Sunday, November 29, 2020

Poem of the Week: People Look East

Happy Advent!



Words and Music: Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), 1928
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer

1. People, look east. The time is near 
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

2. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.


HT: Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Poem of the Week: Christ the King


Pamela Cranston


See how this infant boy
lifted himself down
into his humble crècheand 

laid his tender glove of skin
against splintered wood—
found refuge in a rack
of straw—home
that chilly dawn,
in sweetest silage,
those shriven stalks.

This outcast king lifted
himself high upon his savage cross,
extended the regal banner
of his bones, draping himself
upon his throne—his battered feet,
his wounded hands not fastened
there by nails but sewn
by the strictest thorn of love.

HT : Journey With Jesus

Image by Klenda

Friday, November 20, 2020

Gone Fishing

We recently replenished our fish tanks with some beautiful new fish!

Choclo restarted a ten gallon tank with a betta, some corys, and a few neon tetras.

He named his crown tail betta Hamlet, "because he's such a drama king."

As you can see, he is challenging his lovely reflection!

He also got a pair of these panda corydora catfish.

They are a fun little cleanup crew: where ever one is, the other is sure to be sniffing along so as not to miss out on anything.




Meanwhile, in Oob's tank, his enormously old (and extremely large) cory continues on happily with some new tankmates.


He has four or five very vibrant male guppies.  It's a good amount: they like to chase each other around, but there are enough fish that no one fish gets stressed.

 Lastly, in the big community tank, I added a dwarf gourami.  I love these fish- they are so vibrant!

Monday, November 16, 2020

Thankfulness Chain

Every November we try to focus on thankfulness, writing down God's gifts on feathers, leaves, eels, or chains.

This year we went with strips that we stapled into a chain.

We leave a little basket of paper strips on the table and people fill them in on and off all month.  

We have over a hundred links in our chain so far!


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Poem of the Week: Autumn Psalm

This one is a bit longer than I usually do, but I think it's just delightful!

Autumn Psalm

A full year passed (the seasons keep me honest)
since I last noticed this same commotion.
Who knew God was an abstract expressionist?

I’m asking myself—the very question
I asked last year, staring out at this array
of racing colors, then set in motion

by the chance invasion of a Steller’s jay.
Is this what people mean by speed of light?
My usually levelheaded mulberry tree

hurling arrows everywhere in sight—
its bow: the out-of-control Virginia creeper
my friends say I should do something about,

whose vermilion went at least a full shade deeper
at the provocation of the upstart blue,
the leaves (half green, half gold) suddenly hyper

in savage competition with that red and blue—
tohubohu returned, in living color.
Kandinsky: where were you when I needed you?

My attempted poem would lie fallow a year;
I was so busy focusing on the desert’s
stinginess with everything but rumor.

No place even for the spectrum’s introverts—
rose, olive, gray—no pigment at all—
and certainly no room for shameless braggarts

like the ones that barge in here every fall
and make me feel like an unredeemed failure
even more emphatically than usual.

And here they are again, their fleet allure
still more urgent this time—the desert’s gone;
I’m through with it, want something fuller—

why shouldn’t a person have a little fun,
some utterly unnecessary extravagance?
Which was—at least I think it was—God’s plan

when He set up (such things are never left to chance)
that one split-second assignation
with genuine, no-kidding-around omnipotence

what, for lack of better words, I’m calling vision.
You breathe in, and, for once, there’s something there.
Just when you thought you’d learned some resignation,

there’s real resistance in the nearby air
until the entire universe is swayed.
Even that desert of yours isn’t quite so bare

and God’s not nonexistent; He’s just been waylaid
by a host of what no one could’ve foreseen.
He’s got plans for you: this red-gold-green parade

is actually a fairly detailed outline.
David never needed one, but he’s long dead
and God could use a little recognition.

He promises. It won’t go to His head
and if you praise Him properly (an autumn psalm!
Why didn’t I think of that?) you’ll have it made.

But while it’s true that my Virginia creeper praises Him,
its palms and fingers crimson with applause,
that the local breeze is weaving Him a diadem,

inspecting my tree’s uncut gold for flaws,
I came to talk about the way that violet-blue
sprang the greens and reds and yellows

into action: actual motion. I swear it’s true
though I’m not sure I ever took it in.
Now I’d be prepared, if some magician flew

into my field of vision, to realign
that dazzle out my window yet again.
It’s not likely, but I’m keeping my eyes open

though I still wouldn’t be able to explain
precisely what happened to these vines, these trees.
It isn’t available in my tradition.

