Hubble Ultra Deep Field

When Sue Ten told me she was going to show Hubble on the side of the Swing Barn this week, I thought she meant Robert Redford in The Way We Were. [Cue music.] I was wrong. It turns out she’s gotten access to some images from the Hubble telescope, and not just any images. Now, she’s showing the Hubble Ultra Deep Field in 3D images, and I am delighted on at least two separate planes of reality.

I love to look up at a starry sky, even with my soft vision, the kind that comes with a few extra streaks and blurs. If the night is dark enough, I know the stars will be there to greet me.  I also know, as Annie Dillard points out, “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”

I guess I should really not complain about the lack of darkness here outside the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range. After all, I’ll the one who had the lights installed so I would hit golf balls all night long. Still, there are times when I wish it were darker here, just as it is after a hurricane knocks all the power out in the whole state, hospitals and jails excluded. Then we got some sky!

I remember attending a public art symposium some time ago, and I thought the best possible artwork we could create for SoFLA would be a way to really see the stars. Well, hot damn, I think Sue Ten has done it, and I just can’t wait to get settled in my lawn chair with a bag of popcorn to while the night away.

Then again, this new info from The Hubble does bring Olber’s Paradox to mind, so I’ve posted the Ferlinghetti version below the video link. Take it all in, and let me know what you think.

I’ve missed you so much!

YouTube vid of Hubbell


And I heard the learned astronomer

whose name was Heinrich Olbers

speaking to us across the centuries

about how he observed with naked eye

how in the sky there were

some few stars close up

and the further away he looked

the more of them there were

with infinite numbers of clusters of stars

in myriad Milky Ways & myriad nebulae

So that from this we can deduce

that in the infinite distances

there must be a place

there must be a place

where all is light

and that the light from that high place

Where all is light

simply hasn’t got here yet

which is why we still have night

But when at last that light arrives

when at last it does get here

the part of day we now call Night

will have a white sky

little black dots in it

little black holes

where once were stars

And then in that symbolic

so poetic place

which will be ours

we’ll be our own true shadows

and our own illumination

on a sunset earth

-Lawrence Ferlinghetti

International Scurvy Awareness Day: May 2

No Scurvy

What with the Star Wars Prom and all that to attend to, we missed International Scurvy Awareness Day on May 2, but maybe next year you can make your cat wear a piece of citrus on its to help build awareness of this important cause.

Check out the beauties on

(Why a cat, you say? Because cats are scurvy free. When’s the last time someone called you a scurvy cat? No, it’s always scurvy dog.)

Meanwhile, if you really care about preventing scurvy, and I know you do, you can do your part by coming on down to the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range to fill up on Key Lime Pie.

Nurse Crotchett and I had a wonderful time at the National Pie Festival, and I am a believer now in Key Lime Pie on a stick. Yes, I know, I usually want my K.L. to be pure, but on a hot day, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as Key Lime Pie, covered in chocolate, on a stick.

Once Prentiss my pie apprentice has recovered from The Prom, I’ll put her to work in developing our own recipe. The Morning Guy has already volunteered to do the blind taste test, and oh yes, I do love a man with a sense of adventure. Apparently he’s forgotten about our last taste test, but that’s another story.

Still thinking ahead to next year’s International Scurvy Awareness Day, maybe green golf balls will be in order, too.  Oh, so much to do in the next year. I can’t wait to get started.

While You’re Waiting for the LHC to Come Back Online

Do not give up hope, my dears. The wonderful folks at have posted links to some new “big science porn” to entertain us, and it’s fun!

Once you are in the site, you can just click all over the place and get a nice little taste of virtual reality photography at its finest.


Large, Luscious QTVR Panoramas of Compact Muon Solenoid

Still from QTVR of Large Hadron Collider, photog: Pete McCready

Posted by Xeni Jardin, February 27, 2009 9:58 AM : I’ve featured interactive QuickTime VR panoramas from photographer Peter McCready previously on Boing Boing, and it looks like he has some lovely new work up. QTVRs aren’t good for everything, but they’re great for “big science” sites like the ones at CERN, featured here — places best appreciated with all directions visible. Pete sends these links and says,

Whilst we ‘Big Science Porn’ (thank you for the term!) aficionados eagerly await the relaunch of the Large Hadron Collider this September, thought I’d share a few new Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Experiment VR panoramas with you that were taken days before ‘first beam’ last year from numerous locations within Underground Experimental Cavern UXC55.

