Something is Going Well Around Here!

The 1,000 “like” road marker disappearing in the rear view mirror…

The WP auto-post function just told me that I have accumulated 1,000 “likes,” which are all because the imaginary “you” have been appreciating what I’ve been pouring forth since June 22nd. It hasn’t been four months yet and I have so many “likes!” Who knew?!?

I’ve logged 87 posts (one was a repeat, so doesn’t really count and one was a reblog in respect for a new WordPress-induced friend) in 111 days, meaning that I’ve hit about 78% of the days between start and present. Not bad. Could be better. Let’s see if I can pick up the slack.

Thank you, everyone!



There’s an unnatural quiet transfixing the house.

There’s an unnatural quiet transfixing the house.

The two kids, fourteen and eleven, sit on the edges of their beds, one facing the back of the other, both staring beyond the door leading out, both seeing nothing but their own separate thoughts.

The air in the room is lit with a million motes illuminated by the sun falling towards the horizon, half-blocked by palmettos and live oaks, by a wisteria vine that has sunk its predatory tendrils into the earth a hundred times, always grasping for more, more, always rising again with indisputably beautiful flowers to distract from the business it has with the earth’s nutrients, it’s vendetta against neighboring trees. The motes float as they glimmer, absorbing and diffusing light, making the silence fill with dread.

Bedclothes bunched at the bottom of each bed, kicked out of the way during restless sleep, damp with anxiety. A pillow lies off the side of one bed at an angle, its case parted like a scream stifled by the kapok stuffing and the crumpled tag. Another pillow jammed against a headboard, bent double at its center, its breath knocked out, unable to gasp, staying silent in solidarity with the worn wooden floors and chests of drawers, the bookshelves, their clothes hanging like ghosts in their shared closet, the door jamb with their names and growth marks fading away, their book bags collapsed and askew on throw rugs lying out of place too near the door, their escape and their confinement.

If a bomb had gone off the walls would be down, the floors scattered with drywall dust and framing shrapnel from the home that once had been. They would have been mangled and sore with splinters, battered with gypsum chunks, with novels impelled by that instantaneous force into their foreheads and torsos, with fractured doors and airborne door knobs, with candelabra from the dining room, with silverware clanging away from its drawer, with armrests and ladder backs from the chairs set around the table waiting for a dinner that would no longer arrive in their bombed house. They would be hidden by an explosion of clothes, their stockinged feet peering out from a shirt cuff or a pair of worn dungarees, their faces hidden by a molehill of balled up socks, the air choking with new motes swimming away from the epicenter of the catastrophe.

But that is not what happened. So they sat. Waiting for that last argument to settle into the seams of the house and join its companions among the joists and conduit, among the pipes and insulation, among the spider webs and silverfish in the damp and dusty crawl space beneath their thoughts.


The Seasonal Song

Five triplet trills…

Five triplet trills
sound out from the trees
and a similar song
responds from the shade.

In the spring and the fall
the finch sounds its song,
a merrier music
than the other bird calls.

Sometimes it hides high
in the branches above,
in a flutter of wings
it rests inches away.

When it warms, it moves on,
when it freezes, it goes
but it’s back for the best parts
of the seasonal show.

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I Was Nominated (and Accept)

Confabler nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award!

My distant, yet close friend Confabler has nominated me for the Shiny Shiny Sunshine Award. I love her imagination and sense of whimsy; she lets her muse du jour lead and she follows. There’s a wonderful freedom to that which is (1) difficult to allow in the rational process of “writing” and (2) enjoyable to find.

1. If you were to choose an insect that would take over the world after human extinction, who would that be?

It sort of depends on our route to extinction. If it involved an epidemic, the population of flies might see a giant uptick. This would be a good one:

Gauromydas heros

If it is a slow process, then I nominate the Japanese Rhinoceros beetle because it would be awesome if creatures  with such improbably fashioned protuberances were to be the alpha species (Megasoma and Titan beetles would be acceptable alternatives):

Allomyrina dichotoma

 If our extinction took all other terrestrial life along for the ride, I would like to see this enormous isopod (a relative of our terrestrial roly-polies) rule the seas (note inclusion of actual human hands for sense of scale):

The underside of a male Bathynomus giganteus, a species of giant isopod captured in the Gulf of Mexico in October 2002.

