Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fastest Barefoot Run on Ice and Why?

In the never ending quest to be unique and establish a world record, Nico Surings of Eindhoven, Netherlands holds the world record for the fastest time to run 100 m barefoot on ice in 17.35 seconds. Now, all you runners, there has to be someone who can run the 100 m dash on ice in less than 17.35 seconds since the world record is down to 9.9 seconds. Come on, how much harder could it be to run barefoot on ice? I hardly ever wore shoes when I was young and I probably set some kind of world record running across the hot asphalt streets of Phoenix as a child. The worst was getting to the other side and getting a sticker in your foot.

You can check out how the world record has changed over time, apparently the 100 m race is not like some others, great increases in speed just aren't possible it seems. Although it was probably pretty hard to judge the speed without stopwatches or other accurate timekeeping devices. Once performance enhancing techniques (a polite way to say drugs) became available, it is interesting that the times began to drop.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


The word above in the title is either a noun or a verb, take it as you wish. Gandhi said, "To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves." Orson Scott Card said, "Unemployment is capitalism's way of getting you to plant a garden." There ought to be a lot of gardeners out there with unemployment reaching more than 10% in some states. Thomas Cooper said, "A garden is never so good as it will be next year."

The first year we grew a garden, just after having our first real yard, we had a bumper crop of huge luscious tomatoes. That was almost forty years ago and since then we have manged to kill hundreds of tomato plants without success in getting even a modest crop. I can say with Thomas Jefferson, "Though an old man, I am but a young gardener." If I thought I could make a living gardening, I would have done so years ago. I don't mind the work, the sweat or the bugs, but I do get discouraged with seeds that don't grow at all.

Poet Wendell Berry said, "One of the most important resources that a garden makes available for use, is the gardener's own body. A garden gives the body the dignity of working in its own support. It is a way of rejoining the human race." I don't have to rejoin the human race, I never left it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happy Birthday Thomas Clarkson

Lest we forget that many great men gave their lives working for the good of others, it is important to remember men like Thomas Clarkson. A close associate of William Wilberforce, both men were instrumental in the abolution of slavery in the British Empire and ultimately in the United States.

Amazing Grace, a film about Wilberforce and the struggle against the slave trade, directed by Michael Apted with Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce, was released in 2007 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the date on which Parliament voted to ban the transport of slaves by British subjects.

The poet William Wordsworth was so impressed with Clarkson's achievements that he wrote this sonnet to him.

Sonnet, To Thomas Clarkson, On the final passing of the Bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, March, 1807.

Clarkson! it was an obstinate Hill to climb:
How toilsome, nay how dire it was, by Thee
Is known,—by none, perhaps, so feelingly;
But Thou, who, starting in thy fervent prime,
Didst first lead forth this pilgrimage sublime,
Hast heard the constant Voice its charge repeat,
Which, out of thy young heart’s oracular seat,
First roused thee.—O true yoke-fellow of Time
With unabating effort, see, the palm
Is won, and by all Nations shall be worn!
The bloody Writing is for ever torn,
And Thou henceforth wilt have a good Man’s calm,
A great Man’s happiness; thy zeal shall find
Repose at length, firm Friend of human kind!
William Wordsworth

Friday, March 27, 2009


No, this word does not mean a four footed hippopotamus, what is does mean is pertaining to a very long word. Antidisestablishmentarianism is hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian, but is outdone by floccinaucinihilipilification by one letter. These words exist just so someone can use them to show that they know a very long word. Once you figure out that other than impress the illiterate they have few, if any, other uses, they lose their mystique and become pretty ordinary.

When playing Scrabble, I always lost to my children because I would be trying to make some long word and they kept playing three and four letters. My efforts could be said to be ficulnean.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


No I didn't make up this word. Yes, it really is a word and yes, it really has a meaning. Can I actually say this word? Would I use this word in casual conversation? Both of those are good questions. The Oxford English Dictionary defines floccinaucinihilipilification as "the action or habit of estimating as worthless."

The first known written instance of floccinaucinihilipilification, as recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary, is in 1741, in a published letter by William Shenstone. The quotation is: "I loved him for nothing so much as his flocci-nauci-nihili-pili-fication of money." Other notable users of the word have included Robert Southey (in the Quarterly Review 14:334, 1816), and Walter Scott (Journal 18, 1829). Scott, however, replaced the "nauci" component with "pauci". The feminine noun construction, floccinaucinihilipilificatrix, can be found in the Robert Heinlein novel The Number of the Beast. Wikipedia.

