2003 Notebook: Weak XXXVII
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10 September 2003
No. 9,914 (cartoon)
Could you be any more morose?

Anything’s possible.

11 September 2003
Black Hole Music
Today’s science news reminds me of a Zen maxim John Cage liked to cite. “If in Zen something is boring, do it for two minutes. If it is still boring, do it for four minutes. If it is still boring, do it for eight minutes, sixteen, thirty-two. Eventually you’ll find it’s not boring at all but very interesting.”

National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronomers have discovered the lowest tone ever found, a B flat fifty-some octaves below any piano key. (I presume they described the note as B flat instead of its precise equivalent, A sharp, for typographical reasons.) Now here’s the best part of the story: the Perseus galaxy cluster, two hundred and fifty light-years away, has been playing the same note for the last two and a half billion years, more or less.

I decided I must hear this tune, so I grabbed a wad of cash and headed over to Crazy Elliot’s Discount Hi-Fi Warehouse. I went up to Crazy Elliot himself, showed him the article, and asked to see some cheap stereos capable of playing this ancient tune. Elliot frowned and pulled out his calculator. Even though I don’t shop very much, I know it’s a bad sign when a merchant grimaces, does dozens of calculations, then sighs.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” Crazy Elliot said shaking his head.

“OK,” I replied, “how about a mid-priced system then?”

“It’s not about money,” Crazy Elliot explained, “it’s about physics. The sound you’re looking for is a million billion times deeper than anything you can hear. No can do, pal.”

“Thank you for your time,” I replied curtly. I knew Crazy Elliot was lying. After all, the NASA astronomers heard it. Of course, they probably had a really, really good stereo, much better than the crap Crazy Elliot peddles.

12 September 2003
San Francisco Time Machine
This is an exceptional night, even for San Francisco. I’m on the lab roof, watching an impossible panorama. I see skyscrapers climbing into the sky, collapsing into toxic ashes, and rising again, punctuated by horrific explosions. I realize that I’m having some sort of hallucination roughly based on Wells’ novel, The Time Machine.

I really must start drinking a better grade of tequila.

13 September 2003
Poetry Filter
Michael judges poetry for a living; that’s his grim and unfortunate job. Michael, however, insists that computer technology makes his task less unpleasant than that of a sewer inspector.

“I wrote myself a little computer program that separates the poetic wheat from the linguistic chaff,” he explained.

“What are you talking about?” I replied. “You don’t know the first thing about programming.”

“That’s where you would be wrong,” Michael said. “I built a filter that deletes every file that contains the words, ‘azure,’ ‘gossamer,’ ‘turgid,’ or ‘viscous.’”

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” Michael confirmed. “On average, my program deletes over ninety-five percent of the crap people submit.”

14 September 2003
Armstrong and Anquetil: Compare and Contrast
Lance Armstrong’s racing around San Francisco today looking lean, clean, and sporting a Christian cross dangling from his neck. Having survived testicular cancer, he’s a paragon of health.

Now, as my high school English teacher, Ms. Elbers, would say, let’s compare and contrast Armstrong with Jacques Anquetil, one of the other five people to win the Tour de France five times.

Maitre Jacques smoked and drank during the epic contest’s rest days—and sometimes during the race to kill the pain. He was famous for drinking just before a grueling climb. On one occasion he ate so much leg of lamb that he was still bloated and sodden the next day. That’s no way to ride up steep mountains, so his teammates came up with a brilliant antidote: champagne! Et voilà! Anquetil went on to win the race.

Armstrong has a soulless athletic brilliance, but I have to admit I admire even more someone who can triumph with a digestive system full of lamb, arteries clogged with fat, lungs coated in tar, and head tipsy with champagne. As Anquetil put it, “You can’t ride the Tour De France on mineral water.” It just goes to show that the French aren’t entirely worthless.

15 September 2003
Remembering Elva Shorts
On very rare occasions, I wonder what happened to Elva Shorts, someone I haven’t seen since we were in the same fourth-grade class. Our relationship involved tormenting each other. Sometimes I got the better of her, but she always held the trump card and she knew it.

When pressed, Elva ran to the slide or the swings, put her legs over a bar, then hung upside down until her dress slid above her waist. There it was for all to see: girls’ underwear! At that age, that was like cotton kryptonite. Whenever that happened, I had no choice but to run away in terror and disgust.

I’ve been looking for Elva Shorts, and can’t find her on the Internet. Does that mean she doesn’t exist?

16 September 2003
Yesterday or Tomorrow?
Which is closer, yesterday or tomorrow? That’s the question my learned friends and I are discussing at the pub this very night. One faction insists yesterday is closer since it’s demonstrably real, whereas tomorrow’s just a hypothetical construct. The other camp maintains that tomorrow is all but inevitable, but yesterday is already infinitely distant and unreachable.

I’m delighted by this debate, if only because it won’t end before the pub closes.

17 September 2003
My Brain, Explained
I forgot something I really should have remembered. It happens all the time, or at least much more than it should.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I guess it went in one ear and out the other.”

“I think you’re being too charitable,” Cindy corrected. “I think it went in one ear, hit a brick wall, broke into pieces, then fell into the cesspool that passes for your brain where it eventually decomposed.”

I thanked Cindy for her insight; I never did understand how something could go in one ear and out the other. Since I only had one science class after eighth grade, I remain unclear about biology in general and brains in particular. Especially mine.

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©2003 David Glenn Rinehart