Friday, August 30, 2002

Oh, What To Do?

It really is nerve racking, this.

I just won't be productive until I know: Is baseball going to strike? I just don't know what to do.

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 Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Useless Plastic Crap

G. Troy Pickett has a problem. He's a prisoner of useless plastic crap:

I still buy CD's on the day they are released, every now and then.

But most of the CD's out there suck. The music industry spits out bad record after bad record. They pay Clear Channel to play the record. The crap sells because that's all most people hear, and their standards are constantly being lowered. Then the record companies, now believing that they have a winning formula, put out six CD's that sound like the first, copies of a bad original. They then pay Clear Channel [...]

I'm still waiting for the prices on CDs to fall like they told us they would when they first started making them. In the meantime, I just sing in the shower.

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Ken Hall is listening to Studs Terkel and talks about what he hears:

If we were a good and just people, we would look to Stud Terkel as one of our elders, and we would heed his words deeply.  

I grew up decades ago with Chicago FM radio piped thru cable around the John Hancock building which gave the broadcast television images an echo. We didn't have a TV, but we had radio, and his WFMT came thru the wire across the corn fields into our radio. And out came his voice, the sound of which is part of the fabric of my childhood experience. Sadly, I know nothing of the man or his thoughts. I know now that its high time I knew more.

Thanks, Ken!

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Hope for America

Mandrake gives Americans reason to hold on to hope at we watch the withering of personal liberties and due process in the wake of 9-11.

Here he decries corruption and the lack of accountability in a non-elected European Commission.

any supposedly democratically-elected body, or similar, claiming to be acting on behalf of "the people", must expect to come under scrutiny and to be held accountable and responsible for its actions. The EU is protected from this and, perhaps as a consequence, stinks of (alleged) corruption.
And here he laments the corrupt and possbibly insane dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.

In his first major reshuffle for two years, Mr Mugabe also axed the man seen by many as the last voice of reason, Simba Makoni, the finance minister.

Ok, so things don't look so bad over here after all!

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 Tuesday, August 27, 2002

A Good Run

From the first step on the track, I knew it was going to be a great run. Everything was right. The heat of the day was gone. There was a stiff breeze blowing across the field. Venus was traversing to the west across a black, cloudless sky. And the toad on the far turn was hopping out of my way every time I came by.

My legs felt recharged after having had a day to rest. I had my light training shoes on, and I felt like I was barely touching the ground. The agenda for the evening was only 5 miles.

So I started down the straight away. I ran about a mile or two, and I ran a little with Trudy and Guinness and the two mile point. Somewhere after that I lost track of the world about. It must have been two or three laps I ran while my mind was busy inside itself. The lights of the soccer fields and the coming and going of cars in the middle school parking lot didn't break me out of my reverie. When I finally did come to, I was cranking around the far turn running faster than I had intended, running past the toad again. (We both seem to prefer lane 3.) At the five mile point, my head was spinning.

It's been almost ten years since I started running again. Ten years out in the heat and cold and the rain and the dark. In those ten years, I've never had a run like the one I had tonite. I hope I don't have to wait that long again.

Small Middle School track, Austin
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 Monday, August 26, 2002

Byproducts of Open Trade

Politics in the Zeros points us to this article discussing how the maquiladora industry in the the eastern Tehuacan Valley, the historic breadbasket of Mexico, is making the water run blue.

Wear Calvin Klein or Guess? Congratulations! You're part of the problem!

Brings to mind a different lament in Iris DeMent's song Wasteland of the Free:

We got high-school kids running 'round in Calvin Klein and Guess
who cannot pass a sixth-grade reading test
but if you ask them, they can tell you
the name of every crotch on mTV
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

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 Sunday, August 25, 2002

Just Dessert

Dining car privileges come with a sleeper car, but on the southbound train we didn't have a sleeper, and so the cost of the items on the menu led us to pack a grocery bag and cooler before we left Chicago. We ate well, and we ate cheaply.

