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Hidden Secrets of Protons & Partners

I wrote this for an old friend and muse, a fellow poet/songstress who has survived downs and ups and helped others cope with life through sharing her own life experiences. It was a joy to touch and be touched by her mind again, after all these years.
While I wrote this in response to a poem she shared, I tried to make it stand on its own. Only your comments and questions will let me know how well I have succeeded.  If you like it, please post a link.
I hope it touches you and illuminates you, as she has illuminated me. - Tack


The Hidden Secrets
of mere Protons
are only revealed
in their destruction,
by the combined energies,
wealth & wisdom of nations

How romantic to imagine
all the hidden secrets
of any complex human psyche
safely revealed by even
the most determined gaze
or intimate exploration
by any single partner.

The intensity of inspection,
energies sufficient to illuminate
thru all your layers
of camouflage and armor,
all of your hidden secrets;
to reveal which of your buttons
you desire to be pressed
and exactly how hard,
would vaporize you
where you stand.

Be grateful for the hazy rays
Of oblique attention,
that soften your incompatibilities,
and the spreading moss
that protects you both
however slightly
from sharp shards of
your splintering shells.
Cradle his candle before you.
Guide it to reveal what secrets
he needs to know,
one at a time.
Guide it to your core, and
allow your melting heart
to replace whatever bitterness remains,
with fresh nectar.


Memories and Dreams of Flying, Rev B
Witness to Wonder.

Scene 1:
The skier had other roles: engineer, student, clarinetist, lover, dreamer, infant to name but a few, but that night he was a skier, he was alone and a witness to wonder.

His seat hung from a steel cable in the dark, part way up a mountain valley in northern Vermont.  The modestly lit ski trail, well away from the chair lift, barely intruded on the illusion of wilderness. Only a soft “scritch” and thump broke the silence when the cable pulled the seat up and over a tower pulley, but it drew his attention skyward. The January night air was clear as crystal between his eyes and a black sky pointed by uncountable stars. No matter how many times he saw that view he lost himself in it. Far above, a tight set of lights moved against all the others. Steady, barely separable, red & green wingtip lights and a tail strobe marked the object as an aircraft, otherwise invisible. Swiftly but silently it crawled across the field of stars. He had seen them before but he could never look away. His reward was a patterned tongue in shades of blue, which licked out behind the craft as he watched. Its crawl accelerated with an air of urgency. Somebody very high up was in a very big hurry. For all the fuel that they were spending flying at full afterburner, not a sound broke the silence on the mountain. If the skier hadn’t looked up he’d have never known they were there, even though somehow he had always known.

Scene 2:
The student was also a clarinetist, a lover and a dreamer, but that night he had paid to be a witness to wonder and he wanted his money’s worth.

He took a seat near the projection screen, slouched down, and lay back as flat as he could get. Dramatic orchestral music filled the theater, priming him for what would be an emotional flashback, as the star field on the screen filled from the bottom with the outer hull of a huge spacecraft: the Imperial Battle Cruiser. The scene filled him with awe not only for that presentation, but for something else it reminded him of, when he had been somewhere else, with someone else; when he had been someone else.

Scene 3:
The clarinetist lay on his back in the grass, on a warm summer night, watching a sky full of stars. The saxophonist lay next to him, holding his hand. They had each held other roles: he was a dreamer, a swimmer and more; she was a basketball player and more. They would each hold other roles but for that night they held each other as soon-to-be lovers and as witnesses to wonder.

They lay in the shadowed slope of a small hillock, away from the bright, fail-safe lighting lining both sides of a wide, flat strip of perfect pavement that began a short distance from where they lay and ran straight and true for nearly three miles to the northeast. They lay talking quietly as lights appeared low in the sky to the southwest. The lights grew and separated into the familiar red & green wingtip lights. Suddenly a brilliant white light bloomed into existence and overpowered all the others. It grew rapidly, brought a deafening roar, and passed closely overhead, filling their entire sky with aluminum overcast. Just for a moment, a commercial jetliner hung over them improbably huge and then was gone. Their hearts raced and they celebrated their excitement with a kiss and more.

Scene 4:
The dreamer was a student, a clarinetist, a child and other things. He had been an infant and something else. Someday he would hold different roles as he had before, but on many nights he was above all a dreamer of flight, of fights and something darker.