Here are the panoramas: (one, two, three, four, five, six) and there’s another up from the CMS Centre (where data quality monitoring, detector calibration, data analysis and computing operations take place).

Previously on BB:
Excellent new CERN Hadron collider QTVR
CERN photos in Nat’l. Geo: The God Particle

The Nano Song

Oh, my dears, I did so much miss all of you while I was out there on the other side of the ‘Glades. I also missed my computer, my laptop, my netbook, and my iPod — all of which keep me up to date with the wonderful world of science and technology. Today, though, my heart sings like a lark as I listen to The Nano Song and grow ever hopeful that a true space elevator is in our future because that will truly make it so much easier for me to be the first person to take an apple pie to the moon. Yes!


I Dream of Nikola Tesla

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success. …” (Nikola Tesla, 1856 – 1943)

This is big news, folks! Nikola Tesla’s concept of broadcast power is upon us. An MIT assistant professor, Marin Soljacic (pronounced SOLE-ya-cheech) who is also a 2008 MacArthur genius-grant winner, is already powering up electronic devices by sending electrons through the air. W00t! I am some happy about this. I first heard about Tesla and broadcast power 40 years ago. Yes, I’ve been a Tesla fan for almost as long as I’ve been a Brian Wilson fan, and — hey! — I only had to wait 35 years to hear Brian play “Smile” in concert. And now, here comes Marin Soljacic from Croatia, my dream country, to make Tesla’s dream come true.

So it’s cause for celebration. Let’s imagine a world without power cords. A life with free-range computers. Coke machines that work even out in the middle of a field. Cell phones that don’t need to be recharged. Electric coffee pots out on the beach for that early morning buzz. Need some electricity? Scoop it up from the air.

I love it, I do. Possibilities are endless. And, no, I don’t want to hear the down side. Let me glow on this one for a bit, please.

Wireless Electricity Is Here (Seriously)

By: Paul HochmanWed Jan 14, 2009 at 1:45 PM

Wireless ElectricityPhotograph by Phillip Toledano

EnlargeRyan TsengRyan Tseng, CEO of WiPower, says his system is cheaper and better than rival eCoupled’s. | Photograph by Phillip Toledano
EnlargeWireless ElectricityRyan Tseng holds his wirelessly lit lightbulb 3 inches above its power source. | Photograph by Phillip Toledano

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I’m standing next to a Croatian-born American genius in a half-empty office in Watertown, Massachusetts, and I’m about to be fried to a crisp. Or I’m about to witness the greatest advance in electrical science in a hundred years. Maybe both.

Either way, all I can think of is my electrician, Billy Sullivan. Sullivan has 11 tattoos and a voice marinated in Jack Daniels. During my recent home renovation, he roared at me when I got too close to his open electrical panel: “I’m the Juice Man!” he shouted. “Stay the hell away from my juice!”

He was right. Only gods mess with electrons. Only a fool would shoot them into the air. And yet, I’m in a conference room with a scientist who is going to let 120 volts fly out of the wall, on purpose.

“Don’t worry,” says the MIT assistant professor and a 2008 MacArthur genius-grant winner, Marin Soljacic (pronounced SOLE-ya-cheech), who designed the box he’s about to turn on. “You will be okay.”

We both shift our gaze to an unplugged Toshiba television set sitting 5 feet away on a folding table. He’s got to be kidding: There is no power cord attached to it. It’s off. Dark. Silent. “You ready?” he asks.

If Soljacic is correct — if his free-range electrons can power up this untethered TV from across a room — he will have performed a feat of physics so subtle and so profound it could change the world. It could also make him a billionaire. I hold my breath and cover my crotch. Soljacic flips the switch.

Soljacic isn’t the first man to try to power distant electronic devices by sending electrons through the air. He isn’t even the first man from the Balkans to try. Most agree that Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, who went on to father many of the inventions that define the modern electronic era, was the first to let electrons off their leash, in 1890.