For this, I would have to be Chinese,
Wang Wei, to be precise, on a mountain,
autumn rain converging on the trees,

a cassia flower nearby, a cloud, a pine,
washerwomen heading home for the day,
my senses and the mountain so entirely in tune

that when my stroke of blue arrives, I’m ready.
Though there is no rain here: the air’s shot through
with gold on golden leaves. Wang Wei’s so giddy

he’s calling back the dead: Li Bai! Du Fu!
Guys! You’ve got to see this—autumn sun!
They’re suddenly hell-bent on learning Hebrew

in order to get inside the celebration,
which explains how they wound up where they are
in my university library’s squashed domain.

Poor guys, it was Hebrew they were looking for,
but they ended up across the aisle from Yiddish—
some Library of Congress cataloger’s sense of humor:

the world’s calmest characters and its most skittish
squinting at each other, head to head,
all silently intoning some version of kaddish

for their nonexistent readers, one side’s dead
(the twentieth century’s lasting contribution)
and the other’s insufficiently learned

to understand a fraction of what they mean.
The writings in the world’s most spoken language
across from one that can barely get a minyan.

Sick of lanzmen, the yidden are trying to engage
the guys across the aisle in some conversation:
How, for example, do you squeeze an image

into so few words, respectfully asks Glatstein.
Wang Wei, at first, doesn’t understand the problem
but then he shrugs his shoulders, mumbles Zen

... but, please, I, myself, overheard a poem,
in the autumn rain, once, on a mountain.
How do you do it? I believe it’s called a psalm?

Glatstein’s cronies all crack up in unison.
Okay, groise macher, give him an answer.
But Glatstein dons his yarmulke (who knew he had one?)

and starts the introduction to the morning prayer,
Pisukei di zimrah, psalm by psalm.
Wang Wei is spellbound, the stacks’ stale air

suddenly a veritable balm
and I’m so touched by these amazing goings-on
that I’ve forgotten all about the autumn

staring straight at me: still alive, still golden.
What’s gold, anyway, compared to poetry?
a trick of chlorophyll, a trick of sun.

True. It was something, my changing tree
with its perfect complement: a crimson vine,
both thrown into panic by a Steller’s jay,

but it’s hard to shake the habit of digression.
Wandering has always been my people’s way
whether we’re in a desert or narration.

It’s too late to emulate Wang Wei
and his solitary years on that one mountain
though I’d love to say what I set out to say

just once. Next autumn, maybe. What’s the occasion?
Glatstein will shout over to me from the bookcase
(that is, if he’s paying any attention)

and, finally, I’ll look him in the face.

Quick. Out the window, Yankev. It’s here again.

HT: Poetry Foundation

Friday, November 13, 2020

Guest Blog by Mxyl: Fact Checking the Future Part 1 - The Home of 2020!

Hello, everyone! One of my favorite childhood educational books was DK Publishing's "Future", a 2004 book (revised from a 1998 first printing) about predictions of the future, the past's thoughts on what it could be like, and present innovations on how to get there. However, many of its predictions focus on a specific year: 2020. I remember being amazed as a kid that, while it'd be quite a long wait, I'd eventually see the science fiction-esque world of The Future. 

Well, it was quite a long wait, but we're here! Now that we're in the future, it's time to see what the writers got right and what they didn't! (All the below images are used solely for educational purposes; I highly recommend getting a copy if possible to see it for yourself!)

First up is a massive segment on the virtual home of 2020! In 2020, it states, a "global communications network" will enable one to do nearly anything from home--which is quite true now, although I'm not sure why they didn't just say "Internet" to describe it. A bit of side content notes that automated homes in 2020 will be able to adjust temperature controls for year-long comfort, which is almost chillingly accurate with the advent of Google's Nest thermostats. However, the book also gives predictions of interactive, changing walls and holographic projectors, well... while the technology for holograph-like screens and adaptive screen-walls exist, the concept that they'd be affordable for general upper-class homes didn't age so well. With that said and done, let's jump into its details! 

