So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Ethnicity. that of my father and his father before him
Location Altadena, CA
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The Link To Zanzibar's Past
This is my page in the beloved art community that my sister got me into:
Extra points for people who know what Samarinda is.
The Phases of the Moon Module
The Tree and the Telephone Pole
I Do Not Know Their Names
Today I am Young
A Night Poem
Siren of the Sea
If I Were a Dragon
To the Dreamers Leave the Sky
The Honor of the Oyster
Return From San Diego
A Late Summer's Night
Of Dragons and Men
The Edge of the World
The Snake's Terror
Metaphysics and the Middaymoon
Of Adventures in Foreign Lands
The Rogue Wave: The Unedited Version
Adventures in the PRC
Voyage of Discovery
Drinking the Blood of Goats
Ticket for a Phantom Bus
Os peixes nadam o mar
Three Villages Far Away
The River Weser
Children I Should Have Kidnapped, Part I
Let's Get You Out of Those Clothes
If Underwear Could Speak
Croc Hunter/Combat Wombat
Only My Favorite Baseball Player EVER
Aw, Larry Walker, how I loved thee.
M: Science and Exploration
T: Cook a nice dinner
Th: Parties, movies, dinners
F: Picnics, the Louvre
S: Read books, go for walks, PARKOUR
Su: Philosophy, Religion
The Reading List
This list starts Summer 2006
A Crocodile on the Sandbank
Tales of the Alhambra (in progress)
Dark Lord of Derkholm
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The Lost Years of Merlin
Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers (in progress)
Atlas Shrugged (in progress)
A Long Way Gone (story of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone- met the author! w00t!)
The Eye of the World: Book One of the Wheel of Time
From Magma to Tephra (in progress)
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Harry Potter 7
The No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency
Introduction to Planetary Volcanism
A Child Called "It"
Is Multi-Culturalism Bad for Women?
Americans in Southeast Asia: Roots of Commitment (in progress)
What's So Great About Christianity?
Aeolian Dust and Dust Deposits
The City of Ember
The People of Sparks
When I was in Cuba, I was a German Shepard
The Golden Compass
Clan of the Cave Bear
The 9/11 Commission Report (2nd time through, graphic novel format this time, ip)
The Incredible Shrinking Man
The Elves of Cintra
The Gypsy Morph
Animorphs #23: The Pretender
Animorphs #25: The Extreme
Animorphs #26: The Attack
A Journey to the Center of the Earth
A Great and Terrible Beauty
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
To Sir, With Love
Alice in Wonderland
Through the Looking Glass
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The Hunger Games
Shadows and Strongholds
The Jungle Book
Beatrice and Virgil
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
No One Ever Told Us We Were Defeated
The Name of the Wind
Tao Te Ching
What Paul Meant
Lao Tzu and Taoism
Sand and Sandstones
Lost Christianites: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
The Science of God
Great Contemporaries, by Winston Churchill
City of Bones
Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne
Stranger in a Strange Land
The Old Man and the Sea
Flowers for Algernon
Au Bonheur des Ogres
The Road to Serfdom
De La Terre à la Lune (ip)
In the Light of What We Know
Devil in the White City
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
How to Be a Good Wife
A Mote in God's Eye
want to read: Last Hunger Games Book, Honeybee Democracy, The Bell Jar
Wednesday. 7.22.09 11:51 pm
The way the NASA guy talked to us made it seem like we had just been accepted as Star Fleet cadets: he talked about how this was our opportunity to shine, that NASA had seen potential in us and this was our opportunity to show them what we were made of. We were in the pipeline now, he said, and the farther the pipe went, the narrower it got. Look around the room, he said. This is your competition.
Our competition? Our competition for what? To become civil servants? To work for NASA, that floundering, unwieldy, money-bleeding enterprise which can't send a rover to Mars without coming in a half a billion dollars over budget? To become as poor as our NASA advisors?
For the first time someone was presenting NASA to me as it ought to be, a great honor, an opportunity to join a team of men and women whose destination was the stars, who worked in outer space and who were going to make it possible for everyone else to work there, too. We were in the pipeline. The pipeline to become principle investigators on missions, the pipeline to become astronauts, the pipeline to become NASA administrators! I began to feel a flicker of inspiration for the future that I had never felt before about joining NASA.
I went to lunch with my NASA advisor. We were in a group with a bunch of other NASA employees. They were talking about NASA parties. "Yeah," my advisor said, "NASA never has good food."
