Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Beauty of Afternoon in a Fine Summer Day

Good evening there everyone!

The following is a story that I wrote a little over six years ago . . . man how time flies.  A friend of mine brought this to my attention recently as I'd almost forgotten about it.  There has been some time between posts, but I will be posting more frequently now.  Some good post ideas have come to me recently, and I think they will be enjoyable and beneficial for the passerby reader.  Apparently, this story is being used for English lessons in Indonesia.  It's interesting how something from time past can still have meaning.

Without any further ado I hope that you enjoy this short story, and sign up to have e-mail notifications with these posts if you like.  The link should be somewhere on the right.  Have a good one!


It was a Friday a little bit after noon and I was tired of working, so I decided to leave. Didn’t want to go home because the landlord was over there trying to get the electricity to work, so I figured I’d take a nap along the creek in the grass on this fine summer day. I rode my bicycle, and I passed all the homeless and all the alcoholics, and I looked at them napping there in the grass and wondered why in the world they weren’t at work. So I kept on riding, looking at all the good spots, already taken up by all the other people, who had to be homeless or at least alcoholics, and I looked across the creek and saw how good it looked over there, and I remembered, “The grass is always . . ., well, you know what I was thinking.

So I just kept on riding down the path and I passed some kids swimming in a little lake to the side of the creek. One of the kid'€™s bikes was in the path, right in the middle of it, right where the path goes over a bridge with guardrails on both sides, and I just felt like yelling at the kid, but then I realized that he just wasn'€™t thinking. He didnâ€'t mean any harm, he was just enjoying himself, and he’s still young and innocent and just so happy. I just took my time and went around his bike, not even saying a word.

It would have probably been fine, and maybe even prudent, to kindly correct him, and have him move his bike, teaching him a lesson about taking care of his personal property, and respecting public property, and related things. But after being transformed in an instance from being upset and vindictive, to being happy and at peace, it seems that he had a more important lesson to teach me than I did to him. So I kept on riding my bike until I found a place that looked cool and comfortable. A good place seemed to display itself to me very quickly in my new happy and peaceful state. I got off, took my bag off, sat it next to the tree, sat down, laid my head onto the bag, and began to rest. It was good.

When I was just a little ways into this nap a man walked right by me. I panicked a little, since he had to be homeless or at least an alcoholic. He just left me alone, and kept on walking. So I wondered to myself:

-What was he doing walking over here?
-Weren't there other places he could have walked?
-Didn'€™t he see me?
-What am I so worried about?

And then I realized that I'€™d just walked up to that place a minute earlier. Furthermore, I’m not homeless, or even an alcoholic, though I like to drink sometimes, and like the chance to head off early from work sometimes, and even like to sleep in the grass sometimes. And I have a home, or at least a place to stay, even though things are kind of run down, and it takes too long for the landlord to fix things sometimes. But if I didn'€™t stay at that broken rundown house, with the landlord who apparently likes to take off work early sometimes, or maybe even most of the time, I’d probably spend a lot more time napping in the grass, and I'd have more time to notice some of the little things.

Insects, tiny little black things so small that I couldn'€™t count their legs, sat in front of me. Small little legs kept them hanging upside down attached to a tiny clover plant, with a beautiful little yellow flower on it, a plant that seemed to be doing alright even though the summer had been way too hot, way to dry, and fire had come at times and rolled haze so thick that when you crested a hill and looked off towards the horizon you couldn'€™t see very far. It was in this sparsely inhabited chunk of dirt in the shade of this big tree (completely unsure of what kind of tree the tree is) where this little piece of clover surrounded by these black insects (completely unsure of what kind of insects the insects are) seemed to be doing pretty good.

That whole time while I'€™d been admiring the black bugs and the creek and the grass and the clover with the pretty yellow flowers and all of the homeless, or at least alcoholics, I came to find out that an entire civilization had snuck up on me. Ants were walking underneath the clover, where the little black bugs were, and they had managed to crawl all over me. There was a large congregation of ants in the small area of what I thought was sparsely populated earth in front of my face. They were moving around so quickly that I couldn'€™t even count them. If such a throng of ants was amassed in such a small area, there must be armies of ants in the small section of field I was in next to the creek.

