Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Homo Sapiens

There are enemies at the watering hole.

Grab that bone and swing it as hard as you can. Survival is at stake. So take that bone from the ground and wield it like a club.

Scream at the top of your lungs and make them run away. It is a cold world. Survival is at stake. So bludgeon and kick and bite and stab and make them run away. Or kill them for standing their ground.

There is no compromise. There is no middle ground. There is no golden rule. There is no philosophy. There is no question of right or wrong. There are enemies at the watering hold. So swing that bone and swing it hard.

We are homo sapiens.

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 Tuesday, March 30, 2004

All Day Long

All day long, from the sun climbing into the sky to its last light. All day long and only a 3ft x 4ft patch of filtered dirt to show for it.

Bill wandered over from across the street, his orange hunting cap glowing in the half-light. He had been moving furniture.

I apologized for not helping, starting to explain my aching back. It has hurt lately, and his description of that TV didn't sound promising.

I planted a tomato plant, I said as a way to kind of change the subject. I pointed to the side of the house.

Oh, he said in an surprisingly interested voice, Let's see.

I didn't expect that. So he limped on his bad ankle, and I limped from my sore back. We limped over the the side of the house where the mass of tools lay strewn upon the ground.

I pointed to a patch of brown dirt on the other side of the compressor -- brown dirt and one green tomato plant sitting in a damp depression. I wasn't sure what to expect from Bill.

Wow! he said. You filtered all that dirt!?

All day long, from the sun climbing into the sky to its last light.

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 Monday, March 29, 2004

Five Nines

Years ago Nisha said something about a golden birthday -- when you turn the number of years old as the day of the month in which you were born. I had never heard of it, but she had just had hers and explained it to us all.

She was lucky, I thought -- born early in the month. It was going to be an eternity until I had mine, so long that it made the concept an interesting but largely meaningless notion which I promptly forgot.

Years later (but still years ago), my golden birthday came and went unmarked. I missed the boat. That's the way it is with birthdays, I guess. Each one is so special when you're young. Seven is different from six. Nine is different from ten. And then twenty-nine just comes and goes.

But it won't happen again, I say. So today, I proclaim with some glee my day of five nines. 5 x 9 = 45. Five nines. Let's call it the highly reliable birthday.

Today. Five nines. 99.999% Wee!

At least it didn't go unmarked.

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 Sunday, March 28, 2004

Brown and Green

There's an oak leaf on the tile in the kitchen on the floor.

Brown and dry, left-over from last year, perhaps it was discarded by the Vivian's Red Oak next door or by Brent's across the street.

I stepped on it just now, and one pokey lobe broke off. I picked them both up, leaf and lobe, and put them into the compost bin in the back.

Meanwhile in the front, the rains and the sun have pushed the oaks into high spring gear.

The Monterey Oak has grown six inches in the last two weeks. The Red Oaks (Vivian's, Brent's, and the others up and down the street) are exploding with spring-green pointy-lobed leaves. And even the Lacey Oak is starting to push out its tentative buds.

Goodbye brown leaf. Hello green.

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 Saturday, March 27, 2004

Leo Kottke

We finally found a place to park at the top of the hill near San Jacinto and Tenth. It was dark, but it wasn't far to go. We walked down the hill and down Congress Avenue in into the Paramount.

We sat in the mezzanine staring at the walls and the ceiling. The view was good from there -- a man by himself on the stage sitting in a puddle of light.

When he first walked out, he began to play without even saying a word. He played one song and then another before he spoke. Before he even said one word, he walked onto stage and sat down in that puddle of light and played two songs.

The sounds of his fingerstyle on his twelve string filled the place. And when he set it down for a while, the crispness and clarity of the six was an amazing thing to hear.

He spoke between the songs -- told stories, made us laugh -- but mostly his guitars were in charge, even interrupting him at times. As he spoke, he would tune, and he would play, and he would explore his guitars almost as if we weren't there. And twice he stopped in mid-sentence and began the next song.

We sat in the balcony, gazing at the walls and looking at the ceiling and staring at a man sitting in a little puddle of light creating sounds on a guitar that simply have no peer.

When it was over, we walked up the hill in the dark and the wind back to Tenth and San Jacinto. We got into the car and drove home and went to bed. And when I woke up, that music was still playing in my head.

Leo Kottke at the Paramount Theater, Austin TX.

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 Wednesday, March 24, 2004

That's Not Programming

I was a draftsman's aide, drawing black lines on smooth sheets of velum. It was the dawn of the computer age. Or maybe not. It was 1978. It seemed like the dawn to me.

One day toward the end of summer, I went to talk to an engineer who sat in a cubicle at the periphery of the open room full of drafting tables.

He had a programmable calculator. My dad had recently bought me one. Mine was a TI. His was an HP.

Have you programmed it? he asked.

