Tuesday, January 31, 2006

One-Sided Wonder

It must be quite difficult to be an author. So empty at times; so full at others. So much to say, so much wanting to have been heard. Wanting to be heard. That's probably the hardest part. It's very chancy.

How do we come across things? Stumble, chance mention, sometimes looking for them but not usually. Perhaps they come to us? Sometimes they do, I suppose.

They come, they go.

Always some loss. The face of a small child who thought you were going to be a friend forever - at least that's how it looks as you say cheery goodbyes. I thought, anyway.

Listening is so important...


Yesterday I donated blood. What an impressive list of questions they ask! There are many 'knockout' categories. Some of it reminded me of the Monty Python bridge scene where the question is either answered correctly or one gets thrown into the gorge. Somehow I passed and proceeded to fill my unit in five minutes flat. I don't know why it becomes a race against time, although I've heard that if it goes too slowly there can be problems. I dutifully wore my red and white 'be kind to me' sticker and headed back to work.

Today I have a technical presentation to do. Still organizing some thoughts, it's sometimes difficult to know where to focus because the audience is pretty bright and well-informed.

Yesterday in French we translated the poem Nous verrons, not all the way into poetry in English, but just to get the sense of it. It feels good to be studying this again.

Peter still longing for iPod or PS2 or SOMETHING - powerful thing for a young guy to want to be at least 'as good as' the other guys at school.

Time to relinquish the computer for Cara to finish some homework.


Home again. Thankful. What a crazy planet. And we have a special visitor coming in the next couple of days. Perhaps we can get weaned from oil, perhaps...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Second Thoughts

Be strong.

First Thoughts











Sunday, January 29, 2006


Much of the early literature in organic chemistry is in German. For this reason, many chemistry majors at some point give consideration to learning a bit of German. One of the key reference works, known simply as 'Beilstein,' provides an index to the chemical literature by chemical structure class. Prior to the advent of computer tools, when one wanted to consult early chemical literature for a procedure ('recipe'), it meant a trip down to the library stacks and some knowledge of where to find references in the well-worn 'multi-Band' set of Beilstein volumes - Completely in German, of course. So, a good idea to have a basic grasp of the common nouns, verbs, and a bit of grammar.

I didn't.

Somehow I managed to hack through the assignments that required Beilstein, and it's not that I didn't enjoy it, I just didn't take the time to actually do some careful study, being more attracted to actually doing synthesis work in the lab or learning something about programming computers, which were just beginning to come on the scene.

Later, we decided to host exchange students, which we did over several years and along the way it included a couple of students from Germany. This was a new opportunity to study the language, which I did through noontime classes at work. My teacher assured us that in only 30 years, we could become fluent! I think the students appreciated the attempt to learn their language, although they were clearly much more interested in things like going to concerts of American bands. I did help both of them learn to drive and they got their licenses, another priority since it is much more difficult in Germany.

I've never been there.

It's so easy to say the wrong thing in a foreign language. I mean, it's hard enough in English! I've had a tendency to try and show-off the little that I know, which earned some sympathetic looks from some of these students as I proudly stated something in words that clearly missed the intended meaning. I think that's been my main lesson from studying foreign languages - a dose of humility is important.

Why this topic today, then?

Still trying to impress, I guess.

One of the clearest messages I pick up out of those books by MatthewMarkLukeandJohn is that how we treat 'the least' matters incredibly. It doesn't matter if I study Greek to get this more clearly (or more likely to throw into the 'try to impress' tool kit).

Sorry, this wandered from the original direction.

Thanks for reading - I'm off to pick up a few things at the grocery store and then off to rehearsal. Later.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


End of the day recap:

1. This morning's programming effort seems to have progressed to a point where I'm ready to let someone else see the results. Not being a programmer, nor wanting to be one - officially - my stuff is not expected to withstand high winds. But it should be useful, and I think it will be.

2. Peter & I made it to the Mary Poppins-type movie -'Nanny McPhee' - which we both liked, especially since the oldest son who was a type of hero reminded me of Peter. I've got to make good deposits into this kid's heart.

3. Home briefly. Natalie stopped in to pick up an unexpected but welcome paycheck that came in the mail, and then off to a basketball game - I think it was. Her January statistics class is finished and it sounds like she did pretty well.

4. Peter & I off to the Y for our usual 'triathalon' - racquetball 30 min., basketball (15 out of 100 freethrows for me - no comment - well yes comment, a lot of the missed shots were pretty close. Never mind), and then swimming for about half an hour. Good hot showers and home.

5. Rose back from overnighter, invited to go out with us for dinner but opted to stay home. Peter & I pretty relaxed and tired by end of dinner, cruised home.

6. Special trip to store for item that we thought was on hand but wasn't and couldn't wait.

Pretty much it. A bit of laundry running now. Good, ordinary stuff.


The haunting opening line from the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is floating through through my mind. Which is kind of good, because usually I haven't had the freed up thinking time to let things like that float through (Thanks, Dan, for bringing that piece to my attention this week).

Up early, doing some programming to permit grouping data in ways that our current tools (at work, this is) don't really handle at the moment. I love doing it, I guess, or I'd still be in bed! These fits of puzzle solving are what got me into research in the first place, seems to be hard-wired. And actually, writing music or poetry or even a chunk of slog2live has some of this puzzle-solving thing. I think, anyway.

Quiet. The dog and cats have been fed and let out, nice cup of tea, bowl of wheat cereal and milk finished, and the open keyboard(s). Family off in various directions - mid-winter camp, college, friends, just Peter and me last night and we went to the Y for basketball (only 16 out of 100 freethrows this time - sigh), racquetball (played more or less by the rules) and swimming (laps). Left there at about 9, Peter could have stayed longer but I was starting to fade. Oddly, when we got home both of us had troubled with major muscles soreness in our legs. Peter got himself a 'fetching' stick - one of those kinds with a gripper on the end - to use as a cane and hobbled around the house moaning. I think it was the racquetball, racing around on the hard floor without warm-up and cool-down stretching. It sure hurt.

