Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Word a Day Keeps the Cherry on Top

I have words hanging from my ceiling. They are note cards stapled to ribbons, each with a word on one side and a definition on the other. The thing about words is that there are as many words as there are stars. There have to be-- how else would we name them all?

The Merriam-Webster word of the day is capricious, but I already knew that one. NYTimes's word is giddy but I already knew that one too. The Wordthink word of the day is altruism. I guess I know quite a few words.'s word is procrustean. I don't know that one. It means to force conformity by violent means. Or arbitrary means. Whichever you feel like. But it's not a very cheerful word.

If I could learn one new English word a day, it would take me 626 years to learn the entire language. The OED contains approximately 228,132 words, including archaic words and derivatives. As a college graduate, statistically speaking, I should already know at least 60,000 words, which means I would only have to learn 168,132 new words. This would take about 461 years, which is much more doable. And if we subtract the derivatives, assuming that once I already know the roots, I can figure out the conjugations, I can subtract another 9,500 words = 158,632 words-- that's only 435.5 years.

In 435.5 years I will know every word currently in the English language. Maybe if I learn one word a day, I'll live that long. Maybe if I learn six new words a day, for the next sixty years, (which would allow me to accomplish this feat in my lifetime) then I wouldn't have to sleep either.

But then we add in the fact that time flows more slowly close to a planet, that new words are being added to the dictionary every week, and that traveling close to the speed of light changes our time stream... well, it brings me awfully close to insanity. I think I will go have a slice of pumpkin bread with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Today's Menu: Tiny Baked Planets with a Side of Turkey

Every time I see Jupiter, which looks simply like an incredibly bright star, I feel a sense of wonder. This wandering planet feels so close I want to reach out and grab it with my hand. For several reasons, this is not at all possible. First of all, it is rather far away--approximately 391 million miles away. In addition, Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, measured at 1300 times the size of Earth. Which is what I will be after my two delicious Thanksgiving dinners.

I have this little book, called The Pocket Guide to Science, edited by E. E. Free, and published ever so recently in 1923, and this is what it says about our beautiful solar system: "It is made up of our sun and the planets which revolve about it. There are eight planets: Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus. There are also several hundred tiny planets, the largest only 532 miles in diameter, which travel in orbits between Mars and Jupiter. These are too small to be seen except through powerful telescopes."

The thing about planets, especially the tiny ones cluttering up our space, is that although they are rather far away and rather large, they are still similar to many things on our planet. Like potatoes. I feel as though I will be spending a lot of time peeling potatoes today: two delicious Thanksgiving dinners, and only four hours apart. You will probably be peeling potatoes, too. And if not-- go help your mother, right now!

And while you're peeling potatoes, imagine that they aren't in fact, tuberous vegetables, but some of those tiny planets traveling between Mars and Jupiter. Today, think conservation! We can all work together to keep our solar system tidy by eating tiny baked planets with a side of turkey.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tin Snips and Tractors

One day, my little brother is going to be famous, but there is something about being famous that doesn't exactly leave room for tractors. Being famous is about large quantities of people seeing your face and knowing your name, and wanting to give you enough money to keep seeing your face and knowing your name. It's not about tractors.

So I would like to tell you a story about my little brother and tractors, with the hope that one day, when he is famous, there will also be something said about tractors.

Of course the story never begins with tractors, it always begins with boredom. As children, boredom was forbidden--that is to say, we were allowed to be bored, but we were required to either keep this fact a secret or be subjected to a large number of chores which we wished to avoid. Thus, our ability to self-entertain was a highly developed skill by the time we reached adolescence. Mostly, we made things.

Miniature Evan loved tractors. His favourite bedtime stories consisted of a calender of tractors with the names and numbers labeling every single picture and a catalog of farm equipment. These are not, of course, the only things he loved--his first drum set was made of laundry soap bottles and pot lids, and he had a cow outfit with cow spotted shorts, a cow spotted shirt, and a cow spotted hat. But for a long time, you could drive a tractor up the road and it would keep him occupied for, well, as least as long as it took the tractor to drive up the road.

Combine the ability to make things at a young age with a vast knowledge of farm equipment and a lot of free time and what do you get? A complete set of farm machinery made from tin cans with tin snips and pliers.

