Friday, April 4, 2014

Hire a Musician

Many of our beloved musicians can't find a job after returning from the road or retiring from the bar scene. Is this how we treat our artist citizens? The path to reintegration into society after a tour or a long stint in a sleazy bar is a difficult one.
After years of dedication to their craft, musicians and road crews gain useful skills that businesses need - stomp box repair, microphone testing, barmaid selection; just to name a few.
Many of our homecoming artists have served their time playing music not of their choosing. Some of them carry memories of traumatic experiences: smelly motel rooms, lousy food, poor acoustics, drunk people, lack of privacy, unsightly laundry services, bad attitudes - the list goes on and on.
These men and women aren't asking for a parade or a pitiful hand-out (a substantial hand-out might do). They just want the recognition of a job well done; the applause and the groupies aren't enough. So, if you see a musician walking the street because the mid-west tour made barely enough money to pay for itself, please give him a job. You'll be glad you did. There's nothing like having someone that can do a spot-on Mick Jagger imitation on your crew; or who can tune your guitar in under a minute. They might also know the best places for happy hour or an extended lunch.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Life, The Universe, and Everything

[Editor's Note: The title of this piece pays homage to the late great Douglas Adams]

Well, where do I begin. Life for me began around 11:30 PM on June 4, 1957. Before that year, I didn't exist. I was dead in much the same manner as I will be in forty years or so from now.

Afterlife is an oxymoron. Reincarnation, past lives, all that stuff is an interesting thought exercise, but nothing more. If someone can provide the mechanism for a consciousness from a dead being to be transferred to a different living being I'll take a look at it, but since we know so little about the nature of sentience and the 'soul' that I'm doubtful that it could ever be proved. Of course, there are stories and anecdotes about this phenomenon, but nothing more.

Life to me is precious gift that shouldn't be taken for granted ever. It is our one chance to experience, share, contribute, love, and be a part of this great drama of existence on this little planet Earth. Why do we fight? Why do we permit suffering and pain and untimely death? Why do we have more children than we can support and love and educate and employ? Why do we make so many mistakes and waste so much time?

My parents were from the old school. Protestant Christians that wanted a dozen children. When the reality of six children hit them slowly but surely, they decided that half a dozen would be just fine; then they had me. I was an afterthought; a punctuation mark on a family tree that, on hindsight, they were very pleased about. My very existence had odds that would make the Powerball lottery look like a crap shoot.

The fact that I am here now writing this only testifies to the concept that one more child in this world might be better than not. I'm happy to have the chance at life that I have. It's been a wonderful ride so far. But I question the wisdom of some people who have children out of wedlock or do not have the financial resources to properly raise a child to be a well-adjusted contributor to society. But who am I to question anyone's right to procreate? Education in the art of living is sadly lacking in our schools. Our culture is rife with shallow media and poor examples of humanity that it becomes so easy to accept it as the norm.

After learning about cultures and world history, I am faced with a dilemma. While being empathetic with the weaknesses of 'the flesh' and that we humans are driven by emotions and evolutionary traits handed down from our primitive ancestors, my opinion of most individuals currently living is quite low overall.

I know, there are lots of good people out there too, but the few bad ones spoil it for the rest of us.  The fact that everyone now has to take off their shoes at the airport because one thwarted terrorist had a shoe bomb exemplifies how our world has changed since I was born.

Think about this: how much of your life is spent protecting yourself from the dishonest few that would take from you whatever they wanted, perhaps ruining your life just to benefit their own?
 The locks on our doors and passwords on our computers. Do you lock your car in your own driveway? When you go for a short walk in the evening, do you lock up the house? Do we treat a stranger with suspicion long before we engage in trust?

Information; the boon and perhaps bane of our modern world, is a jungle of knowledge and garbage that we must all carefully traverse ever day of our lives. Walking into any public gathering area and try not to see advertisements or warning signs. When was the last time you saw some window blinds that didn't have a warning sticker on it because of the choking hazard of the draw string? We think by putting up signs that we are protecting everyone from stupidity - or are we just placating ourselves and saying that it's all we can do?

