About Me

Pearl City, HI, United States

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thoughts From a Sunset Train Ride

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Now three weeks into my new job and new city, some semblance of routine is finally asserting itself, although I don't know that I'll ever get accustomed to waking up at four a.m.  Still, the new opportunities are exciting and the future looks like a thrill ride waiting to happen.

I've already written about the dynamics of my commute, so I won't bore anyone with more details about that.  But one thing that I've discovered in my two-hour car-train-subway-bus journey is that I have time now to think.  A mass-transit commute provides that, since sitting there waiting for the next stop is essentially empty time anyway.  I do listen to music some times, but I find more and more that the best way to spend those hours is to gaze out the window and let my mind wander in whatever direction it desires.  For a writer, these are truly precious hours.

I love the train most of all.  It's less crowded, quieter and more contemplative.  The landscape glides by the windows, sights of cities, towns, and back yards.  A house will flash into my view, all lit up in the late autumn darkness.  Inside, I catch a snapshot of someone else's life.  A family sitting down to dinner, or just in front of the TV.  One evening, I saw in a family room a pile of intertwined humanity engaged in a game of Twister.  I smile, knowing that I am also headed to a place where love glows and I am embraced by the unbreakable bonds of family.  There have been too many other nights when I was traveling for work, feeling lonely, and wishing that one of those lighted windows belonged to me.

Has the Wall of Einstein Finally Cracked?

The famous Hubble Deep Field. Image credit NASA/JPL 
Each one of those smudges is a galaxy, like our Milky Way, containing between 200 billion and 500 billion stars, like our Sun.  Perhaps ten percent of those stars may have planets.  And maybe, just maybe, 0.01% of those planets (which works out to about a million worlds) may harbor intelligent life.  The Universe is a place with more possibilities than any human can imagine.
Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey,
written content only
For centuries, humans have looked to the night skies and seen a vast expanse that for the most part never changes. Oh, you’ll see meteorites, comets, and the occasional supernova, but by and large, the night sky never changes. The stars that make up the familiar constellations Orion the Hunter and the two Dippers have always been there, and will likely still be recognizable touchstones in the sky when the human species fades away.
The unchanging nature of the universe extends itself to the science of physics, the root of which is the theory of relativity, authored by Albert Einstein in 1905. Einstein is widely acknowledged as the greatest scientific mind humanity has ever produced. His theory has been poked and prodded at ever since, but despite all the challenges, it remains the cornerstone of our understanding of the universe.
I won’t take the space to explain all the ramifications of Relativity Theory, but one of its basic tenets is the assertion that it is impossible for a material object to travel faster than the speed of light. And that speed, 186,000 miles per second, has been the constant by which all things in the universe have been measured and the universe itself understood.
In March of this year, scientists working at the CERN lab near Geneva, Switzerland conducted an experiment where they sent a burst of particles called neutrinos on a journey of some 730 kilometers to another lab near L’Aquila, Italy. What the original purpose of the experiment was hasn’t been discussed but the results have shaken the physics community to its very foundations.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Having That Traffic Chat

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Moving to the big city would have consequences.  This, I knew.  Things cost more, everywhere is further away, and things just aren’t as convenient.  As I review the past two weeks in the Washington DC area though, the traffic has far and away been the biggest adjustment.  

Somerset lies at a crossroads of several state and US highways as well as the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  But traffic is rarely an issue.  Saturday mornings on North Center Avenue can be a real challenge as people make their shopping forays to the retailers and grocers that line that particular street.  Other than that, it’s a rare thing to actually have to slow down or even take the car off cruise control.

I’ve lived in big cities before, most with major traffic problems (L.A. for five years), so I’m not altogether a virgin at this kind of thing.  But I’m an older and slower man now, so things are tougher.

As anyone who has lived in the DC-Northern Virginia area can testify, everything in life revolves around “the commute.”  Basic decisions of life are made with that daily drive in mind.  The area is awash in freeways, most of which seem to be under construction or repair, as the authorities strive in vain to keep up with the flood of vehicles that stream in, out, and through the area daily.  It’s ironic that so many are out of work right now, but to look at the area freeways in rush hour, you’d think the economy was booming.

Heavy traffic does things to people.  Some become very aggressive, zipping in and out of lanes, taking advantage of the smallest hole only to be brought to a sudden halt.  At the other extreme are those who take things easy, leaving a lot of room in front of them and easing off the accelerator instead of constantly using the brakes. Then there are the rest of us, alternatively driving hard for certain stretches and then resigning ourselves to the slow crawl.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


Copyright © by Ralph Couey

I'll never forget the moment.  It was my last day in uniform, capping 10 years of a globe-trotting Navy career.  I had spent the morning with the inspector from the Navy Housing Office as she cleared us out of quarters.  The furniture had been gone about a week, the kids with in-laws in Hawaii, and Cheryl was in Missouri already on her new job.  I was alone, but looking forward to the time when we'd be all together again.

The afternoon I spent aboard the ship, completing the checkout process and saying my farewells.  Finally, everything was finished and after one last nostalgic tour of the ship, I ended up on the quarterdeck.  For the last time, I saluted the Officer of the Deck, saying those long-anticipated words, "Request permission to leave the ship."  I then saluted the flag, and headed down the brow.  When my feet hit the concrete surface of the pier, I suddenly felt a dizzying sense of disorientation.  I was homeless.  I was jobless.  I had no place to go, no sanctuary.  Looking back at the magnificent gray lady that had carried us across the seas, I realized that I was now an outsider.

