Wednesday, April 26, 2017

required viewing

While I might have uncertain feelings on Google as a mega-corporation and the unreal amount of influence they have over people's lives, one thing they really have working in their favor is their public applications of quirk. I particularly appreciate the special Google Doodles. Today's doodle (Wednesday, 4/26) is particularly amazing. It is a celebration of the Cassini spacecraft that, if you're anything like me, hits you directly in the "feels."

I wasn't really a space nerd growing up. In fact, in my late teens, I got the idea that all the money spent jumping into space could probably be better spent feeding or educating people. But as I grew up, I got a bit wiser. I became more aware of the space program working as a catalyst for intellectual discovery in general. I learned about any number of real-world benefits from NASA's work. Most importantly, I became aware of the sense of grandeur of the pursuit.

I can't point to a specific instance that made me fall for space. Most likely, it was the photos streaming in from the Hubble Telescope. They made space real to me in a way nothing else had. I was able to sit at my desk and see pictures of galaxies, of planets, of nebulae. Every one of them was beyond my science fiction dreams. In each image, I saw brilliance. I saw majesty. I saw wonder. And slowly, my ability to feel anything other than attraction for space started to dissolve.

It was when I became aware of the Cassini, though, and its mission to Saturn where I finally turned a corner. Saturn is close enough to be real to me in a way that distant space objects (such as The Pillars of Creation) can never be. Yet it is also is more outlandish and weird than anything I've seen in films. It has a total of sixty two discovered moons. One of those, Titan, has ethane and methane clouds and liquid hydrocarbon lakes (a Cassini discovery).  Another, Enceladus, has subsurface oceans of liquid water (also discovered by Cassini) and has volcanoes which shoot ice into space. Then there's Mimas, a moon which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Death Star.

As awesome as are the moons, the key feature of the planet--and the one that jumps out in every photo sent from Cassini--has to be the rings. They are its defining feature. They are what visually distinguish it from all other planets. They are where the distant astronauts of many science fiction narratives are sent to mine supplies. And they are what haunt me.

Today, Cassini starts a series of swoops between the planet and its rings. It will undoubtedly discover more mysteries to keep the scientists awash in new discoveries. It will take more stunning photos. Then, by the end of the year, it will crash into the planet.I will miss the sense of wonder I feel whenever it sends a new photo. I will miss the marvel of every new discovery. Most of all, though, I will be thankful to the tiny machine orbiting a distant planet. Without it, I might not have fell in love with space.

Bon voyage, Cassini.

music update

Just to prove I haven't been completely slacking in the music department, here's two bits of music news.

First, I am on the home stretch of the follow-up album. It will be called Depression Monster, and it should be out this summer. I'm hoping I can have copies for sale by the beginning of June. Stay tuned for details. In the meantime, here's an early mix of the opening song "Mileage":

Secondly, I will once again be playing at the Old West End Festival. This year, I will be at the Art Fair stage on Saturday, June 3rd at 3pm. I'm currently working on trying to assemble a full horn section for the gig. It should be fun!

I've got a few more days of grading to do, and then I'm off my day job until Fall. I will be recording, recording, recording, and then I'll be looking for gigs to support the album. I've already got album number three written, and I promise that one will go a whole lot quicker than did album number two.

Thanks for your support!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

my Onion Horoscope, 4/25/17

Because we haven't done this in a while, my Onion horoscope:
You will definitely be remembered by all people for all time, a fact that should make you feel much more shame and disappointment than it may seem.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

today's weird grading notes

I'm grading tech writing documents, so I have to comment on document design, picture arrangement, formatting, and many other fun things. Today, I find myself repeatedly telling the students to label all the images they use (as 'figure a') and to refer to those labels in the text. However, my fingers have been failing me, and I have been instead typing "label mages."

Admittedly, it would be a lot more fun to label a magician than a graphic in a technical description. At first, though, I thought I was just making a typo. It wasn't until the 'fun center' of my brain started to shut down, though, when I realized I was actually indulging in wish fulfillment! Screw technical report writing. I want to instead focus on spell-casting and alchemy. Surely I can't be the only teacher who thinks this way.

It is at that point of realization, though, where my logic center starts to reassert itself. After all, I find myself, instead of typing 'white space,' actually typing 'shite space.' Certainly that can't be wish fulfillment, can it?

Or maybe it's just unconscious description coming out. Hmm.

what I've learned about mental illness

I'm currently grading papers. This semester, in my Composition II class, I decided to use a reader Pursuing Happiness. It looked like a good choice, and not just for the cute puppies on the cover. I read it before doing my syllabus, and I seemed satisfied with the selections inside.

About halfway through the semester, I realized two things:

  1. In general, most of the readings were real bummers. I was making my students learn about universal suffering, the obedience-driven nature of religion, and depressive realism. None of these ideas are generally seen as pick-me-ups. 
  2. Based on not noticing these depressive themes, when I previewed the text, I must've been in a not wonderful mental place. Was my depression kicking in with a particular vengeance? Or was I just lulled into complacency by the puppy photo? It is a question worth pondering.
I think the students are getting a lot out of the readings, but one can never be I am doing an impromptu survey on their attitudes towards the readings. At the very least, they should be learning a lot. Is it, however, information they want to know? Well, only time will tell.

After reading their last essays, though, I know I certainly am learning a lot, including:

  1. People with depression and anxiety cannot have free will, because institutionalized people always have someone running their lives.
  2. Philosophers only give their personal opinions on matters.
Yes. Sigh. Now I have to decide if I really want any more of these insights.