Rose was off to a dance with a friend, the girls had the usual excitement getting ready to go and seemed so grown up for 13. We had pizza (of course) and I really value the time just sitting and eating together, again something that can get lost in the rush.

There's that melody again. Trying to tell me something, I think. Such an emotional longing. Trouble, that kind of stuff.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Mild Winter

A chemical adaptation of something memorized as a child:

Distilling by Drops on a Friday Evening

What drops these are, I think I know
Although they're coming very slow.
They do not care if I wait here
When really I would rather go.

My normal friends must think it queer
To stay on Friday, not drink beer;
Between the bench and cluttered hood
The longest evening of the year.

They give the telephone a ring
To ask if something they could bring;
Or, at least I wish they would -
Some pizza would be very good.

The pot is tarry, dark and deep,
But drop by drop the drips do creep;
And mLs to go before I sleep,
And mLs to go before I sleep.

If you've ever had to do a distillation in a chem lab, you understand how this goes. The above was published in a September issue of Chemical & Engineering News, 1987. It was written in February during a postdoctoral stint in South Carolina. I showed it late in the summer to a fellow chemist who suggested that it be published, which it soon was. I think it's ok to reproduce it here. Haven't done distillations for quite a while though. Thanks for reading all of this tiny print.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


You know the feeling. Discovered. Found out. Exposed. These are not fun. Some people are skilled at navigating even in the moment, providing a reasonable out. It's so human, trying to beat the system. Works, sometimes. For a while. Maybe even for a long while.

Dante's Inferno starts with his wandering off the path and ever down a slope with unrecoverable consequence, on to a guided tour that influenced countless minds and provided images to interpret the doctrines of the day lasting even to now. Read it sometime.

Pilgrim's Progress weaves allegorically through swamp and circus and forest and mountain, by Bunyan not Paul but John and written from prison. Pretty good project on the whole (took two visits to prison, though).

Machiavelli's words on running a principality came to mind today during a conversation about Haiti where there are few trees any more (the result of logging and making charcoal for cooking fuel), lots of erosion, and meals are sometimes twice a week. So incredibly in need of organizing, but the economics are so terribly stacked against it. Young men studied, did the best they could, and no jobs. What will they do?

My friend from Africa will start in a professional program at the university soon. He dreams one day to go back to his war-ruined country to help rebuild. From what I know of what he has been through, I have no doubt that he will persist and give it everything he can.

There is so much need, so much poverty, so much chaos. And here I am attempting to organize - something. A desk, an office, a job, a home, a life. My life, actually. Seems kind of small. But maybe it's important to start small and do well at that first.

Last evening Mozart's Don Giovanni aired. A guy who goes after women and goes after the wrong one and ends up not only caught but hauled off to hell. A story with a moral.

Tired. Good tired, but tired.

Back to caught - the best way to not be caught is to not do anything to be caught about. Easier said than not done. James puts it nicely: "...a person is tempted when he is drawn away and trapped by his own evil desire." Trapped. Sort of goes with the words at the top.

No violin tonight. Did listen today to Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens, performed by Perlman. There are few people who will ever play like that, I think.

Presents of Mind

My days of working in the nursing home (30 years ago now?) stay with me. I made friends that I'm sure at that point had few friends. Their world was their room and the dining room. Help them up in the morning, out for breakfast (if they could manage), finish getting dressed for the day, maybe get a shower first, hang out for the morning, go for lunch, hang out for the afternoon, dinner time, hang out... you get the pattern. They appreciated a bit of conversation. This can be - is - a painful topic, although I have some good memories from knowing those people.

Some of them rarely spoke, possibly due to medication, and I remember being shocked one morning by a toothless gentleman with a couple of days of beard growth speaking to me fairly coherently - I had thought he couldn't talk. Perhaps he hadn't had his meds. He used to routinely slide way down in his chair at meal time. I mean way down, to the floor on occasion. It's a bit difficult to provide the right kind of seating for someone who tends to slide down in their chair. We tried. I did a lot of hoisting people back up. Maybe there are better ways now? Then there was my buddy with diabetes who lost one, then the other, leg. Said it ran away. Laughed and cried. His roommate, the short guy with the very deep voice, calling out 'Nurse! Nurse!' I think he usually wanted his water refilled or some small thing. Mainly lonely, I think.

Some of them were clearly out of it - the former boxer strolling along in his wheelchair and tying imaginary knots around the handrails that ran along the hallway walls, the wandering woman in her nighty and hospital gown(s) trying to make her way for the door - maybe not so out of it - and the violent-tempered one with the strong Swedish accent who let everyone know "I pay my taxes!!" I never understood what that was supposed to imply - perhaps a better room? better care? out? There were some glorious souls there as well, hopeful, appreciating the day outside their window, greeting with a smile, thankful for help in the daily routines. I think those ones typically had visitors.

I could go on, about the leg amputee who had a prosthesis but clearly was too heavy and too weak ever learn to use it but wouldn't give up and insisted that we try; the man in the plaid shirt who for some reason called me 'Fiedler' and we would make motions like we were conducting an orchestra. It was our thing. I have no idea how we got onto that one, maybe something small like coming into his room one day while Boston Pops was playing on his radio and pretending to conduct...we'd do stuff like that sometimes. Sigh. And always, the man at the far end of the hallway who managed to lose one of the few things that he had somewhere in his fairly bare room and wanted help finding them.

