30 Sep

The Canon

I wish Nancy Angier had been my mother’s best friend while I was growing up, someone who we hung out with for Saturday night card games, Sunday picnics, and summer vacations. My mother has a wide-eyed embrace for life and adventure, and my father delves deep into the intracies of life on our planet (often not emerging for months)–most recently human life and longevity. Nancy (or her in-print persona) would have balanced them and help them find words for their experiences and observations.

I’ve been reading her rich survey of the major fields of science, The Canon, on the train to and from work. (It starts with a definition of science, which is reiterated throughout the book.) As I read, I think, no one person can have this large of a vocabulary and wield it so consistently and pointedly (and offhandedly) with wit and homage. I’ve reached a solid conclusion, or several: Nancy Angier is actually a small university working under the onus of a staff of editors with massive thesaural resources; Nancy Angier is a hive mind from space or the future; Nancy Angier is far more common than we know–we’re just too dumbed down to see more like her published.

I grew up with an interest in fossils, and like many kids had my pile of prehistoric flora and fauna toys and books. In high school and college, I studied paleoanthropology and eventually, the study of evolution (for fun). My bookshelves at home proudly display Stephen J. Gould’s big fat Structure of Evolutionary Theory among related works. I also have what I hope is a deep appreciation for other people’s spiritual beliefs, and have never seen a conflict between evolutionary (or other) science and those beliefs. (Let’s leave corkscrewed interpretations of doctrine out of it–that discussion just leads to bloody noses, TV evangelism, and car bombs.) To paraphrase Richard Feynman, science is about What, religion is about Why (because it’s very, very hard to answer Why).

So when I opened the chapter on evolutionary biology this morning and read her interview with David Wake, a biology professor at UC Berkeley, I wanted to kiss the book (not in a metaphorical attempt to plant one on Ms. Angier). He tells of his life growing up in a conservative Christian community and the words of his grandfather, a pastor and amateur naturalist, who didn’t see a conflict between his religion and his scientific knowledge, telling young David “that religion must always accommodate reality,” that we “live in the real world and must understand the world on its own empirical terms.”  Or, to quote (via Angier) Thomas Dhobzansky, the Russian geneticist, “Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.”

Yet, according to summarized survey data, about 35% of the people in this country question or discount evolution (especially if prefaced by the word “human”). Often because we don’t understand (and are not taught) the difference between the word “theory” and “conjecture” or “belief” or “opinion.” It’s wrong to lay that problem on the porch of religion, though–there are people out there who are just dumb as dirt or igner’nt as sin, and some of them stand behind a pulpit (or in other positions of power or leadership), and they lead their children into instead of out of the mists. A similar argument can be made for people who wield science to quash religion….

Back to the path. Even if you’re immersed in science and don’t understand the fuss, read her book. It’s not hard to skip over the wordy pulp to find the pith. She sometimes uses words for their own sake, like a logophile from Wales (where it’s said, why say something with 10 words when 100 will do). I’m not going to quote them here, because–unlike the cheese–they don’t stand alone. But they are such lovely words.

25 Sep

Theme supports comments on posts only (hmmm)

Hmm, this theme isn’t allowing comments on pages (i.e., About), only on posts. Or, themes add that ability and this theme, very simple and clean, with almost no code or metatags in the page content–lacks that ability. I’ve got a little work to do–I’d like to retain that ability without changing themes right now.

25 Sep

Entertain You

It’s Friday, and I can treat it in one of two ways: wind down the work week with a carb-inspired nap, or end it with a bang of work and energy that launches a productive weekend. Sounds cornball, but we don’t always require deep, meaningful motivators to achieve. This Friday’s motivator: “rocker chicks” who either went out on top or started (solo) with a bang. My choices: Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, with tracks I sometimes find comforting (like a sonic warm blankie) and Amanda Palmer’s punk cabaret Who Killed Amanda Palmer. I’ve had both of these albums since they were released, and haven’t tired of them yet. (Although overplaying them guarantees I’ll be waking in the middle of the night with one lurching round my skull like a lopsided antelope, so I also handle with care.)