Since then Evan has made a large variety of things (homemade bass guitar, guitar pedals, musical instrument traveling boxes, a tube amp converted from a movie projector, and a variety of other unnecessary inventions), but nothing quite as interesting or endearing as his tin can tractors.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This is the universe, exploding

Do you ever think about the fact that everything around you is moving outwards, away from the center, wherever that is, expanding and enlarging and stretching until one day everything will freeze into a giant block of frozen universe? In my brain it looks like the end of an explosion, where the force of the blast is still pushing the whole universe away, and just for a moment everything pauses in midair. I imagine that we're still floating on the force of a blast, drifting out among the rocks and stars that also float away, dancing in an esoteric spin, without touching, without talking, only gazing at the vast, dark space beyond our little bubble of safety, and drawing (or in my case, inking) quite small pictures of quite big things which we can't actually see.

This is the universe, exploding.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Black Holes and Wizards

In a recent episode of the Wizards of Waverly Place, one of my favourite television shows*, Alex and Justin are trapped in Alex's apartment and an evil wizard puts a black hole in the middle of the room. Now, I don't imagine that anyone could actually jump through tied to a rope and pull them through to the other side (which is how Max saved his siblings), but imagine how cool it would be to step forward and be instantly be somewhere completely different.

This is definitely not a new concept. As a matter of fact, Willy Wonka (with Charlie) was working on the technology when his corporation got shut down by the Flying Spaghetti Monster in 1879. I once did some learning about entanglement, which someone suggested might be the answer, but the math just exploded my brain and befuddled my sensibilities. But if a black hole is the answer (which it's not, but maybe wormholes are), and the appearance of one in downtown Switzerland doesn't completely destroy us, then I hope we make some when the Hadron Collider gets up and running (if it ever does).

Until then, our country will continue to build very large, energy consuming space vessels, and I will continue to write about imaginary transportation devices which allow you to traverse large distances in very short periods of time (I call them Doors). Then, when my novel is way, way better than it currently is, you can all read about them. And when this technology is complete, I will use these portals and mayhaps come give you a hug.

*Yes, please judge me because it means you're reading my blog. :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Buckets Hold More Than Water

Carl Sagan, one of the most brilliant men of the 20th Century, described Earth like this

"Our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this cosmos, of which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky." 

If the Earth is a mote of dust, what am I?
Easy: I'm just me. 

Here is my list of things I want to do before I die, in no particular order:

Publish/finish my novels.
Go hang gliding.
Touch dry ice.
Introduce my cat, Goblin to my big brother and sister-in-law's cat, Chloe.
Fly on the Virgin Galactic (anybody want to give me $200,000?)
Write about flying on the Virgin Galactic.
Have Elton John sing "Rocketman" to me.
Go to Alaska and meet a bear.
Be a Verizon Cell Phone Tower Fix-it Man.
Take a cosmology class.
Learn how to drive a tractor trailer and/or a backhoe.
Hug my mom. Pull my dad's beard.
Buy a nice writing desk and put it in a room with a window and a rug and a book case.
Watch my little brother play a show on drums.
See the aurora borealis, possibly while I'm in Alaska.

Any more suggestions?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Wish on an Exploding Star

If you wish on an exploding star, do you wishes explode too? Or do your wishes multiply?

A star is quite a fascinating phenomenon. It is a conflagration of interstellar gas and dust, which all collapses into a massive (or tiny, depending on your perspective) ball and starts releasing massive (or tiny) amounts of energy by way nuclear fusion reactions. Hydrogen fuses together in the star's core and forms helium (or He, which is also a pronoun and, when multiplied, an indication of virtual laughter).

The heat and carbon increase continually, until the helium nuclei produce carbon nuclei, and as the heat and temperature continue to increase, other elements are created, until the star consists of layers of seething, fusing, burning elements (which sounds terrifying, to be honest). Eventually, the star creates iron. The iron ignites and burns through all the remaining fuel within the star.

Then the layers collapse into the star at 1/4 the speed of light. The outer shells explode, flying outward into the deep, dark universe, brighter than the billions of stars, brighter than its whole galaxy. Within the star the heat and the elements combine and intersect, and build more and more elements, until the star has birthed all of the ingredients necessary for life. The supernova explodes and spits the elements of life outwards into the vacuum of space, where they dance and mingle with the elements that are already floating about.

Happy birthday to us.

So that's why I wish on exploding stars. Because then my wishes come true--and then some.

If you're curious, read more about supernovas.

I am also including the Periodic Table, so you can see all of the exploding star's babies.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Levi the Cactus Can't Eat Bagels

There is a cactus, who I have good reason to believe has named himself Levi, that has been staring at me for four days. His pot has swirls of blue and orange and white and brown which remind me of a planet that has a lot of iron floating through the sky. Now, I don't understand anything about planetary physics, but I imagine that a planet with a skyfull of iron would probably be quite hot and dry--and Levi would probably like to live there.

