About Me

My photo

Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Keeping Human Interaction Involved With Tech Communications

Communicating while communing.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

About a half a million years ago, humans began communicating through speech, and for the first time were able to communicate ideas and concepts.  It took another 470,000 years before humans began using symbols in cave paintings to record events.  About 10,000 years later, humans began carving into stone instead of just painting, inventing petroglyphs.  Eleven thousand years after that, around 9,000 BCE, pictograms were invented.  These symbols were pictures designed to communicate through drawing.  This developed into cuneiform and hieroglyphs, and then evolved into logographics, where a symbol represented a word or phrase, as in Japanese or Chinese writing, around 5,000 BCE.  

From 1700 BCE through about 1200 BCE, the first alphabets were invented, allowing much more detailed and complex ways to communicate.  Books were first printed during the Tang Dynasty in China, and the oldest known such work is the "Diamond Sutra," which dates to around 868 CE.  Papyrus had been used in Egypt since 2400 BCE, and was used in Greece and Rome.  During the third century BCE, animal skins, known as parchment, was developed as the written medium of choice.  The final copy of America's Declaration of Independence was written on parchment, and as any visitor to the National Archives in Washington DC can attest, such a material has great staying power. 

Paper had been made in China as early as 105 CE, but it was the mechanized production of paper in Europe, beginning in the 11th century that made a writing medium cheaper and much more available.  That was followed in 1440 by the invention of the Gutenberg Press, using movable type.  This enabled the first mass-produced best seller, the Gutenberg Bible in 1455.

In 1874, the first commercial typewriters were built, becoming a common site in offices within 10 years.  In 1900, the typewriter became electric.  In 1961, IBM built the Selectric, using a removable ball instead of keys and arms, eliminating jamming.  Typists also found that the Selectric reacted very fast, allowing them to reach speeds only dreamed of previously.  Later models introduced the ability to correct without using correction fluid, making things move even faster.

The advent of wireless telecommunications pioneered by Guglielmo Marconi, saw in less than five years, wireless communication range extending from 6 kilometers to true trans-Atlantic wireless operations by 1901.  This technology eventually grew from simple Morse code to voice transmissions.  The first communications satellite, TelStar 1, was put in orbit  in 1962, which made possible global transmissions of not only voice and data, but video as well.

By the mid-1970's, a new wave of word processing machines began to flow into the marketplace.  These devices, equipped with a CRT screen, enabled to typist to enter text and correct errors or redrafts before committing the final version to paper.  The computer revolution in the mid to late 1980's put word processing software on microcomputers, and the dedicated word processor/typewriter became extinct.  Many offices would keep a few Selectrics around to type forms layered with carbon paper until software advances digitized forms which were saved on computer drives.

In 1973, the first hand-held mobile telephone was manufactured, a brick-sized device weighing a mastodonic 4.4 pounds.  These were quickly followed by the widely-used bag phones from 1991 to 2000.  Improvements in technology made the devices more compact. Around 2005, bandwidth was greatly expanded through 3G and 4G networks which made it possible to stream massive amounts of data, leading to the first real smartphones.  Actually more like hand-held computers, the common smartphone of today has more computing power than the room-sized behemoths of the 1960's.

Technology continues to race forward.  Soon 5G networks will expand data capability by an order of magnitude, and as the electronics inside the phones become more sophisticated, even more amazing things developments will occur.

My current phone, a Samsung Note 4, is almost outmoded.  Still, I can do almost everything on my phone that I can do on my desktop.  I can not only talk on the phone, I can video chat while transmitting documents and data.  Perhaps in a decade or two, the handheld phone will be replaced by a chip in our brain. 

And yet, with all this communication going on, most people seem to feel more cut off; isolated.  Younger folks especially treat their phones not just as a communication device, but an emotional lifeline.  Their world has been reduced to a screen and a keyboard.  Many cities are now passing ordinances banning distracted walking to keep these folks from walking into traffic or disappearing down an open manhole.

My wife and I were out to eat one evening when a young couple occupied the table across from us.  For the entire time they were there, they spoke not a single word.  They took out their phones and texted each other.  Occasionally they would look up and smile at each other, but there was no verbal communication at all.  I've seen this pattern repeated more than I would care to, and that bothers me because people like that have forgotten that real communication involves much more than a keyboard.  Facial expressions, body language, vocal tone, all necessary ingredients to true communication seem to have been left behind. 

But times change, and so do we.  If science fiction writers have been accurate, at some point we will evolve beyond verbal communication to the extra-sensory, instantaneous communication between brains.  And who knows what happens next.

So why this rant?  I carry a notebook around with me because, being a writer, and the owner of an aging brain, I understand how fleeting good ideas can be, and how quickly they can depart without a forwarding address.  When an idea occurs to me, I have to write it down.  A young person saw me doing this, and noting the smart phone hooked to my belt, asked, "Why don't you use your phone for that?"

I stopped and thought about that for a moment.  I really didn't have a good answer, except that I write better with a pad and pen then with a smartphone, which I guess makes me a dinosaur of sorts.  Lacking any other answer, I replied, "If this was good enough for Hemingway, it's good enough for me."