Then, one evening, the memory of dessert echoed in Trudy's ear. On the northbound journey, she had a chocolate truffle after our meal. It was warm. It was gooey. It was chocolaty. And she loved it. The memory of that truffle evidently bounced around in her head silently until on the evening of the second day they made the last call for the dining car.

Dessert? Trudy asked. Ben's eyes lit up.

Now you must know that our experience in the dining car on the northbound trip was anything but positive. The staff were cranky and mean and generally treated us like an obstacle to getting their own scheduled breaks and meals. Every time, without fail, we felt unwelcome as we walked in, and our excitement about being on the train was consistently quenched by their hostile attitudes.

So when they made that last call and Trudy said that word, my reaction was one of fear.

Are we allowed to go in there only for dessert? I asked.

Of course in a normal world, no one would think to ask such a question. But having been conditioned by our northward trip, I was not particularly interested in investigating. Trudy, on the other hand clearly had it bad with this chocolate truffle in her head. So I said, Let's ask.

So Trudy and Ben and I got up to go to the dining car.

We were greeted at the door by the woman who had made the announcement. She actually had a smile on her face (or something approximating a smile in any event).

Can we just have dessert?

You'd better hurry.

We took that as a yes.

Inside we were met with the bewildered gazes of the dining car staff, most of whom were seated already eating their meals. One of them had a medium rare steak in front of him and was clearly enjoying it immensely.

When we sat down, the attendant dropped three menus on the table, asked what we'd like to drink and walked away. When he returned with our drinks, we said that we were only having dessert.

He didn't respond in any physically discernable way, but his disgust was thick around him. That's part of the subtlety of how they work in there. They treat their customers like dirt, but if you had a video tape of it all, you'd never know what was going on.

So he took our order and shouted it downstairs to the kitchen. After only a few minutes, he brought us what we ordered on styrofoam plates. He slide them across the table at us and walked away.

We sat there enjoying what we got. The food was good, and the sun was setting with spectacular crimson and lavender clouds glowing over West Texas. We would be home soon.

Amtrak Texas Eagle, southbound to Austin
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 Friday, August 23, 2002

Sit Down and Be Quiet!

British Telecom (BT) has just lost a lawsuit it filed agains Prodigy in which BT claims HTML links violate a patent it holds. From the judgment by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, in White Plains, New York:

BT is correct that there is no requirement that its expert analyze every available web page that it claims as a block of information. However, [...] BT must identify at least one web page other than one it invented for the purposes of this lawsuit. It has not done so. Other than BT's general assertion that blocks of information as defined in [their] patent exist on the Internet, BT has not presented any other evidence of an infringing Web page, one Prodigy's system or anywhere else on the Internet.

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 Thursday, August 22, 2002

No Coffee For You

When you eat in the dining car, they seat you at tables with other folks. Mostly it must be a pragmatic way to maximize the number of people they feed, but it's also a good part of the experience. Talking face to face with strangers across a clean white tablecloth is what eating in the dining car is all about.

So we had breakfast on the morning of the second day with a couple who wandered into the dining car late. Actually, they had already eaten. (They brought snacks and things along.) And they were only travelling a short way. But they wanted to sit and relax in the dining car while they were on the train. So they came in late for coffee and juice.

Seating them was quite an ordeal. There were blind, you see, and the train was rocking from side to side. The attendant lead one of them to the table and the other followed behind. They were all three holding hand to arm.

Sit on your left, the attendant commanded as she turned around.

So he sat down in the seat to his left -- right on top of a man sitting across the aisle from us.

No! Your other left, the attendant said without a hint of an apology. At that point she was, you see, looking back down the aisle at them, and she had meant her own left.

After a substantial amount of shifting and squeezing (the woman barely fit in the seat), the two of them got settled. We introduced ourselves, and they immediately launched into an hour-long string of bad jokes and puns mixed with otherwise normal conversation and periodic efforts to call friends on their cell phones. We were mostly done with our meal, but we stayed and sat and talked with them. And we chuckled at their jokes.

After an hour or so had gone by, a waiter came up and silently cleared our plates away, and he took their cups and glasses, too. They had not finished drinking their coffee and juice.

