Sunday, April 28, 2002

HOME ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE? I once actually comprehended something I was forced to listen to at a commencement ceremony. The well-known historian-speaker, making a point that is lost to me now, remarked that, in regard to establishing the prominence of any purported event in history or the present, one must ask two questions:

  • Oh yeah? and

  • So what?

The 'Oh, yeah?' establishes wether the statement is TRUE.
THe 'So what? establishes the consequences to us, if true or if false.

Somethings are true but trivial. Others false (such as conspiracy theories or stereotypes about other races, et cetera) but significant. You get the idea. I've found that going through this little 'filter' helps me establish a measure of importance about things I hear on the news or elsewhere or in ordering my points (or examining the other person's) in a persuasive discussion.

All of this is a wordy preface to introduce just such a 'potentially significant' consideration that is worthy of examination by both of the "questions" posed by my historian mentor.

  • Are we alone in the Universe? and

  • What difference does it make?

To judge by popular media, it is a 'fact' beyond question that "they" are "out there", eager to either conquer us, care for us, digest us, or live in our chest cavities, depending on which Science Fiction-as-fact media event you are consuming. We long for the possibility that there is a benevolent and super-wise 'civilization' out there among the 'billions and billions' of stars inhabiting the otherwise wasted-space of the Universe.

How would it change things...human war-making, poverty, politics, religion... to discover that mankind is not unique in the universe? What if we are indeed, home alone?

How about we talk to the cosmic headline-makers to see what recent astronomic events have contributed to the "oh yeah? so what?" debate. Here is one of the most balanced essays on the subject I have seen, by Fred Heeren, from an article in the magazine First Things called Home Alone in the Universe?. I plan to purchase his book, Show Me God—What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God. Heeren interviews these heavy-weights:

  • Stephen Hawking explains how God relates to his no-boundary proposal of spacetime (and the anthropic principle).

  • Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson describe how their Nobel prize-winning discovery led them away from their belief in an eternal universe to believing that the universe was created.

  • George Smoot tells how his discovery of cosmic ripples with NASA's COBE satellite points not just to a haphazard big bang, but to a “finely orchestrated” creation event.

  • Alan Guth, father of the inflationary big bang theory, speaks of the “fine-tuning” of the universe.

  • John Mather (COBE satellite chief scientist) shows how science is still at a loss to explain how the universe could come out of nothing in any natural way.

  • Charles Steidel describes how his team of astronomers discovered the time when galaxies formed.

  • Princeton's Jeremiah Ostriker explains why so many now believe in multiple universes.

  • Robert Jastrow (director of the Mt. Wilson Observatory) tells of “the most interesting result in all of science.”

Oh yeah? So What? Read this essay, then the book. Would make for interesting discussion! Your place or mine?

Galaxy Image courtesy of Hubble Press Release Images

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

We are feeling the effects of the mild winter. Looks to be a bad tick season. After you find the first one slinking down the back of your neck, you can't help but feel jumpy every time you feel the least little itch or tickle.

Doesn't help to know that given time enough to find a nice roosting area (arm pits are nice), this advanced ectoparasite will slowly and painlessly insert its barbed soda-straw mouthparts and begin slurping up red blood cells and yummy plasma proteins.

ADVICE: Beware of moles that move!

Sunday, April 21, 2002


A quasi-rant by Fred


They push our buttons. They make us laugh; make us angry; make us think.

Bumper stickers may reflect our politics or lifestyles.

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math

Born free...Taxed to death

Many comment on 'the other guy's driving habits:

Forget about World Peace...Visualize using your turn signal

I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather. . . Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car

And there are the merely silly:

The weather is here. Wish you were beautiful

Sometimes I wake up grumpy; Other times I let him sleep

There are also the disturbing. I read today on the internet about someone who is proposing to create bumper stickers to prop up her failing business, and was especially un-attracted to this one, which she apparently thought would entice a lot of folks to purchase. It would be of no interest to me if I didn't understand that a lot of folks would think it makes a statement they support:

Religion stops a thinking mind

I can see this mock-wisdom adorning bumpers on college campuses across America. This isn't just another innocuous and vacuous bumper sticker. Consider the implications of the statement. What assumptions does it tacitly make?

  1. Anyone who thinks their religion is about anything TRUE or REAL is engaged in superstitious delusion.

  2. ALL RELIGIONS are false, deceptive, and dangerous.

  3. All faith is BLIND faith.

  4. You cannot be an rational, intelligent, or socially acceptable member of society if you have 'checked your brain' at the door of a church, mosque, or synagogue.

  5. And probably most significant in these times: Conflicts in the name of religion are the chief cause of death and misery in the world.