Look, this word isn't even close to being the longest word ever used, Aristophanes used the word Lopado­te­macho­se­lacho­galeo­kranio­leipsano­drimhypo­trimmato­silphio­parao­melito­katakechymeno­kichlepikossypho­phatto­peristeralektryonop­tekephallio­kigklopeleiol­agoiosiraio­baphetraganop­terygon, λοπαδοτεμαχοσελαχογαλεοκρανιολειψανοδριμυποτριμματοσιλφιοκαραβομελιτοκατακε-χυμενοκιχλεπικοσσυφοφαττοπεριστεραλεκτρυονοπτοκεφαλλιοκιγκλοπελειολαγῳοσιραιο-βαφητραγανοπτερύγων in the Greek alphabet

Neither of these words is legal in Scrabble.


Although the title sounds like a high society greeting, the movie Enchanted is quite a surprise. I would never put this Walt Disney production into a list of best movies, but it is pure entertainment and has all the qualities that make a movie enjoyable, that is, if you can make it through the first 10 or 15 minutes of animation. I had to literally grit my teeth to keep watching the film until Giselle fell down the well and landed in New York.

You know it is New York by the gum spots on the sidewalk, no one would think to put those in sound stage production. I think the themes and story line are a little too much for small children. I was most impressed by the cockroaches cleaning the bathtub and the rats helping to clean the rest of the apartment. It has some long musical numbers that aren't too difficult to endure and moves right along. It was a surprising good movie.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


George Bernard Shaw said, "Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to this country and to mankind is to bring up a family." I would leave off the "perhaps." As concluded by Ariel and Will Durant, "The family is the nucleus of civilization." The only human organization that persists through eternity is the family. No matter what your worldly achievements, as President David O. McKay, "No other success can compensate for failure in the home."

“Individual progression is fostered in the family, which is ‘central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.’ (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Liahona, Oct. 2004, 49; Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102). The home is to be God’s laboratory of love and service. There a husband is to love his wife, a wife is to love her husband, and parents and children are to love one another.” Russell M. Nelson, “Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign, May 2008, 8

"We live in a world that is filled with options. If we are not careful, we will find every minute jammed with social events, classes, exercise time, book clubs, scrapbooking, Church callings, music, sports, the Internet, and our favorite TV shows. One mother told me of a time that her children had 29 scheduled commitments every week: music lessons, scouts, dance, Little League, day camps, soccer, art, and so forth. She felt like a taxi driver. Finally, she called a family meeting and announced, 'Something has to go; we have no time to ourselves and no time for each other.' Families need unstructured time when relationships can deepen and real parenting can take place. Take time to listen, to laugh, and to play together." M. Russell Ballard, "Daughters of God," Ensign, May 2008, 109-110

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Secondhand Lions

Movies that strike a chord in our lives are few and far between. Most of the famous movies, touted as classics leave me cold. I am not a fan of Casablanca or the dissolute downward spiral of Toulouse-Lautrec in the old version of Moulin Rouge. What I do like is a movie with fabulous acting, great characters and a touching and somewhat sentimental storyline. One of my favorite movies of all time, is Secondhand Lions. Maybe in my declining years, I identify with the two main characters, Garth and Hub. Maybe I admire the emotional courage of Walter, the young boy forced to live with his irresponsible mother and yet finding a way to be a decent human being. Maybe, in the last analysis I identify with the aging retired second-hand lion.

In a world where explosions are considered the main character of a movie, it is refreshing to find a movie that can make you shed a tear or two on the strength of its characters and its story line. My vote for one of the top ten, is Secondhand Lions.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Adoxography is a term coined in the late 19th century, and means "fine writing on a trivial or base subject." It was a form of rhetorical exercise “in which the legitimate methods of the encomium are applied to persons or objects in themselves obviously unworthy of praise, as being trivial, ugly, useless, ridiculous, dangerous or vicious” – see Arthur S. Pease, ‘Things Without Honor’, Classical Philology Vol. XXI (1926) 27, at 28-9. Wikipedia. What do you call it when you have mediocre writing on a trivial subject? Apparently, the ability to praise apparently worthless causes is central to attorneys' courtroom advocacy. After thirty or so years, you would think I would have this down pretty well.

