Autopolis

The cat’s out of the bag, and no, it’s not Schrödinger’s cat.

My team has elected the next project leader for the next project, an autonomous greenhouse, which is basically a building-sized robot that feeds itself and grows/harvests food for humans.

Interestingly enough, but not surprisingly so, they chose a project management algorithm to lead the project, giving over all decision making and late night number crunching to a software team member who/which won’t need weekly meetings or summary reports to get its point across when fingers are pointed toward the causes of failures in achieving project goals.

The algorithm already mines Bitcoins to generate revenue for the project so cost has all but been eliminated from concerns on this project.

Practically eliminating humans from the design and construction phase reduces labour costs; so, too, during operation and maintenance.

The algorithm has a flexible set of milestones to complete the design and construction, this being a new project for all involved.

I trust my team.

However, I’m building my own scale version of this to compare one human’s design to that of an algorithm.

In my case, cost is of paramount importance, labour cost is primarily my free time and schedule is within a few weeks/months depending on weather conditions and my free time.

Wish me luck!

Hairy chests vs. hairy backs

On a bookshelf nearby rests sewn and cut pages that display ink patterns claiming to be the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe was a newspaper man

Rarely do I find myself rewriting the start of a blog entry.  I usually spent a few minutes earlier in the day planting an idea over which I mull my thoughts and my daily experiences, blending them into words of wisdom upon which I will mull the following day, so forth and so on into oblivion or history, whichever comes first and lasts.

But I have dwelled in the ravenous words of Poe many times before.

‘Tis not a dwelling one desires to live long periods of time.

Instead, I pick up an oar, or our hour of rowing begins, pushing off from some misty, distant shore in the dim light of dawn, the black-and-white of night warming into purples, pinks and oranges as the sun shows its furnace face, ablaze like no love adorning the parlours of two smitten teens entwined in eternity’s dance of forlorn-no-more promises.

Tick-tock.  Tick-tock.

For whom do these words flow from tapping fingers attached to sets of states of energy coordinated such that a universe reinvents itself at imperceptible fractal levels testing the grand universal theory of everything?

I know not.

Yet, I know.

Further and farther I row.

Rows upon rows of farm fields rumble past, a’thither, whither, whether, hence.

No matter.

The rhythm of repeated words flutters in the wind, chasing swallows so swift in pursuit of insects suspended in suspenseful air.

Thick as flies.

Dense as milk.

Tense with high tension wires vibrating vigorously, immobile yet alive with electricity.

Words that tell, not show, show, not tell.  Some or both, neither, very well.

Small dams pool water in shallow lakes, pushing potential energy back toward boats and lonely rowers.

Oars dig deep, the holes in water kinetically kicking back, equal but opposite reactions on rowers’ limbs, skin erupting rows of glistening sweat beads, sheeting, laminar flows across foreheads, necks, arms, chests and backs.

Skiffs in competition toward the dam lock.

First in, first out.  FIFO.

Fee fi fo fum, I smell the musk of a sweaty man.

Paddles of wood slapping the water, the long handles banging against iron rings, grunts in the air sending out snorts of foggy breath.

Boats jumping, waves spreading, oarmen chasing oarmen, dreams of winning nothing more than pride and a job well done.

A quarter, then a half and finally a full boat-length ahead.

Closer to the lock, closer to victory, closer to bragging rights.

Tip follows tail, boat ends touching between oar strokes.

Closer, then farther apart.

Almost there.

A few more arm thrusts.

A last great flurry of boats scurrying into the lock like water bugs in a fight for a minnow.

Only one exits victorious.

Two fists pounding a bare hairy chest as winner.  Palms pounding bare hairy backs in congratulations all ’round.

Only one winner but all celebrate.

The first boat through the lock carrying the corpses of the Black Plague to the sea means less bodies to bury in the village, and a couple of days’ rest for the rower.

The remaining oarmen pay their respects, bearing their loads behind, beside and in front of the winner who slows in a show of pride, his arm muscles hot and seizing up, his legs cramping, his head on fire, his lungs heaving.

He may have won but his work is not done.  He will save his two days’ rest for a girl back home.

He takes a deep breath, picks up his oars and rows to the front again.

First through the lock and first to the sea!