I am constantly reminded of the bell curve in our population and with the numbers rising, the extreme edges are also increasing in numbers. There might be only one in a million people crazed enough to want to shoot and kill innocent people at random in a shopping mall or movie theater, but given 400 million people, now there's 400 guys out there planning their next massacre.

I suppose all we can do as individuals is try to avoid places where disaster could strike and hope we're not among the unlucky ones. It is important to use history as a perspective lens through which we look at our lives here in the U.S. Other parts of the world and other times in the past, human life has been much harder, much more cruel and deadly. How we survived this long is amazing. I am glad to be living here and now rather than just about anywhere else and at any time in the past. I don't know what the future holds, but all in all, the here and now is pretty fantastic really.

The universe, as we currently know it, was born about 13.8 billion years ago in what cosmologists call the Big Bang. The energy of that penultimate explosion rapidly formed quarks, the building blocks of matter, which then organized into quanta of particles consisting of matter or antimatter which quickly annihilated and much of what was left over became the basic elemental particles: protons, neutrons, electrons which had the dimensional ability to form atoms of mostly hydrogen and helium, but little else.

There was still energy in the remnant of that big explosion, and the clouds of simple atoms spread outward through space-time and began to cool enough that some denser clouds began to contract through the action of the warping of space-time in the presence of mass (gravity) which draws the clouds of matter closer to itself and began to spin. The more compact the cloud became, the hotter it got. Gravity drew in more matter and the clouds formed spheres of dense gas that further compressed the atoms closer together and at higher and higher temperatures. When the pressure at the center of these spheres became so great that atoms were colliding enough to undergo nuclear fusion, a star is born. A million years later the photons, a by product of the fusion process reach the surface of the star and it begins to shine.

Light has now become a constituent of the new universe as more and more stars are born out of the gigantic swirling clouds called galaxies. Stars form in widely varying sizes and masses. The more massive stars burn hotter and live shorter lives than the smaller red dwarf stars. These large hot stars explode after fusing all their hydrogen into helium, and helium into more massive atoms as the pressure becomes greater and the nuclear fuel starts to run out. Once iron is formed in the core of the star, the balance is broken and the outer part of the star collapse in on itself producing a titanic explosion which blows out all of the massive atoms that the star formed into open space.

Thus, new stars that form from these supernova remnants contain heavier elements and the accretion disk surrounding a newly-formed star may contain these heavier elements such as oxygen, carbon, iron, silicon, gold, etc. as well as molecules of combined atoms such as hydrogen and oxygen (water), hydrogen and carbon (methane, other hydrocarbons), and hydrogen and nitrogen (ammonia). Rocks mostly of iron and silicates (silicon and oxygen) had the most mass which attracted other materials to it as the accretion disk slowly condensed into fewer and fewer larger massive bodies.

These aggregations of material had enough mass and therefore enough angular momentum to achieve stable elliptical orbits around the star. Gradually, most of the gas and dust from the accretion disk falls into these planetary bodies contributing to their mass and structure. Other smaller massive bodies mimicked the solar accretion disk by revolving around the planets and forming moons. Surrounding the solar accretion disk there forms icy balls of mostly water which occasionally change their orbits (due to collisions or reactions with other massive bodies) to fall inward toward the inner planets and some of them collide with the newly-formed Earth. This is where most of the water in our oceans came from.

Everything came from basically nothing. Throughout the life of the universe (there's those two words again), the physical laws resulted in more complex atomic, molecular, chemical, and biological arrangements producing all the diversity of the galaxies, stars, planets and even space itself. The concept of 'everything' can be mind boggling if taken in too large a context. What is 'everything' to you?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

SAD - social anxiety disorder

It seems all my life I have battled with a behavior which has come to be known as social anxiety disorder (SAD). It's never been very intense but has nevertheless frequently guided my actions or in-actions when dealing with other people. Throughout my daily life and work, I find that I will do everything I can on my own before reaching out to other people for assistance - especially those that don't know me very well. Calling someone on the phone is something I prefer to avoid. Although cordial, I subconsciously wish for the conversation to end. Sending e-mail is much, much easier and I have no problem with that type of communication - most of the time. When people reach out to me, I'm fine. But I hesitate when it is my job to reach out to someone else. Needless to say, this has held me back in my career. A manager or teacher I am not.

