Friday, March 30, 2012

Limits Of A Gadget: A Love Story

In 1996 Meade, the world's largest astronomical telescope manufacturer, introduced the ETX, a low-cost and genuinely portable instrument capable of results close to the theoretical limits of optical performance. Since then several different models have been introduced, most of them controlled by on-board computers that automatically point the telescope at objects selected from a database of 12,000. Unfortunately not all these objects are visible when looking through the ETX! (They are included because they can be imaged with special equipment.)

More than any other small telescope, the Meade ETX has revolutionized amateur astronomy. Since it was introduced in 1996, it has become the standard by which others are judged, combining low price with optical excellence, a solid mounting, and - with the introduction of the EC models - computerized "GO TO" capabilities. The smallest ETX is a refractor, just 60 mm aperture; the largest is a 127 mm Maksutov-Cassegrain. But what can you really see well with these remarkable telescopes?

from the Oceanside Photo and Telescope introduction
to Mike Weasner’s book “Using the Meade ETX”

“Whole thing’s weird.”

“Know what it reminds me of?”


“The time I was stuck on Beulen Island with the old 97th bomber group. An Army nurse came ashore one day and caused just about the same disturbance as this guy from Mars has around here.”

“What happened to the nurse?”

“She liked it there.”

from the Howard Hawks production
The Thing from Another World

I’ve never owned a gadget telescope
but I knew a young couple who bought one.

On clear summer nights the couple tried out
their gadget telescope but they sold it
even before winter came. I believe
they had expected to see all the things
corporate advertising had hinted
they would be able to see. I believe
they had expected the things they could see
would look like corporate advertising
and the pretty pictures that had been hints.

That’s very bad gadget expectations.

A gadget telescope used along with
wide-angle binoculars and a book
about binocular astronomy
makes a great team. The gadget telescope
points to where to look with binoculars
to see things that binoculars can see.

Some things that are hard for binoculars,
for instance the colors of double stars,
are beautiful through gadget telescopes.

Love is about understanding limits.

I’ve never owned a gadget telescope
but probably I will buy one someday.
I like gadgets. Gadgets seem to like me.

That is better than being a creature
from another world stuck at the North Pole
with military men and scientists.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

This Space, Here

This morning I was up around sunrise for one reason or another, and like all good photography buffs when the Sun is near the horizon I tried to stay alert for interesting lighting effects. And I saw this. The tree branches out front were blocking the light from the low Sun, but the light was glittering on and through the little springtime buds on the branches. I took a couple of photos. It would have been better, I think, if the background had been more out of focus, but because my camera has a built-in zoom lens, the aperture doesn’t have a very wide range, and the auto-focus was having trouble fixing on the buds with the extreme lighting.

But I thought the photos were okay, and make for a nice memory of an off-the-cuff, unexpected moment.


Not like stars but like many small planets
the buds out front reflect sunlight, starlight
from the nearest star, and glitter in space,
this space, here, and it’s like a reminder
this space, here, around us that we spin through,
is the same space planets spin through out there.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

To Push Away The Universe Itself

A Bird Who Could Fly To Neptune

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

“Indiana Wants Me” (I Can’t Go Back There)

Indiana wants me
Lord I can’t go back there
I wish I had you
To talk to

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I’ve posted a couple of times about how I often like parts of songs, even small fragments of songs, much more than I like the whole song itself. Today is a perfect example of that.

The song “Indiana Wants Me” isn’t a song I like all that much. I admire it for being cutting edge and including something like musique concrète—police sirens and such—back when pop music was just making the change from bubble-gum music to well-produced interesting stuff.

But mostly I really love the plaintive conclusion to the chorus: I wish I had you to talk to

Whenever I’m feeling sad, I almost always can think back to one or another person from my past and wish I still had them to talk to. And I can feel an emotion that’s as intense as something like the song.

And Indiana has been an important place in my life. I went to a writing workshop there when I was a teenager. I went to college there (for a very brief while). I knew some cool people there.

Whenever I’m feeling sad, I almost always can think back to happy times I spent in Indiana when I was young and I can be tempted to live in the past, rather than feel enthusiasm for the future.

So I really like the chorus to this song. It means a lot to me.

So I made up a simple arrangement of just those cool lines from the song. Those chords are just GM7, Am7, D7 and Em7.

The melody here—the rhythm of the melody—isn’t exact. As sung, and as I would play it, the vocal changes some of the eighth notes into sixteenths, or smaller, and adds similarly short rests. But it makes for a complicated notation. (I’ve seen it—my keyboard can capture a melody exactly as I play it and display it as standard notation.) But this notation gets the idea of the melody across, and then it is easy enough to add feeling to it once it becomes practiced.

Just because these lyrics—or rather these phrases from the lyrics—have always meant so much to me, this is one of my favorite bits of music that I’ve ever put up.

I can play this over and over, like trance music, like a meditation exercise.

More than (almost) anything else I hate being alone, and no lyric or phrase I know expresses the sense of loneliness I feel more than the simple, “I wish I had you to talk to.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Heroine’s Question (Or: Plot Epistemology)

This is a photograph of a TV screen playing a monster movie (I was too lazy to move the DVD over to my computer and get a screen grab):

In the movie, he’s “The Guy” and she’s “The Girl” and he just woke her up to tell her that there’s a monster in the basement and he’s going to go down and kill it and she has to guard the door to make sure no one else goes down there while he’s taking care of the monster.

(In real life when a man wakes up a woman to tell her there’s “a monster in the basement” he expects her to go down and take care of it. But, you know, Hollywood.)

Anyway, in the movie The Guy kills the monster in the basement (although the monster kills another actor first) and eventually The Guy and The Girl get away from the other monsters and live happily ever after.


It’s the heroine’s question—
What if they all go downstairs
and I’m left alone upstairs
guarding the door by myself?

It’s a low budget gimmick
that never has been explored—
Kill all the other actors
and do a film with The Girl.

