Posts Tagged ‘Musings’

One good thing about music: when it hits you, you feel no pain.

— Bob Marley


The most rigid structures, the most impervious to change, will collapse first.

— Eckhart Tolle


Do not forget small kindnesses; do not remember small faults.

— Chinese Proverb


Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

— Napoleon Bonaparte






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Tune o’ the Day

A little background before I get to the music.

Last Thanksgiving morning, I did my first-ever 5k. I say “did” because I’m not a runner. I walked the route.

The event was the 4th annual “Turkey Can Run,” which is held by my son Dustin’s church to raise money for the food bank.

It was quite well-attended — almost 400 entrants. The entry fee was a donation of 15 cans; the volunteers at the drop-off station that morning were beaming happily.

When the race got underway, I set out at my usual leisurely pace, poking along, observing the people and the sights, taking in the new experience.

Within minutes, I found myself dead last.

The runners were long gone, nowhere in sight. And, to my surprise, even the walkers were chugging along as fast as they were able. It was a very unexpected turn of events.

Somewhere around the 2k point, I decided it would be prudent to pick up the pace, the idea being not to cross the finish line in last place.

On the next uphill, I passed several wheezing fat ladies, which, rightly or wrongly, made me feel better. It also demonstrated that I am, in fact, capable of walking fast when I have to. Who knew?

Shortly thereafter, I arrived at a water station run by my daughter-in-law Leslie and my granddaughters Maddie and Sarah. I stopped to chat for a minute or so.

When I set out again, I was still ahead of the wheezing fat ladies, but the main pack of walkers was way, way off in the distance. It was disheartening to see them disappear around the bend, so far ahead.

Until that moment, I had never tried serious, sustained power-walking. But something made me go for it. I leaned forward, got into a rhythm, and kept it up for the entire last half of the route.

I mention this because of the way I paced myself during the power-walking.

When I go hiking, I often “play” music in my head. I have a good ear for music, so, to pass the time on the trail, I will relax and “listen” to songs that mentally bubble up. It’s pleasant and easy and doesn’t require earphones.

The song I chose to play in my head during the last half of the 5k was “Bulletproof” by La Roux. I picked it because it’s catchy, and the tempo is about as fast as my legs can move.

“Bulletproof” was especially helpful on the long, final uphill grade just before the finish line, where I passed enough people to go home satisfied.

I also went home with a medal: third place in my age group.

Or, to put it another way, last place in my age group.

La Roux


By La Roux, 2009
Written by Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid

Been there, done that, messed around.
I’m having fun, don’t put me down.
I’ll never let you sweep me off my feet.

I won’t let you in again.
The messages I tried to send.
My information’s just not going in.

Burning bridges shore to shore,
I break away from something more.
I’m not turned on to love until it’s cheap.

Been there, done that, messed around.
I’m having fun, don’t put me down.
I’ll never let you sweep me off my feet.

This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.
This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.

I won’t let you turn around
And tell me now I’m much too proud
To walk away from something when it’s dead.

Do, do, do your dirty words.
Come out to play when you are hurt.
There’s certain things that should be left unsaid.

Tick, tick, tick, tick on the watch,
And life’s too short for me to stop.
Oh baby, your time is running out.

I won’t let you turn around
And tell me now I’m much too proud.
All you do is fill me up with doubt.

This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.
This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.
This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.
This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.

This time I’ll be bulletproof.
This time I’ll be bulletproof.

This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.
This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.
This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.
This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.

Check out Bulletproof on YouTube.

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The pun, according to wordsmith Samuel Johnson, is “the lowest form of humour.” Johnson asserted that puns had “some malignant power” over Shakespeare’s mind.

Johnson probably wouldn’t react well to this pun from Douglas Adams: “You can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish. Unless of course, you play bass.”

Or this groaner from Groucho Marx: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

If puns are, indeed, a low form of art, the following list should make Dr. Johnson roll over in his grave.


A girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I’d never met herbivore.

A soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

Energizer bunny arrested, charged with battery.

How do you make holy water? Boil the hell out of it.

That earthquake in Washington obviously was the government’s fault.

You feel stuck with your debt if you can’t budge it.

In democracy, it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism, it’s your count that votes.

The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.

When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.


A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

Be kind to your dentist. He has fillings, too.

Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft, and I’ll show you A-flat minor.

