach, minister, or employer, I'd want Eleanor on my team, in my class, or at my company. She's smart, reliable, sociable, humble and kind—well rounded through and through—A winner.

(For my daughter's college admissions "brag sheet," a form teachers use to write recommendations.)

Light, Up

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Home from Far Away

Home is the white dot at left as seen from the spacecraft Juno 6,000,000 miles away.

Our little buddy the Moon is the speck at its right.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's Over....Summertime

Gabriel Pelli (left) and Mark Simonsen of the band The Old Ceremony perform the Gershwin classic for guests at SECU Family House.

Monday, September 5, 2011