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:: Tuesday, April 30, 2002 ::
Way back in 1998, a cult called the Unarius Academy of Science began mailing me flyers proudly boasting the heading
A 21st Century Cosmic Event....
Don't look yet as I'll give a tour shortly, but here are scanned pages from one of the flyers grouped for your convenience:
My initial reaction was along the lines of "Um, okay," and the flyer was promptly tossed into the garbage can. But more flyers followed, and they kept coming. Of 80 million mailing addresses in this country, why did they pick mine? Well, why not? The real question was why in the hell did they think I was such a promising prospective cult member?
On the cover is a flying saucer with a serious exhaust problem. The Unarius Academy of Science is headquarted in California, and I'd venture to say any vehicle blowing stars and nebulae out the tailpipe is most assuredly not welcome to cruise the 101, even if it is a High Occupancy Vehicle transporting 1,000 scientists and Space Brothers. If the Mytons weren't enlightened enough to invent the catalytic converter, I find it hard to believe the good people of California would have anything to do with them, which is precisely why the Mytons were to be forced to land on the resurrected "Atlantis continent, situated in the Caribbean Sea."
The introduction goes on to talk about the "arrival of our Space Brothers" in 2001, when the "essential ingredients for a new paradigm are coming into parallax." Whoa, whoa, whoa, Cletus - that doesn't make any sense! Where did they come up with parallax? Did they get it from the Pleiadeans' Dictionary of Cool Astronomy Terms Sure to Make You Sound Frightfully Spiritual and Sexy? Do they even know what parallax means, and that its use here makes no sense whatsoever?
R-r-r-r-right. At this point I decided to save a flyer until after 2001 and compare notes with reality in 2002. I stumbled upon it last week when changing desks for my new job at work. Where I work, the bottom of a desk drawer is probably a safer place to stash secret documents than a bank's safety deposit boxes.
The next page  is classic - I can't make this stuff up, folks: A crew member on the Starship Hope informs the ship's chief officer, the valiant Captain Star, that they are about to enter earth's atmosphere. And, despite the seething trail of starsmoke Starship Hope leaves in its wake, "none have been alarmed, nor are they in any way endangering our descent," not even the Californians.
The fourth page  continues with... ohmygosh!... more meaningless prattle! Particularly informative, I trust, was the behind-the-scenes video documentary of the UFO phenomena. Yes, if you didn't catch it, you missed learning relevent information about the science of interplanetary space travel, because as we all know now from our vantage point in 2002, the Mytons truly removed the "last remaining barrier of spaceflight" with their nebula-fuming spaceships, universal intelligence, cosmic consciousness, and progressive cycles, to name a few!
The next page  reveals more startling facts. For instance, did you know U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was actually a Muon, Space Brother to humanity? Yes, it's true - says so on page 5! The reincarnated FDR Space Brother reiterates something he said in a speech during his earthbound years, "There is no fear but the fear of fear, which is the unresolved nature of past-life negative traumas!" Oh, dear! That means years and years of therapist fees have been wasted, when all this time I should have been channeling the Archangel Uriel to remind me the "future of mankind is positive and progressive!"
A detailed explanation of metaphysical mechanics is given on the next page . The spiritual forces governing planetary changes and the New Science of Life are synchronized firmly with the supreme Gregorian Calendar, not other, lesser timescales such as the Jewish Calendar. Why not? Well, the year is 5762 on the Jewish Calendar, and the next Jewish millenium is 239 years away in the year 6001, a worrisome inconvenience for the Muons' agenda!
The last page  concludes the flyer's message of good news with a summary of the symposium's agenda. How I wish I had attended - a speech by the self-proclaimed "renowned author" of the Unarius Library, watching the Interplanetary Banner Procession, dinner in the dark, and an actual Live Contact With a Space Brother, all for only $135! Bummer! And, oh, look... the Unarius Academy of Science has a website, complete with Starship Hope's cosmos-polluting stardust, at www.unarius.org! (Beware people of New Brunswick and Newfoundland, for the Unarius Academy website graphic predicts a ferociously peaceful hurricane is coming your way.)
