Well, even if the OED defines them as such, neither the September equinox nor the just-past March variety actually counts an exactly symmetrical twelve hours of daylight and darkness. Often, the fussy details of things in astronomy (like whether an equinox is labelled as spring, or just March) are related to an observers location on Earth. This time, though, it mainly matters that this was only the spring equinox if you live north of the equator, so identifying it by its month is less hemisphere-centric. Which is absolutely a word.

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Generally speaking, it is unusual for ‘economic stimulus jobs’ and ‘underwater robots’ to appear in the same sentence. For a month this summer, though, those two concepts went hand-in-claw at a camp organized by Linn-Benton Community College staff and students. As a part of the Oregon Underwater Volcanic Exploration Team, high school students from all over the state received training in job skills like electrical circuit design, budget-keeping, and geographic information systems as they built and operated research submersibles called ROVs. The high schoolers were nominated by teachers and counselors in their home towns, and spent six days camping on Paulina Lake inside Newberry National Volcanic Monument east of LaPine. Each student designed and built their own ROV, which they got to take home at the end of the week. Money for the project came from a grant by The Oregon Consortium and the Oregon Workforce Alliance, by way of legislative money for job training in Oregon, where high-tech job growth requires constant workforce training.

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Both the elliptical title of this post and the long distance from its antecedent have the same toothmarks: I’ve been reading so much, I haven’t wanted to write anything. I’ve enjoyed being both the style and the substance of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, and read it interspersed with revisiting some Terry Pratchett and Arturo Perez-Reverte. Also slowly, slowly working my way through Borges Ficciones, wherein the most pertinent quote might be from The Library of Babel: “You, reader, are you sure you understand my language?”

I’m not sure I do, but it is wonderfully toilsome to try.

At any rate, the weather here has been early summer over the weekend–sunny and 70 degrees. The Sun is now transiting the meridian pretty high in the sky, and the skylights in our house are providing lots of light. As the Moon waxes these days, it picks up where the Sun leaves off, and it, too, illuminates our kitchen from above. We planted some roses in the backyard yesterday, and right now a delicate golden kinglet seems to be taking advantage of the legions of buds on the red maple right outside the kitchen window, making a hurried morning meal. For my own hurried morning meal, I cracked open a jar of apple butter received from one of Elle’s comrades at the university. I’m trying to use more glass jars so I can use fewer disposable containers; I’m also trying to buy as much food as possible in reusable containers.

Coffee has been a problem there, although since I buy bulk beans, I usually just end up with the strangely useless paper bags provided at the store. I also usually don’t buy expensive coffee, on the argument that if Kona estate peaberry isn’t laying around, I won’t know the difference. All of this is by way of saying that I was highly amused that Dunkin’ Donuts is marketing their coffee in grocery stores here, where I don’t think there’s an actual Dunkin’ Donuts storefront for a thousand miles: I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts to that Krispy Kreme, which we at least have in Portland. I am amused to no end that I stepped outside habit to buy a name brand product which is then not the product that gives the name. But it is pretty good coffee.

Front-page editors of various newspapers I saw yesterday seem to feel bound to report on the North Korean missle launch, and perhaps in honor of tradition to do it in the same way such things were reported during the cold war. Although I haven’t seen anybody labelled ‘Reds,’ yet. Perhaps they are referring to the limited historical and belligerent importance when they use smaller type for that headline than for budget stuff. Or perhaps they have taken notice, as Jeffrey Lewis has, that for as much as North Korea wants to impress the world by being a scary nuclear power, they are actually 0 for 3 with these kinds of things.

Sure, they did prove to their own citizens that they are still defiant, but that doesn’t seem too important right now. The NORK government is also still trying to tell everybody that they got a satellite into orbit, but people seem to be paying more attention to the statement by Obama, encouraging renewed consideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

That’s an unintended success.