Well, I wasn't finished with my coffee, one of them said.

The waiter responded immediately, We are closed. CLOSED! I'll put your coffee in a paper cup!

We sat in stunned silence and eventually got up and went back to our seats.

Amtrak Texas Eagle, northbound to Chicago
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The Empty Public Domain

John Robb talks about Dave Winer talking about the issues raised recently by Lessig:

... we finally have the means to extend access to the public domain to everybody through the Internet, and we are finding it empty.

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Lost Liberties

The times have changed. One by one the lessons we learned in school fall, post 9-11.

The attorney general decides that due process is only due to those whom he decides it is due.

The Librarian of Congress decides you can't object to regulations restricting online webcasting unless you were party to their making. (And Doc is not impressed.)

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 Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Dining Car Work Rules

The train was rolling northwards across Central Texas somewhere south of Ft. Worth. Outside, the parched prairie shone in the bright summer sun. Inside, it was cool and the tablecloths were clean and white. It was lunch time, and we were ready to eat.

The dining car attendant seated us at a table with another couple, and we were all looking over the menu and considering our options. Although the prices were steep, meals come with a sleeper car. Price was not an issue.

After we signed the ticket as the attendant had instructed us to do, we circled our selections as I recalled you are supposed to do. Then the attendant came back to check our signatures. She looked down for a moment and her smiling face turned stern.

She glanced down the aisle and then quietly said, You're not supposed to circle these. That's her job. And she pointed to another attendant two tables down. She left the tickets on the table and quickly walked away. Her job was done. The other couple left their tickets untouched on the tabletop.

When the other woman got to us, she asked us what we'd have. Then, as her work rules undoubtedly required her to do, she circled our selections on the tickets, overcircling the circles we'd put there ourselves. After a brief pause, she said, You're not supposed to circle these. That's my job.

She was not impressed. Neither were we.

Amtrak Texas Eagle, northbound for Chicago
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Lessig on banning technology

It's hard to think about property in the era of digital everything. The RIAA and MPAA would have us think exclusively in terms of theft. In an interview with the Library Journal, copyright expert Lawrence Lessig offers an equally potent analogy to illuminate the other side:

If we don't ban technologies that kill people, I don't think we should ban technology that could be used for lots of completely legitimate purposes, like enabling blind people to read text or to move text between computers.

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 Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Ban Thai

They sit at a table by the wall across the aisle sharing their food. The three women talk in a non-stop stream of shifting conversation.

I'm going to Russia soon...
He converted. You knew that, didn't you?...
How could anyone not like him?...
So now how are you guys doing?...
His severance check was for $13,000 (before taxes)...
The rent's too high, but we're near the stadiums...
They ordered my G3 PowerBook today...
Her and her sister are like you and I...
She knows, doesn't she?...
Her ex sent this basket with chocolates ...
He's trying to get back with her again...
I just had to get out of the hospital...
I don't know; it's just the juxtaposition...
No, he's not the one...
Is he the guy who was cheating on you?...
This tastes good! Who ordered this?...
Do you come here often?...
I love this place!...
I'm just getting him to, like, try different foods...
My dad's been up there for a year and a half...
They have, like, the most interesting relationship...
She's the antithesis of that, more like a wild child...
He has had four wives; he likes to create children...
She's suing him...
Their relationship affected his court performance...
Weren't they unhappy for a while?...
Her mother is really kind of crazy...
Can you lose weight and be cured of diabetes?...
Is he skinny?...
Do you want kids?...
I think this world is crazy...
I can't stand my mom right now...
She won't use her cell phone or go to Sam's Club...
How did you find out?...
They threw out the typewriter I had in high school...
Stop yelling at me...
As a parent she wants another reason...
A true parent, like, at least they'd forget...
They're too expensive, like, even on wholesale...
Were you aware what was going on yesterday?...
So I didn't care after that...
White envelopes, like, cream colored on the inside?...
His plane got in at 7:50, so we thought we'd be late...
So I'm, like, "am I going the right way?"...
He began to tense up, and I said, "We can't do this anymore."...
It'll be two years on August 25th...
So he called me this afternoon...