Being that we're in 2002 and all, I know what you're probably wondering: What is the Unarius Academy of Science's explanation for why the Muons didn't visit Earth in 2001? Fortunately for the Muons' eagerly awaiting brothers and sisters on Earth, they sent not one, but two mental transmissions letting us know the 500 foot tall Starship Hope is hovering undetected somewhere in Earth's atmosphere!
They're waiting for "a time or cycle when the majority of earth people will be receptive." Hopefully Captain Star remembered to stock plenty of coffee in the galley before leaving Myton and that jalopy of theirs better have plenty of fuel! Read all about it.:: Bryan Travis :: 04/30/2002 @ 03:07 :: [link] ::
Excellent article. I can assure you that this dissolves all fears, doubts, and uncertainties about living a single life. I have never felt more fortunate than I do this very moment. Pshaw!
And...Bryan Travis :: 04/30/2002 @ 00:33 :: [link] ::
:: Sunday, April 28, 2002 ::
Days after record high temperatures soared into the 90s, President Bush outlined his proposed solution to Adirondack forests endangered by acid rain as acid snow leached the remaining color from his hair on Earth Day, saying "Grab an axe, my fellow A-murr-icans, and let's make acid rain a non-issue in New England!" Area loggers attending the event expressed their enthusiastic support. [Permanent Picture]:: Bryan Travis :: 04/28/2002 @ 21:47 :: [link] ::
I love food, and who doesn't - it's amazing stuff. The pleasure of eating wonderful food is sacred. With the exception of breakfast, my favorite meal, my culinary skills are such that I don't cook many foods - I reheat them. There's a distinct difference between these methods of food preparation, and the one I typically employ at home means there are few opportunities of finding the near-orgasmic experience of exquisite foods without leaving the comfortable confines of the house.
Herbs possess powerful magical, permeating air and foods with their heady aromas and delicate flavors. As I become familiar with an increasing number of herbal scents and flavors, I've come to realize seasoning, along with technique, are the greatest cooking secrets. Here's an example: If you've been to a Macaroni Grille, your server pours olive oil on a dish and adds seasonings to dip bread in. It has a wonderful flavor. The secret is rosemary; you can guess the rest... peppercorns, dill, sage, and so on.
Last spring I discovered rosemary in a nursery and have been an ardent admirer ever since. I remember smelling it for the first time, catching a hint of it as I walked by, leaning over the plants and inhaling deeply. The scent was so strong and aromatic; I had no idea fresh herbs could smell like that.
A year later, and the potted herb garden on my patio diversifies gradually with time. It's almost a Scarborough Fair Garden - parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. The only missing herb is parsley, which isn't one I'm currently interested in growing. There's catnip, lemon thyme, cayenne and habenero peppers, oregano, lavender, a pineapple bush, an orange tree, and a couple non-flowering tropicals.
Sitting on the patio tending herbs in the warm sun of a weekend morning cultivates Zen. It's a peaceful experiece allowing one to connect with the aspects of the world they want to commune with, while leaving the rest of it, the problems and worries and more, behind. And best of all, these plants are herbs - they're hardy and take care of themselves, so it doesn't really matter if I don't make it outside every weekend to dink and prune and harvest. In fact, except for fertilizing occasionally and watering them if it doesn't rain, herbs will do just fine without your attention. You see, I know the hour or two spent with my herbs each week doesn't make a bit of difference to them, but it does a wealth of good for my well-being. When I run my hands through the rosemary bushes to ensure the branches are healthy and upright, I can smell it on my hands for hours. And life is good.
Today I'll finally use the herbs I grow by making herb honey. It's ridiculously easy, and every book or webpage I've read quotes the same recipe:
I love the first visit to a unique restaurant to try new dishes or novel preparations of familiar foods. Label me strange, but it's a pleasurable form of exploration, anticipating the hitherto unknown flavors and textures that soon will flow over the palate.
At home, curiosity must be simplified because, once again, my culinary skills limit me. Fortunately, not all unexplored culinary delights hide themselves in the $20-$35 entrees of fine restaurants. Some are quite humble...