A thoughtful woman alone
with monsters and the true shape
of the heroine’s question—
Can The Girl carry a plot?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“The Killer Shrews” at Wikipedia


On Being ‘The Girl’

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Torn Picture Of A Guitar

That’s a picture of my folder with random clippings and stuff I’ve saved just because I like looking at it. There are copies of paintings by Berthe Morisot. Some ads for guitars and keyboards. A couple of old articles about interesting things happening in the outer solar system. Other stuff.

The folder itself is made from the inside pages of an old Sky & Telescope magazine. The pages from the magazine are dated, so I know I tore them from an April 2010 issue. The folder has been around for two years. I open and close it so much that the middle section almost completely wore through and I had to reinforce it with transparent tape. It’s not exactly a craft project, but it’s something like a craft project.

In monster movies—monster movies, that is, about giant monsters—there’s sometimes a scene where the hero looks at wreckage leftover from a monster rampaging through a town. If a giant monster ever rampaged through the suburbs south of Chicago and a scientist or woman reporter (or both) examined the wreckage, this folder would be somewhere in the debris. The wind would be flipping through the pages and sending everything flying. Color copies of paintings. Advertising. Article tear-sheets. The scientist and the reporter would study everything. They both would look grim.


“Dr. Blake, what could have caused destruction on this scale?”

“I don’t know, Miss Stapleton. The satellite photos
captured the scene before and after the incident
but as luck would have it we missed the attack itself.”

“Didn’t survivors have pictures? Even cell phone pics?”

“Miss Stapleton, there were no survivors. No bodies.
Not even animals. No wildlife. And no one’s pets.
Everything organic has been taken away.”

A gust of wind sent some sheets of paper tumbling past.
One page flattened itself against Miss Stapleton’s leg.
She bent over, grabbed the page and studied the contents.

“What is it, Miss Stapleton? Do you think it’s a clue?”

“It looks like an advertisement from a magazine.
Must have been a music magazine. It’s a guitar.
Somebody who lived here might have been a musician.
Maybe they were playing guitar when the attack struck.
Maybe a man was playing a song for a woman.
I wonder if she looked out a window. Saw something.
Maybe screamed, interrupting the music. But too late.”

“We have science, Miss Stapleton. We’ll understand this.”

She held the torn picture of a guitar in her hand.
She looked around. There was nothing to see but wreckage.
And there was no music, only wind over debris.

“I wonder what it’s like,” she said, “to see something, scream,
and to know there’s nothing to be done, nowhere to run.”

“We have science, Miss Stapleton. We’ll understand this.”

She held the torn picture of a guitar in her hand
and her fingers gripped it so tightly that it ripped more.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Pop Music: Woman As Reporter

An Unclear Story About Walking To Mars

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Some Musicians Disappear (A Post Script)

I must say that as much as I knew all the trumpet players of the ’50s and ’60s very well, now I have a certain problem with today’s trumpet players, because they all play to a very, very high level, but at the same time it’s very difficult to recognize. When you’re talking about trumpet players of the past, you hear one note of Chet [Baker] and say, “Oh, this is Chet”; one note of Miles, “This is Miles.” Everyone had a different technique, a different tone. Today, I don’t hear that. Now, maybe it’s my ears that are not so good as they used to be! That is another possibility.

jazz trumpet player Enrico Rava
quoted in the print edition
DownBeat Magazine
blindfold/winefold test
March 2012

I’m guessing that the fabric of the universe
whatever the fabric of the universe is
vibrates along with the vibrations of a song
wherever a song is played at home in a bar
or through a speaker system in a store or car.

I’m guessing that a song whatever a song is
is a private matter between a musician
and the universe of planets stars galaxies
although it’s fun for the rest of us to listen
before stars vanish as morning brings a mist in.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Some Musicians Disappear

Sheldrake: Orchestras To Planetary Systems

Song As Eternal Monster Inside Sound

“Britney To Razor Blades”

Blows Against The (Expensive) Empire
“Have you seen the stars tonight?”

Friday, March 23, 2012

Some Musicians Disappear

Today there are people who live and breathe electronic music, and they play it obsessively like people play World of Warcraft. They sort of disappear in their cubicle for two years and they never come out. And they’re doing some really remarkable stuff.

A singer named Leon Redbone once did a show
in a suburban supper club near Chicago.

I didn’t go because I don’t like supper clubs.

But a woman I knew went to the Friday show.

Over lunch Saturday we talked about the show.

I said, “He’s such an idiosyncratic guy.
I still can’t believe you went. Was it a good show?”

The woman smiled and nodded but the way she smiled
and nodded without saying something said something.

“Is he still singing old jazz standards?” I asked her.

She blushed. I thought: What the hell is going on here?

“To be absolutely honest,” the woman said,
“during his first song he was singing so softly
and he was playing the guitar so peacefully
I just put my head against my boyfriend’s shoulder
and I fell asleep. I slept through the guy’s whole show.”

So I viciously ridiculed her for a bit.

After a while I said, “So I guess from now on
you’ll stick with big rock bands and pass on folk singers?”

She blushed again, and said, “I’m making my boyfriend
take me back tonight for Redbone’s Saturday show.
I’m going to try not to fall asleep this time.
But the thing is, when I slept through his show last night
I think that was the most wonderful restful time
I’ve ever had when I’ve gone out with my boyfriend.
Ever since I woke up I’ve been in a great mood.
Leon Redbone is my favorite performer
and I’ve still never even heard him sing one song.”

I’ve read some musicians disappear with their craft
and create remarkable things locked in their room.

But are any of those things as remarkable
as what a musician and audience create?

   (If you click the pic it links to a video)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Leon Redbone at Wikipedia


All The Ears Of Cerberus

This Woman And That Song: Apologies

Exotic Snows And An Ink Drawing Of Plants

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Noises In The Darkness Like A Melody

Today was a parking lot day for me.

I started in the lot by my dentist
then drove over to a grocery store
and then drove to a nearby library
and finally to an arts and crafts store.

From the library I wanted a book
about astronomy published in France,
but there was some senior citizen group
meeting at the library and their lot
was full. I couldn’t get a parking spot
so I skipped the French astronomy book.