“Wires!” he exclaimed, to no one close enough to hear him. His heart accelerated, and he snapped his eyes from escape route to escape route. “It’s always the damned wires.” He worked his flight muscles hard, and managed to gain enough altitude to clear the power-lines. The effort left him out of breath. He could get quite high, enough to see clearly over his entire neighborhood, but always on climb-out or landing, he had trouble seeing and avoiding the power-lines, especially in the dark. Except for that problem he enjoyed the flying dreams. He struggled to extend his flights, to remember them in detail. Even though the climbing was hard work, he longed to someday get high enough to be completely surrounded by the stars of the night sky.
The fight dreams were a different story: he would inevitably end up fighting someone fast and dangerous, while he was mired in some kind of viscous ether. He could never move fast enough to defend himself.
The worst of all were the fever dreams. For some reason he experienced more of these dreams while ill, wherein he was trapped or impaired by a sense of suffocating thickness. These dreams were like the viscous ether fight dreams but without an opponent. His very existence seemed to be threatened by difficulty moving and breathing, not explicitly but implicitly, as if his entire being were trapped. The dreams always ended the same way: he would recognize the dream as something that he remembered vaguely from before, followed by a return to full consciousness.

Scene 5:
The infant drifted in and out of something like a dream. Sometimes there were others in the room, sometimes he was alone there. Sometimes he was alone and elsewhere. In that elsewhere, he was a witness to wonder.

Silence surrounded him except for a heartbeat. Was it his own? He wasn't sure. He floated weightless in a blackness that surrounded him completely, except that the blackness was not complete.  The blackness hosted uncountable stars and something else. Other lights, many lights, crawled across the star field, visible only as patterned tongues, pointed away from the direction they would crawl.  Periodically a tongue would spin and silently bloom into a bright blossom, leaving an after-image burned in his vision. Eventually they all had either bloomed or crawled away beyond his sight. Every attempt to move met with resistance. Eventually the simple act of breathing became impossibly difficult. The heartbeat raced and then stopped.  It seemed to make sense until he woke, and then it didn't.

The infant woke with a memory of having experienced something incomprehensibly wondrous, yet terrible. He cried.

Someday he would have other roles to play, perhaps some would seem familiar, but for that night he was an infant, and a witness to wonder.

The Thin Red Line

"Marines killed in Pendleton were bomb experts" - USA Today

My first reaction to this headline was a cruel chuckle, and the thought:
"They just failed their performance review".
I sincerely apologize for this thought.

After I thought about it a little more, I realized that they put their lives on the line, day after day, year after year, helping to make the lives of our servicemen safer, both in training, and on the battlefields of foreign wars. Even if the odds of safely deactivating unexploded ordnance are improved by knowledge, procedure, and careful practice, eventually there will be one operation, one device that goes wrong. Or one lapse of attention. It only takes one.

I'm sure that there will be an investigation into why all four men were in the kill zone of the device being disarmed, and a review of best practices for future operations.

The rest of us need to mourn the loss of these men who worked to keep others safe, and whose loss will be felt by their families for generations.

We all need to remind ourselves of the fragility of our own existence, because whether we are disposing of bombs, kayaking down a whitewater rapid, walking the dog along a road, or driving to the store for groceries, our lives may be taken, or catastrophically altered in an instant.

Let's just make sure it's not because we decided to unlock a phone, or read a text message, because no matter how many times you get away with not paying attention, eventually the statistics WILL catch up with you.

There may not be a policeman watching your every move, yet, but Murphy surely is.

LAX TSA Shooting

My initial reaction to reports of the security line shooting at LAX was: "See? I've TOLD you this would happen. A dense crowd of people, coercively disarmed by a (?well-meaning?) Nanny State, is a soft target, ripe for the picking." I expect the only reason someone hasn't done this already is that a security line is a better buffer, rather than a force-multiplier to be exploited in asymmetric warfare.

I was also initially annoyed that, after neutralizing the shooter, passengers were made individually vulnerable by cancelling flights and forcing passengers to walk back to their cars.

After careful thought, however, this does seem to have been a sensible precaution. If the first shooter had been merely a diversion, accomplices could have brought undetected weapons past security. Any aircraft not already sealed for takeoff, would have to be cleared. Any mass transit could have been a target for other potential accomplices.

As much as the TSA reminds me of the Nazi checkpoints in all those WWII movies I was marinated in as a child, I have to admit: Good job, guys.