It was a couple of years of experience that I value for learning about people, but also simply for the friendships. And there's lots of the same around.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Playing it Safe

It's quite possible to avoid taking risks, to not leave an opening, to limit chances to get hurt, to make it clear that "I'm not going to let that happen to me!" Well. There are good reasons, I'm sure. Sounds a bit withdrawn, though. And afraid. And maybe even ashamed of having thought it. "Thought what? I didn't think anything!" Yes. OK. I understand. Look, why don't you just sit down and write for a while or something. Do you good. Dish of ice cream. Sure. That's better. You know, you have tried some rather risky things. I mean, being a researcher kind of goes with that, right? And playing live music, well I mean there aren't any guarantees...oh, well, yes, sometimes it doesn't actually go very well, but a lot of times it does and you love it. What is it about that? Needing to be on the edge, I mean. Excuse me, I think someone's listening.

(gets up, pulls the curtain)

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"...but I don't think anybody would really want to hear all that." No, you're probably right. Don't look so hurt! You did, you know. It's hard to hide what you're thinking, it shows up all over your face. It's ok, it's safe with me. Look, I'm sorry but I've got to run. I'm glad we could talk like this. It's important to have somebody you can really confide in and feel safe. I know. You can call anytime. See ya.


Multitasking. Supposed to be a good thing. It's not.

One thing at a time
And that done well
Is a very good rule
As many can tell.

How's that? One thing at a time? Done well?

It's at the core of 'getting things done'. Everything goes through a collection process -everything that takes up thinking time. Goes onto paper and into an 'inbox'. Collection phase. Something still taking up thinking time? Goes in. Take weekly or as needed.

Next phase is to pick up onethingatatime and ask "can I do it right now in just a couple of minutes? Really?" And then do it. This is hard because a lot of times it actually takes more than two minutes - a phone call can easily go longer, at least if I need to listen, which is usually.

And so the onethinginhand either gets done right away or it doesn't. Does it need to get done soon? Put it into the 'next actions' bin. I use folders. Vanilla folders (yes, it's manilla, but I like vanilla instead). Sometimes a sticky note added about what actually needs to happen next with that thing. Into the folder.

Is it really for somebody else to take care of? Gets a date on it and goes into a 'waiting for' queue (vanilla folder). If it takes only two minutes to ask them (email?), I do it, otherwise I handle these during some set-aside time. Am I waiting for something like tax forms to come in? Same bin. Could split it out if it gets too mixed. Review as needed - doesn't take long.

What if there's nothing to do with it soon but it'll be important later? If there is a hard, definite date, it goes onto a calender, whowhatwherewhen as needed. Also useful here is the 'tickler' file which is a pretty odd yet standard name. I use two months worth of daily vanilla folders that hold information for the particular day. Then I don't have to spend time worrying about if I'm going to remember. There are also reminders to spend time preparing for things that are coming up. A day comes, the file gets consulted, and at the end of the day, the folder cycles to the end of the line. Monthly folders catch things that are further out than two months. Pretty simply, really.

What if I don't know if I'll ever do it? Goes into 'someday/maybe' folder. If I'm really not ever going to even try to do it, best place is the trash. Why spend time thinking about that when there are so many other things that need attention. But if I'm doubtful, it can go into 'someday/maybe.'

What's left? Things that I want/need to keep for reference. I put them in an A-Z filing system using major categories and subcategories that seem to make sense - no perfect way to do this, I just try to be practical so I can find things without too much effort. Generous use of vanilla folders. I buy them on sale. Also have a labeler that prints out a crisp looking black-on-white label with split-and-peel backing, it goes pretty quickly to make a new label and put it on. No overstuffed folders, and the file drawer is only ever about 3/4 full, not jammed. Simple rules.

I don't put reminders to do something into the reference file, and I don't clutter up the action files with material that belongs in longer-term reference. For long, anyway.

Anything else? Context. Need context. Projects. A projects folder with simply a list of projects, to be reviewed weekly or so. It's a reminder list for thinking horizontally across lots of different areas that need attention. What a relief to not have to carry this in my head. I used to think it was so important to carry it all in my head. Can't. Not well, anyway. Wish I could...but it obviously doesn't work, and it's not likely to get better with time.

Projects get lists of supporting actions. These actions are written down and get distributed into 'do right away' or 'next actions' (as time/energy/location allows), or onto the calendar or tickler file.

What about all the e-mails? I end up printing a lot out and deleting them, especially at work where the files can start costing money to store. Some things do need to be kept electronically, so I set up folders (with vanilla folder icons) in pretty much the same arrangement of 'next actions', 'waitingfor', 'someday' and so on.

It sounds like a lot, but actually it's kind of fun and the real benefit is the relaxation that starts to replace the endless tension.

One of the things that I do spend time thinking about is how to be the dad that my kids need - and they all have different needs - and to be a reasonably good husband - honest, patient, strong, listening, helpful. I'm hoping it will be more manageable. My kids do need their time of experiencing the swirl of input from friends while also handling what school asks. But they also need the stability that depends in part on me. And maybe they will pick up some good habits - it's worth a try.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Not Yet

And so, the day began, and ran, and I stumbled and fumbled and very near grumbled and wished for some way to handle the vandal of time knocking holes in my plans. For the day came and went and mostly was spent fretting quietly the next and whether I'd make it and what if I didn't and mostly whether I could. And so it is evening and dinner has past and I sit with a wish to just rest but it's best not to idle, not now, and how will it work if my mind becomes murky and quirky and splat! That would be that.


-- Steve


What makes
you think
that I need
from you


My pain is not
your gain.
Your gain is not
my pain.

We are two -

I ache
for more

and yet
I cannot
let you
have this
over me.


It is a trap,
or it was.

Where did I go?

[Today's post brought to you by zillions of electrons. For far better examples of long skinny poetry, visit planetlinda, December 2005. Please do be kind to somebody today.]

Monday, January 23, 2006


Oct. 14, 1st Avenue.

Noisy Withdrawal

The Attractive Nuisance Tour (ANT) 2005

Opener: "Love is All Around"

My brother-in-law and I exchange a smile.


"All Along the Watchtower"

Electric violin, slight delay, wah pedal.

I just had to do it.