The arts and crafts store had the same old stuff
so I didn’t buy anything from them.

At the grocery store I got some cash
but the lines were so long I decided
to skip it and try again tomorrow.

So the only place that really worked out
was my dentist. I had no cavities
and my teeth are freshly cleaned and x-rayed.

And the receptionist had a story.

I was telling her about Wisconsin,
where some people are hearing strange noises.

She gave me a funny look and told me,
“It’s strange you’d tell me that because last night
I heard weird noises out in the back yard.
Not loud booming noises, but little knocks.
I actually went outside to look
but I didn’t see anything banging
in the wind or hanging from the gutters.
And now you tell me there’s an entire town
where the people are hearing strange noises.
Spring is just starting and things are so weird,
what a summer this is going to be.”

Noises in the receptionist’s back yard.

I didn’t hear unusual noises
in any of the parking lots today
but I saw a lot of cars and who knows
if all the cars we see really are cars.

I mean, something’s out there making noises.

Spring is just starting and you hear stories
talking to the dentist’s receptionist.

I made it through the parking lots. This time.

Noises in the darkness
Like a melody, “Come and see
If you can see

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Orchestra As A Mythical Creature

There are two kinds of virtual instruments. The first type generates sounds by creating and modulating waveforms like a synthesizer. The second type are sample-based, i.e., they trigger recorded tones, loops, and phrases performed by musicians. These “samples” are edited and assembled for use in a sample library, which can be accessed in real-time by the software instrument. In the case of an orchestral sample library, single notes and tone sequences (phrases) are recorded in several variations such as expression, tempo, articulation, etc., for each instrument as well as whole instrument groups. These recordings are edited in the studio and processed for use in a sample library or a virtual instrument.

... Vienna Instruments are sample-based virtual orchestra instruments that combine sound data and their sequential arrangement (which is determined by the musical context) with the player software. They enable the user to arrange his or her composition on the computer so that, in many cases, the results cannot be distinguished from a real orchestral recording.

from “What is a Virtual Instrument?”
at Vienna Symphonic Library

Kate Beckinsale in a sprayed on, skin tight bodysuit. Again. I’m there.
Comment by Ripsnorter — Thursday December 22, 2011 @ 3:54pm PST

They are popcorn movies for smart people.
Comment by fan — Thursday December 22, 2011 @ 5:59pm PST

There’s just something about these movies. Love ‘em. Hope Kate signs on for many more… I really will miss Michael Sheen, though!
Comment by Cali — Thursday December 22, 2011 @ 8:56pm PST

“something about these movies”? In the comments just above yours, ripsnorter did some research into that very point and discovered Kate Beckinsale in a sprayed on, skin tight bodysuit may be an element of the franchise’s appeal.
Comment by markLouis — Thursday December 22, 2011 @ 9:26pm PST

Thank you, markLouis, I didn’t go into the details, but my research shows Kate Beckinsale in a sprayed on, skin tight bodysuit is the only element of the franchise’s appeal.
Comment by Ripsnorter — Friday December 23, 2011 @ 2:13am PST

an internet ‘conversation’
about the film
“Underworld: Awakening”
at Deadline Hollywood

I have used the Vienna Symphonic Library as my primary source for orchestral sounds throughout the writing and production process for “Underworld.”

Like no other library, the Vienna Symphonic Library has enabled me to blend orchestral samples with electronic sounds. Furthermore, its musical sophistication and sonic excellence have even made it possible to use Vienna’s samples next to actual orchestral live recordings as complementing elements.

To me, this fully integrated approach marks a significant shift in the way film scores, and for that matter, any kind of orchestral music can be written and produced in the future.

film composer Paul Haslinger
quoted at Vienna Symphonic Library

All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.

from the journal of Jean-Luc Godard
quoted at Wikiquote

It may or may not be a real orchestra
adding drama behind the girl with a gun
but that isn’t a real girl holding the gun.

That’s a vampire with a gun. Two guns, in fact.

It may or may not be a real orchestra
but a gun is an object from the real world
and vampires are creatures from mythology.

There’s a lot of synthesizing going on.

She’s a vampire with guns for killing werewolves.

Werewolves are creatures from mythology, too.

There’s a lot of synthesizing going on.

And with all the synthesizing going on
many people who watch this in the real world
watch it with the sound turned down and don’t follow
the vampires-fighting-werewolves business at all
and hardly hear the orchestra, real or fake.

Many people who watch this in the real world
just enjoy watching a beautiful actress
running around in a sexy bodysuit.

“What the hell’s going on here?” somebody asked.

“It’s vampires and werewolves, fighting,” someone said.

“Vampires use guns?” the first person asked, laughing.

“That pretty actress,” the second person said,
“is from England. Her name is Kate Beckinsale.”

“She’s very pretty,” the first person agreed.
“But, really, what’s the deal with vampires and guns?”

There’s a lot of synthesizing going on
but Kate Beckinsale really is from England.

An orchestra’s not a mythical creature.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beautiful Shadows Of History

Earlier today I was flipping around the internet looking up some astronomy things and I accidently saw this picture of a famous (among astronomers!) old map of the Moon:

It’s a pretty cool old map, from around 1679. I saw it today at a site about Galileo.

There’s an interesting story to the history of this map. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the story anywhere on the net to provide a link. But I do have a real-world reference I’ll leave at the end of this post. Normally I don’t like to post about something without a good link, but this is a cool story I want to mention because it touches on some topics I frequently post about. And I think about this story a lot so it’s only right that the story appears here on the blog somewhere.

Today’s that somewhere.

Okay, so, the guy that supervised the drawing and engraving of that map was an amazing Italian astronomer, Giovanni Cassini. He spent much of his career in France working directly for the King. He accomplished so much that scientists today name big budget spacecraft after him.

One of Cassini’s jobs in France was to create a very good map of the Moon. It wasn’t just for the love of astronomy. The French Navy, and French shipping lines, of course, had doings all around the globe and there is an obscure technique to determine longitude based on observing the lunar terminator moving over known craters on the Moon. But it only works if you have a very good map of the Moon. So, that became one of Cassini’s jobs.