Recap

The young man, aged 23, sat on a log by the campfire, his left arm wrapped around the back of the 36-year old woman beside him, his right hand held close to her stomach under a wool coat, her fingers intertwined with his.

He felt a sense of déjà vu.  How often had he been here before, repeating this same steps, the same words, the same outcome?

She looked up at him, her chapped lips curled outward, her deep brown eyes focused only on him.

“I cannot believe I’m here with you, alone.  I’m practically throwing myself at you, cuddled up to you as close as I can get, shivering, when, if you weren’t such a gentleman, we could…”

His memories of what his father taught him in a situation like this replayed over and over — never take advantage of a drunk woman… unless… — but he couldn’t remember the last part.

“Unless” what?

He was almost twice as old as he was when he earned his Eagle Scout Award at 13.  At 23, he was, for all intents and purposes, still a virgin.

She was a married woman with kids, a supportive if somewhat misogynistic husband, 250-lbs heavy, 6 ft, 8 in tall, and constantly demonstrating that as husband and head of household, he owned his own construction company, able to toss 100-lb bags of dry concrete like a 5-lb sleeping bag.

Speaking of sleeping bags…

Sleeping bags weren’t that far away.  The young man leaned in and looked more closely at her eyes in the dim light, his thoughts spinning with the cold air in the fireside party that had lasted from dusk until this wee hour of the morning, and brushed his lips over one of her eyebrows.

She kissed his Adam’s apple, giggling at the sensation of his day-old beard tickling her lips.

Out of nowhere, an image flashed into his thoughts, an article called “Breeding Minnows” by Dr. Robert J. Goldstein:

Most minnows do well in single-species groups in 20-gallon tanks with canister or trickling filtration, water changes, powerheads for current, a pebble substrate with rocks.  They do well on a diet of flakes, bloodworms, brine shrimp, white worms, grindal worms, blackworms, and/or Daphnia.  Most cannot tolerate heat, and some require a chiller.

He heard the babbling water of a creek that flowed in a J-shape around the campsite.  He thought about the aquariums at home, who was feeding his fish while he was gone for the weekend.  Had he forgotten to set the timed feeders?

She whispered in his ear, “I am getting really cold.  And I’m not as drunk as you think I am.  It’s probably just the altitude and lack of food.”

He realised he had turned his head away from her to look for the creek in the dark.

He returned to her intoxicating eyes.

Their lips touched.

Neither moved.

She held his gaze, as if waiting for him to make the next move.

A professor they both admired had brought them here to this moment, a philosophy teacher who was instructing her in a History of Philosophy class this term and had taught him in a Logics class the previous school term.

The philosophy professor was passed out in a tent nearby, separated from the fire by another tent, empty, unused, quiet, warmed somewhat by the fire.

He pressed his lips more tightly against hers but he didn’t kiss her.

Instead, their eyes made love to each other, exploring the pupils and irises, noticing the tiny creases at the edge of eyelids, the leftover mascara, the bloodshot veins, writing history like a magician conjuring a lovebird out of thin air only to disappear just as quickly in a puff of white smoke, unwritten yet remembered forever by the audience.

Out of habit, she licked her chapped lips, passing her rough tongue across his dry but unchapped lips.

They both smiled and pulled apart, tickled simultaneously, breaking the bond they played with, testing the future without thinking about consequences.

Another thought passed through him: “Has anyone ever written a parody of The Charge of the Light Brigade, substituting the terrorist group called the Red Brigade for the main ‘character’ of the poem?”

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Alfred, Lord Tennyson


1.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
“Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

2.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

3.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

4.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

5.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

6.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

Copied from Poems of Alfred Tennyson,
J. E. Tilton and Company, Boston, 1870

And what, or who, determined the definition of a terrorist group?  If, as his philosophy teacher had oft repeated, human labeling systems are meaningless in the grand scheme of the universe, what divided a terrorist group from a government that used threats such as random tax audits and accidental home raids to keep its people in line?

She pressed her lips back against his, mumbling, “Sorry, but I’m cold.”

They slipped off the log and broke out into nervous laughter, instantly shushing themselves like giddy children.

He helped her stand up.

She squeezed him as tight as she could.  He hugged her back.