-- Steve

[special thanks to Dulce for the photos]

Getting a Life

I usually don't see movies until they've been out for months (or longer). I'm beginning to suspect that this because I'm spending too much time just slogging through each day. It may be also because I'm kind of cheap and don't like buying the ticket. Eventually, the movies come to our house as a DVD or some other format, and I watch it along with the kids. But even that happens infrequently.

Music gets attention - rehearsal Wednesdays (the young to middle-aged lawyers + me), Thursdays (the warm-up for Sunday morning), Saturday (fiddle lesson), and Sunday (twice). That's a fair amount for someone who could use a bit more exercise. Which I am doing, mom.

Tonight it's Peter's piano time, we go in a few minutes.

Gradually getting the organization together. Man, do I need it. Someday, maybe I'll be able to go and see a few movies.


8:09 PM
Ordered "If the Cap Fits" by Kevin Burke, famous Irish fiddle player. An older recording, from late 70's. He used to play with the Bothy Band and could also just play solo and keep a pub entertained all evening.

Practicing this evening, Etudes and some Irish tunes out of 'The Irish Fiddle Book" by Matt Cranitch. It is sometimes good for the insides to play these tunes, and certainly a good mental workout on memorizing the tunes. My goal is to memorize one tune per day without having the older ones fall out of the cart. The hornpipes are coming up soon, followed by the reels. I think there's a recital sometime in March...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Say What You Mean

What a preoccupying thing it can become to have a blog - I find myself thinking about it a lot. And spending time at the keyboard, thinking, editing - "read, write, edit, delete" privileges all on. A chance to create, to be wise, to be a fool, to encourage, to disappoint, to wonder.

Peter wants to go to the Y again. He's on the keyboard (weighted keys, 88 of them) right now. "We have to wait an hour after we eat to swim!" he says. "So, can we go to the Y today?" I suppose we can. I'll miss it like crazy later when he grows beyond this time. Yesterday I showed him how racquetball is supposed to be played, hitting the ball against the far wall and having it come back across the line, then take turns trying to keep it from hitting the floor more than once [twice - you can tell I don't really know]. He liked that, and wants to learn how to do it better. In a year I may not be able to beat him...

The organizing thing continues - most things are filtered out to their proper 'buckets', and it's time to take stock of PROJECTS. Make a list of them. There are more than can be done, for sure. Decide which ones to spend time with. Re-evaluate often. Things change, opportunities come up, interests shift. Have a system in place to help deal with the distracting thoughts - "Oh, I need to remember to take care of that." "How am I going to get all of this done?" "I really need to prepare for that." - and so on.

I'm really taken by some of the blogs out there. I find myself caring about people that I probably will never meet as they put heart into cyberspace.

Probably time to get to the Y. Back to organizing and work prep later...it's beautifully sunny out.


5:43 PM
17 out of 100 at the freethrow line. I guess that's pathetic, but I'm taking the approach that repetition will lead to improvement. Also, just relaxing and letting the neurons figure it out. I did get a few in a row.


9:42 PM
Office time to make 'just the right slides' for the Monday meeting, shuttle kids, small dish of ice cream, and this note. Hi. How are you doing? Yes, you. What was today like?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Picture This

A Few Notes on Setting Priorities

"The enemy often tries to make us attempt and start many projects so that we will be overwhelmed with too many tasks, and therefore achieve nothing and leave everything unfinished. Sometimes he even suggests the wish to undertake some excellent work that he foresees we will never accomplish. This is to distract us from the prosecution of some less excellent work that we would have easily completed. He does not care how many plans and beginnings we make, provided nothing is finished." - St. Francis de Sales

"Never give a sword to a man who can't dance." - Confucius

The sky is beautiful again, a lone crow flying north.
Laptop engaged at home, work and home blur, son lonely and longing for game station, we go to the Y, play racquetball, swim, shoot baskets. Still the wishing is strong. We're built that way, I suppose.

Blog adjustments continue...

Must sort out the game station idea. Off now to get blue wire for downstairs office. Beginning to sound like cell phone conversation. See you later.
7:30 PM (CST)
Gray wire. Hole drilled through floor (1" dia), Peter crawled into the tight space to pull the wire through, I'm finishing his turn at washing the dishes in exhange. Connection ok. That really wasn't too bad. Time left over to work on a few fiddle tunes. Have a good evening.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Little Flight Music

Mozart's 250th birthday is coming up. A letter to Constanze is on display at Landmark Center (along with letters by 9 other composers of note), I should go and have a look. Some biographers indicate that while he was working on his Requiem, he was very ill, died, and Constanze had it finished by another composer. It must have been very hard. I wonder how often that kind of thing happens.

I spent a good half an hour trying to figure out flights this afternoon. The airline's website provided a variety of options that didn't seem to stay put - specials appeared and disappeared, the redeye options came and went, and in the end I decided to set my sights on Monday and got myself some rest...or something like that.

Actually, I came home, ate cold leftover pizza, took Rose to a movie with her friend, and eventually got the violin out to work on this week's material. "Use the whole length of the bow, Steve. All the way from the Frog to the Point. Nice, even motion, use the fingers on the right hand like shock absorbers on the turnarounds. That's it - sounds better. Practice, practice, practice, it's the only way. Watch the intonation." He's a good teacher.

Two posts in a day. Probably not allowed, they'll start charging rent.

"Ah, look at all the lonely people!"

Yes, a lot of them.

Falling Through the Cracks

There are lots of things that fall through cracks. Usually "letting something fall through the cracks" refers to neglect, inattention, forgetfulness, or some combination thereof. This would be different than actively throwing something out.

The 'organizing effort' is bearing some fruit in terms of getting smaller jobs done, things thrown out that need to be thrown out, and a little more ability to focus on one thing at a time to finish it.

A key lesson so far has been to make a clear distinction between items that need action and items that just need to be stored for future reference. The less mixed these are, the better.