One recent episode involved car-pooling with the husband of my wife's aunt (which we socialize with several times a year). I came up with the idea to share a ride out to a nearby town for a photography class - something we're both interested in. My wife arranged the communication and I was to pick him up on my way. For reasons I don't understand, I had convinced myself that I did not need to stop at his house, but that he would provide his own transportation. I had to apologize to everyone involved for that mess up.

I have always hoped that this type of behavior would eventually stop and my human interactions would be less avoidable. Most of the time I'm OK but occasionally I slip back into that insecurity. The battle, apparently, is not over yet.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Government Health Care and Food Subsidies

"If the government were paying for our health care, the government would have a very strong interest in changing the way people eat." - Michael Pollan

So if the government was subsidizing your health care, they would probably become more interested in healthy food habits and promoting healthy food production rather than subsidizing the corn and cattle industries.
I know, how about making bad food expensive and healthy food inexpensive, instead of the other way around. It's just an idea.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Center of Black Holes

Approaching the event horizon of a black hole, time slows down.
Upon reaching the event horizon, time stops.
In black holes, matter has collapsed to a zero point; the matter is gone, but the gravitational effect remains.

Going beyond the event horizon, time goes backward.
The farther in, the farther back in time you go.
The center of the black hole is the beginning of time: the big bang.
The center of all black holes is the beginning of this universe, or another universe.
What happens to the light that turns back on itself?
Since the gravitational effect of hyper-compressed matter remains in our space, how can the attributes of this mass exist in more than one physical state? Is it 'waiting' to be 'born' as part of a big bang in another universe?
And what about the slow, gradual dissipation of a black hole's mass? How does that effect these ideas?

And by the way, is the gravitational constant really constant? Or does it change over time? Same goes for the speed of light; has it changed since we first measured it?

Monday, June 11, 2012

The One True Twinkie

No twinkie but Twinkie. The Holy Hostess is the One True Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling.  Blessed are the cake-makers, for their cakes shall be filled. I'm going on a pilgrimage to Schiller Park, Illinois where the Twinkie was born four score and two years ago. Dolly Madison Zingers are not the one true cream-filled cake. They shall be cast out of my snack drawer. Oh! I long to be filled with the cream of the Holy Hostess.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Nearly all knowledge is partially an act of faith. When we read something or listen to someone speak, we take their words as truth depending on our set credibility of that person and their sources. But true knowledge is cumulative and self-reinforcing. Known facts and concepts about the world are continually revisited and improved over time.
Generally then, today's picture of our world and the universe we live in is an improved view of what we had fifty years ago. When I was a child, pictures of galaxies and comets were in black and white and without much detail. There were race riots, segregation and bigotry. There was unbridled pollution and exploitation of natural resources - like the supply was endless, and the Earth would take our abuse without consequence. How wrong, or at the very least, how incomplete our knowledge was.
It was generally accepted that most people went to church every Sunday, and that this Christian nation had God on our side; that Jesus is the true Son of God; that He would return someday soon; and that all other religions were sadly in error in their doctrine.
Knowledge in these areas has increased; even in the areas of how we might regard religious belief, superstition, the occult, the supernatural, spirituality. We are now more aware of how the mind creates, reinforces, and distributes conflicting belief systems. The preacher's words are just another voice in the cacophony of information we sift through every day.
We cannot go back to the 1950's. Too much has changed. Too many real answers have been found. Too many more questions have been asked. It is literally a different world than that of my childhood. There's no going back.
I was taught that all languages came about because the Babylonians tried to build a tower up to heaven and God caused the builders to all speak different languages so they couldn't complete the project. Each language-speaking group moved away to their own country so they could all speak their own language together. The Italian-speakers moved to Italy, the Chinese speakers moved all the way to China, etc.(Genesis 11:6-9)
It has taken a long time, but I have begun to replace my childhoon learning with evidence-based knowledge. I have faith that evidence and reason will point the way toward better and truer truths.