"That's because NASA is so goddamned cheap," somebody chimed in. "That's what you'll learn about NASA," he said, leaning over to me, "that NASA is so goddamned cheap." I thought about our new student orientation, and how they offered muffins and bananas and coffee for us for a suggested price of $1 per item. "So," said one of the people at the table, "what do you want to do when you graduate?" I felt my answer should be politic in front of my advisor, so I listed a group of institutions for which I might do research, like NOAA or the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "Aren't you going to become a professor?" my advisor asked. I gave an equivocal answer involving work-life balances and the fact that my current academic advisor comes to work at 4 am every day. Another fellow said, "Yes, but all that academic and government stuff aside, are you going to get a real job?"
"Out there, you mean?" I said
"Yes, I mean, in oil or the like."
I had to admit to him that this was a possibility. I once again felt saddled with the choice between making a lot of money and making a difference. I was once again faced with question of whether or not, through all the inefficiency and red tape, that I could make a difference in an organization like this.
We were walking back to the building. It had some name like the Innovation Center, and each room had a name like "The Idea Loft" or "The Inspiration Room". I mentioned the room names, trying to get an idea about how inspired they felt when they used them. They exchanged a look, a look that seemed to say that these catch-phrase room names were just another bit of corporate bullshit that the Everyman laughed about behind closed doors away from the hearing of his supervisor. I felt my inspiration slipping away.
It's so easy to be a critic. It's so easy to be the guy who always says, "It's never going to happen," or "we're never going to make it". It would be very easy to never return to the Moon, and despite NASA's declarations, there are plenty of people within NASA itself who are pretty convinced it will never happen. But what if we could return to the Moon? What if we could establish a base there, build a telescope, reach outwards into space towards Mars and beyond? What if, just like the in the 1960s, mankind could work together towards a common, peaceful goal, and achieve it? One of the Apollo astronauts commented that it has become a popular phrase to say, "What, we can put a man on the Moon but we can't _fill in the blank_?" The answer is, we put a man on the Moon, and now there isn't anything we can't do. The whole point of space exploration isn't really the utility of having people in space, although that might be important far in the future. The point isn't to frivolously spend money that we could be using to help people or protect the nation (defense, medicare and medicaid, and social security have a bit more than 20% of the federal budget each, while NASA's share of the federal government funds is about 0.6%). The point isn't to increase the USA's profile among the nations or to establish ourselves as a leader. The point isn't even to make sure that there are plenty of scientists and engineers to design new weapons systems in times of need. The point is to unite all of humanity in an endeavor that is much larger than humanity itself, which requires the peaceful participation of the whole world, and which requires us to unite, not against anything, but for something, for the exploration of new frontiers, for new knowledge of the Solar System and the Universe, for knowledge of limits of the human spirit. That's what NASA is for. I guess maybe it's our opportunity, the opportunity of the kids in the pipeline, the opportunity of every kid out there today who ever dreamed about outer space, to get out there and make it happen, to rebuild NASA into the Space Academy. After all, doesn't the future belong to us? Can't we make it into whatever we want it to be? I'd like to speak on behalf of my Star Fleet classmates to say, "Let's do it."
Tuesday. 7.21.09 8:53 pm
We were out on the lava early that day. Public lava-viewing always begins at 2 pm, so we had to vacate the lava fields by 1 pm so that the public wouldn't see us way out in the lava and get an idea to follow us there. It was bad enough that a bunch of Mars scientists (not us) were out there in the lava fields without proper equipment or a guide.
We had been lava-walkers for almost a week now, with at least 8 hours per day of lava-walking experience under our belts. We had walked on the razor-sharp, loosely-stacked shards of the clinkery a'a lavas, we had crunched our way over miles and miles of ropey paehoehoe, and we had learned to identify hidden lava tubes, waiting under fragile paehoehoe roofs to swallow us up. The key to walking on a'as was not to fall down. An angry a'a had snagged my field pants the day before, leaving an awkward square hole in my pants at shin level. For the clinkery a'as we all wore gloves while we were in the field to protect our hands. Nobody wants to get splinters made of glass.
The key to walking on paehoehoe was to stick to the stuff that was the most difficult to walk over. Lobes of frozen lava, piled high as if it came out of an out-of-control toothpaste tube? This was your ticket to safety. A smooth, flat area that looked like a man-made path? These were most likely to be the roofs of lava tubes.
