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Monday, October 25, 2010

We interrupt this blog of 'AMAZING THINGS' for another post

Hey, I'll get back to my blog post trip through the 10 things that amaze me most... so far, the Pacific Ocean, Big Numbers and The Young... but first, a few other things that seem to be calling my name.

I, like other crossword buffs, know what the clue 'OED' stands for--Oxford English Dictionary, generally accepted as the foremost word authority in the world. When word got out that the third (latest) edition of the 126-year-old publication would, most likely be released only electronically, trees everywhere cheered. (Incidentally... if you like crossword puzzles, then you must see the incredibly interesting DVD documentary, Wordplay, featuring Will Shortz, Ken Burns, Jon Stewart and Merl Reagle.)

The full edition's last release took 20 volumes just to cover A through Z... and it was so heavy that it couldn't be lifted by any normal person. (Last edition was released in 2001, just two years after the OED went digital. Of course, updates have been coming out between the reprints... with increasing frequency in today's faster-paced word-world.

This is the same dictionary that gave it's "Official-dom" stamp to words like turkducken (turkey stuffed with duck and chicken, of course), shagadelic (the Austin Powers' catchphrase), gaydar, matchy-matchy, defriend and frenemy. Yes, Bridezila is there too, as is Grrl, babelicious, po-po, blamestorming and bazillionaire, plus lots of others. Don't know what they mean? Look 'em up.

Sad, but it's a fact... the onset of the digital age and the internet have changed, not always in a good way, so much of our lives. So now, the only thing you can say to anyone who asks for a definition you don't want to admit you don't know, is to tell them to look it up on Google... or, as the OED would allow, say "Google it."

But wait... that's not all. Soon to be gone with the OED's 20-volumes is the Librarian herself. (Yes, I know... I should say "herself/himself," but if the librarian will soon stop being politically correct, so will I.) Today's new libraries--thanks a lot, economy--are becoming more and more automated. Well, perhaps that is no surprise... everything old is new again... like the Automat, a restaurant style 60 or so years ago, where diners picked their appetizers, entrees and deserts from behind glass windowed cubbyholes (like mailboxes) which made waitresses passe, until diners realized they missed that touch of charm/service/tipping opportunity.

In some larger cities, library users order books on-line and pick them up from locked storage bins at a "sort of library" building, using the key code they were given to open the door.

I suppose story hour now will be lead by Roberta, the bespectacled, grandmotherly-sweet robot.


I was taught that there are five different kinds of taste buds located on the tongue, soft palate, esophagus and epiglottis... salty, sour, bitter, sweet and savory. Well, that's wrong now too, we have just discovered. Taste buds also exist on the lungs so that, according to new research, "the airways can 'taste' dangerous, illness-causing bacteria." This, supposedly helps us to breathe easier and clear the bacteria in the body's self-healing mode, and could allow scientists to better target these infections. 'Atta way, body.

There is a new non-ficton book out,  EELS, by James Prosek. (You guessed it... all about eels.) While this book does not take the place of the printed edition of the OED, it is, in tiny snippets, interesting. I learned that some eels live 100 years... often languishing in small ponds just waiting for a series of floods to 'leapfrog' their way to the ocean. This long life results in growth that produces creatures with "heads on 'em like a full-grown Labrador dog." Those creatures are found in Australia, thank goodness, where lots of fascinating, strange, dangerous animals that I wouldn't want to associate with, are found. (Kute, kuddly koalas are not any of those.)

Speaking of old, like in eels, the bristlecone pine trees found in the U.S. West, are among the longest-living trees in the world, sometimes able to celebrate their 4,000th birthday. Send a card, bake a cake... but please, no birthday candles. I think these celebrations that get out of hand are responsible for a lot of those forest fires out west.

This blog post's last non-sequiter: Happy birthday, Fred Flintstone, who just turned 50. (Gee... prehistoric times seemed farther back than that.) Give our best to Wilma, Pebbles, Barney, Betty, Bam Bam, Dino, Hoppy and The Great Gazoo. Gazoo?... look it up in the OED (Whoops, sorry... you can't.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Things that amaze me most...Part III

As I told you before, there are a number of things/events/emotions that absolutely blow-my-mind because they are so introspectively amazing and give me a deeper sense of awe. So I made a list of the things that amaze me most... some big, some small, some acts, some things... but all, in my mind, amazing.  So far:

Part III: THE YOUNG: Babies, toddlers and teens

Oh, it isn't that the older aren't amazing... sometimes they are amazing heros, leaders, role models, parents, children, friends, lovers and spouses... sometimes they are all of those rolled into one. And yes, sometimes they are amazing jerks and worse... but everyone, from perhaps mid-teens on,  has already benefitted in almost all of life's learning and are into the next phase. 

The young, however... now that's a different story. They learn everything from scratch and surprise us with new stuff, sometimes when we least expect it.

At the Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle there is a full size mockup of an F/A-18 fighter. A ramp allows visitors to climb into the cockpit and get a sense of what the pilot sees and feels. A guide at the top of the ramp points out the various controls and gauges in the cockpit and gives information about the aircraft's capabilities to each visitor who gets in. When my two-year-old son sat down in the plane, he seemed fascinated by all he saw and heard. Then, he looked out at us and said, "Dad, could I have a quarter?"

As babies they are miraculous and incredibly cute. They fill us with love and awe. They are totally dependent as they learn life's most basic lessons. As they grow, they are innocent, charming, witty, naive, goofy and sometimes, impishly impossible. In their later stages they are relatively new and even more naive to the grown-up world, but they still live on the 'up' side of the learning curve and continue to share in its delights. It's almost all discovery from birth to then. That's what is so amazing to observe.

