Mom & dad update …

April 21, 2009

Each of the last two nights, my father has called me and, crying, asks me to help him find my mother.  I can’t do that, and I try and point out why mom has left him, and why two of his children will not even speak with him anymore.  He then proceeds to get mad over how ungrateful these people are, and how their anger is misplaced.  He thinks the anger is over his drinking, when rather it is over his reaction to others.  Frankly, I’m not even 100% sure the reason my mom left.

He cannot be helped until he acknowledges the need to change and begins working to change.  I fear that the damage to his brain may make this impossible.

I have no idea what is going on, and I’m not sure that I really care.  That is actually what worries me most:  shouldn’t I care?  I don’t think it is a defense mechanism, but it could be.  The “extended” part of the family has been supportive of mom.


If you see my father, give me a call

April 15, 2009

Easter Sunday at the folks house was more entertaining than usual.  My father was clearly not in a good state of mind, which was enough to creep my brother, sister-in-law, and I out.  Right after dinner, my mother told him off, and a big fight developed after I left.  My brother, sister-in-law, and goddaughter opted to move out (they had been staying there waiting for the home they are buying to go through the red tape).  My mom moved over to my aunt’s house.

update:  found dad … he was apparently living out of his car.  He blames my mom, brother and sister for not calling to check on him (my brother won’t take his calls, and my sister just screamed at him … those who know her know that is never a good experience).  He is also very afraid.  I attempted to talk to him, though I am not confident that this was successful.  He is meeting with my brother, sister, and mom this evening.  I’m not sure that he realizes that this might be the last time he sees them.


My mom went home yesterday, and there has been no sign of my dad since then.  He could be dead, lost …. who knows?


If he does stop by, let me know, please.

Where does the Earth stop and Space begin?

April 10, 2009


To the layman, the idea that the Earth has an edge is easy to accept:  there have even been pictures from space when viewed just right, one can see the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere against the black emptiness of the cosmic void.

Most people just assume that there is a border:  air below, vacuum above;  cross the border, and you are in space.

The fact is, as is often the case, more complex.  The Earth’s atmosphere gradually thins out, and even then, outer space is not a perfect vacuum.  So, how do you define the border between a shell of gas that gradually thins out to a vacuum that is imperfect, and itself has molecules and particles in it.

Different scientists and governments define things differently.  For example, as far as aeronautical record keeping is concerned, and human traveling higher than 50 miles is considered as having traveled into space.  This definition is important politically, as you can’t stop a space satellite from crossing your border, but you are free to shoot down any aircraft which isn’t in space and crosses your border (hence, the United States government has never really defined where space starts and ends to avoid problems with spy satellites).

To make matters more difficult, the altitude where scientists generally put the border is in that region where balloons and aircraft really can’t travel because it is too high, but it is generally too low for satellites to take measurements.  The only way to make measurements is to fire a rocket that arcs through the region and takes a few minutes of measurements while it happens to be moving through.

The Canadian Space Agency (yes, they have one!) recently launched a rocket with an instrument payload designed by the University of Calgary.

The instruments were looking for the altitude at which the pressure of the Earth’s atmosphere is balanced by the pressure of incoming particles from space.  This essentially defines the edge of the atmosphere.  Ironically, this is almost the exact same place which defines the edge of the solar system (where the outward pressure of the solar wind matches the inward pressure of particles from the interstellar void).


While the measurements were made about two years ago, the results were just recently published, and it seems that the answer is: 118 km above the Earth is where space begins (or about 73-and-a-third miles).

Why spend all of that money on finding the edge of the atmosphere?  One of the most important areas of stud today is understanding the relationship between solar energy entering our planet and its effect on the atmosphere in everything from understanding global warming to hurricane formation and the changes in weather.  Part of that understanding is knowing exactly how much energy penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere, and knowing that requires a knowledge of the size of the atmosphere.

I forget who said it, but someone once said, that space isn’t distant at all ….. about an hour’s drive, if you could drive straight up.  If you could drive 75 miles-per-hour, you could actually make it in under an hour!

Key to marital bliss: no children

April 9, 2009


Some studies comparing married couples with kids and those who do not have kids have led to some interesting findings.  Apparently moms and dads tend to lose happiness in the marriage once the kids show up.  In one study, there was an overwhelming (90%?) predilection for parents to be more depressed than married people who were childless.

The article points out some obvious issues:  for one, in the past, when people tended to have a lot of family around, it was much easier to get help raising the kids.  One not pointed out in the study is that couples without children tend to be younger, and happier just being around themselves, vs. later in a relationship that may be undergoing the adjustments that any couples might have after 5-10 years of hanging out with each other.

The study also points out that parents may need to re-evaluate the question of “what makes me happy” once the kids arrive.  The fact that moms and dads are even grappling with that may be enough to cause a sense of feeling down (its one thing to say “I am not satisfied”, and quite another to say “Am I satisfied?”  The latter may sound benign, but in some ways can be more maddening than simple unhappiness.


My mom and dad once told me that his children were instrumental in their marriage.  I for one could not understand them.  Still don’t.  I have friends who desperately love their kids, and all seem to be in good marriages.  They’re stronger than I am for accomplishing that.

A Star Trek fans’ dream come true …

April 9, 2009

Every year, Austin, Texas is home to an annual sci-fi convention.  This year, there was to be a special screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  The lights go down, the film begins, and the credits start to roll.  All of a sudden, there are scratches, and the film seems to be broken.  The lights come up, and the hosts start to vamp a little with the audience.

Then, this happens:

(sorry, the embedding is not working)


The fans, with zero level of expectation, were treated to the world premiere of the new film.  That is a treat that any Star Trek fan would have been honored to be a part of.

Even the die hard fans (note, when Mr. Nimoy asked them “Do you want to see Star Trek II, or the new film”, there was mixed reaction), gave the film enthusiastic reviews.

One guy who made it in music

April 7, 2009

When I was in high school, I was in the band (what?? a nerdy future physics teacher in the band?  Preposterous!)  Most of my best friends I met in those years.  Few of us played beyond that … speaking for myself, I enjoyed playing, but had no talent.

Kevin, a little younger than me, had talent.  Real honest to goodness, no foolin’ talent.  He was a sax player, and showed as much passion for music as he had ability.  He was the only person I knew from my band years who made its his life calling.  I know that he has played for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and even played a little backup for someone named Phil Collins.

This is not the best of Kevin (he’s not playing the sax or any of the other woodwinds he has mastered), but he was singing karaoke in Japan recently, and I was directed to the youtube site.  Glad to see that Kevin is still going strong doing something he loves.  Here is Kevin’s salute to “Just the Way You Are”.

Opening Day — Cancelled.

April 5, 2009

Sigh … so while Major League Baseball kicks off tonight, tomorrow was to be opening day on the South Side of Chicago.

Sadly, the several inches of thick, wet snow accumulating on the ground has forced the Sox to cancel opening day.

Normally, this is the time of the year when I talk of rebirth and renewal, and the beauty and ceremony of baseball’s return.  However, old man winter is just not letting go easily this year.


At least our starting pitcher is calling for a new stadium.