2. How old were you when you first read Harry Potter? And your favorite author of course?

I was pretty old when I read my only Harry Potter book (the first one). I didn’t enjoy it enough to complete the series, although I’ve seen all the films and enjoyed them well enough. In the period I read that first one, I was typically reading a lot of history and didn’t find that it was a good use of my time. When I was really young, I read the Classics Illustrated versions of novels, which were quite good at introducing a curious young mind to the wonders of literature without having to do the work (sort of illustrated CliffsNotes (I didn’t use these in school though), if you will). When I was a little older, I read Robert E. Howard, Sax Rohmer, John Carter of Mars, H. Rider Haggard, Stanley Weinbaum, George McDonald fantasies, etc.

My favorite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez for One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. His writing is so rich, amusing, full of simple wisdom and abundant humanity it is hard to believe he was just a human being writing about the lives he saw playing out around him. I literally would read some passages and have to put the book down as if I had just sipped the richest chocolate elixir in the world and needed to savor it until I sipped again. His Spanish-to-English translators did a good job in getting it right; Gregory Rabassa (OHYoS translator) was even praised by Garcia Marques himself!

3. If you were invisible what is the craziest thing that you would do?

Here’s an odd one: Go and hang around bigots, transcribe their conversations, and publish them for the world to see how terrible people speak when they think no one is listening (but, oh yeah, we have the internet so this already happens). If I could walk through things, which seems fair since I’m invisible, I would go around seeing what it felt like to do that—see if there were different textures to different things on the inside than on their surface.

4.what food makes you feel like a hungry hyena?

This has changed so much over time! These days, I don’t get this kind of urge anymore. In my early adult (late teen?) years… ICE CREAM!!!!

5. A song that makes you dream?

Gymnopedie #1 by Erik Satie

6. Have you ever planted a tree?

Yes. Unasked but answered: quite a few!

7. Choose your man: superman/ Spiderman/ iron man and if he was your best friend one thing that you would make him do?

Can I choose Supergirl? If I can, I would have her take me around to various places in the world, build shelters so I could stay there and visit free, then whisk me off to the next place on “our” list (she would be enjoying the sight-seeing with me, of course! What kind of boor do you think I am?!?!).

8.How much time do you spend in front of the mirror everyday?

As little as possible, which involves shaving and brushing my teeth. I find that shaving my teeth first helps with the brushing.

9.why you started blogging and tell us about the post enjoyed the most making.

I was having a bunch of conversations with people who did not seem to understand the wonderful humility of learning and doing science and wanted to see how well I could write about how science is a discipline that can assist us all in not leaning out too far over our skis (getting ahead of ourselves and pretending we know stuff we don’t). Blogging has become so much more than that since my first post on June 22, 2016, and I have had so much fun writing fiction and revisiting some poetry I wrote several decades ago (and finding them easier to “fix” than I remembered).

I’m not sure which of my posts I enjoyed the most. They’re all my children so I like them all? I probably like the odd bits of fiction that I had no idea were inside me when I woke up and then found them on the page looking up at me. I like The Big Day of these. Of the science posts, I like The Mess: Parts 1 & 2 and the Appendix 1 items best (maybe). Of the historical pieces, I like Risk Management. Of the life pieces, I like Building Blocks the best. Anyone who reads this is encouraged to make up their own mind; I am hopelessly biased.

10. Which social media platform are you addicted to (including WordPress)?

I don’t do much social media except WordPress. I don’t like Facebook at all and deleted my account. WordPress is addicting but in a very healthy way! You get to create something and share it with new friends from all over the world. That’s a great addiction have.

Now the rules:

1.thank the person that nominated you.

Thank you, Confabler. You are a true virtual friend, and I don’t mean that in any Pokemon way either!

2. Answer the questions from your nominator.


3. Nominate fellow bloggers you follow.

Hereinafter lie the following nominees in no particular order (order, of course, being an illusion):

Confabler – it would be completely wrong not to boomerang this thing back at her; how could I like what she writes and like that she nominated me but ignore why we share interests at all?

November_child –  in her poetry, every word is judiciously considered for its various meanings and the images they stir and she makes great short stories that are deep and playful and serious all at the same time

anonymouslyautistic – for doing an AMAZING job of writing about this misunderstood spectrum of living – and for inviting others who share her interest to contribute

English Lit Geek – because she searches the web and her library for poems that communicate her inner soul to us all out here in the ‘sphere and I appreciate this!

Wiser Daily – because this guy writes REALLY well about every single subject he wraps his mind around, because he is not a scientist but writes extremely clearly about science, because he is just a damned good writer!