The waiter walks up to my table. Here's your check sir.

He looks at the pen and notebook on the table. Take your time.

Baltimore, MD
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 Monday, August 19, 2002

Did You Put That There?

Did you hide that purple envelope there in my pack between the books and pens and papers and things?

It fell out as I was sitting by the window in the sun watching the passengers line up in line and the airplanes on the tarmac come and go.

I sat there and read your words and then slipped them into this notebook that I never might lose them, that I might read them again some day and remember this feeling of sitting in the sun and finding a sealed purple envelope slid between my books and pens and papers and things.

Bergstrom Airport, Austin
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Falling Social Institutions

And I thought I was cynical:

Politics in the Zeros reviews our falling social institutions and the expanding void left behind.
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 Saturday, August 17, 2002

Lessig's Words.

Read them here .

[...] Nothing's changed. Except, your freedom, which has increasingly been taken away by those who recognize that the future is against them and they have the power in D.C. to protect themselves against that future. Free society be damned.

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Old St. Paul's

On Charles Street on the hill sits Old St. Paul's, an Episcopal/Anglican church of some size. It is made of stone and looms above you as you make your way up the hill.

Its doors are made of glass and thru them you can look inside. You can see the pews, the alter, the stained glass window, and the vaulted ceiling of the sanctuary -- day or night even if the doors are locked.

I peer in, and then I continue up the hill.

To the right of the doors, out of the way, hidden from the common view, sitting in front of two massive columns, a man with ragged hair and ragged clothes sits asleep with his head slumped forward lying on his lap.

He has nowhere to go.

Baltimore, MD
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 Friday, August 16, 2002

Elvis & John

I've never been much into pop culture in spite of my immersion in it most of my life. It just seemed so pointless to spend all that time tracking the stars, buying the albums, going to the concerts. So much effort, so much money, so much time for so little of real significance.

Or maybe not. Despite my best efforts, the pop sunk in, became a part of me, although I only realize it infrequently, when a song sends tingles down my spine or brings tears to my eyes.

Today in 1977 Elvis died. His pop was a bit before my time. He was before another dave's time, too. But he writes about his realization of what Elvis' death in 1977 meant to his mother and so many people from the vantage point of another generation, from the vantage point of his anguish when John died.

Dave: your post made those tingles show themselves again. Imagine that.

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Fear This

We live in interesting times. Since 9-11, the times have changed for everyone, and tech is no exception. Everyone's scrambling for a solution. Everyone's looking for security. Put forth the right product now and give it a bit of flag-waving security spin, and you could have a winner. So it is with Palladium , a product from a company with a bit of a reputation with respect to security.

Bruce Schneier offers a trusted outsider's view of Palladium. Among his observations:

When you think about a secure computer, the first question you should ask is: "Secure for whom?" [...] Microsoft really doesn't care about what you think; they care about what the RIAA and the MPAA think. Microsoft can't afford to have the media companies not make their content available on Microsoft platforms, and they will do what they can to accommodate them.
There's a lot of good stuff in Pd, and a lot I like about it. There's also a lot I don't like, and am scared of.

If he's scared, I'm scared!

Update: you're not scared? Consider Microsoft's lobbying to halt NSA efforts to develop secure versions of security-enhanced linux. According to this report by news.com,

Sources familiar with events said that aggressive Microsoft lobbying efforts have contributed to a halt on any further work. "Microsoft was worried that the NSA's releasing open-source software would compete with American proprietary software," said a source familiar with the complaints against the NSA who asked not to be identified.

Microsoft would not comment directly on its lobbying efforts, but did stress that it wanted to ensure the government continued to fund commercial ventures.

which led the NSA into back-peddling mode:
"We didn't fully understand the consequences of releasing software under the GPL (General Public License)," said Dick Schafer, deputy director of the NSA. "We received a lot of loud complaints regarding our efforts with SE Linux."
Their power extends well beyond the products they build. Who knew!?