Well, if I can say something without jinxing it, it appears as though our two weeks of winter may be over. Not but what it won’t be grey and rainy for a while yet, but the incipient buds are swelling more greenly on their socially networked branches. The leaves cluttering the sidewalks are from the sweetgums, and most of them only just fell within the last month. We’ve had some sunny warmth here and there, and while I haven’t seen any hummingbirds yet, the Steller’s Jays have been joined by squads of robins.

But the thing that really brought a sense of seasonal change for me was at the end of the cold snap we had in December. Hardly seems fair of me to use that term, when Fairbanks has been pretty chilly by comparison, but people take notice when we get a weeks worth of heavy frosts in Corvallis. At any rate, on about 29 December, I woke to find cirrus clouds covering most of the sky, and causing a strong, beautiful 22 1/2 degree halo around the Sun. I’ve long since given up any pretensions to being able to photograph such phenomena, so I contented myself with staring upward for several blocks on the way to work.

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(mostly) Northern roundup

14 November 2008

Kyle Hopkins kicks ASS! Just heard him interviewed on NPR about an Alaska politics article he wrote for the ADN, and I was both thrilled to hear about someone I had lost touch with, and relieved that so sharp a wit is covering the important Stevens-Begich Senate race closely.

Begin obligatory election response: pretty weird that the three most hotly contested (or at least most drawn-out) Senate races were the three states I was most interested in: AK (see above), MN, OR. End obligatory election response.

I’m just starting Rashid Khalidi’s book Resurrecting Empire, which doesn’t seem designed to flagellate liberal guilt so much as actually educate a willing audience about colonialist history from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent. A good book, and I liked it even more when I found out that he’s almost as dangerous as Bill Ayers.

National Geographic has a ten-page cover article on light pollution out this month, and we happily have our first clear night in about two weeks (not that that’s a record or anything–Alicia tells me that she remembers Kodiak going for something like sixty straight days of rain once, and nobody was talking about records being broken) Still, though, it is crisp and cool tonight. Jupiter looked bright until I saw Venus, and Manaiakalani is setting in the west as Ke ka o ka Makali`i is rising in the east. Even though I know something about how bad light pollution really is, I am reassured that I showed my nephew the same two planets and some of the same stars from the East River about a month ago.

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Rolled back home through the sunrise this morning from an excursion up the coast and into PDX. Roberto has been visiting for the last week, and we started a sightseeing trip over the weekend that culminated with dropping him at the airport early this morning. Great times, great places, great people. During the days on either side of the trip, I finished reading both Ambient Findability by Morville and Coyote Warrior by Vandevelder. Both broadened my horizons in their respective areas, and while I disagree with Morville’s dismissal of oral cultures, I’ll have to discuss that another time. One of his epigrams (from Ted Nelson, paraphrased below) is pretty arresting,. It is also exactly one of the theses of Vandevelder’s description of the attempted dissolution of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota. 
“EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED. In an important sense there are no “subjects” at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly. Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial. Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged—people keep pretending they can make things hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.”
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The camellias are blooming, and have been for a week or two. There was still a light frost this morning, though, and that helped me hang on to Saturn high up near Leo’s paws and Mars seeming to recede into the winter hexagon, glimpsed on my way home last night. Now that I look around a little more, the red maple close up against the kitchen porch is also budding strenuously, preparing to leaf out.

I haven’t been paying attention to climatological data, and there are unfortunately few lilacs nearby, but it still brings to mind Adolphe Quetelet’s prescription for lilacs; I think his test bed, so to speak, was in Paris, but I could be wrong. In any case, when the sum of the squares of the mean daily temperatures since the last frost of the winter exceed 4,274, look for the clustered clouds of little purple flowers.

Given that Quetelet was writing in 19th century Belgium, I think we can assume that he was talking about mean temps in Celsius. Odd to think of one of the effects of the French Revolution being the metric system, but there you go. This kind of social context and personal effects are precisely why I liked David Salsburg’s The Lady Tasting Tea, from whence I learned the Quetelet story. In general the book was excellent, but now that I reflect, I think I may have dropped out about half way through when the statistics got too deep for me. I’ll have to pick it up again.