Here on Earth we have a skyfull of water, with clouds always moving around and picking up more water and then dumping it on the ground, and we keep loads of it in giant buckets named Atlantic and Pacific, and smaller buckets like Huron and Baikal. I like water because it's romantic to look at street lights in the rain, and because puddle jumping is a delightfully endorphin-releasing activity.

Sometimes I dance in the rain, too. I like to swirl around and pretend I'm flying, as if the floor melts away from under my feet, and all I have left is the strength of my arms and the spinning of the universe to keep me from falling. My hair flies out around my face, and my skirt sparkles in the dim light of the stars, and I dip my fingers briefly into the pansophy of movement, the pansophy of time; I come to a halt and watch the atoms and the galaxies whirl past, but only for a moment because I can't stand to not join in.

Then I hand Levi an umbrella because he drowns easily, and we dance together down the street of Universe City... and then I'm ejected from my daydream because Dave shows up with a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. Yum. It's too bad Levi can't have some too.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Sad Candle

There are certain types of weather which are perfect for lighting candles. Well, they would be if I didn't buy cheap candles that burn out after only an hour of use.

For example, yesterday the sky was grey and the trees were orange. Rain droplets pelted down from the clouds, smacking the leaves hard enough to make them wave, but without enough force to break them from their parent--more like a slap on the wrist than a spanking. The wind shoved the branches of the trees back and forth, but luckily, trees are able to stand up against most winds.

This sort of weather is not classified as a storm, but more of a wet drizzle with an extra helping of cloud.

A storm looks more like this: a powerfully angry agglomerate of air smashing into the trunks of trees with the force of the Roman Army, so that the trees bow to the majesty of the winds; millions of beads of water falling simultaneously like bombs, exploding painfully as they crash into skin and leaves and dirt; rumbling thunder serenading the fury of world below; spikes of electricity piercing the earth with sparks and fire and pain.

Earth storms can be quite exhilarating. Then the sun comes out, and the blue-skied weather is beautiful once more.

But then the sun storms. These storms are far more terrifying than anything you can imagine. The sun is already a behemothic ball of writhing snakes of fire, contorting and twisting, blazing at fifteen million degrees Celsius. But when the sun storms, tongues of fire reach out into the blackness of space, towards Venus and Mercury and Earth, releasing the same amount of magnetic energy as hundreds of 100-ton hydrogen bombs exploding simultaneously.

If you were there, you would die.

Our sun will never have the storm of all storms, releasing all of it's energy at once, exploding itself and all surrounding planets and moons into the vast space, where the left over pieces will drift away, eventually crashing into other planets and suns and black holes. Instead it will merely burn out.

Like a sad candle. Which I will then use to light my house when it drizzles.

Moskowitz, Clara. "Giant Sunspot Releases Massive Solar Flare." 4 November 2011. Accessed 5 November 2011.

"What is a solar flare?" NASA. Accessed 5 November 2011.

"Ask an astronomer: is the sun expanding? Will it every explode?" Cornell University. 10 February 2006. Accessed 5 November 2011.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Circling the Dragon Sphere

My favourite thing about flying is everything. I have no issues with airports. I have no issues with security. I love taking off and landing, and turbulence just makes my life that much more interesting and exciting.

The thing about flying is the space under me, the space above me, the space around me. There's so much space when you're 50,000 feet above the surface of the Earth.

I like to imagine flying, with nothing and no one around. To be completely alone, with only wetness of the clouds or the occasional greeting of a bird; with the landscape moving slowly underneath me, the planet rolling on it's axis, spinning the trees until their leaves fly off into the never ending universe. Everything else is stuck to the dirt and rocks, at the mercy of the dragon sphere with fire churning in her guts, lights shining in her eyes, and dirt under her fingernails.

Flying is like making the Earth turn faster. It's like running on a ball. I can see the green and the blue and the colours upon colours spinning underneath me faster and faster as I speed forward at the speed of sound. I can see the black inimitable magnitude of space over my head, stretching out infinitely, past the trees and the clouds and birds, past the ozone, and past the capsule of safety surrounding the dragon sphere.

And suddenly I want to go to space, to feel the space, to be succumbed into all that is nothing but the vast darkness and silence which is neither dark nor silent, but rather filled with the homes of a million million faces visible only as pinpricks of light an incomprehensible lifetime away.

So if you happen to have a spare $200,000 in your pocket, I hope you find it in your heart to buy me a ticket on the Virgin Galactic.