Anyway, when Cassini was doing science in France, he fell in love with a French woman who was an aristocrat, named Genevieve de Laistre. Apparently in France in those days marriage between a French woman aristocrat and a guy who wasn’t even a French citizen was one of those things that Just Was Not Done.

But Cassini became so well-known as a “French” astronomer that eventually he asked the King to make him a French citizen and the King consented. So Cassini became a French citizen and Genevieve de Laistre married him and they had three children and—for all we know—they lived happily ever after.

Just like a fairy tale.

So far as we know. French historians love this kind of thing and if Cassini’s wife had left behind a diary I suspect it would be public record by now. So nobody knows for sure if the marriage was a good one, but, by the same token, there is no evidence that it was a bad one. [History is like shadows! Is There A Shadow On My Bedroom Wall?]

That last paragraph is not exactly the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

There is a little bit of indirect evidence that supports the notion that their love was pretty intense and that they may have been happy together.

On the Moon there is an area on the edge of a large crater that looks a little odd. Random geologic changes have caused chunks of mountain to fall away in some places and remain standing in other places. It’s so large that it’s easy to see even in amateur telescopes. It’s a rock promontory jutting into a lunar mare, and it has a name: Promontorium Heraclides.

In modern terms, it’s near Mare Imbrium, close to Sinus Iridum. In real life it is, sort of, “up and to the left” on the Moon. On Cassini’s map it is oriented down and to the right.

On the map Cassini created—he closely supervised a couple of artists doing the drawing and another artist to do the engraving—the Promontorium Heraclides is depicted like this:

Pretty beautiful, isn’t it?

In real life it’s just a vague outcropping of rocks.

One of the most famous astronomers in history instructed his staff artists to depict the promontory as the profile of a particularly beautiful woman.

Nobody knows for sure who was the model for the woman’s profile. Christina of Sweden was a friend of Cassini, but most people believe Cassini never would have dared to offend the French Queen. And most people believe it would have been too bold of Cassini to have modeled the French Queen herself.

It’s generally believed that the model for the beautiful so-called Moon Maiden was Cassini’s wife herself, Genevieve de Laistre. Her contemporaries wrote of her as a great beauty. And people who have seen the one known drawing of Genevieve de Laistre say her profile does appear similar to the engraving on the map.

What a tribute to your love. Leaving a woman’s image on one of the most famous scientific documents in existence.

I always wonder: Does this stuff still happen today? Anywhere in the world?

A long time ago I posted about how the astronomer who discovered Pluto’s first moon named it after his wife. But scientific conventions forced him to do it in a very roundabout way.

Nowadays it seems this kind of personalized, very human content has been completely removed from the science world.

Doesn’t seem like a good thing to me. And I wonder: Why has it happened? I mean, what or who does it hurt to have human touches become part of the world of science?

I really like stuff like this. And I think about it all the time.

We—I mean, the current generations—will leave to the future endless images of celebrities of various kinds. But almost all the celebrities of the current world are characters who have generated a lot of money for one or another corporation. Or characters who have shaped public thinking for one or another powerful political bloc.

The “simple” notion that a person could become a historical figure, or even an image, “just” because they are or were passionately loved by someone seems to be lost. Almost even inconceivable now.

Seems to me to be one of the good things that got lost in all the revolutions and progress that have shaped the modern world.

I’d bring it back. If I could.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There is an overview of this story
written by Francoise Launay and William Sheehan
in the
September 2010 issue
Sky & Telescope magazine


Sense Of Place

Reduction Of The Muse

The Muse Ship

Jeanne Hébuterne — Art As A Grail

Thinking About Arranging “Layla”

The Question Clarisse Asks Montag

Wednesday Addendum:

In my post Sense Of Place I included
a simple photo of the Moon taken
with my little point-and-shoot camera.
Even on such a low-res view (something
like 10x binoculars), you can see
the general area containing

Promontorium Heraclides. Here is
the pic, with an arrow:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Beautiful Queen Of All The World’s Gadgets

This is a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through machine:

It’s kind of a gadget, larger than a car.

You pick out the kind of donut to order
and talk into a microphone. A speaker
connected to somebody on the inside
tells you what your order costs and to drive-through.

If we say that an average donut costs
fifty cents, the beautiful gadget below
would cost about seventeen hundred donuts:

This is a handheld music synthesizer
that is built to such wild specifications
it’s been used on computer game music tracks,
pop songs and even, I’ve heard, movie soundtracks.

I’m lucky I can afford to buy donuts
so I do not own one of these devices.

The little knobs are of such high quality
they’re sourced from the avionics industry.

It’s designed by wiz-kid Swedish engineers
and you know they’re probably attractive, too.

These are the poles of the known world under us
I think: Big clunky donut vending machines
that sell cheap sugar, and beautiful keyboards
that cost hundreds of donuts for cool people
who are pretty and know music and gadgets.

I’m good with gadgets but I would be afraid
to fiddle with one of these Swedish keyboards.

But, still, I remind myself in Frankenstein
the plot carried the creature to the North Pole.

The creature went, of course. And never came back.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bird Calls (A Sunday Post)

There’s a crow in the tree
He’s looking for a payphone
He’s got to make a call
The crow saw something fishy
That made no sense at all

A dinosaur stepped out
From a shadow by a wall
And then transmogrified
It drove to the corner
And then signaled to turn right
The dinosaur-turned-car
Disappeared into traffic
Looking like all the cars
In the surprised crow’s sharp sight

There’s a crow in the tree
He’s looking for a payphone
He’s got to make a call
The crow saw something fishy
That made no sense at all

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Parking Lots

Ghosts Aren’t What They Used To Be

Los Angeles, Nonetheless, Is

Behind The Scenes
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Late Friday (3/16) I took the photograph
of the crow in the tree. I liked the way
the photograph looked like a watercolor
painted with a limited palette—The background
is just blue and white, and the foreground is
just black and gray. I couldn’t figure out how
I wanted to use the photograph. I couldn’t
think of anything to write about it
“There’s a crow in the tree.” On
Sunday morning I was in a store talking
to the owner when a woman came in
to ask if they had a payphone. The owner
laughed and said nobody has payphones
anymore, but he gave the woman his
cell phone to use for her call. So everyone
talked about payphones for a while and
on the way home I thought:
Hey, cool,
of course, that’s what the crow was
doing in the tree— He was looking
for a payphone! And so he was.