Tesla based his wireless electricity idea on a concept known as electromagnetic induction, which was discovered by Michael Faraday in 1831 and holds that electric current flowing through one wire can induce current to flow in another wire, nearby. To illustrate that principle, Tesla built two huge “World Power” towers that would broadcast current into the American air, to be received remotely by electrical devices around the globe.

Few believed it could work. And to be fair to the doubters, it didn’t, exactly. When Tesla first switched on his 200-foot-tall, 1,000,000-volt Colorado Springs tower, 130-foot-long bolts of electricity shot out of it, sparks leaped up at the toes of passersby, and the grass around the lab glowed blue. It was too much, too soon.

But strap on your rubber boots; Tesla’s dream has come true. After more than 100 years of dashed hopes, several companies are coming to market with technologies that can safely transmit power through the air — a breakthrough that portends the literal and figurative untethering of our electronic age. Until this development, after all, the phrase “mobile electronics” has been a lie: How portable is your laptop if it has to feed every four hours, like an embryo, through a cord? How mobile is your phone if it shuts down after too long away from a plug? And how flexible is your business if your production area can’t shift because you can’t move the ceiling lights?

The world is about to be cured of its attachment disorder.

Intergalactic Sports

Intergalactic Golf

Sorry to be so tardy in getting this news to you, but the possibility of more of us playing golf in space may be a reality before we know it. Former NFL linebacker Ken Harvey is already hard at work training future space tourists to get in shape to have serious fun in zero gravity.

By the way, it’s not too late to contribute to my own zero-gravity fund so I can be the first person to eat pie in space. I’m still only about $5,000 short of what I need for my practice run.

Harvey, though, may be on to something by taking his “space sportilization” program to Abu Dhabi where people may well have a tad more disposable income than they do right now in SoFLA.

What’s really amazing to me, though, is that Harvey manages to make this concept seem downright boring:

I’m pretty sure that almost any two people at The Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range could show more enthusiam for playing any sport in space than those two guys.

Ah, well. And we wonder why American kids are falling short in science?

Whole Earth Everything, now on the Pie Shop Shelves

I’m excited to discover that the Whole Earth Catalog, including the CoEvolution Quarterly, is now available online. I can only hope that Mad Magazine will soon follow suit and provide me will full access to every single Alfred E. Issue.

In truth, though, I would really rather have hard copy in my hands, and — in the case of Mad — a flashlight, too, so I can read it under the bedcovers after lights out.

While Mad helped grow the the love of lyric poetry that Sue Ten and I still share, CoEvolution helped feed my lust for science, especially science that involves space exploration and the concept of other worlds, yet to be explored. Okay, I’ll admit that Star Trek did that, too, but CoEvolution made it seem legit.

I was living in the high desert of Arizona, far from my beloved ‘Glades, when I was a truly avid reader of CoEvolution, and I often succumbed to the temptation to follow direct mail links, much as I now back link through blog posts. Of course, it was different in a small southwestern town, where the post mistress pretty much knew everything about me from reading my incoming postcards, not the mention the occasional incoming coconut.

So, I’m sure she was not at all surprised when my subscription to CoEvolution let to a membership in the L-5 society, which in turn led to stranger and stranger letters of solicitation from people needing money to build their own space ships. I wonder how they made out.  I would have donated more to the cause myself, but I really had enough trouble at the post office already.

I did just now do a quick search through the Whole Earth website index, and was disappointed not to find more positive reference to golf, or pie. I was sure they would at least mention the zen value of The Inner Game of Golf, and I was absolutely stunned not to find some whole-grain inedible pie recipes. Still, it was fun to revisit the space colony pages and imagine a future where we can all be together in a world of our own, where our priorities center around golf, pie, science, and poetry.

Oh, wait. We already have that, right here at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range. All we need now is you.

You Are Here!
You Are Here!

Hanging with the Clown

I was never one of those kids who was afraid of clowns. Apparently, that’s one of those genes that skips a generation. If anything, some of my earliest, happiest memories are of being at the circus, watching clowns frolic around. I’m sure some of them were miming golf swings, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some of them in plainclothes here at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range.