When chemists die, they barium.

Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.

I know a guy who’s addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.

How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.

I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can’t put it down.

I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.

A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

Have you ever heard of an honest cheetah?

The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.


She was only a whisky maker, but he loved her still.

A dyslexic man walks into a bra.

I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.

They told me I had type-A blood, but it was a type-O.

PMS jokes aren’t funny, period.

If you hear it from the horse’s mouth, you’re listening to a neigh sayer.

A successful diet is the triumph of mind over platter.

No matter how much you push the envelope, it will remain stationery.

Don’t justify sin, just defy sin.

Why were the Indians here first? Because they had reservations.

We’re going on a class trip to the Coca-Cola factory. I hope there’s no pop quiz.

I didn’t like my beard at first, but it grew on me.

Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?


When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

Broken pencils are pointless.

I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.

England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

I used to be a banker, but I lost interest.

I dropped out of communism class because of lousy Marx.

All the toilets in New York’s police stations have been stolen. The police have nothing to go on.

A cartoonist was found dead in his home. Details are sketchy.

Venison for dinner again? Oh, deer!

Corduroy pillows are making headlines.


Sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center: ‘Keep off the Grass.’

Two silkworms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.

A plateau is a high form of flattery.

Camping is usually intense.

Poor fellow. He ran into a screen door and strained himself.

After Noah sent Ham into the desert, his descendants mustered and bred.

Immanuel doesn’t pun. He Kant.

A Freudian slip is when you say one thing, but mean your mother.

I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.

Haunted French pancakes give me the crêpes.

Velcro — what a rip-off!


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Epiphanies, Part 1

An epiphany is a sudden flash of insight that sheds new light on a subject and leads you to change your perspective.

The phenomenon often is called a eureka moment. It’s when the light bulb over your head comes on.

Epiphanies happen after you have pondered a subject in depth, and you uncover a new piece of information, or make a new connection, that draws back the curtain and — aha! –triggers a startling new realization about that subject.

For the most part, epiphanies visit a prepared mind. They do not strike the average bonehead. The mind of the average bonehead is by nature ill-prepared.

History’s most famous epiphany probably was that of Isaac Newton.

The fanciful story is that Newton, seeing an apple fall from a tree, suddenly realized that apples fall without exception toward the center of the earth. From that insight, he concluded that matter attracts matter. He further deduced that the force pulling on the apple also keeps the moon in orbit.

Newton went on to describe the law of universal gravitation and the laws of motion. A prepared mind, indeed.

The term eureka moment got its name from the tale of the Greek scientist Archimedes, who had been tasked by his king to solve a problem.

The king had commissioned a golden crown as an offering to the gods. But a rumor arose that the goldsmith had adulterated the crown with silver and kept some of the gold for himself.

Archimedes was assigned to determine whether the crown was pure gold — without damaging it, as it was a holy artifact.

Archimedes was stumped. Then he made a visit to the public baths.

There, he observed that water was displaced when he climbed into the tub, and the volume displaced was equal to his own volume. Suddenly, he realized he could use that principle to determine the crown’s purity.

When the epiphany struck, Archimedes reportedly leaped from the bath and ran home naked, shouting “Eureka (I found it)!”

Most likely, the running naked part is a myth, but the insight was genuine.

How did Archimedes solve the problem? He placed a measure of pure gold equal to the weight of the crown into a bowl of water and filled it to the brim. Then he removed the gold and replaced it with the crown in question. The bowl overflowed.

It did so because silver is lighter than gold and a greater volume of silver is required to achieve the same weight. The goldsmith was busted. Perhaps literally.

The same bolt of understanding happened to Albert Einstein at age five, when he was given a magnetic compass. He puzzled over the device, trying without success to get the compass needle to point where he wanted it to point.

Young Albert concluded that an unseen force, something he didn’t yet understand, was guiding the needle. His insight at the tender age of five — that there is more to the world than meets the eye — became his life’s work.

Me, I’m no egghead, and I’ve never been struck by a world-class epiphany.

But I’m no bonehead, either, and I’ve experienced a few thunderbolts — even though they were modest, inconsequential, and enlightening only to me.

I will elaborate in my next post.

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Years ago, I had a friend who was Oscar-obsessed. When the Academy Awards came on TV, he hosted an elaborate party and handed out paper ballots. He made his infamous pig-in-a-blanket appetizers. He flitted around the room, giddy with anticipation.