I like that this is kind of a sequel
“Parking Lots” which I wrote
six years ago!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pop Music: Woman As Reporter

Hey, look, a couple of teenagers are parked out on some deserted road late at night in southern Illinois. They’re necking. These things never end well. These two particular kids, in fact, are about to get eaten by giant grasshoppers.

Things don’t turn out much better for a scientist who tries to figure out the mystery during the day. One of the grasshoppers gets him, too.

But somehow the story never ends well for the giant bugs once the Establishment gets after them. That thing Fox Mulder called the military-industrial-entertainment complex operates on economies of scale that make giant bugs look like, well, insects.

scenes from Beginning of the End

The reporter is a woman
and the news is giant insects.
The scientist helping inspects
wreckage through which the big bugs ran.

A giant insect eats the man.
Another scientist reflects
on his own research. He suspects
his lab is where the bugs began.

It’s like a deeply flawed love song—
The man is after redemption.
The woman’s just looking for news.

The giant bugs try to be strong
and stay true to their conception
of folk music based on the blues.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Big Clouds And Doing Electric Stuff

Yesterday around here we had clear skies all day. The temperature got up around eighty. But late in the afternoon some clouds blew through the area. It never rained, but some of the clouds were pretty big. Right after sunset I got to see that phenomenon I wrote about last July—Big Clouds, Big Scorpions, Doing Stuff—where a cloud is so big the top of the cloud is so high it remains in direct sunlight while the lower portion of the cloud is in shadow. I didn’t take a sequence of photographs this time because I had a lot of ground clutter around me, but I did get one good picture:

It is dark enough at ground level that the streetlights have turned on already. But the cloud is so big and the top is so high it is still bright in direct sunlight. You can see about three different color layers in the picture. The bright sunlight at top, then an orange glow where the sun is just below the horizon for that level, and then purple shadows at the lowest cloud level. And the ground in complete shadow.

This is not a high dynamic range photograph. I exposed the image to capture details on the clouds, so the foreground appears a little darker in the image than it appeared in real life. But I like the contrast of the bright sunlight on the cloud and the streetlight under the trees.

Sunlight on a cloud
and, under trees, a streetlight
that’s shining on me.

Seeing something that beautiful always makes me think of acoustic guitar music and watercolor paintings.

But then I shake my head, because I took a photograph, I didn’t make a watercolor painting, and I don’t even own an acoustic guitar any more!

What I did was at some point last night I sat in my room under electric lights and I set up my keyboard to play synth in the bass clef, left hand, and acoustic guitar in the treble clef, right hand, and I spent like an hour playing variations of this (if you click on the music you can see it a little better):

That’s just Em7, D7, CM7 and GM7.

Simple stuff like this is fun for me, trying to get my two hands to work together. I can play this. And I can take the basic harmony and melody and move things around a little, too.

And my arranger keyboard has some very nice acoustic guitar sounds. When I play this, I can actually picture the cloud starting bright and high and then sinking into a beautiful low shadow.

Sunlight on a cloud,
and synthesized guitar sounds
ringing around me.

Seeing something that beautiful always makes me think of watercolor paintings and acoustic guitar music.

And I took a photograph and played synthesizer.

It’s just like the scene: The beautiful real sunlight on the cloud, and then the tiny, dim electric light down under the trees.

So, anyway, that’s what I did yesterday. Could have been better. Could have been more analog and less digital.

But I had a lot of fun and I made a little music.

(And this is like a real sequel to what I wrote about last year when I saw the big cloud: I think it’s good to do stuff. Even if the stuff is simple and plain compared to what really skillful people can do. It’s just good to do stuff that's the best you can do at the moment.)

The cloud in sunlight and shadow did the really amazing stuff.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Is There A Shadow On My Bedroom Wall?

I’m not sitting by the shore of Loch Ness
but I am thinking about sitting there
as I’m sitting here playing my guitar.

I’m wondering if the Loch Ness monster
would be more likely to surface off shore
if someone playing guitar on the shore
was sitting facing away from the Loch.

Can the monster tell if you’re not looking?

Of course you wouldn’t know if the monster
surfaced behind you while you were playing.

But you wouldn’t know the monster didn’t.

I don’t really know what’s behind me now.

Is there a shadow on my bedroom wall
although there’s nothing in front of the light?

I’m not going to turn around and look.

I don’t really know what’s behind me now
and I don’t really know, too, what isn’t.

I’m not sitting by the shore of Loch Ness
but in my thinking the Loch Ness monster
has surfaced but I’m just going to play
and I’m not going to look behind me
and if the monster knows I’m not looking
maybe it knows, too, I’m playing music
and it surfaced because it likes the song.

Is there a shadow on my bedroom wall?

I’m not sitting by the shore of Loch Ness
but in my thinking the Loch Ness monster
has surfaced but I’m just going to play
and I’m not going to look behind me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

See Monsters?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ghosts Aren’t What They Used To Be

Part 1: Notebook Crisis

Yesterday my main notebook fell apart. See:

I was sitting around doing some calculating and the spiral binding just un-spiraled from the cardboard back.

There were only three pages left in the notebook because I always tear out pages when I’m through with them. [ Notes On This Notebook Odyssey ] The spiral thing just became too loose and fell off.

So now it’s a big deal for me, I mean, what the hell should I do?