Now, I hate insects. My motto in my house is that if it doesn'€™t pay rent it must die. I'm afraid of insects too. I don'€™t like touching them or moving them, but my hate for them is so strong that it overpowers the fear allowing me to smash them into bits. But for some reason watching all of these insects around relaxed me, and I felt so happy and so at peace that I didn'€™t need to attempt genocide on the congregation in front of my face, much less the armies of ants in the field, or all the ants in the world, probably all over the world.

It was about this time that I realized how amazing the entire situation was and the amount of depth that is in every small aspect of life, and how not all the songs have been made, or all the books written, and something as small as the life of a single ant has enough depth in it to fill all of the pages of all of the books that have ever been written. It was time to write this experience down and flesh it out.

So I pulled the bag that I’d been using as a pillow from under my head, and dug through it for some of the things I needed. I grabbed a short dull pencil out of the backpack and had to sharpen it with a pocket knife. I’d gotten this pocket knife with a bundle of five for four dollars at a garage sale a couple of years ago. The old guy who sold them was pretty neat to talk to. His lawn hadn'€™t been watered in a long time and was overrun with crabgrass. Anyways, there was just a single piece of paper in the backpack. It had printing on one side, was half covered with a to-do list on the other, and was crumpled on both sides. I started to write this story. It didn'€™t take long until all of the paper was covered in writing and there was a lot more still left to write.

So I got on my bike and went home. The landlord was done with his work and the house seemed calm and I forgot to get this written. So here I am, two days less than two weeks after the fact, writing out the rest of the story. A reflecting pool doesn't have to be deep or even perfectly still to show the beauty of what is behind it, and that is how stories are.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Another one of my heroes is Susan Butcher.  Now some of what I write (here and in general) may not necessarily be true . . . I'm just saying that I don't verify all of my sources, or double check things that I recollect.  If I remember something, I just state it as fact.  If you find something to be suspect or non-factual, feel free to call me out on it.

Susan Butcher raced sled dogs.  She grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and hated city life.   After high school she moved to Colorado to pursue becoming a veterinary technician.  Somewhere in her life, she gained an interest in dog sledding.  So at age 20 she moved to Alaska to live on her own in the wilderness and raise sled dogs.  She first raced the Iditarod in in 1978.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Iditarod is one of the most grueling races on earth.  It is an over 1,000 mile sled dog race through rural Alaska.  Temperatures can reach -70 degrees Fahrenheit, the wind can blow 100 miles per hour . . . it's tough.  The dogs are specially bred to be mutts - part malamute, part husky, part other things.  They are loosely referred to as Alaskan Huskies.  They are tough.  The racers are required to make several stops along the way for the health of themselves and their dogs.  These breaks don't amount to more than a couple hours a day.  The racers are tough.

Susan's big chance to win the race came in 1985.  She was well out ahead in the race when a starving female moose came across her dog team.  I've been to Alaska once and was told this about dealing with wildlife.  If you are attacked by anything smaller than a bear, fight back.  This means wolves,  mountain lions, wolverines, etc.  They are probably intending to inflict some serious damage on you, and possibly eat you.  When you get to bear size and larger, fighting will only make it angry, and I don't think even if you are Kimbo Slice you stand much of a chance.  Play dead with a bear.  Now if a bear charges at you in full view stand your ground.  The charge is most likely a bluff to intimidate you.  If you stand big and tall and wave your arms and scream it will leave you alone.  Aside - I wonder how many people have actually done this and we just find their lifeless bodies and assume that they ran in terror?  Anyway, a brown bear can run close to thirty miles an hour.  This is ridiculously fast.  They can also climb trees.  So you better just give the screaming and waving gig a shot.

