Friday, April 15, 2011

Where Theses Go to Die

You know that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? When the Ark of the Covenant gets crated and stored? The camera pulls back to reveal this enormous storage facility that goes on for infinity? That's what happened when I handed in my thesis last Monday (April 4). I'm convinced. I'm never going to see it again. Actually. They will call me and at an appointed time, I or a representative of myself must go and pick it up, producing appropriate identification, or what? I do not know.

It took half an hour to find the building, oddly known as Administration. I say that because in all the years I've been at SJSU I've never ventured into this building ever, except to turn in my thesis. So the question is, What exactly are they administering and to whom? I do not know.

There's a lot of new construction going on around campus, which is kind of a flagrant F.U. to the students, considering that budget cuts require a reduction in the student population (10,000 students) across all campuses in the Cal-State system. A professor warned me a few months ago to get my thesis in ASAP.

But this building. The Admin Building. Surely the last building students would consider taking over in protest. It reminded me of an elementary school I'd attended. Because it was that old. Or like some of the older buildings I remember from living on Fort Knox.

The Grad Research office was a tiny, two room office. A cubicle took up most of the front office. I don't have the imagination to even fathom why a cubicle was necessary. Maybe just to have a place to hide. The other office was dimly lit which made it seem larger and more mysterious than it actually was. Really. There were two students ahead of me, so I waited next to the cubicle in the brightest florescent light I can remember. I think it was so bright because the ceiling was so incredibly low. The entire point of the building's architecture seemed to be about compression and claustrophobia.

So I handed over my precious to a woman I presume was the head Grad Research administrator and she gingerly added it to the mounting stack of theses to be distributed to readers and checked for errors. And that was it. The mundane end to my cumulative project.

I came home and laid down on the floor for an hour. I think all that horizontal architecture induced me to want to get low. The kids joined me on the floor because these days it's so novel to see me stretched out that way doing absolutely nothing.

Now I'm in the process of sorting through years of accumulated scholarly articles and notebooks and returning books that I've had checked out for so long it feels like they're mine. It's hard to let them go and at the same time, it's like a weight has been lifted. Or the bars of a tight cage have opened and I've been released from captivity - a large, feral scholar.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Earth Sounds

FYI: some of these links may be suspect. I've tried to find *scientifically* based sites that record earth sounds, but a quick surf of Youtube will reveal that this task is enormously challenging or at least time-consuming and the listener risks exposure to some really bad ambient/electronic music.

Sounds of the Earth recorded on the Voyager Golden Record.

Sound made by Earth made when "charged particles from the solar wind collide with Earth's magnetic field."

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear?

Missing for months, colorful flocks of flycatchers, warblers, orioles and black-headed grosbeaks are once again abundant in the Bay Area. And they've navigated with such precision -- despite lengthy journeys with no maps -- that they return to the same park, the same yard or even the same tree.
Did they hear their way home?
That's the idea behind a new theory by U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Jon Hagstrum, whose research suggests that birds navigate by using Earth's low-frequency sound waves to identify the "address" of home.
"They are imprinting on the characteristic sound" of where they live, he told a crowd this week at a lecture at USGS headquarters in Menlo Park. "The terrain has characteristic frequencies. I think that is the sound they are listening to."
Birds may even perceive the world as a vast sonic environment, hearing many frequencies bouncing off different landmarks, such as mountains and buildings, generated by the Earth's movement.
You can RTWT here.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Ballad of Nathan Hale

The breezes went steadily through the tall pines,
A-saying "oh! hu-ush!" a-saying "oh! hu-ush!"
As stilly stole by a bold legion of horse,
For Hale in the bush, for Hale in the bush.

"Keep still!" said the thrush as she nestled her young,
In a nest by the road; in a nest by the road.
"For the tyrants are near, and with them appear
What bodes us no good, what bodes us no good."

The brave captain heard it, and thought of his home
In a cot by the brook; in a cot by the brook.
With mother and sister and memories dear,
He so gayly forsook; he so gayly forsook.

Cooling shades of the night were coming apace,
The tattoo had beat; the tattoo had beat.
The noble one sprang from his dark lurking-place,
To make his retreat; to make his retreat.

He warily trod on the dry rustling leaves.
As he passed through the wood; as he passed through the wood;
And silently gained his rude launch on the shore,
As she played with the flood; as she played with the flood.

The guards of the camp, on that dark, dreary night,
Had a murderous will; had a murderous will.
They took him and bore him afar from the shore,
To a hut on the hill; to a hut on the hill.

No mother was there, nor a friend who could cheer,
In that little stone cell; in that little stone cell.
But he trusted in love, from his Father above.
In his heart, all was well; in his heart, all was well.

An ominous owl, with his solemn bass voice,
Sat moaning hard by; sat moaning hard by:
"The tyrant's proud minions most gladly rejoice,
For he must soon die; for he must soon die."

The brave fellow told them, no thing he restrained,--
The cruel general! the cruel general!--
His errand from camp, of the ends to be gained,
And said that was all; and said that was all.

They took him and bound him and bore him away,
Down the hill's grassy side; down the hill's grassy side.
'Twas there the base hirelings, in royal array,
His cause did deride; his cause did deride.

Five minutes were given, short moments, no more,
For him to repent; for him to repent.
He prayed for his mother, he asked not another,
To Heaven he went; to Heaven he went.

The faith of a martyr the tragedy showed,
As he trod the last stage; as he trod the last stage.
And Britons will shudder at gallant Hales blood,
As his words do presage, as his words do presage.

"Thou pale king of terrors, thou life's gloomy foe,
Go frighten the slave; go frighten the slave;
Tell tyrants, to you their allegiance they owe.
No fears for the brave; no fears for the brave." - anonymous