Category: Technology

Bedtime ritual

We’ve been having a lot of trouble getting the girls to fall asleep around their bedtimes.  Typically, they talk and play for a few hours, morphing the 8 o’clock bedtime in to a 10 or 11 o’clock bedtime.  In fact, they keep us up.  

Fortunately, Erick downloaded a “white noise” application for his iPhone.  Each night, we customize the sounds to help ease the whole family into a blissful night’s sleep.  It amazes me how nicely this works for the girls and how quickly the soothing sounds shift their focus from play to rest.

I recommend it to all moms, regardless of age.

On August 24th, 79AD, one day following Vulcanalia, the Roman festival for the god of fire, Mt Vesuvius erupted and buried the town of Pompeii in layers of ash and pumice.  At the time, those living in Pompeii were not even aware that the beautiful mountain dominating their horizon was an active volcano.  In fact, the hadn’t even a word yet for volcano in their vocabulary.

Charlotte, NC was one of only four cities in the United States granted permission to display for the next few months artifacts and the body casts of people, pets and even livestock uncovered in Pompeii.  

Today I took the girls to the exhibit.  I knew I couldn’t fully explain the devastation, so I did my best to help them understand what we would be seeing once we entered the exhibit by showing them a BBC film about the disaster and also by talking about what life would have been like for people living 2000 years ago.  

Inside the museum we saw frescos – (and we learned the word fresco translated into English means “fresh” and described the method of painting murals while the plaster was still wet, or fresh) – preserved by the hot ash ovens with bread still inside, jewelry, currency, and several types of amphorae which were large ceramic vessels that held oil, wine, fish or grain.  Inscribed on one of these amphora was the Latin word “Auctus” which gave rise to our English word meaning auction.  The writing also described the day the piece was sold at auction, “under a blue sky” and the name of either the buyer or the seller.  This information was relayed to us by a scholar and actress dressed as if she had just walked out of the first century.     

I didn’t realize we would be seeing the body-casts.  We were lead down a dark hall into a darkened room where only the eerie white casts of bodies could be seen.  These casts were made by Giuseppe Fiorelli who excavated the site during the nineteenth century.  According to Wiki, “During early excavations of the site, occasional voids in the ash layer had been found that contained human remains. It was Fiorelli who realised these were spaces left by the decomposed bodies…”  Fiorelli devised a way of injecting plaster into the molds thus preserving the bodies of victims of Vesuvius down to the expressions on their faces.  

Even I was not prepared for the emotions that swept through me.  And my youngest begged to go home.  The sight was both compelling and humbling:   The dog chained and without hope of surviving; the couple holding each-other in one final embrace; the slaves whose legs were bound; the woman who tried in vain to cover her face with a cloth against the toxic plume; the pig whose ribs shown through patches of thick skin.  The images will haunt me for some time.  Not in the bad way you might imagine, but in a way that reminds us of our own mortality and keeps us present in the moment.  These casts are the ghosts of our history and they tell their own stories to us individually.  

A walk through uptown concluded our day in Pompeii where our cityscape, though taller, is not all that different.  We still build monuments to ourselves of marble and adorn these buildings with art and sculpture.  We walk the crowded streets full of bustling commerce.  And we walk among those more or less fortunate than ourselves in that imaginary hierarchy that means little in the scheme of things; for the slaves of Pompeii are remembered and revered alongside the wealthiest and most influential members of their society. 

Above: Bronze statues at Trade and Tryon, the Hearst Tower (my favorite building)

And I can’t leave out the gals who had a splendid adventure.  I love that Wolfy is just fixated on the Bank of America tower.  You can’t see the top when your standing at street level – it’s pretty magical for a little person.

We made it to Michigan (and through Michigan taking a more scenic, albeit much longer route winding our way through forests, farmland and little towns).  Total duration: 18 hours.

I forgot to mention a previous adventure which subsequently made for a lot of fun had on the longer trip north.  Friday morning, Erick woke the whole family and hurried us out the door and down to the Apple Store to wait in line for the new iPhone.  I thought he was insane – the line was hundreds of people long (five-hundred during our six hours) and the wait was boring, but the reward well worth it.  I’ve never before been so enthralled with technology (you know, the word that means magic). 