The quadratic equation, I said, proud that I could answer in the affirmative.

That's not programming, he said.

I've never known quite what to make of that. Yes. I'm aware of Boehm and Jacopini and that my modest effort had no 'iteration'. But somehow I don't think that's what he meant.

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 Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Wondering At Night

At night
in the dark
before a little metal lamp
on the desk
and its incandescent glow,

I wonder
if people walking by
or driving in cars
might look in the window
and wonder about a man
in a blue robe barely tied together,

wonder about a man
sitting at his desk
in the incandescent glow
of a little metal lamp
looking out his window
or staring at his monitor

[It's just a sentence, nothing more. But I figured some creative use of white space might aid the eye.]

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 Monday, March 22, 2004

Marcia Kept Things Running

Marcia used to keep things running. Her face was behind the counter in the mornings. Her voice was on the phone. Her hands were behind the filing system. And her wrath came down hard on anyone who messed with the engineers who relied on her.

I relied on Marcia a lot. From little help me figure out how to fill out this form problems. To big help me figure out why the company's withholding child support but not sending it to the county problems. I relied on her a lot.

I suppose people like Marcia are one of the casualties of the great rise in American "worker productivity" we hear so much about. No need for a smiling face at the counter -- just put a security guard there instead. No need for a helpful voice on the phone -- who uses those things, anyway? No need for hands in the filing system -- the office of today is paperless, they say. No need for a secretary to look after the engineers -- they should look after themselves.

Yes, Marcia used to keep things running. But they let her go a year ago or so. And I understand that the office is mostly empty now.

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 Saturday, March 20, 2004

On Lake Buchanan

We were out on a boat on Lake Buchanan today.

We saw herons wading in the lake and in the creeks. We saw wild goats under the Oaks on the ledges of the limestone bluffs. The eagles have gone, but we saw an Osprey sitting on a limb hanging out over the water. And we saw Cormorants and Kingfishers skimming the surface of the lake. And I heard the call of a Canyon Wren.

We saw Mountain Laurels in purple bloom absolutely everywhere. And Plums now coming out in pink and red. We saw what our guide called Pink Dogwood, although we didn't believe the name.

We saw Bluebonnets starting to bloom. And Indian Paintbrush. There were bluish-lavenders with a yellow-white center that I could not name. And yellows large and yellows small in anticipation of many yellows yet to come. And there were Dagger Yuccas in bloom.

There were Live Oaks with last year's leaves about to drop and Red Oaks laden with pollen and other oaks waiting a bit longer before accepting that spring has come. There were Cedar Elms bursting in bright spring green. There were Texas Persimmons among the oaks and elms.

There was a breeze in the air, which made jackets welcome. There were clouds at first but sun and blue sky later. There were creeks leading down to the lake. There was a water fall. We saw Ceremony Rock and Lion's Head Rock and Mud Island. There were cliffs of white and black and brown and orange. There were lowland flats of grass where the cattle came to the water's edge.

There were hamburgers and hotdogs and chips for lunch. And there were enchiladas and chalupas and queso for dinner.

And our beds called to us when we got home.

I do now think that it is time.

Vanishing Texas River Cruise at the Canyon of the Eagles,
Lake Buchanan, TX

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 Friday, March 19, 2004

Spring and Winter

1. Spring

The colors of spring glow in the morning mist. In yards. At the margins of the woods. Along the highway. They blossom and they glow.

The Mexican Plums have burst into white. And the lavender Eastern Redbuds and the deeper, darker magenta-leaning Mexican Redbuds are peaking. The Bradford Pears are beginning to fade, their white flowers eclipsed by new spring green leaves. And tentative pink-blossoming Plums are beginning to appear, saying goodbye to winter, saying hello to spring.

2. Winter

I saw a car parked in the cemetery this morning. Half on the drive. Half on the grass. Amid gravestones and grim cemetery trees standing in the morning mist.

And there was a man walking not far away. He had a hat on his head and a cane in one hand. His back was bent, and his weight was on the cane. He walked slowly, with his face down, but his gaze was forward.

No pears or plums or redbuds bloomed there. No white or lavender or pink or magenta glowed in the mist for that man. He was alone. On his way to say hello, perhaps. And to say goodbye again.

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 Thursday, March 18, 2004

Facing the Nation

I don't envy Secretary Rumsfeld's situation on CBS's Face the Nation recently. And I must say, he's got guts.

MoveOn has a video clip.

In it, Bob ScheifferSchieffer [shame on me!] is evidently surprised by Rumsfeld's claim that nobody in the administration ever claimed Iraq to be an imminent threat. And another reporter (for shame, I can't recall his name; I'm rusty)Tom Friedman [whom I denote as 'X' below, since I didn't know his name at the time] has specific quotes to refresh Rumsfeld's memory.