Wait a minute! Would we ever conceivably apply the same illogic to other domains of human enterprise?

Economics stops a thinking mind
Politics stops a thinking mind
Democracy stops a thinking mind

A blanket condemnation of ALL RELIGION because perpetrator X was a Shiite or a Baptist makes no more sense than condemning ECONOMICS because an embezzler is a banker, or DEMOCRACY because a sleazy American politician shows heinous flaws of morality or ethics.

Some very, very significant historical religious figures who are quite conspicuous even in secular history will be spinning in their graves to learn that their brilliant, thinking minds were 'stopped' by the religious faith that prompted them to invent, reform, and discover, sacrifice, inspire.

We should not condone the many and disgustingly-news-magnified mistakes of those who are identified by a religious affiliation any more than we condone the errors of the political, financial, or popular figures in our day. But I hope we can resist erasing out whole human propensities like 're-ligion' (literally re-connecting with God) with such an incredibly broad brush.

Now, more than ever, all of us, within and outside of 'religion' need to carefully examine our assumptions and avoid knee-jerk dismissal of other points of view. Nevertheless, I cannot resist one more bumper sticker:

Ever stop to think and forget to start again?

Saturday, April 20, 2002

Title within cell

This is one spectacular spring wildflower. We transplanted a couple of plants from the Parkway when we moved, and it seems to be doing just fine. There, we found them by the hundreds in a rich bottom below our place, along with Showy Orchis, Rose Twisted Stalk, and other very colorful and uncommon species. This picture does not do justice to the wonderful gradations between the pale to deep sky blues of the corolla (fused petals) and the warm lavender of the buds. I went back the day after I took this image, and the plant was in decline, dropping its flowers, sending up leaves to store energy for next years bloom. Something to look forward to.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

But it just might be a lunatic you're looking for (Billy Joel)

Remarkable! There appears to be some credibility to claims that pulsed magnetic energy can release the INNER GENIUS in all of us! (Well, maybe SOME of us. My fear is that it might release my Inner Idiot!). The magnetic energy theoretically suppresses parts of the brain that may prevent in 'normals' the remarkable abilities that become apparent in autistic individuals, like RAINMAN, as described in the BBC article linked above.

Do have a look at this link that shows (about half way down the article) the horse drawn by a three-yr-old 'idiot savant' named Nadia.

"Nadia appeared healthy at birth, but by the time she was 2, her parents knew something was amiss. She avoided eye contact and didn't respond when her mother smiled or cooed. She didn't even seem to recognize her mother. At 6 months she still had not spoken a word. She was unusually clumsy and spent hours in repetitive play, such as tearing paper into strips."

"But at 31/2, she picked up a pen and began to draw—not scribble, draw. Without any training, she created from memory sketches of galloping horses that only a trained adult could equal. Unlike the way most people might draw a horse, beginning with its outline, Nadia began with random details. First a hoof, then the horse's mane, then its harness. Only later did she lay down firm lines connecting these floating features. And when she did connect them, they were always in the correct position relative to one another. Nadia is an autistic savant, a rare condition marked by severe mental and social deficits but also by a mysterious talent that appears spontaneously—usually before age 6."

Allan Snyder, director of the Center for the Mind in Sydney, Australia, thinks temporarily inhibiting neural activity through a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation could lead to creative breakthroughs.


What does this tell us about 'normal' intelligence, genius, and selfhood? If we find a way to create some kind of 'thinking cap', does everybody get one? Only the rich? Only Republicans? Could it work even on Republicans? 8--]


Wednesday, April 17, 2002

~~~~~Holli and Mike: This is from 'uncle' Tim: thought of you guys~~~~~


I drove down the Freeway
And turned off at an exit
And went along a highway
Til it came to a sideroad
Drove up the sideroad
Til it turned into a dirt road
Full of bumps, and stopped.
Walked up a trail
But the trail got rough
And it faded away --
Out in the open,
Everywhere to go.

Gary Snyder


Tuesday, April 16, 2002

~~~~~~~~~The Carcass Redemption Program~~~~~~~~~

We need help! As earnest and responsible parents of a three-yr-old black laborador retriever, we have recently become concerned that we are on our way toward creating a monster! Now, we have made some mistakes in parenting our children, in our utter ignorance as behavior managers. Thank God they have been able to overcome their upbringing and have turned out pretty darned normal. The pup, however, has no similar internal gyrocompass, and depends on our reinforcement to mold his little doggie character. And this is our problem.