At first glance, the unassuming little device appears to be little more than an iPod, but spend some time surfing the internet and email photos while driving through a mountain tunnel and you’ll know the little iPod-GPS-camera-phone has super-powers.  Rather than using satellites to locate your position on the map, it triangulates your position by bouncing signals off nearby towers.  Maybe not as cool as satellites, but someone had to come up with the idea and I’m impressed.  I’m also impressed that Erick needed only stand near his computer while his personal data was uploaded “magically” to his iPhone.  And that during our trip, I snapped a photo of the “Welcome to Michigan” sign, attached it in an email and sent it to Erick’s family awaiting our arrival up north with the message, “We’re here.”  Me, a simple human being, capable of wielding such power!  Bwah-ha-ha!

Anyway, wow.  Again, wow.  Cooler even than the personal computer.

Ice on Mars!

Water on mars?  The Phoenix Lander, while digging a small trench in the red planet, uncovered a bright material thought to be ice or salt.  After a few days the material was not as visible leading scientists to believe they had uncovered a layer of ice.  Read more on the website.

Erick and I were having an argument earlier over time-travel.  I was arguing that one cannot go back in time prior to the exact moment the time-machine was turned on, but Erick countered that if one could travel about time it would not matter when the time-machine was built because at any moment you would be present inside the time-machine whether in 1988 or 2008.

If testing my time-machine, I would travel first to 1984.  Great year, good music, good movies and fun fashion – plus it’s a safe distance from the present and yet with many modern conveniences.  Following a visit to 1984, I’d pull back to 1884 for a reference and then I’d come back to the 1940s and bounce back and forth down the space-time continuum until I found a prehistoric animal or Atlantis or something that couldn’t be outdone.  

Erick is obviously bored with coming home from work and not working, so he’s now reading about wormhole propulsion and bending space-time:

Special relativity only applies locally. Wormholes allow superluminal (faster-than-light) travel by ensuring that the speed of light is not exceeded locally at any time. While traveling through a wormhole, subluminal (slower-than-light) speeds are used. If two points are connected by a wormhole, the time taken to traverse it would be less than the time it would take a light beam to make the journey if it took a path through the space outside the wormhole. However, a light beam traveling through the wormhole would always beat the traveler. As an analogy, running around to the opposite side of a mountain at maximum speed may take longer than walking through a tunnel crossing it. You can walk slowly while reaching your destination more quickly because the length of your path is shorter.

That said, my mind has wondered to another wormy topic…  Has anyone been reading about these feet washing up on shore in British Columbia?  I blame Ogopogo.  Would you eat sneakers?  

Since living in the city, I’ve chosen my favorite elevators, which makes me think I think too much about things like my favorite elevators.  Our bathroom self-cleans and I no longer need to polish my jewelry – something in the water does it for me.  I don’t need a light-light; I just open the shades a little.

What I really love about the city are the relentless botanical and animal species; plant-life splintering concrete; tree roots curling asphalt along Providence; kamikaze inchworms dive-bombing tourists in the park.  Nature doing what nature does best: Filling a niche; a gap in our ecosystem fueled by arrogance and perpetuated by ignorance.  

Ayn Rand glorified man and his hunger for dominance in this world; his ability to hold fire in his fingertips. We see empty fountains in downtown Charlotte because we’re in the midst of a water shortage and one man says to me, What does it matter if a couple of fountains are turned on?  It matters because we’ve taken for-granted the value of water, the value of our resources.  We spill blood, oil, water; we order too much and leave our plates half-full and pass men on the street half-starved, but worry only that our fountains have been drained. 

Ah, the city ignites within us a sense of invulnerability.  It leads us all to believe the thin membrane of glass separating them from us is thicker than it really is. 

Do Not Dump – Drains into Creek

There appear to be two kinds of photographers: Those who capture sequence or scene artisitcally and those who capture the same with a sort of obscene randomness. When I first picked up my Pentax K1000 (I think I was 15), I never wanted to waste a print. At the time, it was costly to mess around. People took classes to master aperture setting. Today, they take classes just to turn the camera “On.” However, once in the “on” position, our ingenious digital devices have mastered capturing the world as we see it and making it easily, immediately accessible to our eye for approval or dissection. We no longer waste money printing hundreds of shots we don’t like, but spend it sparingly on those we do or burn the entire set to CD for future prints. (This last part alleviates at least some parental guilt).

So then, as an amateur photographer, watching other adults pick up a camera for the first time, I can bare witness to the delight they feel in capturing a slice of time, no matter how mundane or ridiculous. They may shoot hundreds of frames only to delete half or all of them guilt-free. My own children have spent time photographing the vacuum with my Nikon D50 and at first I was overwhelmed with the wastefulness of it all. And yet, what was there to waste? A minute amount of energy? Time? The soul of our aging vacuum? Was this art? What the hell is art, anyway, if it isn’t something beautiful one person sees in something and wishes to share with another? Something about the form, texture and color of the Kirby attracted the eyes of my children to it, but what? Answer that question and you’ve helped define the art.