The 'two minute' rule is pretty good - if something needs doing and is going to take two minutes or less, do it. Sometimes it's sending an email to ask for information - then that item moves to a 'waiting for' file and gets reviewed every coupla days at least, which is better than just trying remember to do something about it. I like it.

Kindness goes a long way to dealing with cracks in relationships.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Foreground and Background

One of my favorite artists is MC Escher. In some of his works, he plays with 'regular division of the plane' or tessellation to create images that don't really have what you could call background, but instead have several 'foregrounds' competing with each. Or maybe they don't compete, they just co-exist. It's sometimes hard to 'see' them both at the same time. This period of his works was inspired by a visit to The Alhambra in Spain. It's all very beautiful.

I also like Cezanne, but maybe that is partly because I grew up with a copy of one of his Still Lifes in the entry hallway.

Band rehearsal last night, "Reelin' in the Years" sounds ok, "Don't Push, Don't Shove" (by a South African group) definitely needs work on the violin part, and "Wheels" is fairly intact if we can remember where the changes are supposed to happen.

Started French again on Monday, an 'intermediate' level class, it has been several years so some is simply gone but I think it will be good to actually have an hour each week and maybe more if I can work it in. It was on the 'someday/maybe' list.

Natalie pointed me to some of her statistics professor's problem sets, they use that 'R' computer language that I've mentioned. Like a lot of things, it can seem pretty foreign at first but with a little investment of effort becomes familiar and even useful.

And of course it is a birthday today...happy birthday my dear. The kids and I hope you feel loved today, even with the busyness and distractions of the typical day it may be. I know that my parents and your parents love you too. I hope in some way it is special, besides picking up the car from being repaired. We'll try.

-- Steve

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Yesterday I met 'CHMOOGLE', an open-access chemistry search engine, whose mission is nothing less than 'to discover, curate and index all of the public chemical information in the world.' Chemoinformatics for the common chemist.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Pebbles on the Shore

"Lex I. Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus illud a viribus impressis cogitur statum suum mutare."

"Lex II. Mutationem motus proportionalem esse vi motrici impressae, & fieri secundum lineam rectam qua vis illa imprimatur."

"Lex III. Actioni contrariam semper & aequalem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse aequales & in partes contrarias dirigi."

Newton was born December 25, 1642 (Olde Style). The Laws of Motion (above) are familiar to every physics student. One of the books I hope to start reading this year is his Principia - or Principles, since it will be in English. If I make it through Book 1 (of 3), that will be plenty.

The book starts with a definition that firmly states his lack of regard for anything other than space existing between objects. I guess others had built their physics with something besides empty space in the 'in betweens.' So, there is either something, or there is space. I'll keep you posted as I learn more...

I am interested in increasing some the space immediately around me, and one way to effect this is good old exercise and eating right. Did half an hour aerobics at Y, and less sugar with breakfast. Simple formula, we'll see how it goes.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Hooping beyond all hoops

The laundry room office is taking shape. Two used black 2-drawer file cabinets @ $39 ea (they shut with a nice 'click'), a table-top laid across them (for now), an older but presentable 5' x 8' rug (mainly blue), a computer running linux from a dvd (Knoppix - you knew there'd be something like this), a few family photos (to remind me to go back upstairs), and other desky things like a basket with paper, the label maker, and folders. Lots of folders. I got 400 of them for about $5.00, they have English and Spanish on the box covers. The ceiling is simply joists and underside of floor, with pipes, wires, and cobwebs (now swept away). It's fine, and I think Peter really likes it, I came down and found him sitting there thinking.

He's especially interested in getting one of those gaming devices. We spent time researching them, talking about what he'd do with it, what his friends have, do they play alone or two at a time or online and what do they play and what do their parents not let them play and on and on. In the end, we decided that we'd spent quite enough time talking about it and went to the Y to shoot baskets instead.

I think I shot about 35 times before making a basket. Maybe more. Peter was happy to run around making his own shots, or going over to the padded mat on the floor to do somersaults or just lay there, while I determinedly went to the free throw line, took aim, missed, and ran to retrieve the ball before the third bounce. Eventually I got warmed up and was making about 30% of the shots. Peter asked if we could we could play racquetball instead, so I sent him to the desk to find out if there was a court open. He came back with two racquets, the ball, and a smile. The court had clean white walls and we whacked the ball around for about 20 minutes, sometimes sending it out through the observation window. Someday we'll have to learn how to play properly.

I was very tired by evening.

Another day for hitting the organizing. Maybe I'll look for a better 'desktop' and get some pipe in place to support blue curtain material that Cynthia has for covering the cracked plaster walls. I also want to get an ethernet line run down from the back room router to the desk - the Knoppix 4.0 boots up fine with internet connection and a picture of what must be the Autobahn. Speaking of cars, the van goes today for body work and it's time to take it in. Peter has piano tonight, and maybe later I can get to the Y again to shoot a few more baskets and swim.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fax of Life

Oh, you can't do homework on a blocked PC,
You can't do homework on a blocked PC;
You can't do homework on a blocked PC -
But you won't be happy lettin' everything through...

Many people remember listening to Roger Miller singing a list of impossibilities in 'You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd' - that is, people who grew up before the existence of the web. I suppose there's a sound clip out there somewhere. He wrote some very goofy lyrics, but lots of people know them.

I just glanced up at the sky - what an amazing array of pinks, blues, grays and purples right now (7:39 AM). The pine trees and bare oaks in the foreground provide dark contrast. So do the power lines, but they are thankfully lower down - too linear. The sky is fantastic.

On to second cup of tea, and down to today's topic - the Fax of Life. I'm not quite sure about that. The title, I mean. It's oddly composed, as are many things in life. But it's what I put there, so now I need to figure out what to say about it. Or retreat and hit delete. But there's some reason why I wrote that, and maybe it's important.

Bright yellowish white clouds now - such a change a few minutes can make. Somebody's alarm clock going off in the background. Guess I'm avoiding the topic.