I’m a film fan, too, but in a far less obsessive way. My friend would be crushed to know that I purposely avoid Academy Awards broadcasts.

Movies are a hugely complex art form and an amazing entertainment experience. A good film is a marvelous thing. In fact, depending on how the wind blows and the planets align, even an awful potboiler can be enjoyable.

Recently, I ran across this tidbit of movie trivia: in 1988, Tom Cruise starred in Rain Man, the Oscar-winning Best Picture, and also in Cocktail, the Razzie-winning Worst Picture. An amazing feat.

For the record, the Razzies are the Golden Raspberry Awards, presented annually in recognition of the worst in film.

The Razzies were dreamed up in 1980 by Hollywood publicist John Wilson. The award consists of a golfball-size representation of a raspberry sitting on a Super 8MM film reel, spray-painted gold.

An Oscar statuette costs about $500 to make; Each Razzie is said to cost $4.97.

When I read about Mr. Cruise’s notable achievement in 1988, I got curious about other Razzie winners over the years. So I did the research.

Here is the list of the winners in the Worst Picture category, including the star(s) to jog your memory. Note that 1986 and 1990 resulted in a tie.

1980 — Can’t Stop the Music (The Village People, Bruce Jenner)
1981 — Mommie Dearest (Faye Dunaway)
1982 — Inchon (Lawrence Olivier)
1983 — The Lonely Lady (Pia Zadora)
1984 — Bolero (Bo Derek)
1985 — Rambo: First Blood Part II (Sylvester Stallone)
1986 — Howard the Duck (Tim Robbins)
1986 — Under the Cherry Moon (Prince)
1987 — Leonard Part 6 (Bill Cosby)
1988 — Cocktail (Tom Cruise)
1989 — Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (William Shatner et al)
1990 — The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (Andrew Dice Clay)
1990 — Ghosts Can’t Do It (Bo Derek)
1991 — Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis)
1992 — Shining Through (Michael Douglas)
1993 — Indecent Proposal (Robert Redford, Demi Moore)
1994 — Color of Night (Bruce Willis)
1995 — Showgirls (Elizabeth Berkley)
1996 — Striptease (Demi Moore)
1997 — The Postman (Kevin Costner)
1998 — Burn Hollywood Burn (Ryan O’Neal)
1999 — Wild Wild West (Will Smith, Kevin Kline)
2000 — Battlefield Earth (John Travolta)
2001 — Freddy Got Fingered (Tom Green)
2002 — Swept Away (Madonna)
2003 — Gigli (Ben Affleck)
2004 — Catwoman (Halle Berry)
2005 — Dirty Love (Jenny McCarthy)
2006 — Basic Instinct 2 (Sharon Stone)
2007 — I Know Who Killed Me (Lindsay Lohan)
2008 — The Love Guru (Mike Myers)
2009 — Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Shia LaBeouf)
2010 — The Last Airbender (Noah Ringer)
2011 — Jack and Jill (Adam Sandler)

A truly spectacular group of stinkers. I’ve seen only four of them, and I swear I was ignorant of their true nature at the time. Honest.


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On the Road #2

Second in a series of stories from my road trip last month to the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and Desert Southwest.


Special of the Day

Late one day, in the middle of nowhere on I-90 in South Dakota, I rolled into the dusty little town of Murdo.

Murdo takes full advantage of being where it is. The town is a traveler’s oasis, albeit an old and dilapidated one. It abounds with truck stops, ancient gas stations, over-the-hill motels, and forgettable restaurants.

The heat that afternoon was a withering 103. I checked into a small Best Western on the edge of town, having driven past and rejected everything else.

As the front desk lady checked me in, I looked out at 5th Street, the main drag, watching the big rigs and pickups go by, the view distorted by undulating waves of rising heat.

Murdo looked like a cowboy town from the 1960s. The scene should have been in black and white.

But, on the bright side, the motel turned out to have good air conditioning and a decent wi-fi connection. I was able to hunker down in relative peace and comfort.

But first, I had to find supper. I asked the desk lady for a recommendation.

“The Buffalo Restaurant,” she said. “Two blocks west on the right. Steaks, ribs, burgers. Full salad bar. The soup is good.”

The Buffalo Restaurant and Bar, as I should have expected, was just another roadside café, no doubt built in the 1960s. The walls were decorated with red bandanas and John Wayne art.