This was a 9 x 12 inch notebook and it was handy for using as a backdrop for taking pictures. But my little scanner has a bed designed for standard 8 1/2 by 11 inch pages, so this notebook was kind of inconvenient for creating things to scan for the blog. I had gotten the slightly larger than normal notebook hoping to encourage myself to draw larger, but I’m still struggling with that, the larger notebook didn’t help. And although I used this notebook a lot, I never really liked the paper surface. It wasn’t heavy enough for watercolor or even a large wash. And whatever it was made of didn’t take pencil work too well, either, everything smeared and in some cases smeared right off. It was good for ink, though.

Anyway, so now I’m thinking I’m going to stick with an 8 1/2 x 11 inch notebook, and maybe I’ll try to get in the habit of using watercolor paper for everything. Or get two notebooks, one for writing and one for drawing. But that gets awkward. It’s hard enough to carry around one notebook, nobody’s going to carry around two. And I almost always end up writing something along with a sketch, so, I guess I should get used to writing on watercolor paper.

I don’t know.

Microsoft has a good program called OneNote that integrates really well with tablet computers built for stylus input. This would be a good time to go completely digital and get a tablet PC. Then I could eliminate the whole step of getting from the analog world to the digital world. But that’s just too big of an investment. Good tablet PCs cost around a thousand dollars. I’m just not up for that right now.

I don’t know.

I’ve got three really good pocket notebooks, Moleskine things that I posted about before. [ Notebooks (A Start) ] I’ve got a lined one, a drawing one and a watercolor one. I haven’t even unwrapped them yet because I’ve been so happy with my old notebook. Maybe I’ll unwrap them all, and see if I can get in the habit of using an appropriate kind of paper for whatever task is at hand. They’re only 5 x 8 1/4 inches, so they’ll scan okay. But they won’t help me with my drawing-too-small problem.

Another issue is that I also have a manuscript notebook, too, for jotting down music notes. So I’m always going to have more than one notebook, anyway. (Of course, it would be very cool to have a tablet PC running OneNote and Sibelius. But tablet PCs cost a lot and Sibelius costs a lot and I’m just not up for that right now.)

I don’t know.

As if this notebook thing weren’t a big enough crisis by itself, next week I have a dentist appointment to get my teeth cleaned and I’ve already started worrying about that, too.


Part 2: Ghosts Aren’t What They Used To Be

I’ve heard some British musicians are writing
a book about British public libraries.

They’ve already released avant-garde music
that incorporates some sounds they recorded
in library buildings that were abandoned.

The topic seems to make them think about ghosts.

I’ve written about library ghosts myself.

Books aren’t what they used to be. I don’t think
books will be coming back, either. If they did
they’d be like Frankenstein’s creature, the wrong form
for the world around them, a focus of grief.

Frankenstein’s monster was something like a ghost,
but an Industrial Revolution ghost,
electric, crafted together, but still sad.

But there’s always another revolution.

Books aren’t what they used to be. Notebooks, too.

Some people use their smart phone as a notebook.

Phones hold documents, photos, even movies.

I’m writing these words on a sheet of paper
that is unbound. It fell out of its notebook.

The pencil point makes a gentle scraping sound
but what I hear is chains rattling in the night.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“We have a brand new EP out for free download
from Bandcamp, Revenant Branch.
Revenant Branch is an EP by Golau Glau
in celebration of National Libraries Day 2012.
This is the sound of the revenant library branch,
the ghosts of dead libraries returning from the grave
to remind us not to close any more.”

“Frankenstein Unbound,” by Brian Aldiss (at Wikipedia)


Jamie’s Ghosts

The Question For Frankenstein’s Friend

Ghosts Are Us

Monday, March 12, 2012

Merica Uns On Unkin

That’s colorful and intrepid high school reporter Chloe Sullivan in the foreground and that’s supervillain Lionel Luthor looking over her shoulder. At the end of the Smallville episode “Extinction,” Chloe discovers that someone, somehow, has tampered with her computer and deleted files containing her research notes on inexplicable events in Smallville. Lionel points out, pleasantly yet ominously, that her school computer is really on loan from LuthorCorp and his computer technicians are very familiar with her setup.

Chloe turns to look at Lionel and says, “You are so low, you are subterranean.

In his own supervillain kind of way, Lionel was usually very nice to Chloe. He always called her “Miss Sullivan,” and when it suited him he got her a writing job at the Daily Planet. Of course, in the episode “Truth” he was going to allow her to die just so that he could discover the truth about Clark Kent’s secret identity, but Lionel is, after all, a supervillain.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dinosaurs are subterranean, now,
like rocks themselves beneath us in the rocks.
What if science—not our science like clocks
and rockets but alchemical know-how—

could somehow arrange the rocks to allow
dinosaurs to break free from the stone blocks?
If a calculated phrase, say, unlocks
the ground, pushes it apart like a plow,

would a scientist breath sound to the phrase?
In a city at night there are bright lights
like stars themselves above us in the stars

and beneath the stars our streets are a maze
surrounding us. If electric midnights
heard words, would stars hear acoustic guitars?

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Iceberg Addendum: Atlantis Iceberg

Atlantis iceberg
hits folksingers on sailboats
and they both go down.

Who can explain
The thunder and rain
But there’s something in the air

from “Don’t Get Me Wrong”
by Chrissie Hynde
quoted in Pluto In Magic And Alchemy

Understanding a thing is to arrive at a metaphor for that thing by substituting something more familiar to us. And the feeling of familiarity is the feeling of understanding.

Generations ago we would understand thunderstorms perhaps as the roaring and rumbling about in battle of superhuman gods. We would have reduced the racket that follows the streak of lightning to familiar battle sounds, for example. Similarly today, we reduce the storm to various supposed experiences with friction, sparks, vacuums, and the imagination of bulgeous banks of burly air smashing together to make the noise. None of these really exist as we picture them. Our images of these events of physics are as far from the actuality as fighting gods. Yet they act as the metaphor and they feel familiar and so we say we understand the thunderstorm.

This week started and ended with posts that were similar but about completely different topics.