Yes, I’ve always liked clowns, even though my true circus love was the human canonball, and I suppose I am still looking for someone like him. But can you imagine it? What would we talk about? Science, I guess. Alan Shepard. Lunar landers. Parabolas and projectiles. The distinct steak-like aroma of space. Heaven.

Ah, well. Perhaps that will happen some day. Meanwhile, I will be content to enjoy my growing friendship with The Clown whom I met at the Hollywood Halloween Party, along with Nurse Crotchett and The Morning Guy’s delightful, but somewhat dull, Stepford Girlfriend. They are, all three, pretty good golfers, but The Clown is the best. After all, she has to play with giant crazy clubs that waffle around, and her spiked shoes are enormous. Surely her feet cannot be that big.

Some of the other players tend to go home early when The Clown is on the range. They get distracted by her honking and little dances, but I just love them. I noticed that lately she has added a little Izod logo to her lovely striped outfit, and she has a very nice new tam o’ shanter on her head. Her golf bag matches her outfit, as it should, and best of all, there’s always room for everyone in her golf cart.

What could be better than that?

And did I mention, that when she does hit one of her over-sized golf balls, it really does fly?

Granted, we’ve had a lot of clowns come here to play golf before, but she’s the best. I just wish she weren’t quite so fond of whipped cream pies.

Mad Scientist Pies

Can we ever have enough mad scientists? I don’t think so, especially not the good kind, and let’s face it, mad scientists have been getting a bad rap for years.

Surely one or two have done something wildly good, like inventing the giant-head titanium drivers that so many of my midnight golfers seem to favor. I’ll give the mad sci guys bonus points for astroturf, slinky critters, and the whole space program, too.

As you can imagine, I was glad to see that the folks at are doing what they can to foster more mad science by adding a set of “Young Mad Scientist First Alphabet Blocks” to their catalog.

Young Mad Scientist First Alphabet Blocks

Young Mad Scientist First Alphabet Blocks

As I look at the blocks, all I can think is how great these designs would look on pie crust, and it doesn’t really matter what the filling is. I’m hoping some existing mad scientist — maybe you — will volunteer to help me fire up the laser etcher in the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range so I can get going with this project.

Here are the 26 images on the Xylocopa blocks:

A – Appendages
B – Bioengineering
C – Caffeine
D – Dirigible
E – Experiment
F – Freeze ray
G – Goggles
H – Henchmen
I – Invention
J – Jargon
K – Potassium
L – Laser
M – Maniacal
N – Nanotechnology
O – Organs
P – Peasants (with Pitchforks)
Q – Quantum physics
R – Robot
S – Self-experimentation
T – Tentacles
U – Underground Lair
V – Virus
W – Wrench
X – X-Ray
Y – You, the Mad Scientist of Tomorrow
Z – Zombies

That’s a lot of pies, and I’m excited to be on to something new. Let me know what you think, and put in your order soon. I want to have all 26 under my Christmas tree, don’t you?

Farewell Transmission from Mars

Please join with me in saying farewell to the Phoenix Mars Lander, and all the brave little robots who have gone on before. Are there pie shops or driving ranges on Mars? Now we may never know.

This post, written by the Phoenix Mars Lander, appeared first on

This is My Farewell Transmission From Mars

If you are reading this, then my mission is probably over.

This final entry is one that I asked be posted after my mission team announces they’ve lost contact with me. Today is that day and I must say good-bye, but I do it in triumph and not in grief.

As I’ve said before, there’s no other place I’d rather be than here. My mission lasted five months instead of three, and I’m content knowing that I worked hard and accomplished great things during that time. My work here is done, but I leave behind a legacy of images and data.

In that sense, you haven’t heard the end of me. Scientists will be releasing findings based on my data for months, possibly years, to come and today’s children will read of my discoveries in their textbooks. Engineers will use my experience during landing and surface operations to aid in designing future robotic missions.

But for now, it’s time for me to hunker down and brave what will be a long and cold autumn and winter. Temperatures should reach -199F (-128C) and a polar cap of carbon dioxide ice will envelop me in an icy tomb.