I ordered the Special of the Day, hamburger steak with grilled onions. The price was $13.99 — highway robbery, in spite of the all-you-can-eat soup and salad bar.

The soup was okay. The salad bar was bland and mayonnaisy. I didn’t have seconds, but watched with dismay as a couple in a nearby booth went back three or four times.

Later, on my way out the front door, I was greeted by a hand-lettered sign on the screen door that read:


“Walking the Dinosaur,” a roadside oddity along I-90 near Murdo.

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Athens, Georgia, population 115,000, is an interesting place.

For one thing, the University of Georgia is there, which adds 35,000 more to the population.

Athens has a handsome downtown, a lively bar scene, a well-established music scene, and a growing bike culture.

Demographically, the city is a four-legged stool.

One leg is the African American population, heavily weighted on the poor side — a sad fact wherever you go.

The second leg is a sizable segment of the white population that is either profoundly poor or barely getting by — another sad fact of life. These folk are Southern and, yes, solidly conservative.

Leg number three is the more well-to-do of the Southern white conservatives. In this group are white-collar workers, members of the establishment, old money, and some University students and faculty.

The fourth leg is a mixed bag of non-conservatives — the young, social and political liberals, and assorted free spirits, almost exclusively white. Some work at or attend UGA. Others are connected to the music scene and the culture that has grown up around it.

The existence of that fourth leg is uncommon in the South; rare are the cities with a progressive element large enough to register on the radar screen.

To me, the presence of this group is one of Athens’ most endearing qualities. As a liberal dude myself, I find it quite encouraging.

It’s also a frequent source of amusement and entertainment.

Consider what I discovered recently on the trails at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

The Botanical Garden consists of 300 wooded acres on a hill above the Middle Oconee River on the south side of Athens. The property is hilly and steep and laced with numerous small creeks and ravines leading down to the river.

The trails cope with the terrain this way:

And they cross the creeks and ravines this way:

The footbridges, by the way, are fairly new, built in 2001 as an Eagle Scout project. Thank you, Josh Ketchie of Troop 149.

What I discovered was this, writ in black, on one of the footbridges:

On the next footbridge, I found this message:

Clever fellow that I am, I concluded it was the work of a phantom tagger of the pro-environmental persuasion.

When it comes to environmental activism, this is not very high on the mischief scale. Haydukery, it isn’t. Call it Hayduke Lite.

I don’t know if the messages are new, or if I simply hadn’t been paying attention. In any event, when the tags caught my eye, I decided to document them.

Here are a few others.

Inside a rain shelter (also a Boy Scout project), I found this:


And on a post at the intersection of two trails was this:

In case you can’t read the scrawl, the tagger wrote “privilege” below the word “white.” Someone took offense and scratched it out.

At the next spot, a newly-installed bench, the tagger apparently ran out of original material.

Probably the most interesting tag — and the most ill-advised, since the tagger wrote it on a brick — is this one at the ruins of an old farmhouse beside the trail.

“Timshel” is a Hebrew word that roughly means you may rule over it. 

The word implies that nothing compels us to do good or do evil; rather, we have the power to choose.

It’s good for a tagger to have a literate side.

Timshel, y’all.

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Before planned obsolescence was invented, common products sometimes lasted a very long time. A case in point…

Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb in 1879. By the late 1890s, among the companies manufacturing hand-blown, carbon-filament, electric bulbs was the Shelby Electric Co. of Shelby, Ohio.

In 1901, in Livermore, California, a generous citizen donated several new four-watt Shelby bulbs to the Livermore Fire Department. One of the bulbs was placed in a garage to serve as a night light, replacing a kerosene lamp. As a night light, the bulb was left “on” continuously, 24/7.

Livermore is located on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay area, and the bulb survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Around 1910, it was moved to another building owned by the city and again was used as a night light. There it remained, in continuous operation as the years passed.

By 1976, the longevity of the bulb had finally attracted the city’s attention. The bulb was relocated — very, very carefully — to one of the city fire stations, where it could be monitored and protected.

During that move in 1976, the bulb was without power for 22 minutes. It has not been “off” since.

So, the bulb burning today in Livermore Fire Station No. 6 has been in near-continuous operation for 111 years and counting. It is considered the world record-holder — the longest-lasting light bulb ever.