Now if a moose charges you (particularly a female separated from her young), that animal is not bluffing; so run.  Moose are dangerous, and I imagine that Susan knew this full well.  The animal immediately gored two of her dogs.  Susan pulled out a hatchet and fended for her remaining dog team for about two hours, in the dark, in freezing cold Alaska, until the next sledder came along and shot the already starving moose.

She went on to win the next three years in a row and is the only racer to have a three-peat in the Iditarod.  She won another race for a total of four wins.  A musher, who happens to be a one of my friend's father's boyhood friends named Dave Monson married her.  They had two daughters.  Susan died of leukemia.

For training Susan lifted weights, ran, cycled, and spent a lot of time behind the sled.  She was known for training very aggressively and being loyal to her dogs.  On several occasions she had been stuck in snowstorms  during long training rides.  Instead of packing it in or radioing for an evac, she would put on snowshoes, get in front of her team and proceed to lead them back home for as long as it took.  She was known to do this sort of thing for upwards of 30 miles.  She chose to massage her dogs muscles during their required stops instead of resting herself.

So what is the take away here?  You let me know.  I just like the story.

Auf Wiedersehen,


Sunday, July 22, 2012

This one will be a quick thought.  I think that most of us have a fascination with different people.  Primarily the interest would be in people who are a little bit different and who have fascinating life stories - the type that inspire.

One such person is Cliff Young (  There, you can read about him yourself if you want as well.  Cliff was a less-than-well-to-do Australian potato farmer.  He grew up on a giant sheep ranch.  Apparently, when a huge storm was coming in, they could see it from a long distance out there in the Outback and being less-than-well-to-do they didn't have four wheelers or stables with horses, so he would run across their expansive ranch and herd in the sheep on foot.  Apparently, he had done this for two or three days before without sleeping; this certainly isn't my idea of a good time.

So when the first 544 mile Sydney to Melbourne ultra-marathon was slated in 1983, Cliff showed up.  He had no sponsorship or professional running training.  He was also 61 years of age.  He showed up apparently wearing overalls and galoshes.  Some in the race didn't want to allow his entry.  They were afraid that the crazy toothless man from the boonies would hurt himself.  When it started they figured they were right.  He didn't run as fast as anyone else.  He did one major thing differently though.

All the running experts of the day knew that if a man was to continue a high distance foot race, he could only run for 18 hours.  He then had to rest six to save his body for a continued thrashing in the coming days.  However, Mr. Young was not privy to this.  So he didn't sleep.  He eventually caught up, and after over five days he won by a long margin.  He raced it again in future years, completing some, not finishing others, and never achieving another winning finish.  Future winners however followed Cliff's lead.  To win that race, you didn't sleep, not more than a nap here and there anyway.

Conventional wisdom is an interesting thing.  People give advice and expert opinions on a regular basis.  My livelihood is based largely on delivering professional opinions, so I am somewhat attached to them myself.  What "wisdom" do we have that is bogus?  Is it that you can't run 24 hours a day for multiple days.  Is it that you don't have enough education for a certain profession?  Are you not smart enough to do something?  Not strong enough?  Will people just not want to hear your point of view?

People give advice for good reasons.  Running coaches didn't want to see their athletes run out of gas two days into their race, or get sick, or who knows . . . die?  As a result of that however, apparently no one had tried it.  The native people near Mount Everest, Sherpas, are used by any wise mountaineer wanting to crest that mountain.  They hold all the time records for climbing the mountain, particularly the records for climbing it without oxygen assistance.  They are an incredibly strong and versatile people, but not a single one of them had climbed that mountain until white men came and wanted to climb it.  White men knew that they would have trouble with the feat, saw the fortitude of the Sherpa people, and recruited their assistance in the climbs.  The Sherpa were better climbers, but were not the first to crest the mountain.

Some beliefs guide and protect while others restrain.  What do you hold as a truth that may just be smoke in mirrors?  Something to think about.



Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Numbers are an interesting thing.  People spend their whole life studying them.  In the film Pi as I recall the protagonist was accused of becoming a numerologist rather than a mathematician.  Grigory Perelman, regarded as one of the world's most accomplished mathematicians, proved the Poincare conjecture a few years back.  The Poincare conjecture was a mathematical conjecture that said something like (and I am certain that I am going to botch this - mathematicians will have a laugh), a three dimensional object shaped like a doughnut can really be drawn with a single line and all the points will connect.

Apparently many advanced mathematicians don't understand the conjecture, much less have the ability to prove it.  The conjecture had been around for over one hundred years and no one could prove or disprove it.  Perelman solved it in a proof reading well over one hundred pages.  He combined fields of mathematics that were viewed as being so disparate and unique in their own, that few mathematicians had a mastery in more than one of them.  It took a team of mathematicians the better part of a year to understand what he was doing and whether or not it was true.  In the end they determined that he had solved it.

Mathematicians stated that this was one of the greatest discoveries in all of mathematics, ever.  It would help to answer questions about the universe and geometry and do just about everything but boil an egg.  Perelman was awarded the Millenium prize.  That was a $1 million purse for his discovery.  He was also awarded a Field's Medal, which is arguably more prestigious than a Nobel Prize (sorry Mister President).  The thing is, he declined them both.  He didn't even show up to the ceremonies.  Apparently, he thinks the entire institutionalized world of mathematics is screwed up.  He had quit his job as a mathematics professor at a Russian University at about that time as well.

He has made comments that the field of mathematics is not ethical anymore, people take credit for things they didn't work on, the teaching of mathematics is poor, and that if he had accepted prizes he would have been made into a pet.  Apparently he looks at the field of mathematics now as being something painful and difficult to discuss.  As well as people know he lives with his mother and enjoys foraging for mushrooms in his free-time.

I'm reminded of a bible verse that has some application here, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" -Matthew 16:26

Now I'm not saying that Mr. Perelman has forfeited his soul.  I am positive that I would not be able to have a conversation with him about what he sees as the most elementary principles of mathematics.  Most upper level mathematicians couldn't.  If he hadn't solved the Poincare conjecture, their is no guarantee that anyone else would have solved it in the next hundred years or possibly ever.  On the other hand, I don't know that the proof has actually done anyone any good.  I don't know if it has planted crops or improved air pollution or reduced childhood obesity or anything of the sort.  All I know, is that from an outsiders perspective, Grigory doesn't appear to have a great life.  Grigory, if you are reading this; feel free to tell me otherwise and I'd love to go foraging with you sometime . . . or at least grab a beer.

So I guess the real moral of the story here is up to the reader.  My thoughts are more or less that time is very valuable.  This isn't to say that any of us given enough time can become award winning mathematicians; I'm not sure that that is true.  However, any of us can accomplish about any one thing or possibly a few that the world would see as impossible.  But we should be careful about what we invest ourselves in.  There are certain intellectual,  physical, spiritual, or emotional interests that may intrigue us and will take up more of our time, but let's not let those pursuits derail everything else we have going for us.  On the other hand, a Field's Medalist (whether he collected the thing or not) is likely much smarter than I and likely has great reasoning for living the life he does.  So, what fields are you going to find yourself sowing in?  What sort of harvest do you want to reap?  It would be cool to see some posts :-)

To the Night,


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Here is a thought that I got from a book.  It's actually a book on style by Men's Health, but I think the idea can transfer to many aspects of life.

Think about viewing a picture on your computer screen.  Pick whatever attractive individual you want. What you think you are seeing is a smooth complete image.  You think you are seeing a perfect person.  This is the illusion.  Now take out a magnifying glass and look at the screen.  If you don't have one handy just trust me on this one.  All you see is a bunch of tiny pixels stacked in rows and columns.

There is no completely perfect image or completely perfect person.  More important than this, we aren't as consistent as we'd like to be.  Maybe around some people you are really pleasant and friendly, while around others you are bitter and resentful.  Maybe some days you shower up and fix your hair just as you like, but on other days you don't worry about it.  Maybe you wear nice clean clothes and shoes everyday, but figure that that will cover up your old ratty socks.  Maybe you look at yourself and just don't think that you are who you want to be or that you aren't where you want to be in life.