And yet, here I sit in front of my computer, typing this post into a web log, or blog. 

I'm old enough to remember  writing term papers in long hand, then laboring away on a typewriter, having to discard and re-type entire pages after making an error, or retyping the whole blame thing when I found a paragraph that had to be inserted.  (And also going to a library in the pre-Google years and pouring through hundreds of books for information and citations.)  For executing a finished product, there's nothing better than what I use now, Microsoft Word, my desktop, and printer.  It's a good deal less painful, and the elimination of a lot of what used to be manual labor allows me to focus more on what I'm writing about. 

I'll be turning 63 next month, an age I thought as elderly just a few years ago.  I don't know how much longer I'll be around, but it excites me to think of where tech can take us, in the context of human communications. 

I just hope that we can keep the human heart at the center of that process.

Monday, April 09, 2018

How Quickly Days Pass, and How Quickly Children Grow

"The Days are long,
but the years are short."
--Unknown

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

They enter our lives in the most amazing and miraculous way, and in that moment when you first hold them in your arms, you realize that the very context and meaning of your life has irrevocably changed. At first it was all about you.  Your desires, wishes, plans, were all more important than anyone else.  Then you found the love of your life and you learned how to share, how to prioritize their needs above your own.  But the day you held that tiny, fragile human in your arms, you realized that this brand-new human being was going to be in charge of your life.

Your career ceased to be about your own promotion, and became the tool for providing a home and the accoutrements of life for your kids.  Almost everything you want to do for yourself now takes a backseat to them.  You deal with changing diapers, cleaning up vomit, and that sudden red alert in your brain that tells you that they've been quiet for too long.

Going anyplace now involves the logistics of diaper bags, toys, and putting them in and taking them out of car seats.  The stroller now lives permanently in the back of your car because their tiny little legs get tired so quickly, and when nap time comes, they go to sleep, no matter where you are or what you're doing.  You recognize a little secret about the laws of gravity.  When kids are asleep, they gain about 15 pounds.  They don't know patience, so when their little lives go awry, the announce their displeasure not only to you, but to anyone within a half-mile, especially on an airliner.

At some point, they discover that they have a will, and begin to exercise it.  There will be those tough moments when you have to teach, and they have to learn just who is in charge around here.  

But even through all that, there are those other times.  Their first smile.  That joyous little laugh.  Those innumerable little cute things they do and say that are engraved forever on your heart.  There are those trips to the park on those perfect, sunny days when your toddler is introduced for the first time to the swing, or the jungle gym, and you watch with happiness tinged with that ever-present protectiveness.  

Then suddenly, years have passed, and it's the first day of school.  Now you have to send them away, and this still small, fragile child will be out of your sight and away from your protective arms for hours every day.  While you like to think you may enjoy these few hours of freedom (usually spent cleaning up the house after them), you still look anxiously towards the clock that tells you the moment when your little scholar steps carefully off the bus and into your care once again.  Eagerly you ply them with questions, anxious to know what transpired in those hours away, and disappointed by the responses so lacking in the details you are so desperate to know.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Ready for Roots? Maybe...

Chantilly, VA

Somerset, PA

Columbia, MO

Some of the places we've called home.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

"This entire time I've been thinking about where my home was.  
But in truth, home isn't necessarily where you sleep at night.
It's where you feel like yourself, where you're most comfortable.
Where you don't have to pretend.
Where you can just be you."
--Elizabeth Eulberg


Late in December 2016, we sold our home in Chantilly, Virginia in anticipation of my pending retirement the following month.  Northern Virginia is an expensive place to live and I was concerned about continuing to make the mortgage payment.  Plus, we had been considering for several years the possibility of Cheryl becoming a travel nurse.  Essentially that means she would work a series of 13 week contracts as we hopped across the country.  Part of the motivation was that we really didn't know where we wanted to plant our feet in retirement.  Las Vegas had been our default choice for a while, but problems in the housing market along with rising rates of violent crime in Sin City pushed it to the less-than-desirable side of the list.  By doing this contract work, we could visit various places and..."try them on for size," hoping that one would emerge as a good fit.

Now, fifteen months later, we still don't know where we want to live.  Our daughter and her husband graciously allowed us to use their home in the 'burbs of Denver between jobs.  Here, we have family, and we found a congregation that felt like home from the first day we walked through the doors.  Central Colorado is a pretty place, and while the home prices are at the near tip of our affordability index, there are other considerations.  We haven't adapted all that well to the altitude.  Whenever we go to a doctor, we are told that our O2 sats are low and we are chronically dehydrated.  It seems that for all this sky out here, there just isn't enough air in it for us.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Baseball: The Game and the Spirit

From Shutterstock.com

"There are only two seasons:
Winter and Baseball."
--Bill Veeck


In February, most places in this country are in the throes of winter.  The air is cold, the days are short, and for some reason, the most ferocious snowstorms usually start rolling in about then.  We are fed up with winter and wish it would just go away.  Then one day, we here on the television or on the radio we hear the first real hopeful words:  Spring Training.

