comments 2

I understand general relativity; I just don’t understand this.

I didn’t say that. I’ve never said that. I mean, after studying it for a decade or so I probably come closer than some people but I would never, ever claim that I understood it. I’m arrogant but not that arrogant. No, those words were uttered by someone I knew in grad school. It’s been more than thirty years so I don’t remember much about him — just his appearance (a physicist, so bad haircut, distressed (but not fashionably) jeans and a T-shirt with an allegedly humourous saying on it). In particular I don’t remember his area of study (given the quote, possibly astrophysics but I’m far from sure about that) or even his userid name.

I didn’t know him all that well (he was approaching graduation when I was starting and there wasn’t whole lot of ‘generational’ interaction among grad students) but he was the TA (teaching assistant) for a sophomore course in electricity and magnetism — a course I had come uncomfortably close to failing only a few years earlier. I considered myself lucky that I did not TA this course.


I was sitting in my office one evening recovering from one WAB (being pre-internet, we called it a WADG) and preparing for the next when the phone I had (against all rules) tampered with began to ring. It was another senior (ish) student that I didn’t know all that well.

“Hello?” (I probably didn’t actually say ‘hello’ but it’s the conventional response.)

“Rose? Dude!” (Being pre-Farglik, people didn’t often say ‘Dude’ which is one of the many good things I remember from that era. I’ve inserted it to sort of illustrate the tone of the phone call.) He continued:

“I’m sick as a dog so I’m looking for someone to take my lab tomorrow. It’s actually a tutorial so you wouldn’t have to learn any of the experiments. It’s kinda last minute and I’m a little desperate.” I wondered idly how many people he had tried before getting to me and if I should be flattered or insulted. But this seemed like an opportunity to unload one of my Friday afternoon labs, so…

“Yah, I can do that. What course? What room? What time?”

“Thanks. You’re a life saver. It’s 230 with Dr. H–. Room 4-something at 2:30 — it’s on the schedule in the break room.”

Crap. 230 was the course I had come uncomfortably close to failing. (As an aside, it just occurred to me that doesn’t narrow things down as much as I’d like it to.)


I was doomed.

And to make matters worse, it was the same prof that ‘taught’ it to me so he would be acutely aware of my, um, let’s call them ‘shortcomings’. Damn. And it was a tutorial. Labs involve more prep work, it’s true, but they’re a little easier to fake. In a tutorial, you actually have to know the material. Or at least look like you know the material. And I definitely didn’t.

Did I mention I was doomed?

Turns out some parts weren’t as bad I thought. Professor H– treated me with something approaching respect (which was more than a little unexpected and almost certainly undeserved). Some of the tutorial problems I could actually do. For the ones I couldn’t, I figured out who the class brain was and asked him. The other TA was experienced, knowledgeable and congenial (that last one is often hard for a physicist). It wasn’t that bad.

Yeah, right.

About two thirds of the way through the list of ‘suggested questions’ was a Difficult Problem. An extremely difficult problem. A scary difficult problem. I had no idea. The class brain had no idea. The other TA had no idea. I was going to have to ask Dr. H–, at which point he’d write me off as a brain damaged moron and probably ridicule me in front of the entire room. It was time to sing the doom song.

It was at that moment, though, that the other TA went up to Dr. H– and said about that particular problem

I understand general relativity; I just don’t understand this.

Way to take one for the team. Many thanks. I owe you one. Still.

All of this went through my head on a recent Sunday as Ms. Rose and I drove northward towards crows, pigs and guys with flamethrowers. It was the weekend that in Canada semi-officially marks the start of spring — not only can you incinerate pigs but you can plant your annuals and get your white clothes out of storage. It’s kind of a big deal to Canadians after a long winter.

It’s apparently also some sort of Significant Date for people who like to fish. I mean, I don’t know much about fishing but that day it seemed like every second vehicle on the road was bristling with rods and towing a boat. Not only that but every boat launch ramp that we passed looked like a Buy More on Black Friday.

So I learned something. Not exactly a revelation or an epiphany but a discovery. Guess you do learn something every day, even if that something might be small. But then I learned something rather bigger and rather unexpected.

Now I don’t fish. I haven’t fished since that time I flung someone else’s fishing rod out of a canoe forty years ago but I thought I sort of knew how it was done: you climb into a boat with a hook, a string and a tub of annelids and then you let mosquitoes bite you until your sunburn is so painful it drives you indoors. Simple. But speeding toward the Verona boat launch was something that suggested that fishing is rather more complicated an activity than I had suspected.