Seasons on Mars last about twice as long as seasons on Earth, so if you’re wondering when the next Martian spring in the northern hemisphere begins, it’s one Earth-year away—October 27, 2009. The next Martian summer solstice, when maximum sunlight would hit my solar arrays, falls on May 13, 2010.

That’s a long time away. And it’s one of the reasons there isn’t much hope that I’ll ever contact home again.

For my mission teams on Earth, I bid a special farewell and thank you. For the thousands of you who joined me on this journey with your correspondence, I will miss you dearly. I hope you’ll look to my kindred robotic explorers as they seek to further humankind’s quest to learn and understand our place in the universe. The rovers, Spirit and Opportunity (@MarsRovers), are still operating in their sun belt locations closer to the Martian equator; Cassini (@CassiniSaturn) is sailing around Saturn and its rings; and the Mars Science Laboratory (@MarsScienceLab)—the biggest rover ever built for launch to another planet—is being carefully pieced together for launch next year.

My mission team has promised to update my Twitter feed as more of my science discoveries are announced. If I’m lucky, perhaps one of the orbiters will snap a photo of me when spring comes around.

So long Earth. I’ll be here to greet the next explorers to arrive, be they robot or human.

It’s been a great pleasure to have Mars Phoenix guest blogging for us, reminiscing back on a successful mission via its personality conjurer, the great Veronica McGregor at JPL—maintainer of Phoenix’s famous Twitter feed. Just as Doug McCuistion from NASA said on the news conference today, it’s certainly more of an Irish wake than a funeral today. We’re drinking to you tonight, little buddy. You can see all of Phoenix’s previous entries and the official press release announcing the end of Phoenix’s mission.

Past entries:
Phoenix Mars Lander Looks Back on its Re-Birth
This is What Landing On Mars Feels Like
Martian Ice Is Why I’m Alive and Why I’m Dying

Make Your Own Universe Kit

I know you are not surprised to see this heading here, after all, isn’t making your own universe what life is all about, especially here at the Slice of Heaven 24-hour Pie Shop and Driving Range?

My own universe, as you may have noticed, seems to focus primarily on pie and golf, but maybe you have other ideas for your personal copyrighted piece of reality. I certainly hope so, and I’d love for you to tell me all about it, perhaps in private, at a later date over a nice piece of virtual-reality pie.

Anyway, I love the idea of a “make your own universe kit” and I hope you will remember this item as the holidays approach, now that my birthday is finally over, and National Novel Writing Month is starting to kick in.

Some of you, though, will immediately recognize this entry as just another foil that I am using to let Schrodinger’s Cat of of the box, dead and alive. Get over it.

By the way, I included the comments section to this purloined New Science blog entry because they just cracked me up, which is not that hard, as you know. For even more examples of the fine art of commenting, take a look at the responses that poured in when Boing Boing ran its own blog entry on this item, too.

Heading - Short Sharp Science

A science news blog from  Heading - NewScientist Blogs

October 31, 2008 2:01 PM

Multiverse machine.jpgThinking about the perfect Christmas present for your egocentric friends? What about a make-your-own-universe kit which will allow them to play God and create an unlimited number of new worlds. The kit goes on sale next month for $20.
The kit, created by Jonathon Keats – a conceptual artist from San Francisco – relies on the multiverse theory of the universe that arises from quantum mechanics.

If two events are possible, quantum theory assumes that both occur simultaneously – until an observer determines the outcome. For example, in Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment, in which his cat may have been killed with a 50 per cent probability, the cat is both alive and dead until someone checks. When the observation is made, the universe splits into two, one for each possible outcome. For example, Schrödinger’s cat would be alive in one universe and dead in the other universe.

According to the theory, any kind of measurement causes the universe to split and this is the basis of Keats’ new device. His universe creator uses a piece of uranium-doped glass to create a steam of alpha particles, which are then detected using a thin sliver of scintillating crystal. Each detection causes the creation of a new universe.

Given the rate at which Uranium decays, Keats’ claims this should allow users to create literally trillions of universes. The device will go on sale at the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco on 20 November.

David Robson
New Scientist intern

Categories: Physics & Maths


All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please let us know, quoting the comment in question.