As individuals, we are amalgams of pixels.  We have different interests, moods, personality traits, and identifying features.  Some of these pixels are just as we would like, while some are a little out of place.  The fact that we are made out of all these little pixels is a very fortunate thing however.  Think about trying to change the entire picture (who you are) all at once from your current you into your dream self.  You'd likely have to change your wardrobe, job, disposition, home . . . let's just say lots of things all at once.  That process of self advancement or development is far too daunting, and some of us have tried that.  We've tried to reinvent ourselves in a day or a weekend, or maybe even a month.  It probably hasn't worked.

We have time.  Breath in and take a really slow exhaled breath out and relish in this.  We don't need to be pressured to be perfect today.  We just need to work on some pixels.  At first, the image probably won't look any different, but if we keep on changing pixels (just like airbrushing) the big picture will start to change.

So today, try changing a pixel.  Don't worry about all of them, don't think to yourself, well if I change that pixel I really need to change a bunch of others.  Don't intimidate yourself.  Pick a pixel and change that.  Shine your shoes. Cook a meal instead of eating out.  Call a friend or family member who maybe you haven't talked to in a while, or who you maybe had a falling out with.  Workout.  Clean your bathroom.  Treat your boss, or your co-worker, or your employee a little bit better.  Sure, even an individual pixel can be a little challenging at times, but then again, it is just one pixel, you can handle it.  Tomorrow, work on another pixel.  Before you know it, you will be more like the person you want to be.  Taking this a step further, if we as people are pixels in bigger picture communities, think about the kinds of change we can make.

So what pixels are you working on?  If brave enough, leave a comment.  Me?  I'm writing a blog.  I'm liking this pixel more all the time.

Hasta Luego,

So I've been thinking about doing this for some time now.  Thinking about what for a time?  Well, I'm glad that you asked.  I've thought about starting a blog, woo-hoo!  Okay, so everyone and their mom has a blog right?  Dang it, I guess you are right.  This is going to be less of a blog however and more of a resource.  The intent of this page (which may or may not stay here at is to be a "Clean Well-Lighted Place" as one Hemingway short story was titled.

In college I worked on the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology's HPV team.  Why not the AIDS team you may ask?  Isn't that a much more worrisome STD?  If you are going to work on curing an STD, why not pick the hard one?  Patience please kind reader.  HPV in this case does not refer to a disease that may manifest itself as cervical cancer in women, but instead refers to a "Human-Powered Vehicle".  Okay, it's just a bicycle, but giving it a fancy acronym that can be easily mistaken for something else is a great way of confusing people and in general alienating oneself from society.  Why would one wish to do this you may ask?  I'm not sure why, but it seems to be a pretty important goal for most engineers, engineering students, and others in technical fields.

Our team was required to come up with a mission statement.  One member on the team jokingly said, "Why not say, 'More Good, Less Bad'".  Everyone had a hearty laugh, but we liked it.  Our adviser, a sleepy man who had once been hit by a deer on his bicycle, would not accept this as our official mission statement.  Because of this we sat around, threw out ideas, argued, and spent a large amount of time developing a mission statement that sounded impressive, had a nice percussive feel to it, and was acceptable to members of the - I'm a Victim of a Deer Attack - society.  I am positive that none of us can remember that statement.

However, 'more good less bad' was quite memorable and became a mantra for our team.  When we considered a new design we would ask, "Is this more good?" or sometimes, "Is this less bad?"  It became a decision making criteria for our team.  Lately I have began to apply this to my life.  How do I fit more good things into my life, and take more bad things out of it?  I've found that this very simple decision making criteria is very beneficial.  That is what this site will explore.  Every post will be about something useful, practical, and maybe even pragmatic that can be used to improve life; or it may possibly be about how to remove some bad thereby still improving it.

I have a few ideas already, and am excited about doing this.  Alex Jones you are a genius.

Over and Out,