Take jalapeño jelly, for example. Writing this, I can hear your sigh of disgust already - but have you ever tried it? If not, it's your prejudice at work, allowing your mind to fabricate assumptions and accepting them as true. If you knew mayonnaise was egg white, vinegar and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil violently whipped with air into a creamy, white slurry before you ate it for the first time, would you have let your mom slather it onto a slice of bread?
Jalapeño, sugar, water, vinegar, and pectin with butter on toast? It's an incomprehensible mixture, but I ask that you submit to the wonders of seredipity. I had heard about the stuff and knew I'd hate it, and when I saw it on the grocery shelf and decided to try it for shlitz and giggles, I was still pretty certain. When I got home, opened the jar and took a whiff, the powerful scent of vinegar left no doubt and I laughed out loud - this stuff was not intended for toast. But I tried it, anyway, and have eaten as much toast in two weeks as I have in the past two years.
That being said, a pioneering spirit doesn't always pay off. On the opposite side of the aisle where the jars of jalapeño jelly sat were jars of Brer Rabbit molasses. On a roll that day, I put a jar of it into the cart.
Full-flavored molasses isn't as good on a waffle as you might think, even when diluted with syrup. Molasses is not pancake syrup, and mixing molasses with syrup simply makes more molasses. Nor is molasses a satisfactory tea or coffee sweetener. Let's just say molasses wasn't intended as a condiment at all. Molasses is an ingredient used to highlight the flavor of foods such as barbecue sauce, gingerbread, and baked beans - it's intended to be that "secret ingredient," not to make food taste like molasses.
So you win a few and lose a whole lot. I had a similar crash-and-burn with natural peanut butter. You keep chugging along. And no, this post has absolutely no redeeming, philosophical value at all; no deep, metaphorical hidden meaning - nothing. I just felt like writing. Although the previous post about Jupiter had some of that stuff - what did you think? Pretty wild, eh?
Time to make that herb honey.:: Bryan Travis :: 04/28/2002 @ 15:46 :: [link] ::
:: Saturday, April 27, 2002 ::
We completed the last of the orbital insertion burns yesterday, and entered an elliptical orbit with an inclination of 60 degrees, 250,000 mile perogee over the northern latitudes on the nightside and an 800,000 mile apogee over the daytime southern latitudes. We're never closer to Jupiter than the earth is to the moon, but even so far away, Jupiter's disc is massive. As we sail away from the globe and approach apogee, the Great Red Spot is swirling into view. I could spend hours in this room gazing out the window, watching the maelstrom feeding on the opposing winds of the zones surrounding the belt it swims through. If you watch intently, you can see the clouds swirling, actually moving before your eyes; if you look away for 15 minutes, Jupiter greets you with a new kaleidoscope of swirling patterns. This planet is vividly alive, but not with countless individuals - Jupiter itself is a living creature, its clouds a chameleonic skin, its lightning storms and aurora a constant song of radio waves, its magnetosphere a powerful lifeforce extending millions of miles into space around it.
I've never been so far away from home, from you. On the other side of the ship looking out the window toward the sun, the now familar semi-bright speck of earth, a crescent through the telescope, waxes slowly over the months as it speeds away around the sun. Each day takes you further away.:: Bryan Travis :: 04/27/2002 @ 15:56 :: [link] ::
:: Friday, April 26, 2002 ::
His name was probably responsible for endless teasing on the playground, but Yo-Yo Ma plays a kick-ass cello. Welcome to my latest musical fetish, Bach's suites for unaccompanied cello.
When he was a child, Yo-Yo Ma's father told him to play Bach's cello suites every night before going to bed. His nightly ritual has served him well, certainly better than mine has served me. I undress every night before going to bed, and have done so for most of my 26 years, yet it's earned my striptease performances at the ladies' club only a few jeering fans.
The current unaccompanied cello suite fetish has occurred simultaneously with the Buddhist Monk chanting musical fetish. Buddhist Monk Chant is some wild stuff, yo! I wish I could sing three notes at the same time... I'd consider making two notes at the same a major accomplishment.