Not that these are the only rocker chicks in my playlist (which is as varied as the business signage along Portland’s SE 82nd Ave). They’re just getting play today. Why is that important to you, the reader? It’s not, unless you’re looking for something new and haven’t heard of either (they’re easy to find on YouTube and other spots that play music and/or videos). And if you need a bandaid after listening, try Bach’s suites #1-3 on cello by Peter Wispelwey (you can find him on YouTube playing Hadyn’s Cello concerto in C Major with Violons du Roy–yes, they rock, too–in a lively performance Soames Forsyte would find most improper).

23 Sep

Next

I’ve imported the blog from kurtkremer.wordpress.com, which means I’ve lost the advantages of being tied into their wordpress.com platform–not sure what those are, aside from me needing to set up my own plugins, spam walls and filters, etc. I’m also not sure how to set up multiple blogs or if that’s possible, using subdomains–I’d like to gather all the old stuff under one tin roof. That can wait. For now, I’ll focus on security and making the site pop on search engines, when I need a break from more important things.

23 Sep

I’ve arrived

at, err, this new space and my own domain, my precious, with all of its headaches and rewards. Haven’t arrived yet, otherwise. For now, this site will remain just a blog, to keep my from getting sucked further into the tar pits of geekdom. Or something like that.

22 Sep

Setting Up My Own Site

I just finished registering zephyr98.com as a domain (via namecheap) and contracting (monthly right now) with Webfaction as the ISP. Otherwise, I’m spending most of my writing time writing off this blog (young novel, children’s book mentioned in previous posts), and looking forward to attending my first Portland Wordstock (where they are offering a workshop for writers with full time jobs and families on how to get the writing done without abandoning everything else and/or losing your mind–at least, that’s the intent. The site is also a chance for me to practice some new skills–although, leaving time for writing, it’s likely to proceed slowly, the first task being to install WordPress and then migrate this blog into a free WordPress template.

11 Sep

I Google Me

It’s always fun to google oneself. Especially in mid-afternoon, when I need a poke to stay awake. Good to trade a few minutes of productivity for hours of excellent results.

Googling “Zephyr98” I get my own blog as #1, followed by entries for a highly successful online poker player; a deviant sketch artist of horse heads; a registered player at the online (and I bet totally killer) gaming site, !Soul-Arena!; a 60 year old guy at TrueNudists.com; and, my second favorite, a stats-stealing site called http://www.isthisyour.name, where I learn that while my real name (Kurt Kremer) in binary is

01001011 01110101 01110010 01110100 00100000 01001011 01110010 01100101 01101101 01100101 01110010

…I am only modestly envoweled; but that my personal power animal is the mighty sphynx cat! (I sense a feline army waiting for my commands–you will all pay for laughing at my modest voweledge!) And that there are likely only 6 other people in the US with my name. (Since there can be only one, and I’m not a brawler, I hope we’re spread far and wide. Still, I better brush up on my fencing skills.)

And their final tidbit (and this is just plain creepy), my magic number:

“Your ‘Numerology’ number is 5. If it wasn’t bulls**t, it would mean that you are adventurous, mercurial, and sensual. You seek growth through adventure and different life experiences. Although you are a critical thinker, you can sometimes over-ponder an issue.”

Get out of my head, you freaks!

Here, though, is my favorite Google result. Do I really need to say why?

ZEPHYR 550 ’91-‘98 – Tasty Nuts the home of Pro-Bolt Ltd

Ah, I feel energized. Now to get back to Tweetdeck.

11 Sep

Aqua Lion and Lamb

Good lord, I just remembered a snippet of a dream from last night that popped to the front of my skull while reading Nancy Angier in the NYT on New Creatures in an Age of Extinctions, the memory triggered by this sentence: “Yet even our most beloved mascots — the pandas, the snow leopards, the gibbons and the whales — remain a mystery to us, their wild lives unplumbed.”