The funny thing is, I’ve learned a lot more about photography from my friends and family who shoot randomness than from those who don’t. [My step-father aside, who presented me with my beloved Pentax and then taught me how to use it.] From camera phones, I’ve seen airports, bumper-stickers, a heron, a man crying, graffiti, rotten bananas, dogs being dogs, cats being cats and posters advertising some upcoming production. And though the quality is often lacking, the imagery and intent is not absent. The artist is not lacking for content, but perhaps composition and yet, I am drawn more closely into these photos for those tiny imperfections that make them real to me. Like reality TV, only truly real. Honest photography that doesn’t just trace the black and white textures of a sorrowful human face, but captures the breath mid-sentence; holds it there without edit for the world to see, to recognize, to relate to or to feel nothing of any significance at all. You may stand close or walk away and that’s the beauty in it. There are no expectations, just observation. No critique, just a slow taking in of information. No self-scrutiny, just a hint of irony.

The irony is in our desire to capture perfection in an imperfect world:  To uncover beauty beneath the guise of ugliness.

Why do people get their best shots before and after the shoot?  They get the best shot because they are capturing people in the moment and not in the lens.


My third PET scan is scheduled for later today.  It’s a fairly simple scan broken up into two parts lasting less than an hour each.  Radioactive dye is injected over a period of 45 minutes, so Erick and I joke that I’ll glow-in-the-dark later.

We found the house of [my] dreams last night.  It’s in Lenoir, NC, home of the new Google Dataplex.  I’ve had my eye on this house for the last six months, but had not yet seen it in person.  Erick thought it would make a nice trip to drive out and take a look (and see the mountains) and he was right.  Lenoir was once known for furniture, and it is home to Broyhill, so we did some furniture browsing on the way home and then stopped for milkshakes.  I haven’t stopped for milkshakes in way too long.

We arrived home and all went out with Celli for her evening walk.  The weather has been splendid and even after dark, it’s staying in the mid- to upper-fifties.  Watching the lights of the city cast their glow upon the clouds, I considered for a moment the living thing that is this city with veins running through the earth from here to Lenoir, from Lenoir to California, from California beneath the ocean and around the globe.  And it seemed to me no matter how far the distance between us as individuals, we’re all a part of one long-flowing, continuous stream.

I met with both my new cardiologist and oncologist today.  I am both impressed with their empathy and confident in their knowledge.  The cardiologist spent an hour explaining how my heart functions and potential treatments, all the while keeping in mind I’d like to get away from my reliance on the medication.   Instead of a pace-maker, there’s a procedure- a type of ablation, where they cauterize a line inside the atrial wall to disrupt signal interference.  My doctor suggested this may help enough that I could discontinue the medication.

In oncology news, I received a small blow to my confidence when my doctor informed me a recurrence would mean a complete stem-cell transplant.   When I asked about a regiment of Rituxan, he said the drug would only be effective with an indolent or slow-growing form of lymphoma.  The survival rate for a transplant is 40%.

My PET scan is scheduled for Monday.  And if I’m clear, that’s good news; the further out, the better.   Still, I was shaken by news of the transplant because I’ve been telling myself cancer is no big deal with the right drugs.  The fact is, cancer’s a bitch.

That said, I eat right, exercise daily, and laugh often – the best defense against a recurrence.   And the great news is that I’ve met three wonderful doctors who are managing a game-plan for my continued good health.

And completely unrelated, I’m considering making the switch to a digital Cannon (40D).  Anyone have an opinion on this?

We took our first trip into downtown uptown today for lunch.  The train-ride was fun; both engineers waved at the girls and tooted the horn.  We are fairly enamored with this town.  All around us are buildings constructed to be the best in all of Charlotte and in each you’ll find people friendlier than family at times.  The city is alive.  The food is divine.  And there’s no snow!  In fact, I didn’t bother with a coat today and I keep thinking it’s late May.

Don’t get me wrong, I miss Michigan; the lakes and bays and beautiful farms, but I’m also learning to love the city-life.  For much the same reason I find orchards beautiful: the organization of natural elements (in this case, humans), I have discovered something akin to magic inside the glow of the city.

For unedited photos of our outing today, please visit our flickr site.