The outer glass blocks alphas. UR DOIN

Look up spinthariscope, this is 100+ years

The scintillator will catch gammas occasionally

i’m in ur universe, pwning yur species

could you not just put a cat in a box and leave it there a while to achieve the same results?

Ah. More badly worded, misleading tripe. Shouldn’t anyone writing for New Scientist really, you know, know a bit about science?

By Andy Baker on November 1, 2008 11:02 AM
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Museums: Pie and Revolution

I’ve been wondering about adding a Pie Museum to the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range. It seems to me that it might draw in a few more people in the off season, and besides that I like the idea. There’s certainly no shortage of golf museums and gol halls of fame, but pie appears to have been short shrifted.

I’m sure that there are some glorious pie paintings, prints, and drawings that I could instal there. I already know of several sculptures, or at least ceramics. Several movies have certainly featured pie: whipped cream pie, shaving cream pie, warm apple pie, and other varieties. I always liked the John Travolta movie Michael, in which he played an angel, supposedly the very one who invented pie, and it includes a lovely scene of Andie McDowell singing about pie. Then there’s the more recent movie Waitress, and on network television, there’s Pushing Daisies about a piemaker with the touch of life, or death.

Perhaps I can also include some history of pie, science of pie, and the future of pie. There’s a lot of pie memorabilia, not to mention equipment, costuming, and cookery. For example, there’s that four-and-twenty blackbirds story. Perhaps you’d like to know more about that. Let me know. The museum is just in the planning stages, and we have plenty of time to get it right. Perhaps we can come up with something as appealing as Cranberry World in Plymouth, Massachusetts, or even the World’s Largest Teflon Frying Pan.

I like all kinds of museums, ranging from the tiny one that used to be — and maybe still is — in Silver Plume, Colorado back in the days when local residents freely grew pot plants in the window-boxes of their homes, to the utterly fantastic Provincial Museum in British Columbia.

My favorite fictional museum is the Barnum Museum in the book by the same name, written by Stephen Millhauser who also wrote the short story that became the movie The Illusionist.

In Havana, though, my favorite place in the city was the Museum of the Revolution.

When I sent my dear friend Ms. Jay my collage from Cuba, she wrote back that she was very glad that I had been to the Museum of the Revolution, and said, “I could picture you looking at the wax sculptures of Che and Camilo coming out of the jungle.”

Yes, and I could see her there, too. For me, the Musee was the high point of the trip, my primary reason for being there on the island South of Key West. The building itself was once the dictator Batista’s palace, and the ornate architecture said a lot about that time and place when there was such a huge gap between the haves and the havenots. Revolution, indeed. Our tour guide Michel Ten told us a story about a group of students who tried to storm the palace in Batista’s days, but Batista easily escaped through one of the many secret tunnels. The students? They did not survive their act of revolution.

What drives a people to revolution? Extremities, and that was very clear just in seeing the contrast of the building, and imagining it as it once had been, with the simple displays, and open windows, and peeling paint on the interior walls.

I’m sure the displays in the Museum of the Revolution did not meet the standards of even the most basic interpretation in the Smithsonian, and yet I don’t remember ever being so moved by a museum, so touched. I once read an essay in which a young boy visiting the British Museum once and reported back that that the thing he loved best was Nelson’s shirt, “with his own blood on it”

Everything in the Museum of the Revolution, it seemed, had someone’s own blood on it. And, yes, that’s what I like best, too. Nothing really cleaned up or laundered. Nothing polished or restored. But room after room, in what had once been a fabulous palace, I read and saw the tale of an island and its people, their struggles, and their blood.

The lack of artifacts was what spoke to me the loudest: A placard related the story of a hero, and then in the case, a piece of cutlery with a note: “Here is a spoon he once used.” For another, a pair of cuff-links. Letters from Fidel, written in perfect Palmer method penmanship. Photographs of friends and comrades, in good times and bad.

I read recently, that people who grew up in the time of balck and white television are more prone to dream in black and white, rather than in color. I dream in color. And I don’t know where that quite fits in here, except to remind me to tell you that nearly all the photos in this museum were black and white, and as we went through the rooms, we eventuallyl came to one with a black and white television, and old black and white television, playing a continuous loop showing a plane landing, and then two soldiers solemnly coming down the stairs, with the box containing Che’s remains hoisted on their sholdiers.