In my dream, I wandered down a coastline to a very small inlet just wide and deep enough to contain an adult humpback whale and a Cretaceous-sized leopard seal (or pick a time period where everything was big box store Texas-sized) that I knew, in my dream, was the whale’s predator.

The whale pressed its knobbly head against the shore (the water was deep at the edges) and sang in hollow, mournful whistles while the leopard seal rolled menacingly in the background. The setting felt more like a massive indoor movie set, no real sense of the outdoors or the wild, other than the aggregate rock flow I scooted down to reach the whale, while it watched me from one its glistening, globe-sized eyes. I really only remember, as much as we “remember” anything, the rock, the song, the size of the whale’s head–as wide and long as a California king-sized bed–and the rich mottled flipper and sleak back of the predator seal.

I remember that the whale didn’t seem threatened by the seal but wasn’t at ease, either. It didn’t seem to want me to do anything about the seal–just to pay attention.

Someday, viewmaster reels will contain snippets of animation or live action instead of 3D slides, just like dreams. I’m disappointed that my ADHD subconcious ran out of patience after only a few seconds with the whale and seal and flipped to a new scene (which I don’t remember). I don’t like to make too much of dreams, because it’s just me talking to me, looking at my own shadow cast by firelight, but I like the way they typically don’t rebroadcast mundane reality, and remind me that, even in waking life, we barely know our world and often make damn strange intepretations on what we do see.

Like who should and shouldn’t have health care. (Hey, where’d that come from? Goddamn subconcious, sharp as a knife sometimes, slices through its pillowcase and takes control of my fingers at the keyboard.)

Synchonicity update: My horoscope from today’s Onion. Make your own interpretations. Statistically, coincidence is no big deal. Knowing that, it can still make us feel a little freaky….

Taurus Apr 20 – May 20
The lion shall lay down with the lamb this week, before looking around, realizing no savior has in fact returned, and ripping out the poor, unsuspecting animal’s throat.

02 Sep

MOTSM

Man On The Street Moments

Statistics would show that, like a long string of heads or tails-only coin flips, there’s nothing special about encountering a series of off kilter or even seemingly sinister moments after a dry spell of mundane normality. Closer observation would probably show that we swim in all manner of circumstances constantly and swap our observational and perceptual filters like flips of the coin.

These events took place during a recent sunny day along a 5 block span of Portland’s Pearl district. I’m pretty sure that I’m the only common thread. I jotted them here in first person because it worked for me during the writing.

* * *

Outside Powell’s NW entrance, a 40ish man in worn jeans, t-shirt, sneakers, and puffy leather cap stands gripping the handle of his shopping cart and staring at a young tree growing from a hole in the pavement. As I pass, he plucks off his cap and glares at me.

“Do you think it’s funny? Because there’s a breeze? Because it feels good on your skin?”

He shouts, “It’s not, and it NEVER WAS!”

“There are millions of leaves,” he mutters.

He replaces his cap and returns to the tree.

Three blocks down I follow a trail of dried blood for half a block to a brick wall where the trail ends or begins. There’s about a 8 foot overhang here where homeless sometimes shelter from the sun or rain. The space is empty today.

Outside the door to the office, two girls stand at the parking meter, one fishing for coins and narrating in rough language while the other is texting and nodding like she’s taking dictation. “I told that girl, bitch, I said, bitch, don’t tell me that *you* *don’t* *know* what I mean, you going to fucking die, bitch. Haha, she don’t fucking believe me.”

Inside the office, there’s a human-sized wooden crate open and standing on end, with the name “Natalie” taped to the front. I don’t think that Natalie knows the girl outside, but I head upstairs just to make sure.

Notes:

An alternate explanation is that Natalie, a prodigious and often brilliant worker, simply wore out and was sent to the factory for maintenance and upgrades.

Above, I intentionally did not describe the physical appearance of the two girls at the parking meter, but will say that neither was African-American.

There’s a good exercise here for me to review these minimalist scenes and figure out descriptive bits that would help readers visualize them better. Then I wouldn’t need notes like “BTW, they weren’t African American girls, just in case that’s where your biases led you, and if they did, well shame on you.”