Saturday, February 28, 2009

Awe-stricken, and Inspired

We went with dear friends Thursday night to Broadway Across America's production of "Cirque Dreams," an event somewhat indescribable but roughly a hybrid of music, drama, and circus. The sets, costumes, and lighting were incredible, depicting jungle life both day and night. But the jaw-dropping centerpiece was the "Oh my God!" artistry and skill of the performers. Seeing the contortionists in a jumble of backwards heads-touching-toes configurations, watching the strong men create a massive pyramid of bulky strength, holding your breath as trapeze artists suspended one another far overhead by grip of ankle and truly in-credible! This is the second such performance I've seen, each of which left me with two main after effects: one, gratitude for the gift of artistry, be it motion and choreography, or sight and sound; and second, the challenge of knowing that only those willing to truly discipline and devote themselves at an exceptional degree are "free" to offer such gifts. I am inspired to find the artistry of my own life and honor it by fuller expression. Therein, methinks, lies the joy.

A Poem to Ponder

What I Believe

by Michael Blumenthal

I believe there is no justice,
but that cottongrass and bunchberry
grow on the mountain.

I believe that a scorpion's sting
will kill a man,
but that his wife will remarry.

I believe that, the older we get,
the weaker the body,
but the stronger the soul.

I believe that if you roll over at night
in an empty bed,
the air consoles you.

I believe that no one is spared
the darkness,
and no one gets all of it.

I believe we all drown eventually
in a sea of our making,
but that the land belongs to someone else.

I believe in destiny.
And I believe in free will.

I believe that, when all
the clocks break,
time goes on without them.

And I believe that whatever
pulls us under,
will do so gently.

so as not to disturb anyone,
so as not to interfere
with what we believe in.

"What I Believe" by Michael Blumenthal, from Days We Would Rather Know. © Pleasure Boat Studio, 2005. Reprinted with permission.

An Ode to Snow

The snow is falling this morning, with about an inch on the ground since we went to bed last night. How amazing the way it transforms the view from our window! No wonder some call it a "blanket"--the earth, bare and parched most of the winter, now looks like it's snuggled beneath a downy quilt. And the top of each tree limb is pillowed in white. So peaceful. And so quiet in the pre-dawn hour, the only sound the soothing coo of a solitary mourning dove. The scene has brightened some as the sun begins to rise, but millions of snowflakes hold the warming rays at bay as they join their brethren to create out of grey sameness a black-and-white contrast that reveals the world in its essential shapes and forms. "How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!"

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I really liked today's entry in The Writer's Almanac:


by Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and
over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the
light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.
A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs—
all this resinous, unretractable earth.

"Optimism" by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt. © Harper Collins, 2002. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Can You Copter This?

Hey, check out the artistic symmetry of Copter Dude navigating the ups and downs of his private stairwell...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Counting letters is simple, right?

Fun brain twister. Stumped our entire department!

How many letter F's appear below?
Email your answer to jay(at)jays(dot)net.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Anger and grief

Note to future self: When both you and your spouse are grieving on the same day with two separate focuses you need to be extremely vigilant about your emotions. Intense anger feels real, but is actually a defense mechanism against your sadness. The anger becomes a needle which will eventually burst the grief balloon and you'll finally realize what was actually going on. If possible, try to recognize the real root emotion sooner rather than later. You'll both be better off.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reinventing the wheel for fun and profit

I was all proud of myself last week and impressed the other kids when I wrote an amino acid property converter in about 15 minutes.
small 1011000111111111010011110
aromatic 0000001000000000000000000
non_polar 0100111101001001000001110
tiny 1000000111001001000001110
charged 0001001000000000001000001
aliphatic 0100110000000000000000000
positive 0000001000000000000000001
polar 1001001010000000101100001
Little did I know that mine was inferior to Bio::Tools::OddCodes, which I could have downloaded for free in about 1 minute.

But, in my defense, not knowing that tool existed it would have taken me longer to find it (not knowing what I was searching for) than to write my own from scratch.

And as a programmer, it's far more fun and satisfying to spend 15 minutes solving a problem and impressing people than to spend 15 minutes searching the Internet for something you may never find.

So perhaps reinventing the wheel is good for morale sometimes. Trivial wheels, at least. :)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Where were YOU when it happened?

1234567887jhannah@klab:~$ perl -e 'print time'
1234567887jhannah@klab:~$ perl -e 'print time'
1234567888jhannah@klab:~$ perl -e 'print time'
1234567888jhannah@klab:~$ perl -e 'print time'
1234567889jhannah@klab:~$ perl -e 'print time'
1234567889jhannah@klab:~$ perl -e 'print time'
1234567890jhannah@klab:~$ perl -e 'print time'
1234567894jhannah@klab:~$ perl -e 'print time'
I'll never forget this day... -sniff!-

Called my nerd friend Josh to see how his 1234567890 party was going (woooo!! wooo!!) and he forgot this was today. He's in Hawaii with his wife and kid totally missing out. As I sat alone in my cubicle surrounded by my nerdly giggling I couldn't help feeling sorry for him. What a loser.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Endnotes for Earnie

After the memorial celebration, Earnie, we returned home and gathered (where else?) around the island in your family kitchen—the centrifugal center of comfort and warmth. I’d been thinking about your railroading hobby, which was illustrated during the service and was so evident in the living room nearby—train sets, time tables, photos, and the like.