  • Health-Monitoring Shower: Uh... that would get so many lawsuits. Something that scans someone in mid-shower and sends it to a database? I'm not sure if this exists or not, but I hope it doesn't.  Nonetheless, it is worth noting that more recent Apple Watches can be used for similar health services, even measuring the oxygen in one's blood.
  • A Dining Table with News & Communication-Based Screens: ...Huh? I mean, score one for Internet of Things predictions (I don't think the term existed then), but while we could make this, I think we've mostly chosen not to. (Klenda notes that smart fridges do exist, though.)
  • "By the year 2020, [cell phones] will all be videophones": Wooow. They're pretty spot-on here, although this is one of the few instances in which 2020 has actually out-performed predictions. Looking back at SF and other items, it really is stunning that just about no one saw casual touchscreens coming. 
  • Holographic Homework Helpers: To be honest, we're closer than I'd thought we were (slim-panel holographic technology is a pretty impressive step in the direction of Star Wars), but nope. We don't have mini-holograms in all our houses.
  • Robot Servants: Prediction on robot vacuum cleaners? Definitely called it. Prediction on robot dishwasher loaders? Well... that's a bit more complicated. Boston Dynamics made a "SpotMini" in 2016 that has the capability to do so, but only one quick test was shown and it doesn't seem specialized for it. More specialized dishwasher robot technology was revealed from the Toyota Research Institute in 2019, but TRI's Robotics Research VP Russ Tedrake felt it still needed improvement before making it to practical home use, calling it "one of the most advanced manipulation systems in the world. But it's still not good enough [for commercial use]." They're also focusing more on software than hardware for now, so we may have to wait a bit longer for a commercially viable one.
  • Smart Watch: Apple is known for doing two things: forging a path to the future and dragging everyone else kicking and screaming with it. (No standard USB ports on Macbooks? Really, Apple...?) Seriously, though, smartwatches have been around in some form or another since before the book was published, but getting sports and traffic information from a watch is pretty easy with a Siri-equipped Apple Watch or an equivalent service/device. 
  • VR Headset: Have to hand it to them, they nailed it on this one. (Although one brief side note refers to headsets having "thought recognition sensors." Huh?)
  • VR Trainer/Simulation Machine: I guess this one's closer to the dishwasher-loading robot one: we're getting there, but we're not there yet. Destin of Smarter Every Day (one channel we at Zoom Times particularly like) has done the bulk of this work in 2018, noting a VR glove (Part 1 | Part 2) and, most relevantly, an infinite movement treadmill system. Still, though, that's nowhere near the level of immersion the prediction was looking at, to say nothing of the noise level. (It's possible I'm missing something with this one, though.)
  • Relaxation Service/Massage-Giving Couch: Another point for predicting smart devices, but I haven't seen this in widespread use. There are sorta-massaging sofas and somewhat "smart", TV-integrated ones, but no roboticized sofa so far.
  • Working from Home: "Working from home is already a popular alternative for many people... [In 2020], small work stations will provide full access to everything needed... from e-mail to video conferencing." ...Maybe a little too close to home.

Lightning round for the shorter notes: self-cleaning furniture material does exist as of 2012 via titanium dioxide within plastic, and hydrophobic materials are being tried out; flexible-screen devices do exist but aren't commonplace; taking classes virtually is a thing (if not hologram-based); and nanobot-scale cleaning, while far from the Home of 2020's prediction, are being worked on as described in a journal released just this year!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Happy Veterans Day!


Veterans Day is pretty special to us, partly because the Emperor and I are both children of veterans.

In the Emperor's case, his dad fought in WWII!

He was wounded by a German shell, not long after he had arrived in France.

He learned to walk again, but carried shrapnel in his leg for the rest of his life.

That's one reason he was buried in Arlington, near his father, a WWI veteran.

My dad was career army, doing bomb disposal for an astonishing 60+ years!  He has more than his share of medals, too.

He served in the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and all sorts of places in between, and he trained a lot of the people who went to Iraq and Afghanistan after his Parkinson's kept him from traveling.

My dad says (and I'm sure the Emperor's dad would agree) that the price of freedom must be paid by every generation.


So a big thank you to all the veterans out there!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Third Random Thing


The Glorious Turkey has returned!

Every November, The Glorious Turkey returns from his basement exile to lord it over our table.

You can read more of his history  here.

In the meantime, may the Thanks be with you!