Officially known as the Livermore Centennial Light Bulb, it now operates with the security of a surge protector, and it boasts two backup systems, one powered by batteries, the other by diesel.

Except for a few rare power interruptions, the Livermore Bulb has been shining around the clock for nearly one million hours. And it continues to operate as steadily as ever.

According to the experts, three factors account for the bulb’s longevity.

First, the low wattage. At a mere four watts, the bulb has a relatively low operating temperature, which promotes longer life.

Second, the constant operation. The bulb is never turned off, which protects the filament from damage caused by repetitive heating and cooling.

Third, the quality of construction. Some anonymous worker at Shelby Electric Co. sealed the bulb perfectly, which maintains the vacuum and protects the filament from stress and deterioration.

In short, it is a simple, well-built product operating under optimum conditions, and it continues to soldier on.

Think about the Livermore Bulb the next time you read about the cutting-edge, much-ballyhooed electric bulbs of today…

… such as the new Bright From the Start ™ compact fluorescent bulbs from General Electric — the 15-watt model of which is priced at only $9.99, is estimated to save you $1.85 per year in energy costs, and is expected to last a whopping 7.3 years!

The Livermore Bulb.

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Not With a Bang

I’ve been a fan of science fiction since age nine.

To me, the appeal isn’t the gung ho action — the alien invasion/interstellar war/space opera stuff — although some of that is great fun.

Nor is it the softer, more philosophical side of the genre — tales about time travel, alternate universes, artificial intelligence, or the imagined technology of future societies — all of which can be fascinating and thought-provoking.

No, what I really dig is the science in science fiction. The science that, wearing the mantle of fiction, is really pondering and trying to make sense of — well — life, the universe, and everything.

I dig the science because I think science is the most important, most valuable attribute of the human species. Science doesn’t profess to be the Undisputed Truth. It is merely the best guess of our best minds, based on what we know at the moment.

And crucially, science is happy to reach new conclusions based on new evidence.

Consider this example: a cosmic year is the time it takes a star to complete one revolution around the center of its galaxy. For us Earthlings, one cosmic year is somewhere between 225,000 and 250,000 earth years.

That’s based on the estimated size of the Milky Way Galaxy (diameter of about 100,000 light years) and the estimated speed of the Sun as we zip through space (around 515,000 mph).

At the moment, 225,000-250,000 years is about as precise as we can get. But, as new evidence refines the number up or down, science will be cool with that.

Likewise, if space aliens showed up, claimed that they put us here in the distant past, and presented irrefutable proof of that claim, science would be cool with that, too.

The rest of society probably would not. Typically, outside the disciplines of genuine science, minds are not open to new information and a new conclusion — not if it runs counter to preconceived notions.

Which is why I firmly believe that science equals real knowledge and real understanding, and everything else is just blather.

I was a journalism major, not a math or physics person, and it shows. I struggle to understand Einstein. I labor through books by Steven Hawking. When Michio Kaku comes on TV to explain a bit of theoretical physics, I may or may not get it.

But, even though I am woefully unprepared, I’m still deeply curious. I want to understand the big picture. I mean, what is this cosmos thing really all about, anyway?

Well, consider the scientific thinking of the moment.

The Beginning

Science believes that about 13.7 billion years ago, at the literal beginning of the universe, nothing existed except a Singularity.

The Singularity was a point of super-intense gravity. It was infinitely dense, infinitely hot, and infinitesimally small. Where this theoretical something came from, we don’t know.

Nor do we know why it suddenly exploded/inflated in a cataclysm — the Big Bang — that generated space, time, and all of the energy and matter in the universe.

As the cataclysm expanded, pockets of basic elements (hydrogen, helium, lithium) became more and more dense. Stars ignited, galaxies formed.

Heavier elements (carbon, oxygen, iron) were created, some inside stars and others when larger stars depleted their hydrogen, collapsed, and exploded.

Elements of all kinds were flung out into space. Some of this “star stuff,” as the late Carl Sagan called it, collected and coalesced and became the building blocks of new stars and their planets.

All of us, and all things around us, are made of elements created out there somewhere, inside the furnaces of stars. That process continued today.

The Present

So here we are, 13.7 billion years later, somewhere in the universe, on board Planet Earth. If we could get a bird’s-eye view of the entire cosmos, what would it look like, and where inside it are we?