Our minds start to drift to sun-splashed fields in Arizona and Florida where the sun shines warm on the shoulders of young men as they stretch winter-weary muscles and minds, living for what is many others, the dream.  Gradually across the rest of the country, winter begins its final retreat.  The days are getting longer, the air warmer.  In parks, back yards, and in streets people once again fall in love with the intoxicating smell of horsehide and cow leather.  You can begin to hear the crack of wood bats and the plink of aluminum.  The grass is turning green under the feet of players racing across its surface.  And as spring rescues hope from winter, the game of baseball brings joy to the soul.

It's hard to quantify or to articulate that feeling, the realization that baseball is not just a game, but a spiritual experience as well.  The days are long and warm, and a game only ends when somebody wins.  There are over a dozen games in history that have lasted over 20 innings and seven hours, and every season, there will be two teams who will lock up in such a marathon, neither side giving in.  The opposite is true of football, played in the time of year when days are growing shorter.  That game is controlled by a clock, and the tension of that passage of seconds is felt throughout the contest.  Football does have overtime, but only one quarter.  If things are not resolved by then, it goes into the books as a tie.

There are no ties in baseball.  It is an eternal contest.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Word "Cute" As a Foreign Language

From JustFab.com
So, I Googled "Cute Shoes."  
This is what I got back.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey


It's always been apparent that men and women spoke different languages, even before the ground-breaking book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" by Dr. John Gray.  It's not just individual words, but entire sentences or paragraphs that can mean one thing to one party, and something completely different to the other.  Our brains are wired in completely different ways and the failure to understand that can result in some very uncomfortable situations.  

Every husband has been through this conversation:  

"Honey, are you okay?"
"Fine." (A word more spat than spoken)
"Okay, what did I do this time?"
"Nothing."  (Same delivery.)

What she has said is this:

"There is very definitely something very wrong here, and it's your fault.  That this situation has completely escaped your attention means you are in even deeper trouble."

What follows is a version of 20 questions (or more) until the evil deed has been uncovered.  

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Turn the Page

From Quotefancy.com

We go through good times and bad, but nothing ever really lasts.  No matter how joyous or how sad a period of time has been, there will come a day when we have to recognize that a chapter has closed and it's time to turn the page.

Nobody feels this more acutely right now than fans of the Kansas City Royals.  Over the past eight years, we watched as a priceless crop of rookies climbed through the ranks into the major leagues.  The experts told us that this group would make the Royals competitive again, really good news after so many years of just really bad baseball.  The Royals went to the World Series in 2014, ending just 90 feet from an improbable win.  That shortfall provided the motivation for that team in 2015.  For most of the year, they were the best team in baseball, along with the Cardinals.  And on a cold November night in the Big Apple, they brought home the trophy.  A million fans turned out for the parade and the celebration, and in a perfect demonstration of the class of that midwestern city, there were only two arrests that day, both of young men who had imbibed a bit too much celebratory alcohol.  There was no violence, no riots, no stores were trashed, no police cars were rolled and burned.  It was just a massive surge of shared joy and pride.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

No Words, No Understanding...Just Grief


"Sometimes, there are just no words."
--Unknown

Since the news came across last Wednesday of yet another school shooting, I have been struggling; struggling to understand or even find some kind of context. I cannot find either. 

Writing is, for me, a form of coping.  When incomprehensible things happen, I try to find words that may lead to some kind of understanding of what happened.  But there is no understanding this kind of tragedy.  In a flurry of violence at a high school in Parkland, Florida, 17 lives were ended, 14 teenagers and three adults.  And in like so many other mass shootings since Columbine, the country grieves.

The killer was a young adult with a troubled history.  When he was identified as the shooter, nobody who knew him or knew of him was surprised.  In the days since, we've learned that the FBI knew about him, the Broward County Sheriff's Office had been to his home multiple times.  He had been expelled because of violent acts in school.  So...the students knew he was a threat; faculty knew he was a threat; staff and administration knew he was a threat; and law enforcement knew he was a threat.  The "why" of how nobody thought it was important to bring him in, at least for a discussion or even a court-ordered psych eval will eventually be revealed, and we will know how he slipped through this multitude of cracks.

Meanwhile in Parkland, the burials have begun.  Families and friends have been submerged in grief, a sense of loss that will never truly go away.  And the rest of us will again realize that even in a place where children play and learn, they are not safe.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Utter Waste of Time That is Anger


Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

Going to the Doctor's is something that is almost routine for most folks.  I know that for most of my life it certainly was.  But past a certain age, things begin to go wrong, as they do with any piece of equipment with an expired warranty.  At that point, the attitude is, "what's he gonna find wrong this time?"  As it happened to me the other day, I walked out with a clean bill of health.  I found my mood turning celebratory, and yet at the same time reflective.

Aging is inevitable and unavoidable, certainly there is nothing that can stop or even slow the inexorable march of time.  Life changes from an unlimited horizon to an end that is suddenly tangible.  Our mental attitudes change as well, some just waiting out the time, others choosing to squeeze as much living as possible into what little time is left.  But time...the one thing that always takes and never gives, hovers over us, diminishing just a little bit more every day.

One of my favorite Star Trek quotes is by Jean-Luc Picard:

"Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives.
But, I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey
and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again.
What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived.
After all, we're only mortal."