Autumn Thoughts

I think about the fragility of life and health as I stand on the remaining sturdy branches of our maple tree, holding the chainsaw with which I will take what remains of its life, knowing it could easily be my own. It has been slowly dying since we bought the house, strangling itself with new root growth in response to some disturbance created by septic field digging. Hard freezes late in Spring, and the snow-mageddon storm of 2011 have all taken their toll, cracking limbs and trunk alike, allowing entry to disease. Limbs are dying, and dropping in the wind, and I need to keep my family safe. It has been a beautiful tree every Autumn, and provided us with shade even in its dying Summers. We will miss it, and yes, I will be careful. (from thoughts expressed to a friend, this very day)

Simple Comforts

@PhysicistLisa has Tweeted a photo of MisterShaoKahn (her dog) sleeping in a pile of her dirty clothes. I have the impression that most humans do NOT appreciate the scent of our "pack", the way dogs so obviously do. I totally get it. Decades ago, after a long drive, I spent the night (with permission, of course) at the home of an friend/ex-girlfriend who was also travelling, and therefore not home. She had left well used sheets on her bed. It's hard to describe how instantly comforting it was to sleep in her space, in her scent. I NEVER sleep well in hotel beds, or guest bedrooms, but that night, I slept like a baby.

Early Morning Epiphany

The only positive thing about being woken in the wee hours to, well, wee, is that being awake in a quiet house can allow insights to develop, which would otherwise be pulled to pieces by the intrusion of media or other human beings. I need to spend more of my time planning my activities on a longer horizon than the arrival of the next Tweet. This is advice I would give to my younger self, if I could, and to my daughter, when next I see her. I suppose I could tell the daughter via SMS Txt. While the To Do list does help ensure that bills get paid on time, it's not doing a damned thing for longer term planning. Most of us, I suspect, and I, certainly, need to drag our attention away from Twitter, e-mail (which seems to be mostly advertising pitches now), consumptive entertainment, and even NPR news. We need to think beyond mowing the lawn, filling the tank, even changing the oil, and consider where our current trajectory may take us one, five, or ten years into the future. Twitter is not a helpful tool in that regard.

Live Journal Mystery

Does anyone have any idea why Live Journal won't show me my own damned protected post? I *AM* logged in...
Desperate times lead to desperate measurements. There is a nationwide ammunition shortage in the USA. Regardless of the reason for it, we are doing what we can to continue practicing, which means, in my case, sorting a box of several hundred bullets to reload .223 Remington cartridges.

A friend of a friend has fallen on hard times, and his shooting supplies were for sale. Several boxes of moly-coated .223 bullets of various weights were unsealed in a larger box. They came open. The result was a mixed moly mess. I was the only person willing to do the sorting. I got them cheap.

How hard can it be, right? All the bullets are the same caliber & diameter (.224), so only the LENGTH should change for the various weights. Since I wasn't sure how many different types were present, I started weighing them, and measuring lengths with a vernier.
So far I have found 4 distinct weights: 53, 68, 75 and 77 grains. I recorded the lengths I found, then started sorting into boxes of each weight, based on the measured length. Ha! After sorting over a hundred this way, I realized that some of the lengths varied a couple thousandths (0.002") more than I was expecting.

"That's interesting" - science words meaning "you're about to learn something".

I started weighing EACH bullet after measuring. Sure enough, there were 77 grain bullets in the length range I had recorded for 68 grain bullets. Evidently, the ogive, or shape of the curve of the bullet nose, can distribute mass differently enough to make one 0.980" bullet weigh 9 grains more than another of the same length.

"Who cares?" you might ask. "Won't that affect accuracy just a little bit?". Well I get nervous about such things. As I understand the physics of internal ballistics, the heavier the bullet, the higher the chamber pressure in the rifle, given the same charge of gun powder. If I load a 77 grain bullet over a charge intended for 68, "Bad Things Can Happen". (primer flattening, case damage, possibly case rupture, and subjecting an expensive competition rifle to repeated excessive chamber pressure).

Penalty for erroneous assumption? All the sorted boxes got poured back into the big box. Except the 53's, they're eyeball obvious.

So I started over, weighing EVERY bullet. After about a hundred, I was pretty certain that there weren't any other weights mixed in, and settled on one shortcut to speed things up: rather than sliding the weights on my powder scale/beam balance to individually weigh each bullet, I set it for 76 grains. The pointer balances high for 77, low for 75, and rests on the bottom for 68 grain bullets. The 53's, bless them, are obvious enough to the eye, and I don't reload that weight anyway.