Her whole body shuddered.  “If this is it, then I think we better find a tent.  If this isn’t it, I think we better find a tent.  Either way, I’m cold!!”

He nodded, leaned down and pressed a cold ear against hers.

“That feels good.”

He nodded.

“What are we waiting for?”

He let go of her and looked at the fire.  A few embers glowed orange and red.  “Well, I better put out the fire.”

“What fire?”

His heightened senses made the few embers look like a giant furnace.  He picked up a water bottle and slowly emptied its contents over the embers, watching each one sizzle and turn to grayish-black.  With the last ember extinguished, he kicked the ashes around, feeling the leftover heat through his leather boots but seeing no glow or flame.

He put his arm around her and led her to the empty tent.

There were times when his father’s advice was not available for reference, unable to answer the questions that arose in moments his father had never experienced or at least never described to his son.

In that moment, the son was creating a memory that would last a lifetime, shared by two.

The snoring chorus of their fellow campers sang to them from the other tent, a serenade that doesn’t play well in romance novels or Hallmark Channel movie soundtracks.

Perhaps, instead, a rom-com or an avant-garde film filled with arbitrary flashbacks.

To try breeding [minnows] in an aquarium, separate the sexes, and feed them live foods while keeping them cool and on an 8 to 10 hour light cycle for a month.  Then place them together in a larger tank with large gravel or pebbles.  Raise the temperature 5 degrees, and increase the light cycle to 12 to 16 hours.  Spawning starts in a few days with flashing undulations by the males, fin erection, operculum flaring, and color intensification.  Non-adhesive eggs are scattered above the gravel or in thick bushy plants.  After spawning, remove the adults.  The eggs hatch within five days, and the fry need rotifers, ciliates, or other infusoria as a first food.

Swapping Shop Talk at the Slop Shop

I sit alone upon a hill, green grass overhanging rock outcrops, a row of fence posts marching down the slope, their steps frozen in single file, held together by wire.

A few spring flowers push up out of the dead brown patches where cows once grazed and left their marks.

Hieroglyphic lichen patterns hold the landscape fast.

Cloud shadows flow across the hills and valleys below.

I am home.

Home am I.

Happiness and freedom far from the cabin in the woods.

Wandering the countryside.

Alive.

This is my universe, my place of rest, the activity of ions and atoms busy out of sight right here in front of me.

Relaxed.

A sunny breeze tickles the tops of grass stalks.

My steps disappear behind me and reappear in front of me.

Miracles.

Farmhouses in the distance.

Mirages.

Tribute to a former neighbour

The neighbour down the hill from my parents’ property, Mr. Greer, stood between me and my junior high school.

He was the kind of neighbour we want — solid, upstanding citizens who care for and tend their house and grounds.

Except when you’re a kid who wants to take a shortcut to get home from school.

Mr. Greer mowed his lawn twice a week and kept twigs/sticks to a minimum, desiring little in the way of rambunctious boys trotting through his manicured grass.

I mowed all the lawns around his — the lady next-door who was elderly and enjoyed fixing cold glasses of tea/lemonade for me after I mowed; the busy father of three infants who was willing to pay the local lawnboy for basic mowing but expected grass raking and bush trimming for free; my parents who insisted that a low payment for mowing our lawn was an incentive to find other work to pay for my hobbies.

I never knew Mr. Greer personally, except with the shouts of “Hey, didn’t I ask you not to walk down my driveway?,” “Next time you mow along my property line, be sure you get the grass clippings you shot over into my yard,” or “While you’re raking the leaves of the tree in your yard, you can rake the ones that fell on my property, too, if you don’t mind.”

He was just that guy we kids talked about or made up stories to fill in blanks of a mysterious personality.

The older he got, the less he talked to my parents when they were working in the vegetable garden while he was picking up magnolia tree seedpods a few feet from them.

Good fences make good neighbours — so does the silence of respecting each other’s privacy when suburban backyards abut but do not hide meditative moments alone with our thoughts and our therapeutic yardwork.

This morning, my mother informed me that Mr. Greer had died.

She pointed out a few interesting biographical details of his obituary worth mentioning here:

[Mr. Greer] was raised in Dayton, TN. He was a young child when the Scopes Monkey Trial took place in Dayton. Part of the trial was held outside and he could vividly remember the big wooden stand outside the courthouse window.