Friday, February 02, 2018

Putting Passion Into Practice

Three Generations, Crystal is in the middle.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

Almost exactly seven years ago, I wrote a blog post about our middle daughter Crystal.  She was approaching graduation, with a degree in Mathematics and Education, and as the months ticked down towards the end, one day she sent me an email.  It was one of those messages that becomes immortalized within that magnificent treasure chest that is the human heart.  In it, she stated that she didn't just want to be a good teacher, she wanted to be a great teacher.  She then asked me for advice on how she could make that happen.

At the time, I worked with people in the Intelligence Community who had come from the education field.  I asked them to send her emails with their advice, which they graciously did.  I contributed my own snippets of fatherly wisdom, and sent it on its way.

For her to get to that graduation moment was a tough road.  In the last year just before she was to start her practice teaching, she had a snowboarding accident which resulted in a severe concussion.  A lesser person would have set things aside and taken time to heal.  But that's just not Crystal.

She's one tough cookie.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Am I Worth It?


Dear Lord,
Lest I continue my complacent way,
Help me to remember that somehow out there,
A man died for me today.
As long as there be war,
I then must ask and answer:
Am I worth dying for?
--Eleanor Roosevelt
Kept in her wallet during World War II

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

In the history of the United States, there have been times when unfortunately we were forced in undertake war as the last means of defense. When that has happened, our young men and women have courageously stepped forward to serve, many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice. We have erected monuments to honor them, both the living and the dead not only here, but around the world. It is an established fact that no nation on earth has sacrificed so much of it’s own blood in defense of other people’s freedom.

After decades of benign neglect, it has become fashionable to honor them in other ways. Uniforms that in the not so distant past produced contempt now inspire respect and admiration. The pendulum of that respect has swung fully back from the Vietnam era, and that is a good thing. Serving in the military has never been an easy job, even in peace time. The work is hard, the stress high, the hours seemingly unending, and the responsibilities daunting. And there is the risk to life and limb as well. If one stops to consider all those things, it can be amazing that there are those out there who are willing to enlist at all. There are plenty of inducements offered to enlistees, but when they’re asked, almost all of them will tell you, quite honestly, that the reason they do what they do is that they love America.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Leaving Fantasy Island



Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

In a few days, we'll be on the road again.  Our three-week sojourn in Hawai'i is ending and the time has come for us to return to the real world, however reluctantly.

It's been an eventful time.  We spent time with family again, people we just don't see often enough.  I had several helpings of shave ice (can never have too much of that), many meals of local delicacies, and shopping.  I visited my old ship, twice as it turns out, walked hand-in-hand with my wife in the magnificent glow of a Waikiki sunset...oh yeah, and almost experienced the end of the world.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Standing on Land's End



Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

About five million years ago, a volcano on the island that would eventually be called O'ahu, began to erupt.  The outflow would form most of the island, along with contributions from several smaller volcanoes, including the iconic Diamond Head.  The shield eventually collapsed leaving the spine of a mountain range we now know as the Ko'olaus.  O'ahu's shape resembles either a ship or a odd-looking pelican, depending on your own perceptions.  The part of the island that would be either the bow of the ship or the bill of the bird narrows down to a point of land called Ka'ena Point.

Ka'ena in the Hawai'ian language translates to "heat," and is named after a brother or cousin of the volcano goddess Pele.  Exposed to storm-driven northern swells, the area has been the sight of some of the largest waves ever seen on this planet.  In January 1998, professional surfer Ken Bradshaw was photographed speeding down the face of an 85-foot wave.  Even on calm days, big rollers routinely crash on the volcanic rocks that mark the area around the point.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Occasional Seedy Underbelly of History


Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Honolulu is one of those places where history points in many different directions, all of them colorful. King Kamehameha, after consolidating his rule over all of the Hawai'ian islands in 1804, located his royal court here on two separate occasions, as did his descendant, Kamehameha III. The first European, British Captain William Brown made port here in 1794. Many other ships followed, and soon Honolulu was the focal point for shipping between North American and Asia. With the expansion of trade came the people. Almost every Asian culture is represented here, and Honolulu is one of those rare places where white people are a distinct minority, totaling less than 20% of the population.

The Hawai'ian Monarchy was overthrown in 1893, and the entire island chain was annexed as a territory by the United States in 1898. Most people when they come here flock to the popular tourist destinations, particularly Waikiki and Ala Moana. But located near downtown is what for most of its history was considered the seedy part of Honolulu. The area now known as Chinatown encompasses a street named Hotel, a place when mentioned to military veterans will almost always return a smile and a chuckle.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Voices of Fear

Blast and fallout map, 150kt weapon.
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

By now, everyone knows what happened herein Hawai'i a week ago.  At 8:07 in the morning, a massive text push from the Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) lit up cell phones all over the 50th state, warning of an inbound missile and ending with the words, "This is no drill."  Although not backed up by any other authoritative source, and lacking the obvious confirming sirens, police cars, fire trucks, and scrambling military jets, most people took the text at its word, and panicked.  38 minutes later, another text push announced that the alert was a false alarm, but the damage had been done.