The lava that we had been walking over all week was all at least 25 years old. Today's lava was crisper and crunchier. Much of it was still bright silver, the color lava has before there is a darkening of its silica coating. I stepped on an especially bright silver lobe of lava. "How old is this one?" I asked Scott. "That's 2008 lava," he said, "that came out about a week ago." The lava was spilling down from Kiluaea's currently active vent, Pu'u o'o. We couldn't see the vent from here, just a hazy cloud of gas in the distance and the big black swaths of lava carved in the forests on the sides of the volcano like ski runs in the summer. The new lava was coming over the pali and then disappearing beneath the surface and running in lava tubes until it reached the sea. A large bench had formed where the lava was protruding out across the surface of the water forming a large, brittle plate over the ocean. Where one of the lava tubes reached the sea the lava-water interaction had caused large explosions had created a small spatter cone. Even now it a giant column of gas was roaring from the phreatmagmatic cone and bursts of ash and volcanic bombs were being hurled from the explosions.
We wound our way carefully through the fantastical landscape of petrified lava in various shades of silver and black. We stopped to see a sign that had been engulfed in lava with all of its warnings melted off. We were searching for the holy-grail of lava-walkers: actively flowing lava. Scott had warned us that we might not be able to find it. Even if we could, it might be too dangerous to approach. The lava-fields changed daily, and many times lava-spotting could be pure luck. But we had more than luck, we had Scott, who not only knew the lava forecast for the day (reported by helicopters circling overhead) but who in our eyes knew everything there was to know about volcanoes, plants, animals, and Hawaii. Scott could not only name every Hawaiian plant we asked him about, he could also tell you what it was used for, whether or not it was native, and if it wasn't, when it had come to the islands and from where. He knew the Hawaiian language and all of the old Polynesian legends. He was one of those people who knew a hundred times more than you did, but took his only joy in sharing his knowledge with others and never in lording it over them. Scott's watchful eyes scanned back and forth across the lava field, to each of us, and, warily, towards the Mars scientists.
We had overtaken them about a half an hour ago. As it happened, many of them were familiar to us, and there had been a great many exclamations and joyful embraces as there can only be when one Mars scientist is reunited with another Mars scientist in full view of an erupting volcano. They had admitted to us that they were not experienced in lava-walking or lava-location, so they were thinking about heading back. When they saw that Scott was leading us purposefully, they had lingered, eventually starting to follow us across the lava. Scott was wary; it was enough that he was responsible for all ~12 of our lives on the lava field, he couldn't afford the responsibility of another 50 inexperienced Mars scientists. At last Scott called from up ahead for us to approach carefully. He had found a skylight, a hole in the top of a lava tube that allowed you to peer down inside at the rapidly flowing lava. Everyone was standing on the smooth, pathlike lava nearby... until they caught a glimpse of the lava and realized that it was flowing directly beneath them. Nearby cracks in the lava surface were giving off tremendous amounts of heat, so we decided to break for lunch and toast our frozen burritos that we had wrapped in tin foil and brought along for just such an occasion. We pushed our burritos gently into the hot cracks, just far enough to get a good baking, not far enough to fall through.
We had brought our lava-sampling gear, but the lava was too low for us to reach it without endangering ourselves. Even so, we couldn't come within three feet of the skylight opening because of the blazing heat coming from the flowing lava. Some of my colleagues made a game of throwing balls of tin foil and banana peels into the skylight. They would remain for just a moment carried along suspended on the lava's surface, then they would slowly sink and disappear. It felt like littering to me, notwithstanding the fact that the tin foil was completely obliterated within moments of falling into the hole. I wondered if some geologist in the future would collect a sample only to find it anomalously enriched in aluminum. For my part, I tossed several rocks into the skylight to watch them pause and sink as the stream carried them swiftly towards the sea.
Soon enough, the Mars scientists had arrived, having followed us to their own peril through the lava fields. They gathered in a large group and stood peering into the lava tube while standing on its roof until Scott ushered them to safer ground and bade them look through the skylight in groups of less than five at a time.
After the skylight we took off at a quick pace and shook off the Mars scientists. Scott had one more destination and we couldn't afford to let them follow us there. We were going to the site of the explosions, the large, churning smokestack at the water's edge. Scott looked at us seriously. He trusted us to avoid places where gas seeped through the cracks in the surface. He advised us to stay away from places where the rocks were orange and glowing. And most important of all, he told us that if the wind changes direction and the volcano's toxic plume came towards us, we were to put our shirts over our faces and run like hell.