The problem with the definition, of course, is that one man's (or woman's) trivial or base is another's monumentally important subject. I find the worst writing lately, in the comment columns of the news. If there were some sort of filter, allowing only those who could write grammatically to post comments, both the tenor and the substance of the comments would increase in quality.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

If he were still alive, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, would be the oldest person now living. However, since he was born in 1844 he didn't make it. He died in 1908 just over 100 years ago. When I was first becoming aware of "classical" music, one of my favorite pieces at that time was the Russian Easter Festival Overture. The tunes in the overture are largely from the Russian orthodox liturgy, based on a collection of old Russian Orthodox canticles called the Obikhod. Rimsky-Korsakov includes several biblical quotations in the score to guide the listener as to his intent, including Psalm 68 and Mark 16. Wikipedia.

Rimsky-Korsakov was a contemporary of Modest Mussorgsky. Mussorgsky is famous as the composer of A Night on Bald Mountain, ruinously featured as one of the compositions in Walt Disney's Fantasia. However, I do not hold that against Mussorgsky. One of my all time favorite compositions is suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. Which, by the way, part of which, The Great Gate at Kiev, was one of the first polyphonic compositions played on the nascent Apple IIgs, the first "multimedia" computer ever sold.

Little did we know when marveling at the sound from the IIgs, that very soon we would be hearing full stereo from an iPhone. I can now listen to the entire composition of Pictures at an Exhibition and carry it around in my pocket.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Gerald Weinberg said, "If builders built houses the way programmers built programs, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization." I have to agree with Mr. Weinberg about programming. My first real introduction was with the main frame engineering department computer at the University of Utah, using a punch card machine and a stack of IBM punch cards. However, with my present perspective, I would have stayed right there in the U of U computer department and grown up with the country. But over the years, I did do a small amount of programming and debugging.

As it was, I got back into computers after a stint with the U.S. Army during the Viet Nam War. I started again in 1975 with my brother's Commodore computer. I graduated to Apple IIs in the 1980s and almost every single model of microcomputer that came out for the next ten years or so but spent most of time with the Mac, especially after attending the introduction by Steve Jobs in 1984. Now, we always seem to own five or six of them at a time.

Computers have fundamentally changed the way I do things. They are so pervasive, that I can seldom go anyplace, unless I take a computer with me.

The real question is whether or not the computer is a benefit or a detriment to society? Do we really have a better quality of life from banging away on computers? As Robert Wilensky said, "We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true."

Sunday, March 15, 2009


When I was in high school, I spent a great deal of time reading, I had read the word "chaos" and I had heard the word used in speech, but I hadn't associated the spoken version of the word with the written. One day in school, I was reading something in front of the class and pronounced the word as "chow-os" which caused a great deal of amusement to the teacher and the other students. That was probably one reason why I spent the next four years of high school creating chaos in the schools. I don't think, at that time, I appreciated the concept of chaos in the way that Nietzshe expressed it, "You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star."

I have chaos in my soul sometimes, but I have yet to give birth to a dancing star.

My view of chaos was forever changed by reading Douglas Hofstadter's book.

Hofstadter, Douglas R. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books, 1979.

Hofstadter wrote, “It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order - and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order” What appears to be unordered is, in reality, only a different and strange or unknown to the observer, type of order. It may be that we are constrained by our point of observation and reference to view only the most superficial part of the true structure of the universe.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Treasure Island

Let's face it, I couldn't write a mommy-blog if my life depended on it. I really could not gush over books written for toddlers and the latest recipes. My idea of a gourmet lunch is adding Salt and Vinegar Chips to my peanut butter sandwich with pickles (a Vitamin P lunch). Also what does an old decrepit grandfather who likes Enya and Inti-Illimani, whose favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach, have in common with spaced-out video playing teens? So who do I relate to? Practically nobody. Does that stop me from writing all these blogs? Not a bit. Now, let's get down to business, this post is about Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Treasure Island is not a children's book. It is nothing like that great American classic, Alan Mendelsohn the Boy from Mars. It isn't the timeless classic of Lord of the Rings either. But what it is, is one of the best crafted and scariest books ever written. If I had an opinion, which I do on occasion, I would say that Walt Disney and his loyal followers have done more to damage real story telling than anyone else I know. All you have to do is watch the insipid Disney version of Treasure Island and then read the book, to know what I mean. Even the old Wallace Berry version of Treasure Island is a faint shadow of the real thing. It is like eating Hostess Twinkies instead of real food. The best movie version of the novel starred Charlton Heston. How many of you have seen that one?