During the Depression, Howard moved with his mom, dad and sister to Kingsport where his dad ran a lunch counter in downtown Kingsport.

In the Fall of 1941, Howard went to work in the Tenite Division of Eastman Kodak. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, young men in Kingsport were required to sign up for the draft and Howard received his draft notice in the mail August 1, 1942. After basic training, he discovered he would be a US Army Air Corp instructor on a teletype machine – a machine two months previously he barely knew existed. After the war ended, Howard used the GI Bill and took Eastman’s apprenticeship program in Industrial Instruments. He later worked for Dr. Bill Kennedy in the Research Division and completed his career with many years service in the Engineering Division.

He is survived by his wife of nearly 70 years…

Mr. Greer, thanks for being a great neighbour to my parents all these years. May others proudly follow in your footsteps!

13674

“We hit the major number today.”

“Aye.”

“Does it mean…?”

“Aye.”

“I see…”

“Aye.”

They continued up the mountain, distant valleys peaking between breaks in the trees.

They stopped at a signpost indicating the elevation.  “Fourteen thousand feet.  Finally!”

“Aye.”

She wiped her brow.  “Sorry, that’s me sweat I wiped on ye, ain’t it?”

“Aye.”

She looked at her satellite phone, the signal strong enough to make a call.

“Allo?”

“Yes, it is 13674.”

“Already?”

The voice of a creaky old man standing beside her answered before she could.  “Aye.”

She closed the connection on the phone.

“You always interrupt me, don’t ye?”

“Aye.”

She stared at the felt hand puppet, its face gray and gnarled, its body hidden in folds of brown fabric like an elderly monk.

She thought to herself.  “They say I talk to myself out loud but I know better.  I hear the spirits of others and repeat them like a squawking parrot, that’s all.”

“You’re just as alive as the rest of us, aren’t ye?”

“Aye.”  The puppet didn’t blink an eye, never changing its expression, half scowl, half smile, as if the punchline of an untold joke was on the tip of its tongue.

She sat down on a rock, removed the puppet and placed it in a special sleeve of her backpack.

“Mister ‘Aye,’ it’s time I replace you with a new friend — the ‘Guru on the Mountaintop above the Clouds.'”

“Good afternoon, little lady, how are you this lovely cold day?”

She nodded back to the puppet.  “Just fine.  I have a few questions for you.”

“And I might have a few questions in response.  What do you want to know?”

“Why is 13674 significant?”

“The real question, little lass, is, ‘Why is 13674 not significant?'”

She stood up from the rock, brushing pieces of lichen from her faded blue jeans.

Sighing, she continued hiking up the trail.  “A few more thousand feet to go!”

A muffled voice spoke behind her.  “Aye.”

Like money for donuts

The hickory trees had a good year producing offspring…don’t know if it’s the best year (that is, if it’s the biggest crop (that is, most number of nuts, or largest nuts)) but some of the nut casings almost fill my palm, which doesn’t often happen.

The squirrels are having a hay day, as we say.

The raccoons seem pleased, too.

None of the chickadees or titmouses seem to care.  We don’t have any other bird species large enough or with strong-enough beaks to treat hickory nuts as a major food source.

The peace and quiet of a cool, sunny, autumn morning in north Alabama is priceless.

The trees and the birds and all the other flora/fauna around me have thrived in the climate change despite period droughts and warmer winters.

What about the ones who haven’t thrived?

We had a few years where the tree frogs around here deafened us with their summer mating calls.

Now, not so many.

Armadillos swept through a few years ago, unable to establish a permanent colony in the woods around my house.

Same for the fire ants.

The ecosystem of a deciduous forest…sigh, this is my home.

Why?  I guess because I was born in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, even though I spent a couple of my formative years in the inner flatlands of southern Florida.

Primarily, though, I have lived within a few-hours drive of the Appalachian mountain range, which few people know stretches from Georgia all the way up the East Coast into Maine.

On a day like today, this is all I have to say and observe.  I have no need to perpetuate the thoughts and ideas of others wanting my attention.

I am, after all, happy being myself, and that is a word to the wise, which is sufficient.

Have a great day, my little chickadees!