It was two guys in a pickup. (No surprise yet.) Behind the truck was a boat (ditto) with what looked like several hundred fishing rods in it (double ditto). What was revelatory was what was in the bed of the pickup — a piece of equipment I had never, ever associated with piscatory activities.

Because there (barely held down — you could tell they were in too much of a hurry to secure their load properly) was a trampoline.

A round one. If that matters.

It’s a good thing Ms. Rose was driving because I spent the next several minutes wracking my brain to try and guess how one (or two I suppose) might use a trampoline to catch fish.

I failed.

But then I remembered that TA back in ’82:

I understand general relativity; I just don’t understand this.

Even though you might learn something every day doesn’t mean you’ll understand it.




comments 2

Earth Day is, apparently, tomorrow today. And in that context a nice lady who likes Oxford commas (and who probably has a better relationship with her local fauna than I do) challenged me a bunch of folks to

…share an image that means “earth” to you — whether it’s a panorama of a landscape that takes your breath away, a close-up revealing a detail in nature, or another scene that honors the outdoors, we welcome your takes on the theme!


A photo challenge. One that’s topical (that’s good) and that’s also open to, um, ‘creative’ interpretation (even better). There’s just one problem — I don’t do photo challenges because I like to think I know my limitations and as a general rule I take pretty crappy pictures.

Except that I just took a couple that are sort of relevant (they have dirt in them and I understand it’s all about the dirt earth) because after removing six bags worth of debris from the rose garden (only another four or five to go) I wanted to document the process. Sort of.

Not exactly as shown.


Of course, thats not one of the pictures I took. That’s not what it looks like. That’s what it might look like in a month’s time, of course, because that’s what it did look like last May (the 28th if that matters).

This garden screams (no, brags) that despite the efforts of a clumsy, lazy, dimwitted guy (that would be me) it’s alive. This garden shouts “look at me” at passersby. This garden announces in no uncertain terms that summer is just around the corner. (Also, weeding is rather overdue. Lazy, remember?)

Of course, that last one also implies that it’s all downhill: it may scream ‘life’, but it also screams ‘ephemeral.’

And transient.

And fleeting.

But it doesn’t matter, because that’s not a picture I took yesterday. One picture I took yesterday (taken from roughly the same position) is below:

Couple days of sun, couple days of rain and you never know what might make an appearance.

It’s a lot less striking. It still proclaims ‘life’ but is less about plants getting old and having torrid sex than it is about rebirth and awakening and change and cycles

and potential.

And at this point in my life, ‘potential’ strikes a rather large chord. Larger than most.

(Plus it’s all about the dirt. And penguins, I suppose.)



comments 7

I am a creature of habit.

That’s really nothing more than a (euphemistic) shorthand for “I’m an extremely boring and pathetic individual” but I like to think it makes me seem just that little bit less boring and pathetic. (Who needs five stages of ANYTHING when you’ve got denial? Denial — one-stop shopping for all your self-delusion needs.)

Pathetic or not, boring or not, certain things do trigger certain responses. Don’t have last rock in the first end?¬† Throw a tight inturn guard. Writing a story and the plot bogs down? Add ninjas. It’s Saturday morning and you’re hungry? Go to the Insomniac Capriform Cafe and order bacon and eggs.


That’s a problem. (One that, surprisingly, denial doesn’t help with.) Not because I’ve ceased being boring and pathetic (I wish), not because I decided I don’t like eggs (not gonna happen) but because we just passed the one year anniversary of the closing of the Insomniac Capriform Cafe. After more than two decades, it’s gone.

A year.

His disapproving gaze kept me from
ripping the door off its hinges.

A year without altercations with a poorly socialized doorman. A year without exploding simiiformes. Twelve months without close encounters with frightening (possibly incomplete) art. Fifty Saturday breakfasts that haven’t been at the Insomniac Capriform Cafe. (That’s not to say they haven’t happened, but we’ve been looking for the Perfect Spot and haven’t yet found it. So there’s no Routine.)

There’s one place with pretty good eggs, darned good home fries and generally friendly staff. Unfortunately it’s frequently too busy to get a table, the coffee is mediocre at best and the art is both unchanging and completely generic. There’s another that has a guy who habitually shows up to watch soccer and root for whoever is playing against Arsenal. And while that does score major quirkiness points, the menu (while excellent) is geared more toward lunch than breakfast. There’s another place with a pretty good menu but it’s kinda busy, kinda chichi and happens to be owned by a giant lizard who looks like Godzilla (but for copyright reasons isn’t). And so on. For fifty-odd weeks.