Have you ever read a book recommended by your mother or father? Finding out that your grandfather likes a book is probably the kiss of death. Here is what Stevenson had to say about the book,

If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
If schooners, islands, and maroons,
And buccaneers, and buried gold,
And all the old romance, retold
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, as me they pleased of old,
The wiser youngsters of today:

--So be it, and fall on! If not,
If studious youth no longer crave,
His ancient appetites forgot,
Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave,
Or Cooper of the wood and wave:
So be it, also! And may I
And all my pirates share the grave
Where these and their creations lie!
And may I also share the grave where these and their creations lie!

Happy Birthday to Giovanni Schiaparelli

Born March 14, 1835, Giovanni Schiaparelli was an Italian astronomer and science historian. He is generally attributed to discovering the "canals" on Mars. During Italy's "Great Opposition" of 1877, he observed a dense network of linear structures on the surface of Mars which he called "canali" in Italian, meaning "channels" but mistranslated as "canals". While the latter term indicates an artificial construction, the former indicates the connotation that it can also be a natural configuration of the land. From this incorrect translation, various assumptions about life on Mars derived, as the "canals" of Mars soon became famous, giving rise to waves of hypotheses, speculation and folklore about the possibility of life on Mars. Wikipedia.

Probably some of the most sensational of the books romanticizing life on Mars are by Edgar Rice Burroughs, born September 1, 1875. Burroughs, most famous as the author of Tarzan of the Apes, wrote a whole series of books about John Carter and his adventures on Mars. Actually, the sensational covers of the books did almost as much as the content to make Burroughs rich and famous.

I have found the books to be entertaining, especially for reading on airplane flights, but since I don't spend much time reading fiction any more, they are pretty low on my list.

The heroes of the movies about Tarzan of the Apes, at least the old ones, were not even vaguely like character in Burroughs' novels.

How ironical, that Schiaparelli should be remembered because of books about John Carter of Mars!

Friday, March 13, 2009

In celebration of Pi Day

Ho, Ho, children, it is Pi Day,

Pi, Greek letter (pi), is the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi = 3.1415926535... Pi Day is observed on March 14 (3/14), due to π being roughly equal to 3.14. Pi Approximation Day is observed on July 22, due to π being roughly equal to 22/7. Wikipedia.

Some also celebrate Pi Approximation Day in addition to Pi Day, which can fall on any of several dates:

  • April 26: The Earth has traveled two radians of its orbit by this day (April 25th in leap years); thus the entire orbit divided by the distance traveled equals pi
  • July 22: 22/7 in the more common day/month date format, an ancient approximation of pi
  • November 10: The 314th day of the year (November 9 in leap years)
  • December 21, 1:13 p.m.: The 355th day of the year (December 20 in leap years), celebrated at 1:13 for the Chinese approximation 355/113
You may wish to eat pie on Pi Day, but if not you can still look at the Exploratorium' s 21st Annual Pi Day Celebration page. Look here for a brief history of Pi. As I have always said, let them eat pie.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


We can only rise to the tether of our limitations or as Blaise Pascal said, "We are all something, but none of us are everything." Or as was said by Elbert Hubbard, "Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

We often spend too much of our lives worrying about what we cannot do, Helen Keller said, "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us." She also said, "I seldom think of my limitations, and they never make me sad. Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times; but it is vague, like a breeze among flowers."

Mankind has an infinite potential. We are truly sons and daughters of a kind and loving Heavenly Father. When I think on the fact that truly, I am a child of God, how can I dwell on my limitations? We can all improve at being human, loving our neighbors and finding time to help and lift others. I work with many people who would be considered to have severe physical limitations, but they find a joy in service that transcends their mortal condition.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Not always necessarily connected with the American way, justice is one of the biggest words in the English language. It defies meaning and yet has meaning to all. In Wikipedia it has pages of definitions. But none of them define it. Aristotle said "It is in justice that the ordering of society is centered." Abraham Lincoln said, "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."