There's a helluva lot of bass in Buddhist chant, too. I'm surprised all those bass tape-playing fools with 500 watt speaker systems in their cars that you can feel concussive bass blasts from half a mile away haven't discovered it by now. Great sound, but not a beat you can dance to. Although she's never said anything about it, it must really drive my neighbor nuts when I play it through the subwoofer, even at subdued volumes. It's a foregone conclusion the purpose of the whole chanting thing escapes her - I've only heard her play music about three times in the past 2.5 years, and it's always been that Billboard Weekly Top 40 Pop shinola-esque stuff you hear on those radio stations that play music for 20 minutes and round out the hour with screaming commercial announcers for the next 40.
Her idea of "progressive religious music" is Christian rock; mine is Buddhist chant. Ah, yes... a new mission in life - bringing Eastern religion to the good people of Fern Creek, conservative Louisville 'burb!:: Bryan Travis :: 04/26/2002 @ 05:07 :: [link] ::
:: Sunday, April 21, 2002 ::
I fell asleep watching IFC last night, and behold, sometime around 4 or 5 am, I groggily awoke to an insightful quote onscreen between scenes of a movie:
The dread of loneliness is greater than the fear of bondage, so we get married. - Cyril Connolly
The second module of the MBA program is finished, and I'm glad to be done with it. This semester was demanding, a seemingly endless succession of projects. Yeah, so I'm bitching - it's not as if the pressure was making me crack and frequently run to the restroom to wipe away the tears so no one would see my vulnerable, emotional self, or anything. And yes, I do have a vulnerable, emotional self, and no, it's not that far below the surface.
Truth be told, it really isn't that bad. Bellarmine's MBA program isn't difficult, but it is a lot of time-consuming work. The classroom discussion is based on business cases, so either you read them or you're lost and unprepared. Any master's program requires setting aside time to read 100-150 pages weekly, time most normal people would rather spend with less soporific material, or just doing something else altogether. Bellarmine compensates for its test-free MBA program with a plentitude of presentations, projects, and assignments, all group-based.
If you haven't spent time working in a group - and I really mean doing everything as a group, not where everyone does their own thing, effectively working as disparate units with enough common goals to call themselves a "team" - you might think the team-based approach eased the burden for everyone by spreading the work around. At least that's what I thought, but reality had other lessons in store for me. Working around busy schedules, the importance of communicating effectively and often, delegating tasks, incorporating everyone's work into a seamless product, compensating for the occasional missed deadline, resolving squabbles... the overhead required to ensure the team functions as a productive, organized unit almost negates the benefits of a shared workload.
On the other hand, someone like me with a non-business background doesn't have to consult a textbook or hunt down a professor when they don't know how to do something; instead, they go to the team, discuss, learn and share together, arrive at a consensus, and develop their ability to work with others. This is assuredly the greatest benefit of a team-based approach in an academic environment.
Musings about group dynamics aside, school's out of the way until our trip to Nicaragua in June. This gives time to focus on my new job at work. I have many needless, senseless phobias and lesser anxieties, so it should come as no surprise that I am so abolutely, positively terrified of change. There, I admit it - my risk averse tendencies are nearly paralytic in scope. I have my mother to thank, God love her. To her, everything poses a potential threat - a shift in direction of a gentle, spring breeze could mean a twister-spawning storm will soon reign destruction upon us.
I'm exaggerating, of course. Here is a faithful assessment, though: To my mother, being successful is the result of a lucky combination of circumstances, and changing terms in the equation is to risk bringing down the castle walls. To some extent, she may be right, but she overlooks two critical points: 1) talent and skill have more influence than chance, and 2) the way things are today isn't necessarily the best they can ever be - sometimes improvement requires radical change.
I've had several springtime pruning sessions with my herbs over the past week. Today I pruned my rosemary for the second time after realizing the truth of one of horticulture's greatest secrets. When the days started getting warmer and longer, my rosemary plants started sprouting new growth - which was great, except the growth was unsightly. The new leaves were small, curly and spread further apart than the existing leaves, making the new growth stand out like a bad haircut.
When I first pruned the rosemary last week, I did it to remove the most hideous of the unsightly new growth, with the idea of hopefully enticing the rosemary to grow denser, more attractive leaves. Today I was layering a branch in the soil to propagate new rosemary plants for use as bonsai and noticed the roots in the pot were rather dense. That's when it hit me - after less than one year, my rosemary is about to outgrow its pot.