On Monday I did the post “Memories Lost In The Canals Of Mars” where I talked about having a weird mental glitch for dealing with images of people I know. I can draw faces, such as in “Curious About A Curious Woman,” but I almost always only feel any urge to do it if I am drawing someone I don’t know. I don’t know what the mental deal is. I can write poetry or fiction about people I know. I can write songs about people I know. But I have trouble dealing with images of people I know.

Early Friday I did the post “The Orchestra As Torture” where I talked about having a weird mental glitch for learning about classical music. I think of myself as loving music, overall. And I can play guitar as well as many amateur guitar players. I can write songs, or arrange pop songs I enjoy, like I did in “Blows Against The (Expensive) Empire.” But I have trouble dealing with classical music. I have trouble organizing in my mind the little I know about classical music, and I have trouble talking to people who are knowledgeable about classical music because I get this sense—and I guess this is entirely subjective, inside my head—I get this sense people who are knowledgeable about classical music must have some kind of deeper awareness of existence itself than I have, they must have tools for thinking and understanding that I’ve never even handled.

Between Monday and Friday I’ve been thinking about these two topics and I think they are the only instances I’m aware of where, in my mind, I get all tangled-up and have trouble thinking.

I was pretty good at tournament chess when I played. I knew a couple of prodigies who were vastly better than I was, but I didn’t find myself having trouble thinking about chess just because it was complicated or because many people could do things I couldn’t do.

I wasn’t very good at tennis when I played, but then, too, I knew a couple of semi-pro players and a former pro player who could do things on court I couldn’t even imagine myself doing. But that never caused me to stumble against odd mental roadblocks trying to think about tennis.

I could go on and on. Simple topics. Complicated topics. I’ve been fortunate, maybe even blessed, to know a lot of accomplished people in a lot of different disciplines and almost without exception my interactions with such people have been positive, and I’ve enjoyed developing whatever little faculties I’ve been able to muster-up in all sorts of pursuits.

But working with images of people I know, and working with classical music, have always given me trouble and continue to do so.

Isn’t that weird?

I don’t get the feeling when I introspect that these two issues are, so to speak, the tips of psychological icebergs, little visible parts of giant submerged problems.

But when I briefly talked about this with someone she just laughed and said: “That’s how icebergs work—the little bit you see doesn’t give you any indication of the shape of the giant chunk beneath the surface.

Atlantis iceberg
wrecks you and takes you down but
down to:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Freedom From The Wild/Lost In Metonymy

The Occult Technology Of Lost Songs

The Orchestra As Torture

I have an update today, sort of a brief book report, on a topic that I’ve written about quite a bit, a topic that I’m trying to learn more about.

Orchestral music.

I’ve written about orchestral music a few times and I’m pretty interested in music as a topic. A few weeks ago I did a post about bird songs and classical music and I had decided to start listening to more classical music using “bird songs” as a kind of theme.

But I thought, too, first, before I really start that I would get even more basic. I thought I would get a copy of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra—because I’ve heard people say good things about it—and I would read the book and listen to the famous piece of music and narration by composer Benjamin Britten just to start off with the very simple basics.

I mean, I know a little about music already, but normally it never hurts to review things and make sure your fundamental knowledge is consistent with what everyone else considers “fundamental.”

Normally I’ve found that to be true. I mean, I often go back and review the basics of things like astronomy or computer technology or photography or any of a dozen other topics I’m interested in.

But there is just something about classical music that I have a mental block about. I guess. (Or maybe it’s just a troubled and awful behavior-set practiced in today’s world by troubled and awful people.)

Anyway. So I bought the book and read through it. Then I put in the CD (into my Sony Discman) and started listening to Benjamin Britten’s music and Ben Kingsley’s narration.

I liked Ben Kingsley’s narration.

But I found the music to be, for the most part, incomprehensible and maddening. And I mean that literally. After a few minutes of listening I wanted to throw my CD player against the wall.

First of all, although I know my ears aren’t all that educated about music, when the Britten composition played its introduction I didn’t hear any melody at all, just a bunch of musicians all playing at the same time.

Second, when Kingsley narrated information about individual instruments and individual sections of the orchestra, the musicians would then play supposedly representative examples. But the musicians were almost always playing so fast that I found it impossible to really get any idea what the individual instruments sounded like. (And, for the most part, I know what they sound like and I still couldn’t tell from listening to Britten’s composition.)

And, third, when the supposedly representative examples of individual instruments and individual sections were playing, there were always other instruments and/or other sections of the orchestra playing at the same time. So how the hell (I originally typed a much more extreme expletive) is someone supposed to tell which sound they’re supposed to be listening to?!

[I’m shaking my head as I type this] It just seems like the stupidest, most ill-conceived idea for an “instructional” piece of music I’ve ever heard.

But more than that. It seems to accomplish—in me, at least—the very opposite of what it says it wants to do. Instead of giving me knowledge about orchestral music, instead of making me more comfortable with orchestral music, it makes me want to hate classical music, it makes me want to hate orchestras, and it makes me want to hate the people who are part of this sub-culture of the music world.


Sometimes environments or little sub-cultures are self-selecting for particular types of people. It’s very clear to me that classical music (in today’s world) is not interested in selecting for a person like me.

But I’m not giving up. I mean, ultimately, music is music and I love music. The particular sub-culture that has grown up around what gets called “classical music” and orchestral music is just that: a sub-culture. They don’t own music and they don’t even own classical music. They just own the sub-culture in today’s world.

I don’t get them and I don’t want to.

I’m going to figure out a way to listen to more classical music, more orchestral music, and to learn about it.

I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but I don’t give up easily. There’s still bird songs, thank heavens!


I’m going to end today with a quote. Michael Hurd is a contemporary composer and writer. He wrote a book called, “The Orchestra: An Illustrated Guide to the History and Development of Instruments and Music.”

It’s an interesting book and I enjoyed reading it.

However, a couple of paragraphs in the book struck me as kind of odd when I first read them. I didn’t really understand the tone of the paragraphs and they seemed out-of-place in a book about the history of the orchestra.