Here's my catch on what was said. It starts with Secretary Rumsfeld speaking.

R: You and a few other [pause] critics are the only people I've heard use the phrase 'imminent threat'. I didn't. The President didn't. And, uh, it's become kind of [hand waving] folklore that that's, that's what's happened. The President went...

S: You're saying that nobody in the administration said that?

R: [shaking head] I can't speak for [hand waving] nobody, everybody in the administration and say nobody said that...

S: The Vice-President didn't say that?

R: Not, if, if you have any citations, uh, I'd like to see them. I...

X: We have one here. It says, 'Some have argued' -- This is you speaking --

Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent, that Saddam is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain.

R: Mmm hmm. [long pause] And, and, uh, uh,...

X: That's close to imminent.

R: Well, umm, I, I've tried to be precise, and I've tried to be accurate. I'm so...

X continues with a second quote:

No terror state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stablility of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

R: [scowling] Mmm hmm. [nodding] Uhh, [looking down at the table] it it it, my view of the, the situation was that [right hand held out] he, he had, we, we believed the best intelligence...

And with that the video and sound fade away.

Update: Got Schieffer's name spelled wrong. Learned that the second reporter at the table was Tom Friedman. Got the info I needed from this post on kuro5hin. That post also has a link to the CBS transcript of the show.

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 Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Not Knowing

I don't know what it is. It might be the warm weather these last few days. It might be the oak pollen in the air. It might be the thrill of that game of Scrabble or the euphoria in hearing everyone willing to play a second game. Or maybe it's the chips and queso from dinner at Maudie's.

It's dark outside. (I mean, like, really dark.) There are people around this house falling into their beds. And all of the sudden it is very quiet here.

So I might not know what it is, but I do know this: I am not staying up any longer.

(You know, I think it was the queso.)

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 Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Head Shaking

What are you shaking your head about?

I'm not shaking my head.

You are too.

It's you.

Me what?

You and your He's not a little boy anymore.

Oh, that.

This might come as a surprise, but he hasn't been a little boy for quite a while.

Tell me about it.

So what's up with He's not a little boy anymore? What are you doing writing stuff like that, for heaven's sake!?


I have three answers.


First, I get to write anything I want.

Fair enough.

Secondly, I'm a father. He's my boy. This will be my lament forever.

Um, ok.

Finally, I needed a reason to feel happy. He gave me one.

You didn't sound happy.

I was.


What are you shaking your head about!?

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 Sunday, March 14, 2004

He's Not A Little Boy

He is too old to go up with the children for story time. He is not a little boy anymore.

During the moments of silence today, he stood up and walked over to the window where the rows of candles sit on narrow shelves against the glass. Red and blue, once lit the little flames flicker against the light of day outside.

He lit one for his great grandparents while others lit theirs for people and reasons of their own.

He's not a little boy any more, Trudy whispered in my left ear.

He's not a little boy any more, my mother whispered in my right.

He's not a little boy any more.

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 Saturday, March 13, 2004


A BBC story about Jesus Antonio Munoz, whose wife died in the Madrid explostions.

[bbc/Jesus Antonio Munoz]: The only thing I know is that they've torn out my heart. And now I'm like a child of five years old. Now I've got to start everything again - becoming an adult all over again.

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Jason and Jenny

Jason and Jenny live down the street.

This morning, they were out in their yard working in the dirt. They had the grass dug up, and there were piles of mud all around. They were spreading hardwood mulch that they had bought at Wal-Mart.

Have you heard of Natural Gardener? I asked. On Old Bee Caves Road?

Jenny nodded in recognition.

I don't know exactly how the prices compare, I said. And I proceeded to explain how you can bag your own organic native mulch there for a pretty cheap price if you get ten bags at a time (half a yard). And I motioned at their Jeep sitting in the driveway.

Just then, two more neighbors walked up. They had smiles on their faces as I had moments ago. And the three of us launched into discussions of the best oak trees to select and the best way to trim a cenizo and how to build a compost pile. And we offered advice on the state of that plum tree struggling in the shadow of that big Live Oak.

Frankly, advice is probably not what they were looking for when they ventured outside this morning. They likely had in mind just getting the project done.

Still, advice is what they got. And offers to come and study compost piles in action. And offers of books on xeriscape.

Poor Jason and Jenny. Maybe they'll finish tomorrow.

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 Friday, March 12, 2004

Pittsburgh to Austin

It's a little chilly out there, the radio man said. There are a few flurries out there. The temperature should get down to 18.

He said that. The radio man talking on the radio. WYEP in Pittsburgh streaming radio on the Internet. But in Austin things are different.

Here, it is a little chilly, too. But chilly down here isn't chilly up there. Here, the temperature will be in the mid-50s. No flurries, although it might rain. Here, the lantana are purple in the front yard. And the wild onions in the back -- they are blooming white.