On a recent-ish Saturday we (Ms. Rose and I) were walking downtown, heading toward yet another completely adequate yet somehow faintly dissatisfying breakfast when we passed by a family — Mom, Dad and their five(ish) year old son. The young gentleman was having an exceptionally, um, vociferous Moment on the sidewalk. As we passed them he shouted (with as much hatred as a five year old can muster, which is quite a lot)


Hmm. Apparently I’m not the only one struggling with the concept of breakfast. Maybe I’m not as pathetic as I thought.




Leave a comment

Despite the fact that I do not own any rubber clothing (well, none that fits me, anyway), I did it again.

Yesterday (in this context, ‘yesterday’ means ‘sometime in the unspecified-but-probably-comparatively-recent past) being Monday, there was hockey. Additionally, it being winter it was at the arena nine kilometres away from home. (The summer venue is about three kilometres farther) so the trip there was moderately long. Even more additionally, since it was late afternoon there was traffic — enough to change ‘moderately long’ into ‘annoyingly long’ so I spent a significant amount of the journey just sitting. And steaming (I am not a patient person). And reflecting. On Stuff. (On the traffic, for one thing — before they closed it, we played at an arena so close to where people live and work that there wasn’t any to speak of. Oh well, the progress of civilization and all that. Damn those mathematicians and their confounded insight. (Might that explain the azaleas? There might be the glimmerings of a theory there. Maybe. Have to think about it.))


I was in traffic, not moving much. And reflecting. And (over?)thinking. But mostly I was listening to music.

Specifically, I was listening to a twenty (one) year old album by the Australian Prince of Darkness that just might be the bloodiest thing ever recorded. (It’s really good, by the way.) As the light near the supermarket went red, so did the floor at O’Malley’s. As I sat and waited for the light to change, the barroom floor got messier and messier as the bullet-riddled bodies piled ever higher.

(Whoever said contemporary music was boring?)

A few blocks north the bloodbath reached its grisly climax; at almost that exact moment I happened to notice the bumper sticker on the car ahead of me. It said

I have a perfect body but it’s in the trunk. And it’s starting to smell.

To illustrate the iron grip I have on reality, the first thing that went through my mind was

Gee, I bet they’d like this song. Heck, probably the whole album.

But that didn’t last long. I moved on to

It shouldn’t smell, it’s comfortably below freezing out there. And who heats their trunk?

Before long, that, too was replaced.

Tsk. They’re lying. That’s a minivan, it doesn’t even have a trunk.

Not for nothing have I been told that I have a keen eye for detail.



Leave a comment

I have said before that there are things that confuse me. I’m confused by spice racks. (More generally, I’m confused by the entire Retail Experience.) I’m confused by fashion. I’m confused by perfectly well thought out theories that suddenly (and catastrophically) fail. I’m confused by geography. I’m confused by health care.

Fortunately, un*x provides easy-to-use tools that tell me ‘confusion’ is a common theme in everything I’ve ‘published’ here. (Possibly even more common than ‘public urination.’ That’s pretty common.)

grep -i confus blog.postings | wc -l

Yesterday I went to the supermarket; it’s just up the street — 2.4 kilometres away. (Before you ask — supermarkets confuse me.) Just as I got there and parked, my phone uttered its happy little ‘you have a new text message’ sound. (Technology confuses me.) Turns out it was from my cell phone carrier. They wanted to tell me that I had ‘ventured into an extended coverage area’, was now ‘roaming’ but would not be charged any extra fees.

The supermarket is ‘extended coverage’? It’s not another country or anything — it’s at the mall up the street. But you know what? If you treat malls, shopping and everything retail like a foreign land then that would explain a lot. I’ve long known that parking lots contain madness and trauma so I tend to avoid them. Apparently, though, epiphanies can also (sometimes) be found. I guess I’ll have to modify my behavior. Or think about modifying my behavior. Or something. Maybe.

Pondering this potentially life-changing insight kept me occupied while I shopped for bananas, berries and boxes that contained things that¬† started with the letter ‘b’. (Last night was a ‘b’ dinner.) While on the way to the ‘box’ aisle, I passed a huge pile of ‘b’ags of rice. On sale. ‘B’ig sale. ‘B’ig ‘b’ags. How big is ‘b’ig? ‘B’ig enough that each ‘b’ag probably contained something on the order of fifty meals. “That’s a lot of rice” I thought. “Even though it’s a good price, technically ‘rice’ doesn’t start with a ‘b’ so I won’t get any.”

That’s when I noticed something else: on top of the pile was a sign. Apparently there was a per-person limit of ten (10) ‘b’ags. So I could only buy five hundred meals worth of rice at a time.

Fortunately I wasn’t confused. Foreign country, remember?