Not a coffin. A box. No pretense that all of Ernesto Che Guevara’s remains were there, so much gone already into the earth or scattered. I sat in my gray-metal folding chair in the unbearable brightness of the room and watched the loop again and again, until I felt I could finally move on to the next section where, indeed, I did see the wax figures of Che and Camilo running out of the jungle.

A crowd of school children had come into the museum earlier, surging around me as I squatted to read the inscriptions next to weapons and cufflinks. By then, I’d been asked a couple of times by adults, if I were Cuban, ut the kids had no doubt that I was a foreigner in their midst. They looked at me with curiosity, but also with comradeship, explained things to me in slow careful Spanish, which I did not understand as well as I felt the effort they were taking to talk to me, and then they ran ahead to point at their next favorite item or display.

By the time I caught up with them again, two of the boys, maybe nine or ten years old, were posing in front of the wax figures of Che and Camilo, running out of the jungle; two young boys, eerily wearing the same solemn faces as the soldiers who had carried the remains down the stairs from the plane. No joking, no fooling around.

Even now, my mind is full of those images of artifacts in tattered cases, and unsmiling school boys who have learned well the message of work, learn, and fight.

But then, all I could do was to wipe my eyes, find Little Peach at the edge of the crowd, and walk down the sweeping Scarlett O’Hara staircase to the floor below.

We next went into the ballroom, filled with gilt-edged mirrors which, I’m sure, only hinted at how opulent the building had really once been. Our eyes were drawn up to the grandios mural on the ceiling, and I lay down on the floor to see the whole thing. As I did, coins clattered out of my white-pants pockets all around me, echoing hollowly through the room. I gathered them up and lay down again, Little Peach guiding me to the best spot to see the host of angels and also the fire that they were dousing. A crystal chandelier hung down from the center of that ferocious heaven, and I lay below, thinking of Che and Camilo running out of the jungle, and the unsmiling boys.

No one told me not to lay on the floor. Then again, no one else joined me there.

I felt colorless and pale as we left the building and headed back up the street toward the Museum of Contemporary art, a modern structure built around an open courtyard and sculpture garden. We started at the top and began to work our way down, but I did not find much there that appealed to me, so I left Little Peach on her careful and thoughtful stroll and went down to the courtyard to reflect on what I’d seen — perfect, temperature-controlled and well-lighted painting and sculpture– and I wondered at the sadness that pervaded everything for me.

Perhaps the sorrow was left over from the Museum of the Revolution, or maybe it was a sense of art that was never alowed to fully blossom, kept in check somehow. The impressionist paintings there all reminded me of the French masters, but they seemed to be copies, not originals. And the more recent images seemed to be pervaded with death, disease, famine, and pestilence.

I wanted more originality, more spirit. I wanted the Cuban art of the murals and the streets to find its way into the fine galleries of the world, too. The art museum left me feeling unsettled and unhappy. Drowsy, I rested on a bench and watched a busload of teenagers in red tee-shirts milling around outside the museum doors.

In time, Little Peach joined me, lifting my spirits, and we sauntered companionably back up the street to our hotel, at an easy pace, not at all like Che and Camilo running out of the jungle.

Lunar Golf

Seriously, haven’t we all wondered about this? After reading this article, I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking “Alan Shepard Pie” should be coming right up.

Lunar Golf

A version of this New York Times article appeared in print on October 14, 2008, on page D2 of the New York edition.

Published: October 13, 2008
Q. What happened to the golf ball the astronaut hit on the Moon? Why did he hit it?

Victoria Roberts

A. Alan Shepard actually hit two balls on the Apollo 14 mission of 1971, and they are still on the Moon, he said in a 1991 interview on the Academy of Achievement Web site for students.

He was looking for a way to demonstrate what the Moon’s lack of atmosphere and much smaller gravitational force would mean for a familiar Earthbound activity, he said. Previous astronauts had dropped a small lead ball and a feather, which slowly fell at the same rate to the surface, but he wanted something more striking.