Science says that the universe is still expanding from the Big Bang, and it is populated by gazillions of stars, all in motion.

When stars get close enough to be gravitationally attracted, they form into galaxies — swirling masses that may contain billions of stars each.

Our star, the Sun, is inside the Milky Way Galaxy, which is made up of some 200-400 billion stars.

The name Milky Way comes from its appearance from Earth as a faint band of light across the night sky. We see it as a band because the galaxy is disc-shaped, and we see it edge-on. We see the glow of multitudes of stars.

The Sun is located in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way, about 30,000 light years from the galactic core.

The cosmos is so vast that our puny minds can’t truly comprehend it. But we can try to get oriented.

Because interstellar distances get huge fast, science expresses distance in light years. One light year is the distance light travels in one year.

The speed of light is 186,282 miles per second. If you do the math, one light year equals about 6 trillion miles.

Light from the Moon takes 1.3 seconds to reach the Earth.

Light from the Sun takes eight minutes to reach the Earth.

Light from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star beyond the Sun, takes 4.3 years to reach the Earth.

Light takes 100,000 years to cross the Milky Way Galaxy from edge to edge.

Looking outward from the Milky Way, we see other galaxies — and galactic groups — and clusters and superclusters of galactic groups. In all directions are galaxies by the billions.

The immediate galactic neighborhood of the Milky Way consists of 30-50 galaxies (depending on who’s counting) called the Local Group. Most of these galaxies are gravitationally connected to the two most massive members, the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy.

Drawing of the Local Group of galaxies. Note the white bar (top) that denotes a distance of one million light years. Also shown is the Triangulum Galaxy, the third largest galaxy in the group. 

To get a handle on the scale of things, consider an analogy used by NASA astronomer Sten Odenwald.

A penny is about one inch in diameter. Odenwald points out that if the Milky Way were the size of a penny, the Andromeda Galaxy would be about 23 inches away.

The Virgo cluster, a separate group of galaxies beyond the Local Group, would be 50 feet from the penny.

The most distant galaxies detected by the Hubble Space Telescope would be about 20 miles from the Milky Way “penny.”

Essentially, that is the edge of the observable universe. The light from galaxies beyond that point has not yet reached us.

Science believes that the universe we cannot yet observe stretches thousands of miles, maybe millions of miles, beyond Odenwald’s penny.

No matter which direction we look in space, we see clusters and superclusters of galaxies, all moving away from us. As hard as it is to grasp, the experts say that the universe is expanding in all directions, has no center, and would look the same to any observer anywhere.

Image from the Hubble Space Telescope showing one tiny wedge of the visible universe. This image, a mere pinhole view, depicts about .002 percent of the panorama in all directions. You’re looking at about 1,500 galaxies. 

The Future

So science believes that the universe began with a bang, and matter and energy spread, and life appeared, and we humans evolved to the point of our present awareness.

Being a curious lot, we want to know what will become of us, our planet, our star, and ultimately, the cosmos itself.

For years, scientists debated whether the universe will keep expanding indefinitely (an open universe) or eventually will slow down and re-collapse into a “Big Crunch” (a closed universe).

The answer, they now believe, is open. 

Most speculation ended during the 1990s, when evidence mounted that the universe will not re-collapse — cannot re-collapse — because the expansion of the cosmos actually is accelerating.

The evidence of which I speak comes from deep in the realm of theoretical physics.

According to Einstein’s equation E = mc2, the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content. But when the equation is used to calculate how much matter the universe should contain, only four percent of it can be found. Where is the missing matter?

Furthermore, by the law of gravity, large objects such as galaxy clusters should attract each other, and their gravity should pull in other objects. However, most galaxy clusters are moving apart and accelerating to boot. Why isn’t gravity getting the job done?

New theories about dark matter and dark energy are trying to answer those questions.

Dark matter is a theoretical form of matter that for the moment is undetectable, but whose presence can be inferred from its gravitational effects. Theoretically, the missing 96 percent of matter could exist in the form of dark matter.

Dark energy is a theoretical force that repels — the opposite of the force of gravity, which attracts. If dark energy exists, and if it outweighs gravity, it could account for the accelerated expansion of the universe.

The study of these theories and others will occupy science for a long time. But the latest evidence is compelling that the universe will continue to expand.

That being the case, what, in the long run, will happen?