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Bye, Bye Legacy

Behind one set of stainless steel doors with ID card access control, thru another set of cipher-locked doors, they stood for years: NASA's Mission Operations Computers (MOCs). They were work workhorses of the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. Over the years, they were upgraded, and in recent years much of their functionality was migrated onto more modern systems. But one piece of their purpose -- trajectory calculations -- remained stubornly on those machines for years, in spite of several valiant efforts to modernize.

Now, according to a story on spaceref, we learn that the venerable MOC has been retired. Like any good technology modernization effort, it led to layoffs. (People are just too darned expensive to employ these days!)

This afternoon, in the large computer room on the first floor of the MCC that has been the home of the MOC from the early 1960's, a large crowd of Flight Controllers, Flight Directors, Engineers, Technicians, and management witnessed the final power down of the MOC. Missing from this event, unfortunately, were the computer operators and supervisors responsible for actually running the MOC.

They were laid off two weeks ago.

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Sitting On A Park Bench

As night settled in he staked his claim. A warm summer breeze was blowing over the harbor. Flags fluttered from the just-lit lampposts. The lights of Federal Hill danced on the waves. Above him, leaves rustled in the trees.

He staked his claim on a park bench, sitting in the middle and leaning first to one side then the other. All his possessions were stowed in a green plastic bucket that sat on the pavement at his feet.

As darkness fell, he took stock of what the bucket held: a camouflaged jacket that he put on and another crumpled piece of clothing, three brown paper bags that he intently uncrumpled and slipped one inside the other, and a zip-lock bag of candy.

After he sat some time on the bench, chewing a piece of the candy, periodically winking at children walking by, smiling to no one, or talking to himself, he settled down for the night. He put his things back in the bucket except for a Tootsie Roll wrapper and a butterscotch. He stretched his long legs out in front of him and closed his eyes.

The wind blew thru his black, curly hair. The crowd on the promenade began to thin. Evening gave way to night. He slumped over to his right and fell asleep.

The Inner Harbor in Baltimore
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 Thursday, August 15, 2002

This and No More

Not bound for great things
Not recorded in books or song
Not found among the mighty
Or the famous or the pioneers

Not so am I.

But to sit and to see
To sing and to share
To live and to love
And to leave behind some happiness

To this am I purposed, to this and no more.
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 Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Brent Simmons talks about his grandfather in his web log. It's a fun, short snippet of a story which shines like a jewel. We've all got stories like this that we should leave behind as we march along.

Thanks, Brent!
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Look at the light dancing on the waves. Look at the light of the sun dropping westward from noon. Look at the children splashing and swimming and playing in the sand. Look at the towels hanging on the line, waving in the breeze. Feel the breeze blowing thru the pines. Look at the pines decorating the hill. And feel the feel of the sand and the dirt on the hill as you walk down the steps to the shore.

The light is shimmering on the water. The children have been in the water for hours. The wind is coming out of the west. The pines are swaying in the gentle breeze, filling the air with the scent of hot sand and the scent of the woods.

This is summer. This is dreaming. This is heaven, I guess.

Vacationing in Michigan
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 Monday, August 12, 2002

Inner Voices

We have lost our inner voices.
We no longer remember how to sing.
Music has become but property,
Valued only for the profits that it can bring.

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 Sunday, August 11, 2002

Slender Stalk

This slender stalk of green amid the profusion of summertime all around on the sand, this slender stalk stands straight with many delicate white petals and yellow at the center, waiting for a bee to come.

Certainly if it stands here long enough during these summer days under these blue skies beneath the beating rays of the sun, certainly if it stands here that long a bee will finally arrive and taste the flower and hang on to those delicate petals of white with yellow at the center.

Certainly such a bee will come and make the slender stalk droop with its weight, which is just what the stalk is waiting for -- which is what the white and yellow are for: so that a seed might be made and another stalk shoot up out of the sand after the winter snows and ice have come and gone and a spring has given way to warmth and blue skies like this, and another summer's sun.

