Monday, July 27, 2009

On A Lovely Morning Like This

Okay, I have to admit, I have no idea whether it is a lovely morning or not at this point. Looking out the window all I can see is dark in the sky and the lights of the buildings around me cast their compact florescent circles on the grounds. A cool breeze is being sucked in and through the house by the attic fan, Saga is snoozing curled-up on the futon in my office and the only sounds to be heard are the automated sprinklers cutting in and out around the community.

I'm sitting in the semi-dark of my office lit by the computer monitors and the gosh-awful-early o'clock network newscast on the television. I'm enjoying my first cup of coffee, having a bowl of homemade muesli with fresh berries, and catching-up on the correspondence and bookkeeping tasks which are my wont every Monday morning and generally feeling good about being here and now.

Little things.

I've gotten an email from a friend with whom I have not corresponded in too long! One of my siblings has sent me a question; a cousin has forwarded me a pretty cool picture; a reader has commented on my blog. There is nothing urgent or pressing.

I answer the mail, post a response and write this blog entry. It may not be exciting, or particularly interesting for that matter, but I am in a chill mood. All is right in the world for me; the universe is unfolding as it should. The world clocks on my monitor tell me that it will soon be lunchtime in London; my colleagues in Australia may be finishing-up a late supper.

Checking my work email can wait. I think I will slip over to the futon and pet the dog. Getting ready for work can wait a few minutes. Right now, regardless of what it may look like outside, it is a lovely morning.

Wherever you are today, I hope your morning is lovely as well!

Don Bergquist – July 27, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

…We Choose To Go To The Moon In This Decade…

In September 1962 President John F. Kennedy, addressing a crowd gathered at Rice University in Houston, Texas, gave the speech which committed the US to the space race. The lines most people hear from this speech are: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

In the intervening forty years the country has changed. It has changed in fundamental ways such that the statement and the underlying ideals encompassed there in seem quaint and out-dated today.

These days we don't choose to do things because they are hard. We choose do avoid things that are hard. We choose to ignore things because they are too hard or too complex for the news to sum-up in the twenty seconds they spend on any story. We choose to bury our heads in the sand and ignore that which may take effort or thought.

"Global warming is a hoax." The right cries because it is simpler to believe in some omnipotent and benevolent got who would never allow us to destroy yourself through our own stupidity, laziness, and hubris! There is a quote I heard once, it goes something like this: "To the skeptic no evidence is sufficient; to the true believer none is required."

But underlying that (and often quoted as an excuse to do nothing) is the cost and the effort required to change to a green society; a society that can sustain itself and one that won't blithely walk off a cliff while ignoring the cliff is there at all.

"America has the best healthcare in the world." Really? With the highest rate of uncovered citizens in the whole of the industrialized world? With more money spent per-capita for the care that is granted? With the need for the homeless, or even the under-employed to wait until a minor malady becomes life-threatening and they end-up in a hospital emergency room? Exactly, how is this the best in the world? But changing it would be hard! So we sit and wait for "the right time."

Perhaps the other lesson of the space race would be important to remember here. When we chose to go to the moon, we chose to commit resources and talent to the effort; we chose to prepare our population to contribute to the effort; we chose to commit time and talent! And just look at the benefits we have gleaned as a secondary benefit of the main goal: We trained US students in math and engineering. We built whole new industries to support the effort. Our industries became the envy of the world and without the need to start (or participate in) a major war!

We developed advanced technologies specifically for the space effort which are now making every-day life easier: Teflon, Global Positioning Satellites, Medical devices that can be worn to monitor or improve the health of the patient, Advanced miniaturization of computer equipment… What boon to mankind may be derived if we choose to overhaul healthcare or minimize the American impact on the environment?

Ah, but there is that problem. We'd have to choose to do it even though it is hard. Ah. Well! It was a nice thought… I guess we'll just have to sit here and wait until someone else figures out how to do it. And hope someone else thinks up a way to do it. The alternative is one none of us wants to contemplate.

Wherever you are today, I hope you're having a good day and I hope you will do something good for your community even if it is hard!

Don Bergquist – July 21, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Monday, July 20, 2009

Well, That Was Wierd!

It was such a lovely, warm evening when I turned-in a couple hours ago. That all changed about an hour after I turned-in...

I'm not really sure what woke me-up, but a couple minutes after I came to consciousness I noticed the wind. The wet air slamming the trees around outside made for a surreal sound this late at night.

It was then that the weather radio went off. "Tornado warning for all of Jefferson County! Get to an internal room away from windows."

There was no further warning. I ran to the windows to shut them to keep out the suddenly pouring rain and got to the inside rooms. Suddenly a whole army of hammers was pounding on the roof. The walls were yelling with every report of each hailstone. It was about ten o'clock. By ten thirty it was all over. There were about six inches of hail stacked against the doors keeping me in. Once I could prize the door open, it was clear that this had been quite a storm.