In the days since, the incident has been explored by the media and the legislature.  The Federal Communications Commission is also performing its own investigation.  And if the federal government wasn't in shutdown right now, there's no doubt that congress would be throwing its collective hat into the ring.  So far, it is what HEMA said it was all along, a mis-click on a computer monitor that instead of running a test, launched the state-wide alert.  The identity of the staffer who made the mistake is being protected by his agency, and thankfully so, since HEMA has received a lot of death threats aimed at him and his family.

The Happy Heartache of the Past

The Old Grey Lady

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

We accumulate memories on our trek through life, some bad, some good, most neutral.  Some of those recollections can be triggered by sounds, smells, or sight. When the emotionalism of nostalgia becomes intertwined with those memories, they can become far more selective than objective.  But nothing brings those thoughts into focus like visiting a place of significance from the past.

I spent 10 years in the Navy, serving on two ships and a shore duty assignment.  By the end of that span, I was a Chief Petty Officer, and facing a life-changing decision.  My kids were about to become teenagers, and they needed me at home a lot more often than my duty commitments allowed.  With my priorities properly aligned, I turned my back on the sea and headed home.

I left behind a decade's worth of remembrances of 28 foreign countries visited, friendships that have stayed strong across the intervening decades, and a warm recollection of a time when my life had a mission.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Paradise (Almost) Lost



Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

It was a calm, quiet morning, a cool breeze drifting through the windows and in a tree just outside a dove was calling.  I had just finished dressing and was ruminating over the possibilities for breakfast when that instantly identifiable tone issued from my cell phone.  I didn't react immediately, assuming it was a high surf warning for the forecasted 50-foot waves pounding the north and west shores of O'ahu.  Eventually, I picked it up and there in front of me was this message:

"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT
INBOUND TO HAWAII.
SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

As wakeup calls go, it was certainly an eye-opener.  

I grew up during the worst part of the Cold War and am old enough to clearly remember regular 'Duck and Cover" drills in school, so the idea of a pending nuclear attack is not unfamiliar to me.  But even  with the recent nerves over North Korea, this seemed to come clean out of the blue, very out of place on such a calm and peaceful morning.  For about 30 seconds I was frozen in place, then the analyst part of my brain woke up and began to function.

Outside the window, all was still quiet.  I should have been hearing warning sirens spooling up and the sounds of HPD cars racing to critical traffic control points.  There should have been the sound of fire trucks and ambulances racing to clear the primary target area.  I should have been hearing the roar of jet engines as the fighters of the Hawaii Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force were scrambled from Hickam and Honolulu International Airport.  I should also have been hearing the strident sound of ship's whistles from Pearl Harbor signaling emergency recall to their crews.  Something was wrong.  If the alert was genuine, there should have been a lot more going on.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Time, Distance, and Linearity

From Humans are free.com

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Time.

We live with it every day.  In many ways, it defines our existence.  And yet as familiar as it is to us, time remains one of the things we least understand.

Our existence is linear.  In every way we perceive, it is to us a straight line with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  That is the context in which we understand life.  We are born -- the beginning.  We die -- the end.  At any point on the line between those two points, we define as the middle.  We understand that line.  It organizes things in a way easy to understand.  But the length of that line is as individual as the people who exist upon it, from less than ten minutes to more than ten decades.  Our line is but one of billions of other lines coexisting in the same space.  Stretching into the past are lines that started and ended long before us.  Other lines extend on into a future that remains a mystery.

We believe those lines are fixed, that they cannot be edited.  To get from Monday to Friday, we must pass through the intervening days.  In order to travel from Kansas City to St. Louis, you have to pass through Columbia.  This is the essence of the three dimensional universe we inhabit.  The linearity of time for us is the same as physical distance.  

The Difference Between Confidence and Hope

Shot themselves in the foot once again.
And us in the heart.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

A few days have passed and the sharp pain has faded to a dull ache.  The shock of seeing the Chiefs lose yet another playoff game has given way to a kind of fatalistic sense of an expectation fulfilled.

I know we attach way too much importance to sports and their outcomes, especially when there are so many more vital issues to be concerned about.  But having said that, there's no denying the sense of ownership, identity, and belonging that arises from our loyalties to a team.  And the angst that hits home when that team fails.

If you're going to be a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, the first requirement is to grow a callous around your heart.  The record of the Chiefs in the postseason requires it.  Crushing futility is a good term, but doesn't come close to describing how it feels.  Since their victory in Super Bowl IV just short of a half-century ago, the Chiefs have played in 16 playoff games and lost 15.  It's not just the losses, but the character of those losses.  Way too many of them were games where things seemed well in hand, only to see them slip away at the end.  

Thursday, January 04, 2018

New Years, and the Revolving Resolve


Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

"To have the kind of year you want to have
something has to happen that you can't explain
why it happened."
--Bobby Bowden

The earth has complete one more orbit around the sun, a digit has been added to the calendar, and with the roar of fireworks, a new year is upon us.