Once upon a time, on a PC in my house, there lived three wares. There was the 'hard' ware, the 'soft' ware, and the little baby 'be' ware. They were a cozy family, and they all lived happily together. One day, a young girl came along and sat down at the PC, thinking "I need to do my homework, and I haven't got very much time, and besides I need to have a chat with some friends." So she started typing away and found websites that she needed. "But this one is blocked!" she cried, "And I need it for my homework!" Alas, the site was blocked, because the 'be' ware was sitting in the way, crying. The girl complained to her father, who grudgingly agreed to send the 'be' ware far away from its 'soft' ware and 'hard' ware, so that the girl could finish her homework. The father was sad to do this, partly because he didn't want to disrupt the happy ware family, but also because with the 'be' ware far away, wild creatures could appear unexpectedly and do great harm. For the 'be' ware had an amazing ability to sense when trouble was near, and warned visitors to the PC by crying. The father was so concerned that during his daily blog writing, he took the time to bring back the 'be' ware so that the family could all be together again. And they lived happily ever after, or at least until the next homework was due.

OK, well that didn't really fit the title either, but it was a nice little story. And now I have to go and practice violin for a while. If you want the original story, you can find it here.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Mystery literature can be addictive, feeding the puzzle-solving nature. Some people do not have this. They turn straight to the end of the book to see what happens, and then decide whether to read the whole thing. They don't have this particular addiction. Others, well... you'll just have to wait to see where I'm going with this.

Obtuseness is not a substitute for mystery. The inability to make a clear point may be a valuable asset for some types of careers, but writing mysteries is not one of them. Keeping that point well hidden is critical, but eventually it needs to be brought out clearly into the open. A mystery without a solution is, well...

Pointless art is an artform in itself. I put John Cage's rendition of silence at the keyboard in this category. Well, maybe not, since it forces an initially awkward listening to ambient noises which otherwise would get filtered or at least little attention. In one performance, the doors at the back of the concert hall were open and it began to rain outside.

The Wandering Mind is a good name for a boat. It's a good name for a boat which serves as the anchor in a mystery, a sunken boat within a watery mystery story. This suggests a structure where the end is presented first without explanation and the rest of the story leads up to that point. This hopefully gives those without the puzzle-solving addiction some relief, although if they blindly turn to the end, it could be confusing.

I picked up a beginner Greek course on CD two nights ago, and installed it today. Peter and I have had some fun listening to Greek learning tapes, and I wanted to keep it going. Part of this is no doubt related to puzzle solving, which like usual can be taken to extremes. But Greek has good value in understanding words in English, such as triskaidekaphobia, which I see is on Peter's school lunch calendar for today.

Greek was used in one of the oldest boat stories around, Homer's Odyssey. Which is hardly a mystery, and isn't really about the boats, which I think got burned at one point. But it did serve as an odd reference for James Joyce's Ulysses, which I've heard took ten years to write and then oh hit the floor and out he went for walking to the docks but she was not there. You get the idea.

Mystery is where you find it...eventually.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Your Cache Ain't Nothin' But Trash

The new laptop has arrived. Brand new. With cars, it's the 'new car smell,' with laptops it's something more subtle, just knowing that there isn't any clutter - yet. Ah, yes, there are my files from the old computer, which is off to a new life. I did take the time to go folder-to-folder searching for data files that needed to be rescued, and found plenty which were safely brought to network drives. These migratory files were added. But the new laptop is pretty clean, contrasted to a machine with several years' worth of serious clutter.

This was at work.

At home, our main Windows machine had hosted a virus that was detectable but apparently beyond the ability of our anitvirus software to remove. After significant persistent effort, a key offending file was identified and zapped, to the relief of all. I took the opportunity to do a major clean-out. With multiple user accounts and heavy internet use, caches of files had sprawled across the hard drive. There was indeed much trash, and much of this was removed, followed by a virus scan and other tidying up.

One of the items on my 'Next Actions' list is to get that cholesterol check that the doctor recommended. This will likely lead to some recommendations about diet, exercise, and possibly medication. The diet part I have been working at half-heartedly, so to speak, and the exercise - well, last night I got a family membership at the Y and this morning at 5:00 I was there, swam 20 minutes, and met early risers on my way back out the parking lot. A little extreme, maybe. The medication part does not sound exciting at all, but Mr. Dr. did indicate that 'their thinking had changed' about how they go after cholesterol. Based on my physical profile, I have been one of those Americans who has overdone the consumer part, and now need to take some corrective action. If you're going to eat like an American, you'd better take medicine like an American.

Today is the Language Society's Annual Meeting (at work), with induction of new officers, including yours truly who will serve as treasurer for a term. It's been awhile since studying French at work but I hope this will get going again. It's such a beautiful sounding language. Some Spanish would be good, too.

Cara is making a trip to an orphanage in Tijuana this spring, along with a group of about 30 other students. She's very excited about this, in some ways it is similar to the trip she made last summer to Lima, Peru where there were lots of kids around - very friendly.

And so, it is another day. More organizing - the 'INBOX' piles have largely migrated downstream into various folders, and there is still plenty 'system' work to do, but I'm looking forward to it. I just need to watch how much time I spend taking the new laptop out for a spin.

[Note added after publication, re-read, and Google search: the 'Cache Ain't Nothin' But Trash' line has indeed been used before, see the June 14, 2005 comments by 'Daddy Pop': http://www.organissimo.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=19419&st=60 ]

Monday, January 09, 2006

From Piling to Filing

There is a significant pile on the table that represents my 'IN' box. The pieces will get handled, one at a time, and they don't go back into the 'IN' pile. Some go to 'TRASH' immediately, others have an immediate thing that can be done to move them along, so I stop and do them - two minutes max. Sometimes it's clear what to do but it's going to take more than a couple of minutes, these go into a 'NEXT ACTIONS' folder. A few things go into a 'WAITING FOR' folder...waiting for somebody else to respond or take care of something...their name and a file date are on a sticky note. There a several things that just need to be transferred to a calendar since the date is pretty well set. The rest of the stuff goes into a 'PENDING' pile, to be sorted into 'SOMEDAY / MAYBE' items and 'REFERENCE' filing in an A-Z filing system. So this is where I currently am, both at home and at work. I'm planning to use about a week to bring the 'IN' boxes down to empty, and then another week to handle the 'PENDING' filing, including a way to park items in time over the next couple of months. At that point the system should be reasonably functional.