— About 1.5 million years from now, the sun will burn up the last of its hydrogen. It will expand in size beyond the orbit of Venus and become a red giant. 

At that stage, the Sun will begin to burn its helium until that, too, is gone. In a series of bursts, the outer layers of the Sun will fly off into space. The remaining core will be a white dwarf, an Earth-sized chunk of carbon and oxygen.

— About 2.5 million years from now, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies will begin to collide.

— About 100 billion years from now, the galaxies of the Local Group will have sped away into space, and the Milky Way will be alone.

— About a trillion years from now, all of the stars in the Milky Way will have exhausted their fuel and cooled to cinders. Only white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes will remain.

Neutron stars are remnants of collapsed stars composed almost entirely of neutrons. In that state, they are relatively stable. But eventually, they will collapse further and become black holes.

Black holes are objects so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape. They grow by glomming up nearby mass and retaining it.

But one theory says that a few particles can, in fact, escape near the very edge (the event horizon) of a black hole.  Thus, even black holes eventually will decay and vanish, too.

— About 100 trillion years from now, the universe will be nearly inert. The only energy remaining will be from protons decaying into subatomic particles.

— About a zillion years from now (or some other crazy number), the last black holes will have evaporated, and all of the protons will have decayed. Only scattered electrons and random bits of cold, inert matter will remain.

And that, as they say, will be that.

That timeline may prove to be accurate, or it may wildly miss the mark. Regardless, it will be adjusted, amended, and changed freely as new evidence is found.

Science will be cool with that.

A composite by the California Institute of Technology of the entire sky in infrared, showing the distribution of galaxies beyond the Milky Way (shown at center). Blue indicates the nearest galaxies, green sources are at moderate distances, and red sources are the most distant. 

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The Odd Gecko

Back in 2007, I was shopping for a piece of southwestern furniture. Specifically, a small side cabinet. Southwestern furniture is an alien commodity in my part of the country, so I went online.

Before long, I found a promising website — a furniture manufacturer in El Paso. The prices were good, and the designs were just right. They offered cabinets of several sizes. The rep emailed me this photo to show examples of their work.

I selected the model on the left, in a whitewash color.

One further option was to have the doors inlaid with 4×4 Mexican tiles, which was a cool idea. They sent me this selection of available designs.

I chose the stylized blue waves — middle row, left side.

My cabinet arrived a few weeks later, and it was great.

Except for one thing: the waves had been placed in the door vertically instead of horizontally.

In other words, they were facing up and down instead of sideways. They were not, like, in the natural position of, like, actual water.

Sending the cabinet back wasn’t practical. The thing only cost about $150, and a big chunk of that was the shipping. So, even though water doesn’t flow uphill, I sighed, made my peace with it, and kept it.

Fast forward to 2011. After four years of being irritated every time I looked at those accursed, unnatural waves, I decided to do something about it.

First, I read up on how to set 4×4 Mexican tiles. Apparently, all I needed was Liquid Nails and some colored grout.

Next, I went online to find suitable replacement tiles. I couldn’t find a wave pattern I liked, but I found a festive blue gecko on a yellow background. I ordered 10 gecko tiles and 10 plain tiles in matching yellow.

While awaiting shipment, I removed the doors from the cabinet and chiseled out the offending wave tiles. They came out cleanly. In pieces, but cleanly.

The 20 new squares arrived intact. The yellow was a bit more piercing than I expected, but the geckos were cheery. And, unlike the waves, I could orient the geckos however I pleased.

Orientation, in fact, was the first order of business. I had to figure out how the 20 tiles would look best on the doors. I’m not sure about the math, but there are a heck of a lot of possible combinations.

Then, as I was arranging and rearranging the tiles, I became aware of a problem: one of the 10 geckos didn’t match the other nine. It was similar, but not identical.

Thanks, warehouse.

For a few minutes I sat there, drumming my fingers and thinking about my options. I concluded that I could (1) demand a free replacement tile, (2) order and pay for a replacement tile, or (3) somehow cleverly conceal the error.

It made sense to at least attempt option three. If I failed, I still had two remaining.

Happily, I did not fail. And I’m rather proud of the solution I settled on.

The project went quickly and without mishap. The Liquid Nails worked great. The grout was easy to apply. All in all, a good outcome.

Here is the finished piece.

Can you spot the odd gecko?

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