New Year's is a neat way to draw a line between the past and the future, a time when it becomes somehow convenient to redraw our lives along what we hope will be happier and more prosperous times.  When the clock's hands point straight up on that night, it is a moment when hope becomes somehow palpably real, as if we could take it in our hands, stroke it gently, and feel the joy of a perfectly unsullied moment.  The year past is seen as old and broken, something without value to be cast aside in favor of the shiny new future. And yet, as the patterns of the past have shown, most times we find ourselves at the end of that new year, essentially in the same rut we were in before.

Resolutions are made every year, and every year remain unfulfilled.  All those wonderful changes we intended to make become lost in the return to the post-holiday routine.  The passion and energy we were planning to use in pursuing the new us somehow is drained in the long, dark tunnel of January, February, and March.  Anyone who has belonged to a gym sees this graphically manifested in the flood of new members during January, few of whom remain by Valentine's Day.  For some, the resolutions were set too high.  For most of the rest, I think we find we're comfortable being who and what we are, unwilling to vacate that safe little box and voyage into uncharted territory.  At the end of the year, we do see changes, but they are almost always small and inconsequential.

Being Home on the Road

Farewell, California...

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

"I will never lose the love for arriving,
but I'm born to leave."
--Charlotte Eriksson

It was a warm, sunny day, like nearly all of the 91 days we spent in California.  We had gone through the travail of packing up the car, checking out of the hotel, and now we pointed the car's nose eastward.  The approach to that day was accompanied by a sense of unreality born out of the daily routine that had been ours.  We knew that the end of our stay was nearing, that we would leave the marvelous Mediterranean weather for far colder climes.  But somehow, even as we headed for I-15, we still couldn't quite grasp it.

Our life now is a succession of contracts, thirteen weeks in one place, then hitting the road for another.  We sold our home in Virginia, and while we use our daughter's home in Aurora as a home base of sorts, at this point there isn't really any place we could call home.  But that's how we like it.  Cheryl has a kind of stopwatch inside of her with regards to her job.  When the contract is up, so is her patience for the often stodgy bureaucracy that is the modern American hospital.  So it is with a kind of relief that she can pick up and leave without looking back, pushing on to the next adventure.  Since we don't have anyplace to call home, we don't get homesick.  We make friends and have fun, but are still able to take off without any emotional strands tugging at our hearts.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Peace, and the Pacific



Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

There is something peaceful, even hypnotic in the sound of a beach on a calm day.  The waves roll in, responding to impulses of wind and tides originating far out to sea.  A small rolling hill emerges from the flat seas, moving shoreward.  As it closes the beach, it slows down and grows.  At the point where the top of the wave is moving faster than the base, the top begins to curl.  Looking carefully, one might spot fish caught in the translucent green-blue wall.  A line of foam appears and the crest curls forward, creating a tube.  Then with a sort of muffled "whoomph" the water hits the sand, followed by a hissing as the water races over the sand, almost as if it were taking a breath after a long, tough journey.  The water glides in before running out of momentum, and returning to the sea.  In sharp counterpoint, seagulls contribute their characteristic shrill cries.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Why it is a "Silent Night"



Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

"Silent Night,
Holy Night.
All is calm,
All is bright."
--Joseph Mohr

It was Christmas Eve in a small town nestled among the mountains of Western Pennsylvania.  It had been a very active, very joyful day.  Three of our four adult children had come into town to spend Christmas together with us.  Our century-old Victorian house had fairly burst with laughter and singing, and the running feet of young grandkids.  It had been snowing most of the day, about nine inches thus far, and we had all been outside throwing snowballs, making snowmen and snow angels.  I couldn't rustle up any sleds thanks to the immutable law of scarcity in a small town, or we would have taken on the steep hills in the area.  We had all eaten way too much food, played games by the fire, and generally had reveled in the singular feeling of togetherness for a family which had started to fly before the four winds.

As the evening grew late, everyone finally retired and the house grew quiet once again.  I had stayed in the living room, having finished the round of stories for our grandkids.  I was watching the fire, ostensibly preparing to bank the remaining coals before retiring, but mainly soaking in a rare kind of joy.  The stockings were all up on the mantelpiece, greenery hung in graceful loops along the walls.  Over by the window, the Christmas tree stood, glowing softly and illuminating the many gaily-wrapped boxes that awaited that special joy that could only be Christmas morning.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Cosmos, and Our Survival


Earth's first ambassadors to the galaxy
From https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

On December 11th, President Trump signed a Policy Directive ordering NASA to lead a space exploration program with the goal of sending Americans back to the moon.  The document, signed on the 45th anniversary of humanity's last lunar landing, implies a permanent base on the lunar surface, and also declares Mars as the next target of manned exploration.

It is a bold declaration, which of course will be strangled by politics, opposed by people solely on the basis of their hatred of the President, much as a similar directive by President Bush was ignored and smothered.  Pun intended, it will never fly.

Manned space exploration beyond earth orbit was abandoned decades ago.  Politics played a large part in that collapse of of mankind's boldest and most courageous effort to leave the natal womb of our planet.  But the real cause was the abandonment of vision.