Close to the water's edge all of the lava was bright silver 2008 lava. We could hear the roaring of the gas jet from the explosion crater and the pitter-patter of rock shards and volcanic bombs being lofted in the air and spattering onto the ground. The gas came out, never ending, mostly white but occasionally churning brown with a new batch of ash to spit onto the bench. I could have stayed for hours, watching the mesmerizing swirling of the vent, hearing the sounds of the rocks as they made steaming parabolic paths away from the column. But Scott had a bad feeling and it was time to go. Wherever Scott was, I was with Scott. Our other leaders, Bruce and Sarah, were slow to leave the beautiful volcano by the sea and some of the other students were lingering back there with them.
Scott was on the radio. "Bruce, Sarah, get the hell out of there." We were too far away from them now to shout, but they didn't seem to be moving with any urgency. There was urgency in Scott's voice. "Come on guys, get out of there," he said into the radio. There was no reply.
Then it happened. A huge roar came up from the water's edge, the sound of splitting and cracking and hissing mixed with a giant splash as the edge of the bench failed and went crashing into the sea. The mixture of the new lava and the water made an explosion that rippled down the edge all the way to the vent. Now they were running. Old and young, leaders and students, they were all running as fast as their legs could carry them across the impossible lava-jungle and away from the explosions.
Two days later, the entire bench collapsed into the sea.
Sunday. 7.19.09 12:50 am
We're walking through the jungle.
It is oppressively hot, but I've grown accustomed to the heat and I am wearing long pants for modesty and protection from the sun and the jungle. The ancient stone path beneath our feet is covered in a thick layer of white sand. We are headed towards Ta Prom, the Jungle Temple.
Our tour guide informs us proudly that this temple was featured in one of the Tomb Raider movies. The film crew didn't want to damage the stone walk leading to the temple with their movie trucks, so they laid down sandbags on the walks to protect them. When they left, they did not take the sandbags with them. Slowly the bags had disinegrated, leaving the path looking like the beach that it resembles today.
There is no resentment in his voice: he loves Angelina Jolie. So does everyone here in Cambodia. She cares about the people, he says. He is proud that Angelina chose Cambodia as the place from which to adopt her eldest child.
One striking thing about Cambodia is how empty it is. After the busy streets and markets of Ho Chi Minh City, the streets and temples of Siem Reap seem quiet, even when you account for the smaller size of the city.
Approximately one seventh of the population of Cambodia was murdered by communists during the 1970s during the reign of the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge. Even now there are deaths each year from the old landmines that the Khmer Rouge left buried around the country. The absence of these people and the descendents they never had makes the empty streets of Siem Reap seem even emptier. The city and countryside seems dampened, like a profound quiet had settled upon it out of which the people were only now emerging.
Our tour guide tells us that his mother had ten children.
"I am the only one left," he says, "the Khmer Rouge killed all the rest of my brothers and sisters." His voice carries no hint of emotion, just the straight-forward, even tone of people for whom hardship has become a way of life. Someone asks him what Cambodians think of Americans, and he breaks into a wide smile. "In Cambodia we say, 'Japanese are very photographic... Koreans are very pushy... Americans are very friendly... and Cambodians are always smiling."
We reach the Jungle Temple, with its many smiling faces. It seems that despite their history, the Cambodians have been smiling since the days of Jayavarman VII in the 12th century.
The roots of the silk cotton trees drape over the walls into the enclosures. Roots of other trees have erupted out of the floors in quieter parts of the temple. The jungle is slowly swallowing Ta Prohm back up. But for the huge smiling stone faces, we are mostly alone.
We walk slowly from the temple and beautiful music reaches our ears through the trees. It is a group of crippled musicians, each with some part of his body destroyed by a landmine. Most of them are blind, some others are missing legs, faces, arms, feet. They are seated on a brilliant woven mat playing traditional Cambodian instruments with skilled hands. Their sign introduces them as the Crippled Musicians Prasat Preah Khan. They are selling homemade CDs for $10, on the honor system since very few of them can see. I buy one, stuffing my money into the small box they have placed in front of their mat.
The magical sounds of the Cambodian violin follow me long after I have left jungle.
At the Crossroads
Monday. 7.13.09 5:48 pm
Well, it's official. Thalweg and the Welshman have departed Providence in search of greener pastures.
In the case of Thalweg, I was able to drive with her across the country and see her new place and help her move in and show her around and introduce her to some locals. It was really nice to feel connected to her new life and to get to spend some quality time together before being apart.