Breathmath – because they are doing an astonishingly serious job of trying to get the world to see the beauty in mathematics

Sheryl – because she’s written a book, is working on others, has great tips for doing the same, and kindly visits my offerings fairly often

The Nexus – because he writes REALLY well about physics and does a great job of doing what I set out to do, whether I’m doing it on any given day or not

The Biology Yak – because she is passionate about biology and shares her passion in every word on every topic she chooses

afternoonifiedlady – even though I have no idea what it is to be an afternoonifiedlady, I love her rants about living with and without her ex and trying to wrestle with notions of romance – she is very witty and amusingly pissed off!

Yaskhan – for her lovely, succinct way with words

urbanagscientist – because she is at least as worried about the misunderstanding of science as I am

Luke Atkins – because he writes really well about difficult subjects and he writes like the stuff matters a lot, which it absolutely does!

And there are more in my list of 119 writers that I am following but this is enough for now.

4. Give them 10 questions to answer.

If you wish (and I clearly cannot impose this on any of you, please respond to confabler’s funny questions. I enjoyed them, maybe you will too!

Kind regards, MSOC

It was Generous of confabler to choose me. Now I have to Jump off and do other stuff!

When the Waves Hit You, Weep and Smile

One of the central mysteries of the human experience must be the emotional connection various pieces of music have with our feelings.

One of the central mysteries of the human experience must be the emotional connection various pieces of music have with our feelings. “Feelings,” of course, are already several things all clumped together in our oblong melon-brains. We touch, we feel something and the nerve impulse from that touch goes shooting up from wherever the contact was made and gets translated into useful information fairly quickly. “Smooth” is usually alright, while “hot” is alright up to a threshold, and then most definitely not okay! We feel things about what we see, smell, and taste as well; various emotions are paired with some of those senses… or nothing particularly emotional happens at all. Have you ever had an emotionally-charged drink of water? I sure have! Typically, it happens after a hike that involved me running out of water and really wishing I hadn’t. That first gulp of cool water from the store (hopefully) close to the trail head is a deeply emotional experience, although perhaps not one of the greatest taste treats my tongue has ever known. We see a cat sleeping in their favorite spot, bathed in sunlight and so peaceful, we feel something reassuring, perhaps that we wish we could sleep so profoundly and with so few cares. We smell something awful—a bottom burp from a clueless uncle, a river that smells of the plastics plant up the valley—and a swarm of feelings hit us in a wave: “uggh! why? how could he/they? this place used to be clean! he used to have a clue!” and so on.

But music, to be a physicist for a moment (with apologies to actual physicists), is simply mechanical energy set up by something caused to vibrate at one point in space, thus causing all molecules of air (and dust, for that matter) between the vibrational source and the vibrational hairs and bones in our ears to pass along that energy. This is a gross simplification, of course, but it is also fundamentally true. A stringed instrument might play a combination of notes, each that vibrate at their fundamental frequencies (the number of vibrations per second or Hertz) and at their overtone frequencies as well. A “chord” is sounded and it may, all by itself, elicit an emotional response from the listener. But it is JUST mechanical energy! That feeling happens for reasons unknown within each of our brains. And quite often it happens differently for many of us. You may be moved to tears by the treacle issuing forth from a popular saxophonist, while I might be moved by a Qawwali singer, blending with a harmonium drone, telling the world of his love (although I don’t understand a single word, it is the passionate manner of his work that moves me).

As is often the case, I did a PubMed search on the topic. This time my search was”effect of music on the human brain,” which returned 423 references. Many of the citations were for studies in which some specific effect of audible input (e.g. The observation of theta wave modulation on brain training by 5 Hz-binaural beat stimulation in seven days) was studied. Then I found the following, which at least seemed more broadly attuned to my interest:

Sachs ME, Damasio A and Habibi A (2015) The pleasures of sad music: a systematic review.Front. Hum. Neurosci. 9:404. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00404

In the article, the authors offer up these notions of why sad music often results in pleasurable feelings in listeners

“Sadness evoked by music is found pleasurable: (1) when it is perceived as non-threatening; (2) when it is aesthetically pleasing; and (3) when it produces psychological benefits such as mood regulation, and empathic feelings, caused, for example, by recollection of and reflection on past events.”

 That seems reasonable. It does not, however, tell us why it works, why those vibrations are found to be sad, the replaced by some level of pleasure. That question, of course, is resolved in the increasingly understood, yet poorly understood business of neurotransmitters, electrical signals passed along from neuron to synapse and back in something resembling the speed of light (or at least too fast for us to notice).