I hadn't planned on repotting it after the first year, but hey, rosemary is an herb, not a tender, slow growing tropical, and I have been using Miracle Grow regularly. Problem is, I'm trying to propagate two branches by layering them and will soon need a fresh supply of rosemary for a couple projects I have planned this summer, and transplanting it to a larger pot would disturb the layering and prevent me harvesting more than a few branches.
So I pruned the rosemary again today, this time removing anything that didn't look in top condition, and then going back to remove some that did. I'm betting that removing a lot of weak growth now will stave off the need for repotting until next year, or at least until after I begin harvesting it heavily later this summer, while at the same time encouraging the growth of a few additional, healthy branches in place of numerous useless and spindly ones.
While pruning the rosemary, I realized an entity can grow to fill its container. If it tries to keep growing, any new growth is meager and unhealthy looking, and ultimately weakens the entire organism. Sometimes the best way to ensure continued, healthy growth is to make radical changes, as severe and painful as they may seem. This is as true of large corporations in times of layoffs and downsizing as it is of people and rosemary.
When trying to understand the governing principles of macroeconomics or any largescale system, I've found Nature to be one of the greatest teachers. New growth is often haphazard and ill structured to serve as a foundation for unplanned future growth. It may hamper the well-being of the organism. When I was younger, I remember watching my mother's daffodil and tulip plants during the spring and summer. The plants died away each year so that the bulb hidden underground could survive until the next spring and flower again. As I was pruning the rosemary, I could pull off much of the unsightly growth without so much as a tug, much less pruning shears. This growth would have died and fallen off, anyway, as the rosemary naturally pruned itself. Behold Nature's version of the pink slip.
So where were we? Ah, yes, risk aversion... and that, I am. Sometimes we find our roots in a spacious pot with rich soil and plenty of water, and we grow, grow, grow until there are roots everywhere and nowhere else to go. In order to grow again, we must stop searching for new places to go inside our root-bound pot and instead leave our comfort zones - accept the small risk incurred by pruning ourselves back and finding a larger pot, as it were, in order to achieve fulfilling growth again. As my plants would tell you if they could, it's stressful and there are only a few times a year it can safely be done, but it's almost always worth it, and there's nothing like the feeling you get when your roots find fertile soil and can grow unimpeded.:: Bryan Travis :: 04/21/2002 @ 20:33 :: [link] ::
:: Wednesday, April 17, 2002 ::
I picked up a bevy of magnets and The Best American Science Writing 2001 from Carmichael's tonight (aw, hell - since I'm on a linking roll...) after dinner at Ramsi's with Ali, DWebb, and Hari, who is linkless.
But the magnets, yes, yes... the magnets - behold the tawdry wit:
How deliciously poignant! How true! Take that, SUVs and soccer moms. More to come.:: Bryan Travis :: 04/17/2002 @ 03:36 :: [link] ::
:: Sunday, April 14, 2002 ::
The last couple of weeks have been busy, and all I got was a spell of writer's block. Sometimes it all seems rather toilful. This is how David's son must have felt.
Jackass is on TV. I'm watching clowns (literal clowns - you know, with wigs, face paint and big, red noses) ride snowboards down the steeply sloped sidewalks of San Francisco. Earlier, "Wee Man" was unrolling the human red carpet (a long carpet with a man rolled up inside) and when the now-dizzy man inside rolled out, "Wee Man" beat his testicles with a scepter. The episode's finale was a dude snorting (he called it "piling") an earthworm up his nose and coughing it out his mouth. MTV was kind enough to post it in the "Jackass Hall of Fame."
Have I missed something?:: Bryan Travis :: 04/14/2002 @ 03:45 :: [link] ::
:: Wednesday, April 10, 2002 ::
I once said Howdy Doody Hardcore was a great professor, "probably one of the best we'll have in the program." There are reasons why truth is deliciously stranger than fiction, like how circumstances can change in the blink of an eye, for example. Such is the fate that befell Howdy Doody Hardcore the morning we gave our industry analysis presentations.
There's not a lot of action or high strung adventure in my life. I've yet to see someone die, witness gangs battle for drug turf, or meet an irresistable woman who hopelessly falls for my charms. My experiences with such things are limited to cinema.