As a human race, we have always been at out best when pursuing high aspirations. Big dreams coupled with daring actions have produced extraordinary results and our understanding of the universe has increased exponentially.  But for every question answered, a dozen more are generated, and thus the process of exploration and discovery should have its own kind of self-generated momentum.  But for what I suspect are purely selfish motivations, there are those with access to power who persist in squashing vision.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The View Across the Great Gulf



Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Today I drove down to Laguna Beach to do my walking, which probably sounds odd to you.  I try to vary my walking routes to keep the activity from becoming stale.  One favorite destination is the coast because I love the ocean.  Unfortunately, where we are staying is in the far northern reaches of the LA area, so getting to any of the beaches take a pretty good drive.  One of my favorites is the town of Laguna Beach.  It's a pretty place, to be sure, but along with it's tony neighbor up the coast, Newport Beach, is home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world.  Around there, the cheap homes go for about four million.  Dollars.

But it is a place of beauty and is thus a wonderful place to visit on a sun-splashed California morning.  Those uber-priced homes attract similarly well-heeled clientele, most of whom are actually fairly nice.  But one of the fun things about being in this area involves my love affair with exotic automobiles.  Anytime spent in any of the expensive beach communities of Los Angeles will net the discriminating watcher views of spectacular hardware usually only seen in person at auto shows. Today's three-hour walk between Laguna and Aliso Beaches produced some fruitful watching.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Quiet Moment


Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

The breeze blows softly, taking just enough of the edge off the warmth of the bright sunlight.  Leaves rustle in the trees above my head and the music of the songbirds fills the air.  The cool, green grass wraps around my bare feet in a most welcoming way, all while I attempt to remember that it is mid-
December.

There is a kind of delicious irony to be savored on such a calm, peaceful evening, remembering other Decembers in other, less congenial locales.  I can remember the biting wind, chilling me to the bone.  I remember shoveling huge amounts of snow, trying to drive through ice storms and blizzards.  But those memories seem so far away.

I know there are millions of you who are dealing with all the unpleasantries of winter, and believe me, I do feel your pain.  But at the risk of seeming smug, that's just not me this year.

I've learned that when I find myself in pleasant and advantageous circumstances, I need to take the time to savor those things; to treasure the moment, storing those feelings and sensations away in the vault of memory.

Life is a collection of moments, some bad, some forgettable, and some golden.   It is the ones that fall at either end of that scale that tend to stay with us.  Sadly, it is the bad ones which remain the most vivid of recollections.  I'm not sure why that is, perhaps that pain makes the deepest of impressions.  Doing a quick inventory of my own set of memories, there seems to be an even mix between the two.  The ones in the middle pop up from time to time, unexpected and unbidden.  Out of the clear blue, I may experience a few moments lying on the couch in Pennsylvania, watching television while the big flakes of a lake effect snow storm float and dance outside the window.  Or a piece of a late night commute home through Northern Virginia astride my motorcycle.  

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Heartache and the Kansas City Chiefs

Okay...it's not Rembrandt,
but it does make the point.

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

The relationship between a professional sports team and its fans is necessarily complex.  Technically (and legally) speaking, the team is a private club owned by private individuals.  Membership is strictly limited to a relatively few supremely qualified individuals.  But the clubs are identified primarily by a city, and thus fans assume a sense of ownership themselves.  This sense is strengthened by the fact that the club's revenue is dependent on ticket sales, concessions, parking, sales of team logo gear, everything from professional quality jerseys to key chains.  The only exception to this is the Green Bay Packers, which is owned by the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The team's identity is completely and totally linked with the city in which they play.  So any success adds luster to the city and it's citizens.  Likewise, failure can sully the name and reputation of both.  

Kansas City, Missouri is in so many ways the quintessential midwestern American city.  That ethos touches every aspect of community life, especially with regards to its sports franchises.  

The Royals' two-year run stirred emotions to a fever pitch, ending in an epic parade and victory celebration attended by upwards of two million people, all dressed in blue.  True to midwest ethics, on that day, out of those two million fans, there was only one arrest, a guy who had imbibed too much of the spirits of joy.  Also of note, on the night of the win over the Mets, there were nearly-orgasmic celebrations, but no riots.  No stores were trashed, no cars set on fire.  To Kansas Citians, the relationship between them and their teams is very much like a really big family, and in a time when the eyes of the world were on them, nobody wanted to embarrass the kin.  

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Wildfire and Stubborn Humans

Flames in the Santa Paula area of Los Angeles
From azfamily.com

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

People who live in Southern California rave about all that is wonderful in the lifestyle that exists here.  The usually mild Mediterranean climate, proximity to the heart-stopping beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains. It is an area that fairly boils with things to do, being the entertainment capital of the world.  On the same day, you could hike precipitous trails in the mountains, spend the afternoon swimming in the ocean or tanning on the beach, then in the evening attend a world premier of some kind, then party on into the wee hours at any one of the world-class nightspots.  I have written before here about the natural beauty of the region, the gentle pastels of sea, sky, and mountains.  In that context, there's no place like it anywhere.

But this is not Eden.  There are the drawbacks, prices to be paid for the privilege of living here.  

Monday, December 04, 2017

Christmas and Memories

Sleeping Beauty's castle, lit for the season.

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Age diminishes many things, mostly physical, but somehow our appreciation for the simpler things never goes away.