This is really different from how I've been doing things.

I'm actually getting some things taken care of that would tend to languish in a pile somewhere.

Doubtless there will be things that happen to make it challenging to keep this up.

It's critical to stay on top of the 'NEXT ACTIONS' file since this often has important, time-sensitive items. Flip through it every day, pick out something and do it. Prioritize by intuition.

Another part of the system is a loop including the 'STUFF' being handled, a list of 'PROJECTS', and 'PROJECT PLANS' which gives some context to the 'STUFF.' This will develop and change over a longer time. I think.

It's all about getting things out of my head and into a system. Most of it, anyway. So I can think.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Dark again, but this time at the end of the weekend.

Yesterday Peter and I were cruising along the freeway when the traffic suddenly slowed. We barely managed to stop short of the car in front, and the car behind shot around on the shoulder. Fortunately, there was no one close behind them. It all happened very quickly, and then the traffic slowly got going again. No clue of what happened. But relieved, it could have been pretty bad. Peter's leg was twitching for a good 10 minutes or so as we talked about this near miss.

I spent most of the rest of the weekend doing the 'get organized' thing.

You know what happens when you run most of your life through an inbox?

Neither do I. But it's surprising how relaxed I've felt since putting pretty much all of the projects that I worry/spend time thinking about down on paper - one at a time - and feeding them into a semi-organized system.

I highly recommend it.

Cynthia ordered a face cord of firewood, which was delivered Saturday to the front yard in neat stacks. But we needed it to be closer to the house, so Peter & I used sleds to haul it up the hill in small loads, dump them at Cynthia's feet while she was creating the new stacks, and then we 'surfed' back down to the wood pile. Fun. Took about 20 minutes.

Rose seems to be adjusting to the braces after several painful days.

Cara has some French homework that she'd like help on, so we'll see about that now.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


The eastern view is dark,
But I am looking there;
Young Shakespeare knew these hours
Well writ with sonnets fair.

And every day and on was spent
To ply the words that paid the rent
For page, for stage, for unsaid rage
Woven through with threads of what he meant.

To fly, to dream, to turn and find
No thought for reasons black, unblind
To make the way through hidden paths
And on in to his outspoke mind.

And yet I sit with coffee here, with digits one and zero
Attempting to be witty, but in awe of him my hero.

- Steve

Friday, January 06, 2006


"Everybody's talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're sayin' - only the echoes of my mind" - Fred Neil

Listening this morning to songs from the Johnny Cash biographical movie 'Walk the Line.' Very familiar tunes, although I think this is the first time I've listened carefully to the words. A little story in each song.

Some songwriters say that they're surprised at which songs catch on.

I read a good portion of Pete Seeger's biography a couple of years ago. After a career of doing protest songs and 'folk music with a message' he had literally stacks of material for songs, too much to practically sort through. I guess that goes with the territory.

Now onto Keb' Mo' http://www.kebmo.com/
Wonderful modern versions of some familiar folk tunes. I'm just discovering him thanks to a co-worker loaning me a cd - "Just Like You".

I'm liking this.

Early morning today, Cara off to her study group soon. Been a good week, if more full than usual at work. Couple of early morning meetings of a review/planning type. But it's good.

Rose to work on guitar this weekend, get her mind off the braces.

Peter's piano playing is sounding pretty decent for how long he's had lessons. I'm impressed.

Natalie through 1st week of January term class on statistics. Compressed class chedule but it seems to be working out fine.

I got throught the tutorial on the 'R' computing language, have a little better understanding of how it works. Looks like a good tool if Minitab isn't handy, at least for my limited use of statistics.

Cynthia up, bacon cookin' in the background, Keb' Mo' grooving on the cd player 'change in the weather...I'm on your side' Good start to the morning.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I don't know, it just popped into my head. Which doesn't mean it's worth writing about. It sounds vaguely related to measuring things that are difficult to measure, like what other people are thinking about.

Google returns 'about 1,010,000' hits for psychometrics in 0.07 seconds. That's some quick thinking. I'm not sure how much we think about in 0.07 seconds. This gets me wondering how to quantitate how much we think about. It's very common to claim that someone has 'a lot to think about,' but Google search results impress us with how fast zillions of answers are located, although it does say 'about' for big numbers so there is some estimating going on.

At work I have a small replica of 'The Thinker' positioned on a shelf above my computer monitor. So I see it a lot, and my gaze sometimes wanders there when I'm thinking some unmeasured number of thoughts. It's a wonderful statue, the right elbow rested on the left knee, the chin supported on the back of the curled hand, shoulders hunched forwards. From what I can gather from a few web articles, the statue is supposed to represent Dante. He certainly seems to be thinking heavy thoughts, and not necessarily about something like being cold, which I currently am since the thermostat was turned down for the night.

So, how to quantitate thoughts? And actually, there is the number of thoughts per unit of time and the weight of thoughts to consider. 'The Thinker' is a case in point for heavy thoughts. Or maybe that should be depth when it comes to The Thinker. I don't think of the Google response time as reflecting much depth or weight, just speed.

As in any good measurement system, it's important to start with a list of definitions that help understand things like 'when a thought starts and when it stops'. Things get messy very quickly, especially when distributed among 'the back of mind,' 'the tip of my tongue,' 'my gut reaction,' and 'the seat of my pants,' to name a few locales.

I think I'll simply hold that thought for now.