There are EEG (electroencephalographic) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) studies that peer into the brain under various stimuli, including many music studies. What portions of the brain light up, what they are typically doing without musical stimulation, how they seem to connect to other portions of the big grey sponge, all of that is interesting and may point towards an understanding of the simple question posed above. It does not answer the question today, though. It looks there is a bunch of work being done. If I were not trying to make this a relatively simple post, I could easily spend the next four years writing up a dissertation on what is known to date, during which time new stuff would be added to our knowledge.

All I can do today is tell you some of the pieces of music that move me. I’ll give some examples:

A couple of the earliest pieces I remember getting me sort of moved (in a very satisfactory and masculine way, of course, erm, ahem…) were Albatross by Fleetwood Mac (the real, early one, not the fake imitation one that so many people like) and All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix (although written by Bob Dylan). Here they are:

One interesting thing I’ve just noticed about both of these pieces is the “liquidity” of the way the melodies are played over the extremely spare and languid accompaniment from Fleetwood Mac and the quite different, far “busier” accompaniment of the J.H. Experience. But the liquidity of the melodic playing just slays me (and Hendrix’s phenomenal singing does no harm either). The point in All Along the Watchtower that used to kill me when I would hear it on the radio as a teen is the downward, then upward glissandi in the center. Wow!

Around the same time, Blood, Sweat & Tears came out with their first album. On it was a piece that rearranged Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie #1 for a “jazz-rock” ensemble. They did quite a nice job, which only made we want to hear the original. Here’s a nice version from Lars Roos, St. Nicholas Church, Trelleborg, Sweden:

(In fact, this YouTube channel has a ton of live performances from this excellent performance space; have fun:

There is something sad and pleasurable in this piece, simple as it is. Why? Who cares, honestly, but here I sit, moved to “feel” something from these simple notes and simple harmonies, their mechanical energies captured by a microphone diaphragm and translated into electrons on their way to a digital reinterpretation. Quite clinical, yet the effect is the same.

I first heard Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings (the middle movement of his String Quartet, Opus 11) in the cataclysmic ending of the film Platoon. It is a heart-wrenching scene in its own right and the music made it tragic in an almost overwhelming way. The great thing about the music is that it has virtually that same effect on its own. Epically sad for who knows what reason and no less sad for the lack of a rationale.

When arranged for a full orchestra, it is certainly no less moving:

(During the search for nice versions of the Adagio, I found that an execrable thing has been done to this piece by DJ Tiesto. That may lead you to listen to his version and perhaps you will like it but don’t mistake it for the item I am extoling today. Please. Thank you.)

I was talking to a friend a couple of weeks ago about music that basically destroyed us and both of us agreed that Send in the Clowns by Stephen Sondheim was for a complete wrecking ball (nope, no MC on this list peeps!). Here is Judy Collins singing it, although you might have your own favorite versions:

I mean, I’m not even sure what it means on a lyrical level but it is giving me chills as I listen to it play in the background.

Back to my youth. I’ll leave you with this one from Simon and Garfunkel, two astonishing musicians who somehow spent much of their time together acting like complete asses towards each other:

I was young when I first heard it and it seemed impossibly evocative of what it must like to be old. It turns out that being old(er) is a much more complicated experience than can be expressed in any single piece of art. Still, it is damn beautiful!

Of course, I’ve left out tons of music that evokes strong emotion in me and may in you as well. Please feel free to leave some examples in ye olde comment field below.

Elusive Concatenation of Sound

Hear me!

The funny thing about melody is that it describes a phenomenon that can only be experienced by letting the vibrations set off by carefully tuned instruments in the indicated ranges start the vibration of all those molecules of “air” that lie between the instrument and your ears. This sends an interpreted version of those vibrations through a series of mechanisms in your ears and turns them into nerve signal versions of what started off, typically, as a string or a column of wind wiggling around under a bow or through a tube with holes set to open and close as fingers press valves. Well, or as a column of wind from a singer’s lungs getting vocal chords or just the right type to flap flutter in just the right way.