Albert Schweitzer said, "The fundamental rights of [humanity] are, first: the right of habitation; second, the right to move freely; third, the right to the soil and subsoil, and to the use of it; fourth, the right of freedom of labor and of exchange; fifth, the right to justice; sixth, the right to live within a natural national organization; and seventh, the right to education."

If justice is a fundamental right, then why is it so seldom found? As Earl Warren said, "It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive." Frederick Douglass said, "Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe."

Finally, Hubert H. Humphrey, "It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

Monday, March 9, 2009


I hit the ground running as the fusillade came over the ramparts. Men were scattering in every direction as explosions rocked the earth and the noise and confusion reached epic proportions. (A fusillade is the simultaneous and continuous firing of a group of firearms on command. It stems from the French word fusil, meaning firearm, and fusiller meaning to shoot).

In 1066 William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, invaded England leading an army of Normans, Bretons, Flemings and Frenchmen to battle with the English army under the command of King Harold Godwinson. This event is now referred to as the Battle of Hastings. One effect of the Norman Conquest of England was the ascendancy of the French language as the language of the Court and subsequently the nobility of England. As a result, almost every common term in English has both a French and an Anglo-Saxon form; for example pig and ham (ham from the French jambon).

Since a large percentage, some say as much as thirty percent, of so-called English words actually came from French, English speakers who have never studied French probably already know thousands of words.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


The cataclysm is the Greek expression for the Deluge, from the Greek kataklysmos, to 'wash down' (kluzein "wash" + kata "down"). Erudite Bible studies drew it into the English language in 1633. This, of course, brings up the issue of the Biblical Flood. Many people believe the account in Genesis literally. There is a marked correspondence in many cultures in stories about a catastrophic flood from China to Australia to India and the Islands of the Pacific.

In our modern enlightened society we seem to thrive on disaster movies and TV series on how the world as we know it is going to end. The idea of a universal flood is rather tame compared to such blockbusters as The Day After Tomorrow. There seem to be a proliferation of cataclysmic events that could destroy the world from meteors (Deep Impact) to the whole Planet of the Apes series. Maybe enlightenment has shown us that the Bible is right after all.


One of the all time best words in the English language is lackadaisical. However, it is easy to show no interest or enthusiasm for learning about the language. The term comes, courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary, from a medieval expression "alack-a-day" meaning "shame on this day." Eventually, it came to mean a person who was lazy or lacked enthusiasm, using the excuse that it was a bad day to do anything.

Some words have little or no derivation. They are coined expressions that did not come from Greek, Latin or Anglo-Saxon. If I am not lackadaisical about my efforts to sort out the English language, I will soon become so.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Winston Churchill said "Eating words has never given me indigestion." Perhaps he was not loquacious (From Latin loquacis, ‘talkative’, from loqui, ‘to speak’). I don't get the impression that he was talkative, chatty or given to excess conversation, either. Noah Webster said, "Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground."

I know many loquacious people and some that could be said to be the opposite. As Mark Twain said, "
The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause." He also said, "An average English word is four letters and a half. By hard, honest labor I have dug all the large words out of my vocabulary and shaved it down till the average is three and a half... I never write metropolis for seven cents, because I can get the same money for city. I never write policeman, because I can get the same price for cop.... I never write valetudinarian at all, for not even hunger and wretchedness can humble me to the point where I will do a word like that for seven cents; I wouldn't do it for fifteen."

Habeas Corpus

Suspended by Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War, habeas corpus ad subjiciendum is one of those extraordinary remedies recognized most prominently in the U.S. Constitution, Article I,(habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it). The modern rules of civil procedure have done away with almost all the old English Common Law writs and merged them into one huge writ, called by the prosaic name of "special action." Etymology: Medieval Latin, literally, you should have the body (the opening words of the writ): any of several writs originating at common law that are issued to bring a party before the court.

I have gone my whole life looking for an opportunity to use a writ of habeas corpus, just so I could say I had done it. It certainly starting to look like it will never happen. However, it is one of those Latin phrases that everyone has heard and has almost come to signify obscurity in the law.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


We certainly live in precarious times. (From Latin precarius ("begged for", "obtained by entreaty") < Latin precari (pray). Cognate with French précaire and Spanish, Portuguese and Italian precario.) The times could also be described as dangerously insecure or unstable; perilous. But as Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way."

