Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Correction on The Fullerenes

A few entries back I spoke at length about my enthusiasm for Nanomaterials.  In my entry I mentioned that I believed Buckyballs, or Buckminster Fullerenes were discovered in soot, as in the soot that a candle leaves on things in its flame.  Indeed, it is known that BuckyBalls or Carbon 60 or whatever you'd like to call the spherical molecules of carbon, are found in soot.  But their discovery was far more interesting than I realized.

Recently I have been watching college lectures on various subjects of the Physical Sciences and mathematics.  I have had so much fun doing this, and the resource is so endless (and fruitful) that I finally carried my television to the basement where I hope a flood alleviates responsibility to put the CRT down.  In any case it is presently below grade, and that is something of a burial.

I mention these lectures by way of recommending them.  If you would like to partake, just search for You Tube college lectures and stand back.  There are a lot.  Then quickly choose one, without much thought, for you will be surprised at the incredible fecundity of almost any subject.  

What I watched while eating my dinner tonight was not a college lecture but rather the descendent of a series of public lectures in England put on by Sussex college.  The speaker was none other than one Harold Kroto of the University of Sussex.  He was the one who suggested that the BuckeyBall be named after Buckminster Fuller, partly due to having visited one of Fuller's domes in Canada.  One of the true documented discoverers, along with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley, Harold Kroto gave an incredible speech as to the way it happened.

It turns out that Carbon 60 was first seen in the dying light of a red giant star (in 1985, my dates were 1996, wrong, in other words).  The title of his speech was, "A Carbon Sphere Falls to Earth From the Heavens."  Basically true.  Through mass spectroscopy of the light coming from the star, the team of scientists were able to postulate that a Carbon 60 molecule was there.  Coming out of the star.  What they could not answer, nor even speculate upon with any real understanding was what a Carbon 60 molecule might look like.  Interestingly enough, this question had been raised in the popular science literature, and amongst various theorists.  But these scientists were not aware of that, and besides, had no time (the thought) to go trolling the research library for such materials (this was 1985, after all).  

First Harold Kroto thought of a model of the sky he had made his children, but at the time he was not close to his home enough to retrieve the model (he had the model in his hands during the lecture however).  His model had been hexagonal and geodesic, he had not realized, like a soccer ball (he calls it a football, but you know).  

Then Harold Kroto visited Buckminster Fullers dome in Canada and something clicked.  The dome had a pentagon in and amidst its hexagons allowing for the crucial topological trick of taking a sheet of hexagons and "doping" them into a curved, geodesic structure.  Given the math of the bonds required to satisfy a molecule with the straightforward name "Carbon 60", there was a real hint here:  add pentagons to the hexagonal structure to satisfy the sixty atoms bonds.  To make a long and very interesting story short, he did that. It was in this manner that the structure of the soccer ball, the Buckminster Fullerine was described and its potential dreamed about.  

Kroto was extremely generous in crediting other scientists (and artists especially) with inferring these structures by observation of the natural world, and extrapolating the rules that govern its mag- and minutiae.  

He even showed a picture of a Tortoise back, the hexagons visible in the structure of its shell, but also the crucial pentagons that, as he put it, keeps the back end from getting too drafty.  His British wit was in fairly constant evidence.  Very worthwhile lecture.

Here is a link:  Kroto Talk.   Just hit the play button to get the process started.  At top is Dr. Kroto's picture.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Solid State Stuff

I read, I think, in Google news a week or two ago about UC Berkeley posting some of its lectures to YouTube.  It intrigued me to imagine such a thing done well.  I mean, how does the professor make certain that the camera stays on her other than to stay in one place for two hours?  Indeed, once I watched a few examples it was obvious that this will remain something of a problem for awhile.  Sometimes a professor disappears for a minute or so while the computer screen remains stuck on an overhead projector shot, or screen shot, or what have you.  But for the most part, what a resource!