If we try to talk about melody using words, we can evoke feelings that the melody “makes” us feel (although our feelings are very subjective and individualized). We can use adjectives that attempt a description of the melody but unless we sing the melody ourselves we cannot really talk about it without sounding a little idiotic. In the following passage of proto-words, I am going to describe the first two bars of BWV-773:


Here it is as written by J.S. Bach (treble clef only, nothing in the bass clef those first two bars):

First 2 bars BWV-773 (JSBach)

You can listen to the first two bars or go all the way through the following piece (which differs from the above in that the last quarter note is played as eight 32nd notes) and you will hear something which we might describe as “beautiful” or “serene” or “carefree” or “dull” or “boring” – it’s really up to you how this makes you “feel” about it. Nonetheless, the series of “duh-duh”s that I wrote above doesn’t describe it in any way. It sort of has the rhythm of the notes as written but has none of the intervalic—between-note or between-frequency-values—movement that really provides the beauty (for me, at least).

In a massive departure from the above, Steve Reich’s 1966 piece Come Out uses recordings of the human voice speaking in overlayed loops to establish both melody, harmony, rhythm, meter, tempo, and slowly shifting counterpoint (a huge element of many Reich compositions (see Music for 18 Musicians for what I consider a spectacular piece)).
An element that is really neat about Come Out is that the voice, although it is speaking just a few words, which then gets looped (repeated), it is defining notes. Three notes descending in a scale from the first “come out to…,” then back up and down one “…show them.” A little group of five notes, repeated and increasingly confounded into a cluster of sound. The point here is that we all TALK in melodies all of the time but most of us tend to hear the words and ignore the changes in frequency that occur within words and between words. The notes we touch while we are talking are not necessarily in the scales with which we have become most familiar in the western world. There are more notes in the speech of human beings than just those used in “formal” composition (unless you’re Reich, Laurie Anderson, or many others who compose using this approach.)

This gets us over into the world of microtones-the notes that live between the notes most often chosen for western classical and popular music. Many music forms from around the world have used microtones for centuries, if not millennia. It may be that the earliest music just didn’t really concern itself with being “in tune” in any currently recognized sense of that concept. The melodies were what they were on any given day and the intervals were probably roughly similar to what they were the previous day but the focus on how those scales were divided up was probably less important.

Here’s a nice introductory talk on how microtones play an important role in contemporary—and in world—music.

Wendy Carlos used a variety of extended tuning techniques on her ground-breaking work Beauty in the Beast. You will probably notice very quickly that we are no longer in Kansas. Try not to reject the tones you hear. Understand these intervals on their own terms. It will be difficult. It will not be impossible. It is impossible to say with any certainty why or how humans started making music. It is impossible to say whether singing or rhythms (pounding out beats on wood or rock or our own bodies). Try to imagine, though, a year of days in which the only sounds were bird songs, calls from various animals living pretty close, the sound of a stream or river being brushed by winds of various velocities, which also rustle the leaves of every tree in a cascade of microtones and rhythms that change constantly until they are quiet, until they “rest” (meant in the musical sense of a pause between notes). Perhaps we heard all of these sounds and started to mimic some in our speech or in our songs, in our pounding out rhythms, rock-to-rock, stick-to-log. Really, who knows?

It is impossible to say with any certainty why or how humans started making music. It is impossible to say whether singing or rhythms (pounding out beats on wood or rock or our own bodies). Try to imagine, though, a year of days in which the only sounds were bird songs, calls from various animals living pretty close, the sound of a stream or river being brushed by winds of various velocities, which also rustle the leaves of every tree in a cascade of microtones and rhythms that change constantly until they are quiet, until they “rest” (meant in the musical sense of a pause between notes). Perhaps we heard all of these sounds and started to mimic some in our speech or in our songs, in our pounding out rhythms, rock-to-rock, stick-to-log. Really, who knows?

Try to imagine that, though, and listen to some portion of the following. Close your eyes, find their melodies and sing along. You may be singing the songs of your ancestors.

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A Brief, Mysterious Biography

I was born in 1953 to people I don’t know and raised by people I wish I knew better. I have an academic background in literature and science and have worked in positions of increasing responsibility for over thirty years in one realm of the healthcare industry.

Biographical note: I was born in 1953 to people I don’t know and raised by people I wish I knew better. I have an academic background in literature and science and have worked in positions of increasing responsibility for over thirty years in one realm of the healthcare industry. I am interested in many areas of knowledge; literature and science (obviously), but also film, art, many types of music, various episodes in our peculiar, shared, often ignored history, political behavior (rather than politics), various religions. I wish there were more time in every day and more days in every life. I have more books than I know what to do with and keep on adding things to my wishlist that I may never get to read, but it is better to be curious than not, alive than dead.