Coming home from his Little League game Billy swung open the front door very excited. Unable to attend the game, his father immediately wanted to know what happened. "So, how did you do son?" he asked.
     "You'll never believe it!" Billy said. "I was responsible for the winning run!"
     "Really? How'd you do that?"
     "I dropped the ball."

We all started from a single sperm and egg... much smaller than a grain of sand... and grew with fingers and toes and giant eyeballs and livers and onions... well, maybe not onions, but hearts and lungs and bones and... now get this... BRAINS... which lead to understanding, reason and common sense-- learning's tools and results. Yeah... really though, sometimes you wonder. But see, that is the less keen stage... from young adults to old farts to death.

When we moved cross-country, my wife and I decided to drive both of our cars. Nathan, our 
eight-year-old, worriedly asked, "How will we keep from getting separated?"
     "We'll drive slowly so that one car can follow the other," I reassured him.
     "Yeah, but what if we DO get separated?" he persisted.
     "Well, then I guess we'll never see each other again," I quipped.
     "Okay," he said. "I'm riding with Mom."

The process of learning is the remarkable thing... that precious time before anyone feels they know everything... maybe around the mid to later teen years. There you see the instinctive trust and simple respect that comes implicit to parents, teachers, siblings, relatives, friends, life experiences, etc. From infant to that point where growth in knowledge crests the hill, the young progress with all the speed, cuteness, clumsiness, misconception-filled ideas and mixed messages that they absorb every second of their younger lives. As they grow in wisdom, they grow physically and emotionally, still dependent on those that bring them along. Maybe that's why there are so many dog and cat lovers, because these creatures never grow beyond that level.

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.'" Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus."

As the young become more worldly, they become more people of the world that we, their mentors, share. Its all a good deal and a great ride.

A mother and her young son returned from the grocery store and began putting away the groceries. The boy opened the box of animal crackers and spread them all over the table. "What are you doing?" his mother asked. "The box says not to eat them if the seal is broken" the boy explained. "I'm looking for the seal."

Take it from a grandfather of 15 with another on the way, how can you not be amazed at the young? 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Things that amaze me most.... Part II

As I told you before, there are a number of things/events/emotions that absolutely blow-my-mind because they are so introspectively amazing and give me a deeper sense of awe. So I made a list of the things that amaze me most... some big, some small, some acts, some things... but all, in my mind, amazing. So far:


I don't know about you but my mind can only absorb so much before the wheels start to spin like the numbers on a hot Las Vegas slot machine. Maybe it was a blessing that I never got rich because now I can count what I have on my fingers and toes (metaphorically). But how do you put your arms around
5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (reads 5 million trillion trillion).

That is the scientific best guess of the number of bacteria alive on this earth at this time.

Add that to the 10 quintillion (10 followed by 18 zeros) individual insects. Doesn't that worry you just a little bit? If all of those little buggers got together, us 6.9 billion people wouldn't have much of a chance. Let's just hope that there isn't an insect Winston Churchill or George Washington or FDR to organize the charge.

Then of course, you have space. How much is 6 billion light years--the estimated breadth of our universe... which is constantly expanding? One light second is how long it takes light to travel 7 times around the Earth. One light year is 32 million light seconds... a lot farther than the out house on a frigid winter farm night.

Then you have stars which are not scattered randomly through space but gathered in galaxies. Our Sun belongs to the Milky Way Galaxy. (I didn't know that!) Astronomers estimate there are about 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone... and there are millions upon millions of other galaxies. As for size, Earth is smaller than a grain of sand on the Universe Beach. Can you imagine...?

Then you have time. It is scientifically estimated that The Big Bang, which is believed to be the event that triggered the formation of our Universe, happened 13.7 billion years ago, give or take a few billion. If that time was condensed in scale to one earth year, you and I would have been born just a blink of an eye before the stroke of midnight on December 31st at 11:59:59 p.m.

So how old am I? Less than a fraction of a second, of course... and looking good for my age.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The things that amaze me most...Part I

I saw something the other day that just floored me. It was one of those things that make you stop and say "WOW!"

That 'gee-whiz' moment put me in a reflective mood and I realized that there are a number of things/events/emotions that absolutely blow-my-mind because they are so introspectively amazing and give me a deeper sense of awe. So I made a list of the things that amaze me most... some big, some small, some acts, some things... but all, in my mind, amazing.

This is the first of 10 of those incredible realizations, in no specific order, that seem to put so much of life in perspective for me.

Things that amaze me most...Part I: THE PACIFIC OCEAN

In fact, all the oceans... but the Pacific in particular. Why? Just look at it! The Pacific, as seen in Google Earth from space, fills almost a full hemisphere! That's North and South America peeking over the right edge.

Want your own sense of awe? Go to Netflix and check out The Perfect Storm... again, or watch Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. Here's a 'freebe,'Artist Ran Ortner's stunning award winning painting, Open Water No. 24.

I'll tell you something else. While the Earth's surface is 71% water... and more than two miles deep in the Pacific's Mariana Trench (which is 1,580 miles long and 43 miles across--take that, Grand Canyon) water is only .025% of the Earth's mass. If Earth was represented as a 12" diameter globe, the average depth of the oceans would be no more than the thickness of a piece of paper.

So while the water on the earth might seem an endless resource, there is far more earth... with a thirst that  all the oceans haven't been able to resolve. Fact: There are 2.5 billion people of our 7 billion population-- almost one out of three of us-- who lack ready access of clean water to drink. Wanna see an incredible blog post that defines that problem? Click here.

Watch for The things that amaze me most...Part II, within the week.