My recent situation brought back those desolate feelings with full force.  I've changed jobs and am in the process of changing locations as well.  While we still have our home in Somerset, it will be going on the market soon, and then we will get serious about finding a home in our new location.  But on that day when I left my job for the last time, the memories of that day 20 years ago came flooding back.  I had spent the week doing those multitudinous tasks associated with ending a professional relationship, including passing my current projects onto their new custodians.  The rest of the time, I spent talking and saying goodbye to people who had become more than colleagues, much more than friends.  It was bittersweet and at that moment when I turned over my access badge to the security officer, I was under a bit of a cloud.

I left the building, crossed the street, and like Lot's wife, I turned and gazed back at the building where I had invested so much of myself.  For years, this had been a familiar place for me.  I was part of the town, I was part of the organization.  But in that moment, I realized I could never go back in there again. I felt empty and alone.  Once again, after a short walk, I was an outsider.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Death and Dimensionality

Vortex Tunnel from http://www.gepproductions.com/vortextunnel.html

Copyright © 2011 (Written content only) by Ralph Couey
“Life” has many definitions from the physiological to the metaphysical, but can be basically characterized as that period of existence when the body is functional and the brain active.  It is generally accepted to begin at birth, and end when the body and the brain cease to function.  It also can go beyond pure biological function to describe the universe in which we live.
Our existence consists of three dimensions:  length, width, and height, thus we live in a “3-dimensional universe.”  Many, however, grow this to include the dimension of time.  Scientists have postulated the existence of higher dimensions for quite some time.  M-Theory, a development of String Theory, proposes that there may be as many as ten spatial dimensions.
To understand this at a very basic level, take a piece of paper and draw a straight line.  This is a one dimensional construct.  Now draw another line at a right angle to the first one.  Now you have two dimensions.  Imagine living in such a universe.  You have forward and back, left and right, but up and down are utterly unknown to you.  Were you to use additional line segments to draw walls, you could create a small “house”.  But from the lofty perch of the third dimension, you see that walls are not obstacles.  You can see inside structures.  Were there inhabitants of such a town, you could observe them wherever they went. 
Now stand the pencil upright with the point at the intersection of two lines.  Now, you have created up and down.  This is where you live, in this third realm, 90 degrees apart from flatland.
The creation of a fourth physical dimension would require you to draw another line segment, 90 degrees away from the other three.  Of course, you can’t; nobody can.  But just imagine that another being is watching from atop his line segment, observing you as you move around your little universe. 
Such a higher dimension is possible, but since it can never be proven, it remains a theory.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Civil War: Events of November 1861

On November 1, the highly-popular George McClellan was promoted to General-in-Chief of the entire Union Army.
On the 2nd, President Lincoln relieved the controversial John C. Fremont from duty.
Two days later, the U.S. Navy entered Port Royal Sound which lies between the strategically vital ports of Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA after being battered by a fierce storm on the trip down the coast.  On that same day, Major General Thomas Jackson, now called “Stonewall,” took command of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
On November 6th, Jefferson Davis was elected to the office of President of the Confederacy for a 6-year term.
November 7th saw the opening of a major attack and amphibious operation against the Confederate forts of Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard guarding the entrance to Port Royal Sound.  Union commander Flag Officer Samuel DuPont put his ships on an elliptical path, bombarding first one fort, then the other.  The Union ships were challenged by Rebel gunboats, but the smaller craft fled when fired upon.  By early afternoon, the guns at Fort Walker were silenced, and the troops were withdrawn.  The commander of Fort Beauregard followed suit and Union soldiers were landed and took possession of both forts.  As a result of this action, Union forces moved north, taking St. Helena Sound and the city of Beaufort.  The Port of Charleston was besieged and remained that way to the war’s end.
That same day, Ulysses S. Grant saw his first action as commander of the District of Southeast  Missouri when, on his way to attack Rebel forces at Columbus, Kentucky, learned that enemy troops had crossed the Mississippi and occupied Belmont, Missouri.  Grant landed his force on the Missouri side of the river and overran the encampment.  However, the Confederate remnants reorganized and reinforced from Columbus, counter-attacked, supported by heavy artillery from across the river.  Grant was forced to retreat to Paducah, Kentucky.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

"W" Also Stands for "Whoa"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
The Chiefs won.  On Monday Night Football.  A field goal tipped the game in OT causing what might have been the largest mass-orgasm in Arrowhead history.   I suppose I should just let it go at that.  Some things, no matter how joyful they may seem, should not be examined too closely.  Such was this game.
The San Diego media this morning is full of the typical wailing, gnashing of teeth, and garment rending that appears in every newspaper (including the Star) when the Home Team throws up a real skunker on national television.  Even though the Chargers are a divisional rival, I still empathize.  That fumble between center and quarterback will live forever in lurid full-color HD memory for all Bolts faithful, not the least of whom would be the two players involved.  It’s the kind of disastrous occurrence one looks back on from the 20/20 hindsight of February with a certainty that that’s where the season soured.  The Chargers have the 7-0 Packers next week and nobody sees a good outcome in that contest.
Before I say anything else, let me opine that the officiating was about the worst I can ever remember.  It’s not all that unusual when one official blows a call.  But this whole crew seemed to have partaken of way too much allergy medication before kickoff.  Let’s be honest.  Antonio Gates did not commit offensive pass interference.  And Dexter McCluster’s fumble was clearly caused by the ground.  The crew from ESPN, some of whom have played a game or two, were baffled by the quality of the calls.