To stand tall and slender and green with a crown of white with yellow at the center, to wait for a bee to come, that is what this stalk wants to do.

Honeymooning at Emerson Pond, MI
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 Friday, August 9, 2002

I Saw You

I saw you standing silent there, silent among the cattail reeds. Your head was back; your eyes were closed; the golden sunlight danced in your hair.

The sky was deep blue overhead as I swam in the water watching you. And the waves of my swimming at the far end of the pond lapped their ripples on your feet at the shore.

I saw you standing silent there, and I know I liked what I saw.

Honeymooning at Emerson Pond, MI
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 Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Vegetarian Fettucine

From across the table he looked over at the plate that sat in front of me.

"Now, what is it," he asked, "that makes that 'vegetarian'?"

I thought perhaps that he was joking, that he was giving me grief for ordering it. I looked up to read his face, and he seemed to be genuinely asking.

"Um... no meat!" I answered.

Everyone at the table, the both of us included, immediately burst into laughter. I'm still not exactly sure at what.

Luncheon at Harryman House in Reisterstown, MD
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 Tuesday, August 6, 2002

Did You Hear It?

Did you hear the sniffing in the night -- snuffling and pawing at the corner of the tent? Did you hear it, for I did not though I raised my head when I heard you stir and whisper that something was out there?

Out of the woods, walking noiselessly amid last year's fallen leaves and this year's ferns covering the forest floor, it must have come, but I did not hear what you heard in the night, and I rolled back over and went to sleep.

Honeymooning at Emerson Pond, MI
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 Monday, August 5, 2002

Twin Pines

Twin pines beyond the western shore of the blackwater pond, beyond the swamp, on a mound of higher ground stretching south to north.

Twin pines towering over the other trees, over the oaks and maples and poplar with silver-backed leaves quaking in the wind.

Twin pines with arms out wide to soak up the summer sun, swaying together in the gusting breeze then standing still, silhouettes black against the blue and pink and lavender sun-just-gone sky.

Honeymooning at Emerson Pond, Michigan
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 Sunday, August 4, 2002

It Doesn't Matter

A jet, invisible far overhead, rumbles across the sky as cicadas sing in the woods. Who is up there to look down on us for those few brief seconds as they pass on their way from Milwaukee to someplace out east, to Detroit, to Cleveland, to Toronto? Who is up there?

It doesn't matter. The rumbling is gone now as fast as it came. Yet the wind is still blowing and the cicadas still singing, and the sun has just set behind the clouds in the west. And nighttime has begun spreading out from under the hemlock trees.

It doesn't matter who was up there, for you are here with me, and I am here with you, and the water and wind and the trees are here, and the sky. It doesn't matter, because we have the evening all to ourselves.

It doesn't matter who they were or where they were going, because we are here amid all this around us, amid the trees and water and birds and singing cicadas, and time is briefly standing still.

Honeymooning at Emerson Pond in Oceana County, MI
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 Saturday, August 3, 2002

Let's Go For A Walk

Let's go for a walk, shall we?

Let's go down the stairs and go out the door of the Studs Terkel suite out into the garden with flowers all around and the smell of petunias fresh in the air.

Let's go thru the gate at the front of the house out onto the shady, tree-lined streets.

Let's go for a walk down those street past Clark and down the hill and under the bridge and into the park and around the pond.

Let's go for a walk to the Lily Pad garden and sit in the shade by the water there.

Let's go under Lakeshore Boulevard and out by the lake and down to the beach with the Windy City looming up in the south.

Let's walk down the Gold Coast and the Magnificent Mile.

Let's walk over the Michigan Avenue bridge and have deep dish pizza in Prudential Plaza and buy honey and raspberries at the farmers' market there.

Let's take a boat cruise and see the buildings that are there to see.

Let's go to the Art Institute and see the snippets of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright hanging on the marble walls.

Let's go to the old public library and look at the colored lights at the top of the wide stairway.

Let's go for a walk until we get tired and take the bus back and take a shower to clean off the grime.

Let's go for a walk, shall we?