As the days warm here in early Spring, young Buster is prone to strike out on his own for a half hour or so. We do get a bit concerned about his disappearances, but lately, it is his returning that concerns us. Twice this month, after whistling and calling him for some time, he finally appears, prancing jauntily down the hill or up the road, with 'something' in his mouth. I will not offend your senses with a detailed description of what that 'something' is. Suffice it to say that it is very, very dead and has been so, and at some soil depth, for some time. Needless to say, Buster is reluctant to part with such a prize, and will not. Unless...

Here is where we need your help, as pet psychologists:

The only way we can make the dog relinquish the mummified groundhog spine (oops sorry, I wasnt going to give details) is to offer him a "PUPPY TREAT". He has to spit the 'something' out to get the dry tasteless boneshaped piece of grain-waste. (Again, I confess,I don't understand the canine mind.)

We have this new horror that Buster is coming to see this as a CARCASS REDEMPTION PROGRAM. The boy has caught on: He uses his excellent sense of smell and his few moments of illegal freedom to find dead wildlife, he brings it to the Redemption Center where you can turn in dead-things for something really yummy!

Can you see where this is headed?


Saturday, April 13, 2002

Below is the entry that corresponds to the email (4/14/02) I sent everyone reading this, unless you stumbled here completely by accident.

~~~~~~~The story? Its the MEDIUM....not Fred's MESSAGES!~~~~~~~

I promise you won't be getting vanity-posts from me every day saying "my BLOG is updated: Come and see!". BLOGS are something new and potentially useful that I wanted you to know about, and after this garbled post, will unlikely bother you with such info again. If you haven't heard of them, you will. It may be the webpage of the future! Yawn!

I don't deny that it is nice to see one's words in nicely formated text on a world-accessible web layout. Web logs (shortened to the dysphonic term BLOG, a word that conjures up visions of something a plumber would do in the crawlspace under your house) are growing quickly in popularity, have many worthwhile uses, although I personally don't have much need for one, except to see my occasional rants, rhymes, and ridiculous musings in print. And to provide a REASON to write more often, for the cathartic and creative reasons a lot of folks generate their Blogs. ("How do I know what I think until I see what I say" said the Chesire Cat (or the Caterpillar, or Hatter, one of Alice's companions).

Also, I admit, I would like to be able to share things, soon including images, with friends and relatives (and less often with strangers that might accidentally step in my Blogs). Especially, as I told Ann in our morning walk today, I feel more compelled lately to leave some piece of who I am, so that my children and grandchildren know more of me than I have known of my parents, or grandparents. There is no reason not to leave some kind of legacy of connectedness to those generations that come after. Having said that, in way too many words, I just wanted this one time to let folks on our email list know that we have a weblog. You can save the address, and check back every month or so, if you can stand it, to see what (if anything) has passed through my mind, eyes, and experience.

For most of you, I have thought of specific applications for this kind of publishing (church- or business communications related; circle-of-friends vehicle; a way to make the public aware of lyrics, articles, books, poems you would like more widely read; community interaction facilitation; families interactive messaging, with chronological archiving). I will leave this to your own imagination (or lack thereof) and level of techno-competence. Only know that you can do it for FREE, with no more knowledge of html language than I have (which is minimal). I will not provide a long list of links, knowing that most will NOT be interested in pursuing this anywhere. Use Google, search on Blog Tools. is free and simple, or there is a new Paid program that still has bugs; Radio Userland is a paid subscription; Moveable Type requires knowledge of CGI scripting and I ain't going there.

You can read The Blogging Revolution from Wired Magazine or this one from the Boston Daily Globe; and take a look at Evan Williams Blog...he is one of the developers at, and has a good number of links to some of the better blogs.

Yadayadayada. You can go ONCE to my main weblog page, Fragments from Floyd, (the page you are reading now, if you are at the blogspot.comsite) produced and published from Goose Creek. Stop back by sometime, I will add entries several times a week. Check out blogging if you are at all interested (which would AMAZE me) and I will tell you all I know about this stuff (a short story).

I remain, as ever, your geeky friend, relative, coworker, and/or neighbor...


Friday, April 12, 2002

~~~~~~~~~The Plot Thinkens~~~~~~~~~

Better fill up your tanks and pump up those bicycle tires. It seems to me that more than any time in my lifetime, the foes of Israel are coming together against her, and the US is soon to be out of the loop, as well as out of petrol to a significant degree.

Soooo....."W"s buddies and (former?) oil cronies are salivating at ANWR, saved for decades, gone in an instant and forever. But do you realize that it will take 10 years to bring into production? Surely the majority of Americans will not opt for the knee jerk response to what promises (as it did in the early 70's) to be a very long term problem, even without this current Mid East power game. I support NRDC's efforts to bring some perspective to this complex and serious issue.