Psychometry was initially about intelligence measurement, and more recently includes personality and suitability for employment. The Wikipedia comes through again with a brief summary with links to other brief summaries with links to other brief summaries...

Alternatively, practice psychometric tests are available for those anticipating an exam as part of the job interview process (note the maze logo for this company. There is also an encouraging quote from 'N. T.' of Newcastle):

Finally, there is the experience of one's life flashing before their eyes, which probably begins to approach the speed of a Google search.

As you can see, there wasn't a lot to write about today. Rose did get braces yesterday, which is huge, but I wasn't sure what to say. It clearly hurts. Otherwise a quiet day on the home front.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Inside Out

Came home this evening to a couch in the basement hallway on its way out. At first it seemed doubtful whether the couch had originally come down the stairs, but after a bit of team puzzle solving and patient repositioning the couch was in the street. I sat there waiting for the van to pull around from the back. Melted drips fell from an overhanging branch, a neighbor couple was busy at their car while I rested there. The van pulled up with headlights on and from another house stepped a young man who long ago had assisted the couch to the basement. He didn't want it back now, but asked if we needed help loading it. Not so difficult, I thought, but after more puzzle solving and patient lifting the couch made its way to a place of good will.

More room in the basement.

Which somehow reminds me of Richard Feynman's post-Christmas 1959 talk on "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" - see the prize idea for writing small at the end of his talk: http://www.zyvex.com/nanotech/feynman.html

The cartoonist is in the cartoon at www.dilbert.com - trapped there, and following a yellow sticky note road to find his way home with a faithful little dog. I think he's trying to emphasize the distinction between himself and his main comic character, who(m?) I guessing will appear in the next few days.

Studying more about the 'R' computer language which appears to have similarities to LISP in that programs can be readily written to modify the language itself. This feature apparently proves useful in attempts to model intelligence (i.e., AI) or more mundane things like scripting statistical analyses. The language is not too difficult to load and it has helpful tutorials, showing how to do basic statistical analyses, draw graphs, and how to clean up afterwards. It is, however, a programming language and as such requires careful thought before it can do something useful.

Thanks Mom and Dad for the M. C. Escher calendar. I love those drawings that have multiple perspectives combined, the endlessly ascending and descending stairways, and the pictures of things climbing out of pictures.

Read a little more about the organizing project, which is heavily paper-based. Ideas seem to have an affinity for paper, at least according to this method.

Lead is to led as read is to...? http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/lead.html (see List of errors for some irregular expressions, which are very different from Regular Expressions. More on those later)

Thank you Des for the salmon, consumed along with cream cheese and crackers on The Day, accompanied by split pea soup. Very yummy.

And I should also thank Ian (and Cindy) for the delicate multi-colored glass bell which is still on display beside a small wooden giraffe near the dining table.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Candles in the Wind

First day back to school and to work for lots of folks. Made it through the holidays.

Rose got a guitar yesterday, she and her friend sing together and she's wanted to learn how to play, her friend plays and now she can learn too. Nice sounding acoustic guitar. I'm glad we could get one for her.

Work starts with a whoosh, we start a meeting at 8 am that runs a good portion of the day, an important kind of meeting reviewing the previous year.

Spending time studying statistics, getting familiar with 'R' (a programming language useful for statistics - 'open source' so it's a free download - but a serious programming language). Natalie starts her January class today, I want to be up to speed and maybe help out during this intensive course she's taking, and it's good motivation to learn something that will probably be helpful.

Cara and I had some huge burritos from Chipotle yesterday. I think you can easily go all day on one of those. Cynthia and Cara spent some of the weekend planning for fixing up her room. Two project managers in action. It's fun to see their excitement.

Peter has had a good time with his dancing robot and sledding on his stomach like a penguin.

Picked up some office supplies including a fancy labeler. Scaled back on the desk plans, using a 2' x 4' folding table that we already have, and shopping for file cabinet. Major accomplishment was getting the basement room rearranged to free up some space.

Lots of tender hearts moving through the wind today.

Monday, January 02, 2006


Streams that once flowed mightily can end up dry. I spent some time yesterday perusing 'blogland' and noted many blogs that seem to have been enthusiastically started but soon taper off to nothing. It's human to be very excited about starting something and then have difficulty keeping with it. One only need think of New Year's resolutions.

Yesterday I mentioned a book about 'Getting Things Done.' This is great material for the resolution-inclined, and especially for those who have attempted numerous times to get things in order - only to have the momentum of daily entropy gently sweep away their efforts. There is a predictable cult-like following of 'GTD' which has 'The David' as its leader and no lack of related products and services. Fascinating. But I did get motivated to clean out a space in the laundry room for a desk, since the GTD methodology insists on dedicated desk space complete with file cabinets having drawers that 'click shut with the smoothness and solidity of a door on a German car.' I like the sound of that and managed move heavy barrels out of the way to clear space for the 'desk' which will consist of a door (cut to fit the space) and the two two-drawer filing cabinets with requisite click.

Amazon.com/careers also describes their typical use of a door for a desk surface, emphasizing the 'no-frills' approach that they take to running their business and keeping down operating costs. They are clearly a mighty flowing river in webland.

On a side-stream, several years ago (1996) there was a BBC production on four fictional people from Newcastle during the period 1964-1995 which was well-received although production was delayed due to concerns about inclusion of issues and events based on real politicians. You can read more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Friends_in_the_North

Comments to this blog are monitored, and those relating to being 'all wet' may be removed.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Hello, whirled

Reading 'Getting Things Done' by David Allen. Getting this done.

Welcome to 'slog2live', the blog version of my 'slog.' 'slog' started about a year ago as emails to keep in touch with family. The name comes from my brother's observation that a log from Steve could be called a 'slog.' Suits me fine. Thanks, Ian.

I'm going to assume that this is fairly public. It also seems safe to assume that it is about as public as a back alley in a town that isn't on most maps. We'll see.

Major accomplishment today if this works, being Jan. 1 and all. Looking forward to your comments.