Lincoln Park/Chicago.
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 Friday, August 2, 2002

Here We Are

Here we are by the still waters of the blackwater pond.

Here we are, reading and writing in rocking chairs on the porch of the pine log cabin as the western wind blows in a few broken clouds from the lake and the sky turns pink and orange and lavender.

Here we are as darkness settles on the woods and shadows grow deep beneath the trees and silhouettes of giant oaks and ancient virgin pine stumps stand silently among the younger maples and oaks in the gathering dark.

Here we are at last.


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 Thursday, August 1, 2002

Just Like The Real Thing

They sat by the window eating their Oberweis milkshakes with a box on the table in front of them. From their seats they commanded a first class view of the sidewalks and the people walking by in the late morning, but their attention was focused elsewhere: on their shakes and on the box sitting unopened on the table.

Oberweis shakes take a while to eat, and although they serve them with a spoon and a straw, the straws inevitably go unused. "Eating" is indeed the appropriate term. So finishing a shake there takes quite a bit of time, certainly more that these two would have preferred with the box beckoning to them from the tabletop.

When their shakes were finally done, the boy turned to the box and opened it. In a flurry of pulling and ripping, he took it out of the plastic wrap and opened the ends. It held plastic pieces of Apollo: a command module, a service module, and a lunar module complete with detachable descent and ascent modules. And they all docked together just like the real thing did.

The pieces were shiny, some of them silver and some of them gold, just like the real things. The command and service modules were silver and had a hatch that opened and three seats for three astronauts. Two of the astronauts could be put into the lunar module, just like they really did in 1969. The service module had a high-gain antenna (or was it S-band?) and a main engine that gimbled, just like the real thing. The lunar module came with scientific apparatus: a solar wind detector and the Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiment Package (ALSEP), just like they really had back then. And there was a little plastic American flag.

The boy struggled to fit the modules together. The young man sitting across from him smiled in evident joy at the boy's excitement and his race to assemble the pieces. The man struggled to explain them to the boy.

"This is a model of the Apollo that landed on the moon before I was born," the young man explained in an Italian accent. He ran his hand thru the boy's hair, and they both smiled ear-to-ear. The young man sat back and watched the boy completely absorbed in the interlocking, shiny modules.

That is when Trudy and I sat next to them with milkshakes of our own. In spite of the fact that I had a vanilla Oberweis shake in front of me, I found myself drawn to those shiny interlocking modules. They were just like the real thing. Memories of July 1969 flashed thru my head: a black and white television with lousy reception turned continuously on, Walter Cronkite and Jules Bergman and Tom Brokaw talking continuously with cool little Apollo models in their hands, getting to stay up into the morning, explaining things to my family, and fuzzy images of astronauts bouncing around on the moon after days of agonizing waiting. I couldn't focus on my milkshake and watched the boy instead.

The detail on the toy was amazing. And the boy didn't have it all quite right. He was trying to dock the command module into the descent module's engine. And he was telling the man how it worked but was getting it all wrong. After a few moments, I leaned over in his direction.

"You know," I said, "these are like the REAL THING," I pointed to the shiny modules. "And these are like the real instruments they took to the moon and left there when they came home."

The young man looked up with expectant glee, "Are you a SCIENTIST!?"

"He worked for NASA," Trudy said, but her words were drowned out by the boy.

"They LEFT them on the moon!?"

So I proceeded to explain the instruments, and the docking and undocking, and the lunar landing and reascent. And I mentioned that one astronaut remained in lunar orbit while the other two went down to the surface.

"They left him BEHIND!? Is he still there!?"

So I proceeded to explain the docking and undocking and the lunar landing and reascent while he continued to try to dock the modules in all sorts of amazing configurations.

By this time, our shakes were done, and it was time to leave. But the boy had only just begun playing with the shiny pieces and was no longer aware we were in the room. But the man was thrilled to have an "authoritative" explanation of this toy that he had just bought for this boy he clearly loved so much. And they were both still smiling ear-to-ear. Trudy was, too.

Vacationing at Oberweis Dairy in Oak Park, IL.
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