We are now in what the politically correct call "The Holiday Season," but the rest of us always know as Christmas.  The air is colder, the days shorter, for some the first of many winter snows cover the ground.  But entering this season, one can't deny the onset of a quiet kind of happiness.  Part of that comes from childhood memories, rife with anticipation framed by the impatience of waiting for the arrival of that jolly old gent and a memorable morning tearing into gaily wrapped packages, watching dreams come true.  As I got older, I gained an appreciation for the gathering of family, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins whom I never saw often enough.  Sometimes that meant a long trip up north to Wisconsin, where I realized they had REAL snow, instead of the hit-or-miss pattern of Missouri's winter weather.  There, we would all go to Tenney Park and spend a glorious day sledding down steep hills, having snowball fights, building snowmen, all those fun things that can only be done in winter.  When the sun rested on the horizon, we trooped back to a home, warm and bustling, where a hot bath and dry clothes awaited us.  I remember Christmas morning, us kids sitting around the tree, the focus and cynosure of love and affection as we tore into our gifts.  

Christmas dinner was served up by my grandmother, a brilliant instinctive cook who, along with her daughters, produced a feast the flavors of which still bring a smile to me over 50 years later.  A couple of days more, and we piled back into the car and started that long ten-hour trip back to Missouri.  The glow of those days stayed with me, and how I wished that it would go on longer.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Warbirds



Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

I've always had a thing for airplanes, going back to my youth.  I suppose that this is part of that peculiar male tendency to anthropomorphize technology.  My Dad would sometimes on Sunday afternoons take us to old Kansas City Municipal Airport, just across the Missouri River from downtown.  There, we would drive to a parking lot on the opposite side of the airport where we could sit and watch the airliners take off and land.  The tall towers of downtown necessitated an abrupt descent to catch the runway.  It took skill to land there, and it was a dramatic process to watch.  

I loved watching the planes, and I took pictures which I added to the scrapbook that Dad had started for me with pictures of the planes he had ridden on.  My favorites were the graceful cetacean curves of the Lockheed Constellation, and the power and grace of the Boeing 707, the undisputed Queen of the Skies.  I don't know how my mom and sister saw these outings, but as a young boy, it was a fine way to spend an afternoon.

I started buying and building plastic scale models, mostly from Revell, and of World War II vintage.  That war was less than two decades past, and I know now how swiftly those years pass for those of adult age and older.  The war was still being fought on prime-time television, with shows like Combat! and 10 o'Clock High.  Movies were shown on Saturday afternoons and evenings, mostly forgettable films like Battle of Blood Island, The Gallant Hours, Wackiest Ship in the Army, as well as undeniable classics like Sink the Bismarck, The Battle of Britain, and In Harm's Way.  Through older movies, I was introduced to the jet age by semi-propaganda movies like Bombers B-52, Strategic Air Command, and the one that introduced me to my favorite jet plane, The Hunters, about a USAF squadron of F-86 Sabres.

The Sabre, has always looked...well...beautiful to me.  There have been a lot of beautiful aircraft over the years -- the B-58 Hustler, the Russian Backfire, the Tomcat -- but in my eyes, nothing more beautiful or graceful than that big-mouthed silver bird.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Why Digital SLR's Never Bathe
















What happens when you shoot with a dirty camera.


Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

At the end of May of last year, Cheryl and I undertook what was the most difficult hike we (or I) have ever done.  We drove out to the western part of Virginia to the Cedar Run Trail.  This was a humdinger, when combined with the return loop through White Oak Canyon, it was over eight miles, 2,400 feet up and 2,400 feet down on a hot and humid day.  Why, you ask, would we do this?  Well, we wanted to do a waterfall hike, and Cedar Run, which tumbles down that long hill between the two trails, was full of them.  It was pretty, but a tough climb up, and then an even tougher descent, because the spray from the stream had slicked up the clay surface of the trail.  It was like hiking on ice.  Anyway, at the bottom of the return loop, we had to ford Cedar Run twice.  It was, at this point, a pretty sedate stretch of water.  I started crossing on the rocks, but they were wobbly, and at 62 years old, my balance isn't near what it used to be.  Exhausted and impatient, I decided just to wade across.  After all, my boots were waterproof.  But the subsurface was slick with moss and algae, so of course, I went down.  With great energy.  The water was very cool, which felt really great on a hot day, but I had neglected to put my new $400 Sony digital SLR camera back in it's case.  So, it got wet.

Upon arriving home after a 90-minute drive, I stuck camera and lens in a bag of rice.  Now, opinions are divided on the efficacy of this method, but after four days, I extracted the camera, dusted it off and holding my breath, switched it on.  To my intense relief, it fired right up.  All the functions worked just fine.  So take that, Internet.

However, in the ensuing months, I began to notice smudges appearing on my pictures.  Over time, they got pretty ugly.  Eventually, I replaced the lens, which took care of most of the problem, but some of the smudges remained.  I learned that playing with the aperture and focal length, I could minimize their appearance, but, as you can see by the dusk photo of Catalina Harbor above, sometimes conditions prevented such manipulation.  I finally faced up to the fact that there was mold growing on the sensor.