In my rock and ice climbing days, I used to think that hanging on a cliff was precarious. Now that I have some perspective in the matter, I think living is precarious. I also think the Latins had a good idea in precarious times, pray.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Some things don't go together too well. Imagine the dastardly villian in the western movie saying "You pusillanimous coward!" instead of the usual "You yellow-bellied coward." In fact, pusillanimous (Derived from Latin pusillus ("very small") + animus ("spirit")) is difficult to imagine anyone saying, much less using it seriously. I think the word is best left to Scrabble and other word games. It the case of this word, the definition is better than the word; Showing ignoble cowardice, or contemptible timidity.

Some words beg to be used, others you must beg to use. If you really want to impress someone with your vocabulary, pusillanimous is probably one of those words you can omit without harm to your reputation

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Popcorn Convection

Every afternoon during the long summer months, high on the Colorado Plateau, I watched the clouds gather over the mountains to the south and begin to form in a random fashion out over the hot level ground. These clouds, showers and thundershowers that formed on a scattered basis with little or no apparent organization, usually during the afternoon in response to diurnal heating were caused by popcorn convection. Inevitably the storms would dissipate after sundown.

One of the advantages of youth, is the ability to sit and watch the sky, without worrying about something else, or even knowing that all of the clouds are acting in a predictable fashion and that the predictability has a name.

If one of the storms ventured near, we would leap into the car and drive frantically in the direction of the rain, careening down dirt roads until we caught the wet tail of the storm. We would then jump out and dance in the rain, until it moved on to some other location. I would still go outside and watch the rain when I lived in Panama, where it rained once or twice a day. I still miss watching the clouds.


Living as I do with a total lack of manual dexterity, I am easily impressed by prestidigitation. Prestidigitation ("quick fingers") or léger de main (from the French for "lightness of hand") also known as slight of hand. Sleight, meaning dexterity or deceptiveness, comes from the Old Norse slœgð. Sleight of hand is often mistakenly written as slight of hand. Slight descends from the Old Norse slettr, meaning plain, flat, even, smooth, level. Prestidigitation is the set of techniques used by a magician (or card sharp) to manipulate objects such as cards and coins secretly.

I once worked as an assistant to a professional magician. I learned how many of the tricks were done, but couldn't learn how to do any of them. Sometimes seeing, believing and even understanding are not doing.

In life, as well as magic, we sometimes learn that reality is more than we can handle. But, I have learned to compensate by learning about things that I will never be able to do and places I will never be able to visit. It is sort of a prestidigitation of the mind.


Solitude may be embraced or avoided. It is also a ski resort in Utah and a football stadium in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Solitude is also state of seclusion or isolation. Social isolation is sometimes associated with aberrant behavior, it is more than avoiding crowds. Contrarily, solitude may be the basis of spiritual enlightenment. Autophobia (or Monophobia) is the phobia of being alone. The word is derived from the Greek words αὐτός (autós, "self") and φόβος (phóbos, "fear"). The opposite is anthropophobia or Anthrophobia[1] (literally "fear of people", from the Greek: ἄνθρωπος, ánthropos, "man" and φόβος, phóbos, "fear"), also called interpersonal relation phobia[1] is pathological fear of people or human company.

In our society of instant communication and constant pressure, maybe we need to make a place for solitude. I don't think that the Solitude Ski Resort or the Belfast Stadium qualify.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Onomatopoeia (also spelled onomatopœia, from Greek: ονοματοποιΐα) is easier to define than it is to spell or say. It is what my wife does every time we pass ducks swimming on the canal. It is the sounds Scouts make when they are being especially rude and bothersome. In English, it is word or name creation usually popular in comic books and generally found in Calvin and Hobbs strips as in the sounds made by snowballs "whiff." Perhaps my ears are really bad, but I have yet to hear the sound of a snowball except when one hits my head, whap, sqwoosh, swat, pow.

English slang is full of onomatopoeia. So is Spanish, all you have to do is read Mafalda to know that. If we spent more time inventing words and less time using the ones we have, maybe the world would be a better place, splat, crunch, paf paf paf, clank.