By the time I finish sorting, even minimum wage would probably put me over the retail value of the bullets. It's a good thing I was looking for an excuse to hang out in my nice cool man-cave.
It's no secret to anyone here that I'm a person who needs various metaphorical crutches in order to maintain my productivity. I'm going to recapitulate a few of the steps I took, tools I found, and a few of the joys and frustrations along the way.

In order to pass College courses, I had to keep loose-leaf binders with syllabus, dated homework assignments, dated hand-written class notes and supplemental handouts, in more-or-less chronological order. These were reasonably straightforward, archived well, and fairly easy to reference by binder and syllabus as table of contents. Once the course was completed, this never needed updating.

To keep track of people, a typed paper list of names, addresses and (single!) phone numbers was sufficient. New numbers could be hand-written in the white-space, and periodically, the whole thing got retyped in alphabetical order.  My wife *still* uses a nightmarish system of an ancient address-book, with a cluster of several dozen loose slips of paper crammed inside. Said cluster is in random order, NEVER updated, and is periodically shuffled.

In the working world, small projects could be organized similarly to class notebooks, but complications arose with the introduction of the "Franklin Planner": a calendar based loose-leaf notebook with separate sections for contacts, daily tasks, daily meeting notes, and project sections. This model gets rapidly out of hand, because tasks, meeting notes, etc, get spread out across the dated pages, and without constant indexing, things become impossible to find. The contacts pages must be updated and recopied, every year. I was keeping personal contacts in a simple text file on my PC, and while clumsy, it was easy to back-up, edit, and re-print periodically.

While I was still struggling with the paper "Franklin Planner", a business associate adopted an electronic organizer. He loved it, until he dropped it in a puddle, and lost everything stored on it. It was a nightmare for him. Eventually, another friend introduced me to the Palm IIIxe. While it would still lose its mind if dropped in a puddle, or if one allowed the batteries to go dead, it SYNCHRONIZED to a desktop application on the PC, which meant I could recover any lost information.

The Palm devices and their cousins are known as "PDAs": Personal Digital Assistants.

I fell in love with the Palm IIIxe:
Its Calendar reminded me of people's birthdays, pistol competitions, project meetings, bill payment dates.
Its OS let me enter information by a stylus-touch-sensitive on-screen "keyboard" or a crude handwriting recognition interface called "Palm Script". Palm Script had a steep learning curve, but I liked it much better than the keyboard entry.
Text "memos" kept in categories, allowed easy organization by project, personal notes, writing ideas, hobby data, tech support info etc.  Memos could be marked "Private", and hidden from prying eyes.
Contact information could be categorized as well, was alphabetized automatically, and could have notes attached.
The Palm IIIxe had an IRDA (infrared) beaming interface, and would allow me to exchange certain information: contact records and calendar items, with other compatible devices, including several cell-phones I've owned.
My favorite feature of the Palm OS, though, was the global text search: it would find any word in any application data on the device. It eliminated the laborious visual searches through months of paper pages of the Franklin Planner.

When Palm released the TX model with high resolution color screen, built-in rechargeable battery, SD card slot, Bluetooth and WiFi, a crude web browser, and secure password, I grabbed one right away. I still love it, but I've worn it out for the second time.

What became awkward, was the desire to carry a cell-phone, GPS navigation device, AND the Palm TX PDA. Palm made several attempts at a converged device with many or all of those features, but they were big, heavy, and expensive. They eliminated Palm Script handwriting recognition, which I still miss. I couldn't bring myself to buy any of the Palm phones, and until recently, even the so-called "smart phones" didn't seem worth the expense.

What I've finally settled on, is a Nokia Lumia 920, Windows Phone 8: excellent call quality, full-on GPS, and freaking MS Office Mobile included with spreadsheets and Word docs. Oh, and an actual focusing 8 Megapixel camera, Bluetooth OBEX, speech to text and vice versa, and WiFi data. What is it missing? Handwriting recognition, built-in private memos, the ability to remove the battery when you REALLY want to be sure its OFF, and a removable micro-SDHC card for non-rf data transfer.

Seriously, the L920 is more computer than I ever imagined having at my fingertips, when I started my engineering career. I'm still learning the platform, but its practically all I need to carry when I leave the house. Except, you know, a "phased plasma rifle in the 40 Watt range".



Life Mask

Latest Month

March 2014


Enjoys wild bird symphonies. Feels a need for speed. Doesn't mind enclosed places, or being cold, wet, upside down and underwater. Despises crowds and slow drivers. Keeps machines running until parts are no longer available. Avoids inter-species DNA exchange.

Sees dumb people; they're everywhere; sometimes in my mirror.



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