In the case of the Welshman all I really wanted was a designated moment when I could talk to him about his life and his plans and how he felt about all of it. My attempts were cancelled, thwarted, and then ruined, however, and eventually he was in a hurry and he left before I got to say goodbye at all. That left me feeling a bit depressed and confused. It's not fair of me in a way because he has so many friends and he hasn't the time to say a special farewell to each of them. I guess I best just let him be and not bother him by writing. (Shall I bind myself to that proclamation?)
But alack, the fallout of all this is that I'm faced with the compound problem of missing two of my favorite people and not having anyone to talk to about it. Once again, I'll have to go through the painful process of diversifying my friend portfolio.
But so far I've done nothing but play a lot of DDR and catch up on my summer sci-fi/fantasy reading. Which isn't really all bad, either. And, as I am currently falling asleep on my desk, I shall go play DDR now.
Friday. 7.10.09 10:50 pm
He's from somewhere near London; I am getting better at guessing. As we speak I become aware of my loud, crass, American voice. Some of the New England heaviness has invaded it over three years, and it grates against his voice like the squawk of a crow against the song of a nightingale.
He wants to know why I never come down to the bars. He doesn't want to offend me, but he says that he has never seen me as I look tonight. Very few people ever do: tonight I am disguised as a bird of paradise.
I reveal to him that I do not drink. He nods towards my drink on the table, a clear contradiction.
How can I explain why I am here?
Shall I say, "I am very busy playing my part in a little charade?"
Shall I point out to him each of the actors, each with his hidden motive shimmering just beneath his painted face, each knowing full well the hidden motives of the others?
Shall I explain why despite this knowledge that the actors continue playing their scene, feigning other emotions, projecting other motives?
Shall I tell him that it is quite equally for the benefit of the actors as the audience that they refuse to break their characters?
I shrug, loathe to add my harsh, guttual verbalizations to my response. I look at him narrowly. I could call upon my chameleon voice and in moments we could both be from somewhere near London, urbane and pithy. But I am tired of acting. Dejection is warping my mask at the edges.
I hear the intrusion of the DJ's voice in my ear, suddenly too close. "Don't be tired, pretty girl," he whispers, "Keep dancing, pretty girl."
I shudder involuntarily: I have missed one of my cues. My public needs me. The kind, patient, fun-loving outside part of me. Not the inside part of me, ugly and clever.
"I'll have to come down to the bars more often," I lie, smiling. My disguise is otherwise perfect, but my voice is the voice of a crow.
Don't Shake the Baby
Tuesday. 7.7.09 4:15 pm
Yes, a Penguin Taught Me French in Dear Antarctica
Tuesday. 6.23.09 9:33 pm
Today we learned a little bit more about our upcoming deployment to Antarctica. Here is the basic lay of the land:
We will be deploying out of McMurdo, where there are penguins:
and we will be camping in tents in the North and South forks of upper Wright Valley.
(For us there won't be any snow)
On the right side of the map you can see the great Mount Erebus, an active volcano with an active lava lake, one of only three active lava lakes in the world! Mount Erebus is completely covered in snow, so there is always the danger that a huge eruption could send giant mudslides and torrents of water down the sides of the mountain. This is called a "lahar". Another worry is the chance of pyroclastic flows. Pyroclastic flows are incandescent clouds of ash and rock fragments that rush down the sides of volcanoes at more than 300 mph. They were responsible for killing most of the people who were killed at Pompeii, and more recently, a pyroclastic flow completely wiped out a town in Columbia, killing more than 40,000 people in the matter of seconds.
Luckily, Erebus hasn't shown any signs of having an explosive eruption, and we are going to be too far away to be in danger.
The Antarctic Dry Valleys are pretty much the coldest and driest places on the Earth. In this way, they are a very good analog for the planet Mars, which is also extremely cold and dry. The temperatures of the Dry Valleys will likely be between -35 C and -3 C while we are there (they drop to low as -60 C in the wintertime), and the temperatures on Mars can be anywhere from -143 C at the poles to +5 C in Gusev Crater.
We'll be attempting to study how water (what little there is) moves through the always-nearly-frozen landscape of the Dry Valleys from the great ice sheet that surrounds the valleys to its final resting place in little saline ponds or cracked permafrost ground. We are also studying how the rocks in the Dry Valleys are chemically weathered. We have some evidence to suggest that the way that rocks weather in the Dry Valleys is very similar to how they weather on Mars. Thus we can get a little taste of ground truthing without making the epic journey to the surface of the Red Planet. This will likely involve a lot of flying about in helicopters:
Chillin' out in small yellow tents:
And generally checkin' out the sweet glaciers:
Working Too Much
Friday. 6.19.09 12:45 am
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