Chilly is in the eye of the beholder.

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 Thursday, March 11, 2004

Did You Have a Good Day?

He had a scowl upon his face. She had a smile.

Did you have a good day at work? she asked, her eyes on his scowl.

No, he said without turning his head. Not a good day.

What happened?


She sat for a moment.

Want to talk about it?


And they sat in silence.

But the breeze was from the east. And the wild onions were blooming at the foot of the Cedar Elms. And the compose pile was hot. And the sound of children at the soccer fields drifted in the air.

Tomorrow will be another day.

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 Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Who Was That?

They sat in a large room. There were voices on the speaker phone from some other large room far away. The sound of those distant voices echoed off the concrete floor and the wall at the back of the room.

As the meeting began, periodically the phone system would beep. Someone else had joined the teleconference from yet some other room in some other place.

And as more and more beeps signalled more and more participants by phone, gradually I became aware of a sound that did not belong. Behind the talk of the speakers, birds were singing.

The sound of birds? I looked around at other people in the room. Their faces betrayed nothing. I concluded it was a figment of the phone lines.

But there is was again. Yes, there it was. Birds singing in the trees. The sound of blue sky and springtime sun. It was teasing me. But I was sure I had heard it.

I looked around again. Still no reactions on the faces next to me. But then it came: the barking of a dog.

Who was that who dialed into the meeting from home. Who was that who was sitting on their deck enjoying the sun while we sat in the conference rooms? Who was that who had that great idea?

I wonder if next time I could be that person, too.

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 Monday, March 8, 2004

Have You Seen My Mother?

Years ago I was driving from somewhere to somewhere. I had graduated from college and soon was to be on my way to grad school. But at that moment, I was in neither place. And I was kind of liking that.

I visited with my cousin in Kentucky a week. Or was it more? There were mountains there, and narrow roads pocked by coal trunks racing down the grades. There were tall trees on the hillsides, and there were hollers of amazing green beauty. And homes of amazing poverty.

My cousin was there then working to make things better. And I stayed with him for a while and saw how much my world of orbits and differential equations differed from his. And I got some long-needed scratches on my tender fingers.

The time went fast. I knew it was running out when one day I walked into the main building and someone said to me, A lady from Illinois has been calling here asking if we've seen her son.

My mother. I was soon to drive to Texas, and my mother was calling across the midwest to track me down. What, did she think I was going to be late for grad school?

So it was with some glee this evening that I sent out an APB on her. You see, she is due here sometime tomorrow but hadn't yet provided any details on time and place. So it was with some sense of satisfaction that I was able so send out an email (with multiple recipients) asking anyone if they've seen my mother.

I'm worried she might be late to Texas.

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 Sunday, March 7, 2004

Back Online

Somewhere down the block, there are two wires crossed. The circuit is shorted. Perhaps it was the rain. Somewhere down the block, those two crossed wires shut down our phone and shut down our DSL and took us offline.

So for two days we've been without the interruptions and temptations of phone calls and weblogs and email.

But the sun was out over the weekend. And the rains of last week left the ground soft. And so I have blisters on my fingers (my keyboard typing fingers) from working in the yard. And I know I will sleep well tonite.

Perhaps we shouldn't be so happy they got us back online so soon.

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 Thursday, March 4, 2004

It Is Spring

And the rains came. Warm breezes from the Gulf. The winter cold was chased away by thunderstorms that filled the sky. Rain saturated the ground.

And the coreopsis bloomed. And the redbuds. And the first plum trees along the lake pushed out their pink buds. And the purple trailing lantana spread out on the ground. And yellow flowers covered the agarita.

It is spring. The leaves on the trees are yearning to push forth. There are cookies cooking in the kitchen. I Robot is playing on the Onkyo in the living room. And the boy is in there with a book. And the dog.

It is spring. Somewhere up there behind the clouds in the night sky, Mars and Venus are shining brightly. The wine has gone to my head.

I am a very fortunate man.

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 Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Smiling for Tomorrow

So I kind of got myself into trouble that second week in February. I mentioned in passing a comment you made about how there was no need for a present, or perhaps just a little one. And I mentioned how I just smiled.

Now you knew and I knew that I smiled because I had caught you in a quintessential Trudy moment. You were so busted, and you knew it. And you knew I knew it. You did know that, right?

But not everyone knew that.

They figured that I was smiling because I knew that I was getting you something big in spite of your entreaties to the contrary. And they told me that's what they figured. And so I figured that if they figured that, I was in a big heap of trouble, at which point I figured I would pay closer attention to the approach of Valentine's Day.

And the day passed, and the little Horny Toad tray and the flowerty bracelet seemed to do ok. And now there is tomorrow.

Tomorrow makes it one more spin around the sun. And I notice that you didn't make any comments about presents like you did before.

But I can smile anyway.

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