"With Americans focused on the war against terrorism and fearing disruptions to oil supplies, some in Congress are pushing to hand the keys to Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil industry. But the truth is that despoiling "America's Serengeti" for fuel that will take 10 years to bring to market does nothing to protect us from wild swings in the price and supply of oil -- real energy security lies in reducing America's dependence on oil."


Thursday, April 11, 2002

~~~~~~~~~Bogged down in BlogLand~~~~~~~~~

We be having a time of low technological biorhythms this week.

It seems I am the one in how-many-thousands who is NOT 'up and running a weblog in five minutes!' with Radio Userland 8.0.7. My problem seems to have baffled the techies at the RU server end. I will give it one more day. HOWEVER...this one more day might not be the best one to give the anemic RU software, as I have probs on my end, too.

I have something trying to load (as of this morning, no probs last night) in my startup that blanks my monitor. I have run MSCONFIG and blanked out some of the suspect programs (like newly loaded Norton 2002, which is supposed to make your computer run better, faster safer!), and can at least boot up, check mail, et cetera. Will have to start adding back those startup items I recognise; quite a few of them, I haven't a clue what they do, if they are essential, desired, or totally unnecessary. A little knowledge is dangerous. The machines have turned on me!

Sunday, April 07, 2002

~~~~~~~~~Spilt Milk and the Lorax~~~~~~~~~

Not an especially wonderful day. We were having a nice leisurely Sunday morning, before church, and I was putting down my obligatory toast and Ovaltine while surfing the net....looking for more info about how to change BLOG templates, as a matter of fact. And, in excruciating slow motion, my hand hits the Ovaltine as I reach without looking for the mouse, and the keyboard is baptised (by immersion), never to rise again. Not to mention the desk papers, D-hub, modem, and even the top of the CPU. Everything cleaned up and works, but the keyboard. I said some naughty words. I was not happy. Office Max made me a bit happier, we are back in business.

An hour later, we drove along Pilot Road headed to church. This is the road I have driven every day to work for the past year. It is not an unattractive pathway, as my drive-to-work history goes. Still, there are certain highlights: graceful curves where the road appears and disappears among the rounded hills and meadows, stark ridgelines of dense poplar against the horizon, vistas that I always register in my mind. I have enjoyed watching them change thru the seasons, expecting the occasional surprise of spectacular sunrise lighting, pools or flags of fog, buccolic clusters of sheep or a stately trio of horses. One such landmark has been two small trees that are striking, against a prominent pasture skyline. I dont know what kind of trees they are. But they are dynamic in silhouette, almost identical twins, in shape like the wind-swept hair of an ill-shorn farmgal. The upper branches are bent and pruned by the west wind, the low branches by bovine molars, up as high as their thick necks will reach. I had always planned, one day, to create a photographic portfolio of tree silhouettes. These two familiar friends were going to be among my first to go in the tree-album.

Today, as always, I reflexively glanced up to my left to see the familiar shapes, to be comforted by them, in my Ovaltine funk. THEY ARE GONE! Cut off cleanly about two feet off the ground! I felt like I had just found the family pet with two legs missing! Those trees were old friends, they weren't hurting anything, were not in the way of any perceivable human endeavor. I had witnessed a mutilation, and it made me sick.

Get a life! One has no business trying to find BEAUTY on the way to or from work anyway. Maybe I need to just keep my eyes on the road when driving to and from work, and learn to not be bothered by the ugliness of litter.

Saturday, April 06, 2002

Prayers And Promises
by Fred First April 04, 2002

I stood in nostalgic reverie at the glass doors, facing the North Carolina mountains. The fog was lifting and the morning skies clearing, and I realized that this would be my last visit to this house, my last time to be with her and our 14 month old granddaughter and son-in-law. I faced the distant hills, but my eyes looked through them, beyond, back and forward in time, tears forming lenses so I saw what others could not. Holli was changing the baby in the next room while the familiar lyrics possessed me, transfixed between my past and my daughter's future.

To my surprise, among other surprises we had recently shared on the eve of our long goodbye, Holli confessed that she 'really liked John Denver'. I guess I should have known this. She grew up with his music in our home, back when 'records' were black and scratchy and lined up vertically in the bottom of our old oak wardrobe, and we owned fewer than a dozen of them. I played at Mr. Denver's music on that old guitar and she and her brother danced frantically to 'Country Boy'. John Denver was our patron saint twenty-seven years ago, as Ann and I and tiny Holli embarked on our great adventure. His early songs gave me visions of freedom and adventure, love of the land, promises of relationships we fervently dreamed of in the greening of the mid- '70s. We left everything we had known in Alabama, struck out in a U-Haul on 'some forgotten hiway' toward our futures, the three of us, looking forward to the unknown but so hopeful Appalchian mountain highs of southwest Virginia.