“I’ve been wondering,” I asked, “whether Earnie would have been a railroad engineer, or a conductor?” I explained my idea of the engineer as the driving force—he fires the engines, throttles up, and lets ‘er rip. I think of the conductor, on the other hand, as the overseer—he punches out details, worries that the train runs on time, makes sure folks get where they want to go. I hardly got the question out before your wife and your eldest child both replied, nearly in unison, “Both!” We all laughed, and sensed that you would have laughed right along with us. So much to do, so little time.

I don’t know just what will happen to your To Do notebooks now, Earnie. I imagine they will be cherished mementoes of your vision and passion. After these several days with your dearest friends and family I’d been thinking a lot about the guiding traits of your life and have arrived at two that seemed most evident in the stories told by friends and family. One is “irrepressible enthusiasm”—a child-like zest for life, for living large. The other is “forever possibilitizing”—the visionary quality of Don Quixote as he sallied forth on both adventure and misadventure, always dreaming the impossible dream. I can only think that even now you are “about your Father’s business” in that same spirit.

Whatever happens to your To Do lists, I’m assured of one thing. Having been welcomed into the homes and lives of your beloved wife and children, there’s no doubt that you’ve passed along the Earnie DNA of humor, drive, and compassion that will live on through them. Coupled with the singular Marilyn DNA, your children, grandchildren, and all who follow in your line will surely lead lives both exceptional and contributive. I see each of you in each of them, and I know the circle of life continues.

What I don’t know is why your life ended so soon. Wouldn’t it have been better for all if you’d seen your grandkids grow up, if you’d taken more trips with Marilyn, if you’d been around longer for Susanna, and John, and David? As I said at your memorial, death is an inscrutable Mystery. But I trust you now know more about all this than I do. And I trust, as you did, in Love as the eternal reality undergirding even that which we cannot see.

I regret we didn’t spend more time together in these years since college. I’m going to check out that “Bucket List” movie and watch it again, because there’s something Earnie-like in there about friendship and life and death I need to hear again—something about living life to the full, whether it be a single day or many years. In this and many other ways I’ll remember you, and will be looking to the time spoken of in Genesis, when in Zion we shall again embrace and rejoice together, in that blessed union of souls. (Kind of a “Graceland Forever” sort of thing.)

I look forward to our adventuring once again, in God’s due time. Meanwhile, I am comforted by the thought of Robert Browning, who wrote, “Ah, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

I’d tell you to “Rest In Peace” but somehow that just doesn’t fit. So instead I’ll just say what you might tell a railroad conductor/engineer: “Ever Onward!”

Using the G Word Again

Here's a column I wrote for KC Star's "Midwest Voices," which didn't get published there but by golly now it sees the light of day on Head Rattle:

When our economy melted down like an ice cream cone in July, hardly anybody asked why we were holding that triple-scooper in the first place. We just kept licking furiously as it ran down our arm, looking around sheepishly for some way to clean up the mess.

Let’s get real. We have a super-size problem because we’ve developed a super-size appetite. Like that guy who tried living on a fast food diet for thirty days, saying Yes every time he was asked, “Would you like that super-sized?” The unhealthy consequences are a cautionary tale: Super-size U.S.—Coming Soon to Economies Everywhere!

It’s even affected our appetite for housing. The average American home today is twice the size of homes in the ‘50s. Why? Because we have twice as many children? Hardly. Actually we have far fewer children. So why do we have these humongous home mortgage love handles?

In all the blaming after the meltdown a long-forgotten word gained new currency. Well, two words, actually, melded like red-hot lava: “corporate greed.” Yes, yes, cried the angry horde. They are to blame, those greedy corporations! Down with them, the greedy CEOs!

True, grasping corporations and CEOs who think they’re worth 400 times their workers need a day of reckoning, and may it come soon. But once we’ve removed “corporate” from “corporate greed,” we’ll be face-to-face with, well, ourselves.

Dare we mention the Seven Deadly Sins these days? Few could name them, much less recall in our profit-driven world that Greed is key among them. And even those in the so-called Dark Ages who would have known what we have apparently forgotten: Greed is the Mother of all Sins.

Theologian Phyllis Tickle posted a remarkable essay on this topic in Beliefnet’s “Sin Series”. World religions have declared for centuries that avarice is the root of all evils, she notes, but our national motto has become “United in the Sin of Avarice.”

It’s a painful realization. The majority of us are stockholders these days, either individually or through retirement plans, and lots of us work for corporations. So these are our greedy CEOs, our greedy corporations. And those are our maxed-out credit cards, our wastrel politicians, our gas-guzzling SUVs.

Lots of us hopped on this roller coaster for the giddy ride up; now we’re all going to take the downward plunge together. So go ahead: scream all you like.

Bushed No Longer

I'm ever so slowly adjusting to the change in presidential leadership. For eight years I've felt our nation has been hijacked by an alien ideology that has undone much of the gains of recent decades. When the American public re-elected Bush for a second term I first felt disbelief, followed by a prolonged period of grief. Now I'm beginning to warm to a sense of hope, ever so slowly.

I couldn't quite describe my feelings until I read the account of Garrison Keillor, who attended President Obama's inauguration. He described the crowd's "profound silence" when Bush's presence was announced, and the "low and heartfelt rumble of booing" when Cheney appeared. All this contrasted sharply with the jubilant roar of the crowd when the Obamas appeared. There was, however, a later roar for the Current Occupant:

"When the chopper lifted up above the Capitol and we saw it in the sky heading for the airport, a million jubilant people waved and hollered for all they were worth. It was the most spontaneous, universal moment of the day. It was like watching the ice go out on the river."

That's the perfect metaphor to describe how I'm feeling these days: like the ice going out on the river.