However, when I look back at them now after immersing myself in contemporary orchestral music and classical music for a while (I’ve been reading and listening to more than just “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”) the paragraphs make more sense, and their strange tone is less strange.

Here are the two paragraphs I’m talking about:

What precisely the future of the orchestra may be is hard to guess. Will it continue merely as a vehicle for reviewing the past, while contemporary composers turn more and more to electronic ways of realizing their dreams? Will conductors continue to inflate their egos in a dizzying star-system reminiscent of the worst excesses of Hollywood? Will the tottering economies of the Western world be able to support as many orchestras as we now enjoy? In short: Is the history of the orchestra at an end?

Only one thing is certain. There will be music in the future, and it will be the music the future wants. And if it is not the orchestra as we know it today that helps to supply the need, then whatever takes its place may well be just as remarkable.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Another Look At Another Venus

Chopin: Keyboards And Butterflies

The Application Of Beyond Understanding

Beautiful Music

Thursday, March 08, 2012

“Ah, That Renaissance Sunshine”

In a classic Tom Baker episode of Dr. Who called “City of Death,” the ‘city of death’ turns out to be contemporary Paris. (The episode was written by a couple of British guys.)

At one point in the story the Doctor time-travels back to Sixteenth Century Italy to chat with Leonardo DaVinci but DaVinci isn’t home. The Doctor looks at the beautiful Mediterranean sunlight streaming in through DaVinci’s workroom windows and exclaims, “Ah, that Renaissance sunshine!

Chicago is almost five thousand miles from Rome, but as it happens both cities are forty-one degrees north of the equator. We don’t have an inland ocean here in Chicago (although we do have Lake Michigan which is pretty big) but the sunlight, more-or-less, is angled the same as what people see in Rome.

Look— Ah, that Renaissance sunshine was glimmering in my kitchen this morning:

After I started my breakfast cooking, I dried off the cutting board and oiled it up. Every month, around the start of the month, I do maintenance on my wooden cutting board by rubbing mineral oil into the wood, top and bottom. That keeps the water out and keeps the board from warping and fracturing by drying out.

In the sunlight it’s kind of like kitchen art.

I’ve had this cutting board for more than a year and it looks better than new, because the regular treatment keeps it solid and regular use—the little daily knife marks—give it character.

‘Cutting boards’ is kind of a topic on the internet. Some people prefer plastic or glass cutting boards because there’s no maintenance. Other people like the look and feel of wood—and the sound! But, one theory goes, young people prefer plastic cutting boards because young people “can’t be bothered” with any kind of maintenance chores at all, even once-a-month chores. This is what such people miss, the sunlight glistening off the freshly oiled wood.


Paris—that City of Death, to Dr. Who fans—is forty-eight degrees north of the equator, almost forty-nine. So the Sun never rises quite so far above the horizon in Paris as it does in, say, Rome or Chicago. Parisians never really get that Renaissance sunshine.

Yet Paris still is called La Ville-Lumière. Wikipedia has this to say about that:

Paris has many nicknames, but its most famous is "La Ville-Lumière" ("The City of Light"), a name it owes first to its fame as a centre of education and ideas during the Age of Enlightenment, and later to its early adoption of street lighting.

Yeah, so, first the Enlightenment and, then: Street lighting.


In his letters Degas almost never
writes about his use of photography.

The first Impressionist exhibition
in Paris in 1874
took place in a building that once functioned
as Nadar’s photography studios.

Nadar’s photographs influenced painters
because he employed chiaroscuro
and other painterly lighting effects
and his photographs of Paris taken
from above the city in a balloon
captured the city as compositions
of lines, angles and irregular shapes
that reminded artists of strange drawings,
but drawings that they were living within.

A photographer among the artists,
and then street lights among the artists, too,
creating chiaroscuro street scenes
every night all across the city.

In his letters Degas almost never
writes about his use of photography
but many of his friends who watched him work
described in letters and in their journals
his enthusiasm for photographs.


As I type this I am sitting almost five thousand miles away from Rome and a little more than four thousand miles away from Paris. I am five hundred years away from the Renaissance and a little more than a hundred years away from Nadar’s photographs and their influence on the Impressionists.

The sunlight was beautiful in my kitchen this morning.

I took a photograph.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

“The Hysterical Light Of Electricity”

“What are you doing out so late wandering around? How old are you?”

They walked in the warm-cool blowing night on the silvered pavement and there was the faintest breath of fresh apricots and strawberries in the air, and he looked around and realized this was quite impossible, so late in the year.

There was only the girl walking with him now, her face bright as snow in the moonlight, and he knew she was working his questions around, seeking the best answers she could possibly give.

“Well,” she said, “I’m seventeen and I’m crazy. My uncle says the two always go together. When people ask your age, he said, always say seventeen and insane. Isn’t this a nice time of night to walk? I like to smell things and look at things, and sometimes stay up all night, walking, and watch the sun rise.”

They walked on again in silence and finally she said, thoughtfully, “You know, I’m not afraid of you at all.”

He was surprised. “Why should you be?”

“So many people are. Afraid of firemen, I mean. But you’re just a man, after all . . .”

He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact. Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light of electricity but—what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle.

from Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

A style of painting, really a technique,
called ‘chiaroscuro,’ was invented
sort of in early Renaissance drawings—
extreme, even excessive, lights and darks
made shapes and scenes vivid and exciting.
Painters embraced the technique for drama.
Sometimes the intense light was religious.
Sometimes the light came from no source at all.
Often figures leaned toward dazzling candles
and candle light provided a bright glare
illuminating the nearby features
and quickly turning to pure black shadows
even close at hand in the mid-distance.

Now all light is the hysterical light
of electricity and images
are all photography’s hysteria,
even drawings and paintings mimic it.

How can anyone draw, paint, anyone
in this light, lost in the hysteria?

How can anyone look at anyone
in this light, lost in the hysteria?

The cameras built into phones these days
convert the hysteria to a grid.
Nothing gets lost in the rows and columns.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Question Clarisse Asks Montag

Rocket Summer People

There’s A Hand Raising A Phone

This Woman And A Flickering Candle