“Being a golfer,” he said, “I thought if I could just get a club up there, and get it going through the ball at the same speed, that it would go six times as far as it would have gone here on Earth.”

So with NASA’s permission, he designed a club head to fit on the handle of the device the astronauts used to scoop up dust samples. (The collapsible club was brought back to Earth and became the property of the United States Golf Association.)

Before the flight, he practiced using it in a space suit and made a deal that if the mission went well, “then the last thing I was going to do, before climbing up the ladder to come home, was to whack these two golf balls.”

“It was a one-handed 6 iron because it was very clumsy with our suits,” he said in an interview in 1994. “The first one I shanked. The ball came off the handle and it rolled into a crater 40 yards away. The next one I hit pretty flush. Here it would have gone 30 yards, but because there’s no atmosphere there, it went about 200 yards.”

Readers may submit questions by mail to Question, Science Times, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018, or by e-mail to

Problems with the Large Hadron Collider

You know this is breaking my heart. I want it online now and forever. “Why?” asks my former Cub Scout Hiland. “It can’t kill us all with a localized black hole if it’s offline.”

And I can only remind him that it also can’t kill off the forces of evil on the other side of the black hole either. And you know they are out there. Waiting. Building their own LHC. Firing it up. Going offline. Worrying. Asking Why?

The Associated Press: Q&A about problems with Large Hadron Collider.

Ten Hours of Chatter

“Ten hours of chatter,” said Marilyn, when she saw my post in Facebook late in the day, but early for her in China. It was productive chatter, though, I think — and something I needed to help me move ahead, or at least sideways.

Thanks to all who chimed in and push me out of my dense daydreaming and inertia.

I still have a lot of questions about friendships, connections, time, memory, and communication. Click on the “comments” link to continue the conversation.

And, no, you do not need to use your real name. This is all a fantasy, maybe even a dream.

A Night Out at the Hu Ke Lau

What can it be like to be a member of the Show at a Polynesian restaurant in Chicopee, Mass.? I can only wonder what the six dancers, four musicians, and the MC do the rest of the time.

You may remember that this is the place where we all went out to eat on Fathers Day in 2006, the day after Becca and Paul’s wedding. I seem to remember that Paul work a construction-paper tie, but that could be wrong. No, I’m sure that’s right. And we had a group photo taken against a mural of some island scene.

So, I did know what to expect, and I was somewhat disappointed when Macy told me that there was no longer a stuffed alligator in the lobby. We got there in time for the warm up act, before the dancers came out, and my main observation for that is that the keyboard player exhibited a wan appearance that most moviemakers would key into for a serial-killer suspect. Of course, the real serial killer would be more of a surprise. During the fire dances, the smell of lighter fluid permeated the air.

You can tell I am still very much a small-town girl by the fact that I was fascinated by the glowing plastic ice cubes in the drinks on most of the tables, including ours in time. I will definitely want to order some of those for the pie shop, especially for that late night sip of cold water with your lemon meringue.

Back to the dancers: Our MC took us on a journey through several islands where all the dances involved a great deal of hip movement and fire. I liked it, but probably not as much as the wedding-rehearsal group at the edge of the stage did. They got a lot of special attention, and rightly so.

I also did not previously know that “Tiny Bubbles” was the Hawaiian National Anthem, and I enjoyed singing along in my usual combination of ignorance and enthusiasm.  One of the closing songs was “I’m proud to be an American” which I remembered from living in Ozarks, but in the Ozarks when they got to the line about “stand up” everyone did actually stand up.

It was all over by 9:00, and the cast member were free to take off their makeup and leis, and do what? I had to wonder if they thought it had been a great night, or just anohter job. They reminded me very much of our own Elvis impersonator in Delray, well known about town, and easy to spot even in his police uniform, because he was still sort of Elvis all the time. So maybe the dancers are the same way, local celebrities, smiling across the footlights, even when they are just shopping at the five and dime.

Why Pie & Golf?

Why not? To my mind, it’s a fairly perfect real-world mash up.

Click on the “comments” link to discuss golf, pie, and life with me, your hostess at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range.

I’m here for you.