Small branches and leaves are down. The ground is covered with a m̩lange of hailstones ranging from 1/2 Р3/4" in diameter. The weathermen are saying that there was a tornado just north of here. The eastern skies, as I was checking-out the damage, were still flashing angrily.

It was the suddenness of it all that everyone is talking about. Good, it's not just me that thinks this was all a bit odd! Ah well, I guess I should head back off to bed. Morning will come early! At least I haven't lost power as they are saying is rife all around me!

Wherever you are tonight, I hope that you're safe and sound at home!

Don Bergquist – July 20, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Fuel To The Fire

Really, NASA? Really!?

I'm talking about the revelation this week that all four of the listening stations who received the original copies of the video from the moon had long-ago degaussed the tapes. Documentation of what is arguably one of mankind's greatest achievements and you've not only lost it, but actively destroyed it? REALLY!?

I can just see the backlash from the skeptics out there: "If we really had gone to the moon that would have been important enough that SOMEBODY would have made sure we kept the tapes!" I work with one of these types (or at least someone who claims to be one of these types) and seeing them this week in the office, on the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing will likely be a challenge. I am sure that at least once this week this question will arise.

Of course, there is the more than slight chance that it doesn’t matter to the skeptics whether these tapes had been found or not. Chances are, that if the masters had been found and NASA had, as they had planned, turned out copies of these enhanced with current-day technology skeptics would have used this as further proof that we'd faked the moon landing! "They could never have made such good transmissions from the moon using the technology of the '60s…" would undoubtedly be the line of the arguments.

On the various times that I have discussed this with my colleague who espouses the "it was all a hoax" argument I have taken the same line of logic explained by Douglas Adams in The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul.

In the book, the main character and anther are discussing some people with extraordinary talents. Once can quote the exact thing that Dustin Hoffman is about to say a few seconds before he says it. The other quotes stock market prices from the day before more-or-less tracking exactly how they would have appeared on the ticker, only twenty-four hours later. One character in the book suspects this is some sort of elaborate hoax, the other assumes that it is something miraculous. The main character speaks up and declares that the characters cannot be hoaxing.

"The impossible often has a kind of integrity to which the merely improbable lacks. How often have you been presented with an apparently rational explanation of something that works in all respects other than one, which is just that it is hopelessly impossible? Your instinct is to say, 'yes but he or she simply wouldn't do that.'"

Well, it happened to me today, in fact," replied Kate.

"Ah, Yes!" said Dirk, slapping the table and making the glasses jump "your girl in the wheelchair – a perfect example. The idea that she is somehow receiving yesterday's stock prices apparently out of thin air is merely impossible, and therefore it must be the case, because the idea that she is maintaining some immensely complex and laborious hoax of no benefit to herself is merely improbable. The first idea supposes that there is something we do not know, and God knows there are enough of those! The second, however, runs contrary to something fundamental and human that we do know about. We should therefore be very suspicious of it and all its specious rationality."

This concept seems, by the logic of Ockham's Razor, to apply to the Apollo missions. Via the concept of Ockham's Razor: “Of several acceptable explanations for a phenomenon, the simplest is preferable, provided that it takes all circumstances into account.” We can eliminate the idea that we never went to the moon as being ridiculously improbable.

For us to have gone to the moon supposes only that we pulled to gather, invented in a very short time industries and technologies which didn’t previously exist. To suppose that the space missions were a hoax supposes that either the thousands (or perhaps millions) of people actively involved in the effort have remained true to the hoax these past forty years. Or perhaps the government somehow strong-armed them into silence by "disappearing" those few dissenters who may have "spilled the beans." An act, which if you suppose it, must also be covered-up and kept silent. Which in-turn would suppose some collusion with the media… it becomes impossibly improbable that any individual or group would be able to maintain the hoax in the short-run or the long run! And to what benefit? Who derives benefit from the idea that we went to the moon when we never did?

So, on this fortieth anniversary of the moon landing, take a moment to think about what the possibilities are. The sky is not the limit!

I hope that wherever you are today, you'll have a great day!

Don Bergquist – July 20, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Judging The Judges

Does anyone remember their civics lessons from High School?

Woo-hoo! A whole week of people who don't seem to remember those lessons is on tap! For those people, where is a brief synopsis:

The government of the United States is divided into three separate and equal branches; The Legislative – responsible for deciding what laws will govern the people – the legislative branch of the government is the representation of the people; The Executive – responsible for enforcing the law, the branch that contains the president and the vice-president; and The Judicial – the branch that rules on the law and verifies that what the other two branches do are in accords with those laws.

In order to maintain this balance of power, the Executive appoints (at a federal level – it varies from state-to-state and municipality-to-municipality) the Judicial staff and the Legislative approves those appointments before they become effective.