That being said... to me, the most wrenching scenes ever depicted are those in which someone is killed, someone who is completely innocent, uninvolved, and unaware of the situation which brings about their demise. The HBO series Six Feet Under is particularly adept at portraying such scenes. The woman sitting in her backyard who's killed by a bad golf shot in one of the first season episodes is the classic example of what I'm talking about.
Metaphorically speaking, Howdy Doody Hardcore's credibility suffered a similar fate in my MBA class. When our MBA teams received our assignments for industries such as insurance, passenger airlines, parcel delivery, automotive, and banking, we asked Howdy Doody Hardcore how much we needed to concentrate on the impact of September 11th. He said we should touch on it briefly, but not make it the focus around which our analysis revolved.
That was Howdy Doody Hardcore's opinion, and that was all well and good. Unfortunately, he failed to consider Dr. X's views. Bad Howdy Doody Hardcore! We never saw this Dr. X, this enigmatic man, until presentation day. The first group presented their analysis of the insurance industry, then opened the floor for questions.
Dr. X spent the next 20 minutes raking the group over the coals about the effects September 11th would have on the insurance industry. All eyes went to the man sitting next to Dr. X, Howdy Doody Hardcore. The gaze of 26 pairs of eyes was penetrating, as if they asked imploringly, "What the phuk is this all about, Howdy Doody Hardcore?" It was obvious that whatever had gone on between Dr. X and Howdy Doody Hardcore, it hadn't involved a great deal of communication trying to reach consensus about expectations for our industry analysis presentations.
Dr. X proceeded to flog the other groups in the same manner as he had the first group. It was not a pleasant morning, and for the first time, Howdy Doody Hardcore was strangely meek and mousy as he sat next to the acrimonious Dr. X. Left on his own, Howdy Doody Hardcore talked a mean talk, but he melted like butter in the glow of Dr. X's angry, white heat.
In a sense, it wasn't Howdy Doody Hardcore's fault. How could he have foreseen Dr. X's bloodlust that morning? Early in the semester, the class had asked a question and he had answered based on his opinion of what was important. Only problem was, Dr. X had a different opinion of what was important. It wasn't Howdy Doody Hardcore's fault that, except for a few cursory comments via email about the format of our papers, Dr. X had chosen to have no involvement with our class until the day of presentations. Maybe he was too busy exploring "Why Private Firms Can't Commit to Mars Projects or "Business Scenarios for Space Development." Truth be known, I think his research interests are pretty cool, so maybe I shouldn't sneer.
On the other hand, Howdy Doody Hardcore screwed up. Knowing Dr. X would be the primary assessor of our presentations, and also having knowledge of Dr. X's volatile tendencies, Howdy Doody Hardcore should have done some follow-up on his judgment call. But then again, we gave our industry analysis presentations five weeks ago, and we haven't seen our grades or Howdy Doody Hardcore since. Presentation day was his last day with us - we'll never see him again, so what does he care? He'll wish he had when he reads the class' course evaluations. His oversight, compounded with not backing us up when Dr. X roasted us for not making an indepth analysis of September 11th's impact, and then not returning our grades and feedback before our other big presentation (business marketing and finance plan) is due has earned Howdy Doody Hardcore the undying wrath of my MBA class. For his sake, it's just as well he hasn't made an appearance.
As for me, as long as I get an "A" or "B" in every course, the tuition gets reimbursed, so I don't really care. A Master's program isn't about the grades, it's about the mastery one acquires learning and applying the course material. Sure, what happened to us was unfair, but the Real World™ is unfair and unforgiving - that's how business is.
As long as Bellarmine University's professors give me A's and B's, they can inject as many Real World™ scenarios into the program as they please. But they'll have to listen to us repine as the Rubel School of Business loses credibility with us, because ours is a factious society, and we'd rather point the finger of blame at someone else.
Granted, they're in the Catch 22 situation of being penalized for giving us Real World™ experience. It's not fair, but like the dean said to my class when we complained about the industry analysis presentations, "That's how it is in the business world.":: Bryan Travis :: 04/10/2002 @ 01:13 :: [link] ::