I've been lately thinking about my life's time, all the things I've done and how it's been.

Twenty six years of life seemed like such a large 'life's time' back then. I felt so old, mature and responsible. I was a father, a husband, and soon to be a 'professional' with faculty privileges. I grew a beard so I would not look like the sub-adult I really was. Now here I am, the beard is gray, and I have a daughter, not a child but not quite a full adult, who has a daughter, and off they will be going on their great adventure, pulling their pasts behind them in a U-Haul, travelling hopefully. I have been doing an awful lot of thinking about my times lately, and wondering about hers.

I'd like to raise a family, I'd like to sail away and dance across the mountains on the moon.

I remember the freedom of autonomy, being my own person, having an income, the world was wide open to me, I could go anywhere I wanted. And yet, my roots were established with the arrival of our first child. I had made plans to travel with a buddy out west and intended to tell Ann excitedly all about it, the day she arrived home and told me she was pregnant. There has always been an uneasy ambivalence of yearning for rooted-ness while longing for independence, freedom and adventure. I no longer harbor hopes of doing much dancing, even here on Earth. I am content to 'spend a time or two in my own home' by the fire.

The changes somehow frightens me, still I have to smile. It turns me on to think of growing old.

At about twenty-six, I had my first sensation of growing old. I do not remember being threatened by it because I guess I did not fully expect it to happen to me. The concept of advancing through ages was non-threatening enough to seem like it just might be an adventure. I don't think I can say that I was ever 'turned on' quite, by the prospect of being old. Growing old was another matter. Now, here I am, on this side of the hill, wondering who these gnarled and wrinkled hands belong to, as if they had been grafted perversely onto this much younger person who still lives immortal beneath the grizzled exterior. Then I look at my beautiful daughter, now old enough to experience the early fright of age and responsibility, and at her precious age-free toddler. Yes, I smile, through tears, at this wonderful, terrible journey we are all taking together. How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care. How long its been since yesterday, what about tomorrow? What about our dreams and all the memories we share? Keep making and keep sharing them, folks.

My joints won't let me play the old music much anymore. But I can still sing and I still travel hopefully. There are still mountains on the moon. Our family is small and perhaps not as close as we might have been, and our futures will be fragmented by the roads we have chosen. Holli, Abby and Mike will leave this week for Wyoming, discovering their new lives far from the comfort of friends and family. But the music of my times has also become the music of the times of my son and daughter, and it will go with them wherever they go. We will be sharing the melodies and lyrics of our lives for whatever days we have left. This is my prayer, and this is my promise. Thank you, Mr. Denver, wherever you are, for the music of our lives.

Poems, Prayers And Promises

I've been lately thinking about my life's time, all the things I've done and how it's been.
And I can't help believing in my own mind, I know I'm gonna hate to see it end.
I've seen a lot of sunshine, slept out in the rain, spent a night or two all on my own.
I've known my lady's pleasures, had myself some friends, spent a time or two in my own home.

I have to say it now, it's been good life all in all, it's really fine to have a chance to hang around.
and lie there by the fire and watch the evening tire
while all my friends and my old lady sit and pass a pipe around.
And talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in.
How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care.
How long it's been since yesterday, what about tomorrow
and what about our dreams and all the memories we share?

Days they pass so quickly now, the nights are seldom long.
Time around me whispers when it's cold.
The changes somehow frightens me, still I have to smile. It turns me on to think of growing old.
For though my life's been good to me there's still so much to do.
So many things my mind has never known.
I'd like to raise a family, I'd like to sail away and dance across the mountains on the moon.

I have to say it now, it's been good life all in all, it's really fine to have a chance to hang around.
and lie there by the fire and watch the evening tire
while all my friends and my old lady sit and pass a pipe around.
And talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in.
How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care.
How long it's been since yesterday, what about tomorrow
and what about our dreams and all the memories we share?

You can see more of John Denver's Lyrics at this link.


Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Holli...surfed across this link (below), in a most indirect sort of way, and thought about how many times we watched this one....and of your long rule as our "Princess". How long will you wait before showing this family tradition to Princess-in-waiting, ms Abby?

This page is called a BLOG (Web Log) and I'm thinking it might be a way for you to keep an online journal, like I am considering. Actually, we could BOTH contribute to the same page, like an extended co-diary. Just a thought. The Princess Bride: Script, Pictures and Sounds