This has morphed over the years to this bizarre spectacle we will be watching this week. Time was that the president chose a judge based on the basis of their experience in or knowledge of the American system of jurisprudence. I am not saying that their views and ideals took no part in selection, which is simply a fact of being human; I'm just saying that the selection of judicial appointments was not as often based on the single-issue hot-button questions that it seems to have morphed into.

As a result, the approval of judges was, likewise, less of a dog-and-pony show. Unless the preeminent chose an obviously unqualified judge to place upon the court, the presidential selection was approved. This also meant that the hearings we will be seeing this week would have, in years past, be more a search for the experience and practical history of the judge rather than the ideological leanings and their likelihood to vote one-way-or-another on a specific issue.

It is this tendency toward ideological leanings in the appointment and vetting of judges that has lead us toward the circus we're likely to see this week. Granted, the opposition party has little-to-no chance to successfully block this appointment with the overwhelming size of the majority, but they will likely harp of the oft-quoted and out of context "wise Latina" comment. It has been so widely covered out of the context of the speech, that it is unlikely that most Americans realize that there was a speech around the statement that made it clear that she was not saying anything that isn't often said by everyone: "My experience makes me who I am."

So, it is a week of cynical coverage of cynical or sycophantic questioning of a judge who, when it comes right down to it, is no better or worse than the average of the court as a whole today that we are looking forward to. Watch-out for the spin!

Wherever you are today, I hope that you're having a great day!

Don Bergquist – July 12, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Battle of the Boyne

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


A ridge of high pressure is, according to the morning weather, about to move in and settle over Colorado. Ah! A couple 90° days, perhaps more, are on the way. What a nice change from June!

It has rained enough for right now. We’ve had so many consecutive days in a row that there is moss growing everywhere. The weathercast last night said that the relative humidity was above 90%! Geez! I might as well have stayed in Florida if this is how it is going to be. But the real telling moment was when I got into bed.

There is a passage in Foucault’s Pendulum where the characters in the book take a trip to a villa in the north of Italy, in the mountains somewhere. The villa is old, musty, and dank. They describe the vain attempt to keep the bedding dry by using a sort-of frame thing that lifts the covers off the bed and supports a sort-of charcoal brazier bed warmer. The effect of which, apparently, is to keep the dank bedding warm more than to get it dry.

Last night as I was turning down the bed I noticed that with the relative humidity so high, the covers were literally damp from the ambient humidity. They weren’t actually wet mind you, there was no specific point that was any more moist than any other, it was just a general dampness from being in contact with the wet air.

It was like being back in Thames Ditton. The Villa had two problems. Not only was it often cold and damp (or warm and damp in the summertime), but it also had one of those combination washer-dryer units that is supposed to do the job of both appliances, but doesn’t do either very well. Bedding could only be washed when there was nobody else in The Villa because it took a week to dry, hung over drying racks by the heaters.

Or it was like the time I had a bad fever and was in the hospital. They wanted me to sleep under a refrigerated blanket. For those of you unfamiliar with this implement of torture, it is a rubberized-canvas thing (similar to the old-style pool floats) that has coils if tubing running through it. These coils were full of circulating cold refrigerant. The effect of which is to make the blanket cold enough to actually condense the water out of the air and cause it to drip on you all night. Sure, it keeps you cool and helps bring down your fever, but you cannot sleep under one because it is like the Chinese Water Torture all over your body!

Luckily, this high pressure ridge is going to bring warmer and drier air! Sure, I may have to water the garden, but at least the bed will not be damp when I crawl into it!

Wherever you are today, I hope your weather, whatever it is, pleases you!

Don Bergquist – July 07, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Happy birthday to my uncle Larry

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Pirate Party

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Even thought we are all getting older, and the majority of us are now busy raising our families, we still love getting together and celebrating… and the excuse is not all that important, as long as there is a reason to get together.

Today we are celebrating my friend Chris' birthday. The annual tradition is The Pirate Party. This cross between scary pirates, patriotic, and transplanted New Orleans Bacchanalia, has been going on as long as I can remember.

The parties used to be pretty wild and lasted long into the evening back in the day, but lately they have become a lot more family friendly, no less fun, just a bunch more widely attended.

The invite for the party has always been a poster that Chris has designed. (Among his many talents he is a graphic design artist. I envy people with an artistic bent!) And this year was no different.

This year I was honored to open the invite and see a strangely familiar sight. The invite (on the left – with the address obscured) sparked a memory so I went to the photo catalogs I keep and found out why. Sam posed for the picture on the right for me at last year's party.

Chris has always been the creative type so I felt honored that this year a picture I had taken was worked into one of his art projects!

The party is this afternoon and I will be there with some dips (a lime-garlic hummus and a black bean and corn salsa) and my cameras… maybe I can make the poster again next year!

Wherever you are today, I hope that you'll have the opportunity to celebrate the day with your friends.

Don Bergquist – July 04, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Happy Independence Day

This was the runner-up for postcard of the month.

Happy birthday to my friend Chris