In my spare time I watched a few hours of a Physics lecture on solid state electronics and other forms of technology that have stemmed from quantum mechanics.  Completely fascinating.  I have always known about silicon and semiconductors in the abstract, but never how they worked or even the theory behind them.  It is amazing to see how interconnected the concept of a diode, and semiconductors of various different kinds from solar cells and charge coupled devices (which make your digital camera go) are.  The technologies have become almost incomprehensibly advanced and complicated but it was wonderful to see what started the whole thing.  A slab of silicon with a current applied to it has to jump from a ground state to a higher state a discreet amount (ala quantum, of quantum mechanics).  The professor kept emphasizing that the current applied has to jump because of the way that electrons pack in the atoms of a crystallized metal like silicon.  Due to the electrons having nowhere else to go when current is applied, the silicon jumps to the next excited state.  It is by measuring when it jumps and harnessing the consequential release of energy when the silicon jumps from an excited to a less excited state that lasers, photovoltaics, charge coupled devices, transistors, and computerized stuff in general gain their electrical infrastructure and harness current the way we've come to love so much.    It is hard to imagine what is really happening in a wafer of a semiconductor, since diagrams of any kind are vast simplifications of reality with energy states given arbitrary directional significance like "Up"  or "Down".   But none the less I felt it worth vastly more attention in the future to learn a little more physics on electricity, magnetism and quantum mechanics.   
It was fascinating as well to learn about electrons and how they are thought to organize and behave (and consequently how to capitalize on their behavior, and the laws that "govern" it).  One of the real surprises involved superconductors.  As you probably know, superconductivity isn't a phenomenon your going to find at room temperature.  It happens at the very low temperatures of liquid air, or nitrogen.  The first superconductivity recognized was even colder than that.  It is amazing how superconductivity works, in theory.  It was first noticed when current was applied to some metals cooled even colder than liquid nitrogen, and the current just went around and around a circuit that the "wire" was in.  The way scientists realized that the current continued to circle the circuit was by measuring a disturbance in the magnetic field around the metals, hence continued presence of a current long beyond the point where it should have dissipated due to normal resistance.  It turns out that at very low temperatures some materials allow electrons to travel through them in such a manner that as a pack of electrons moves across the material any resistance it encounters (and current always encounters resistance in a materials atomic structure) can only be honored if the material goes to the next higher state required by the laws of quantum mechanics.  Their occurs for any element a scale of excited states which the application of current to the elements cause the atoms within it to climb.  The catch is that the atoms cannot smoothly move from a high state to a lower one (and emit an equivalent measure of electromagnetic radiation, or light, in the process) due to the laws that govern quantum mechanics.  There is one step in the electrons scale of states, then a gap through which it just has to wait until it is excited to the next step.  For superconductors the current that is applied to them cannot experience resistance because it cannot go up to the next state.  This is due to the strange ways that quantum mechanics constantly limits the behavior of particle/waves.  At times the limitations quantum mechanics puts on photons, electrons and atoms can seem completely arbitrary, and yet these very limitations allow the construction of "solid state" electronics that are rumored to compose between fifteen and twenty five percent of The United States Gross Domestic Product.  That is a hell of a lot of money to be bored about (next time you think physics are boring).  That kind of money makes Hollywood look like a urinal puck (with advertising on it, of course).  

Sunday, March 22, 2009

You Show Your NanoTubes, I'll Show My BuckeyBalls

I read a fascinating little tidbit in The New York Times (RSS Feed) that concerned carbon nanotubes.  You remember the Nobel prize in 1996 going to two scientists who discovered spheres of carbon shaped like two geodesic hemispheres stuck together, don't you?  The lattice work that comprised the molecular frame work of the spheres (molecules, really) was entirely carbon. Arranged in hexagons (which by itself, with hydrogens all around, is benzene) A bit like a chain link fence, or a honey bees wax.  The spheres, I believe, were "discovered" in carbon black.  The black stuff that smokes off a candle flame.   One of the more disgusting jobs out of many that would easily be categorized as such in the industrial revolution, for children, was collecting carbon black from a flame for the manufacture of various things requiring the blackening, ink like material in their make up.    My point is that the scientists found in some of this carbon black little spheres that when put into a tunneling electron microscope revealed a structure that was not only (Gasp!) spherical, but also reminded the scientists of Buckminster Fuller, the wacky architect and futurist who's work inspired the strange hippie house domes, as well as many very important design considerations in various architectural installations less tacky then Spaceship Earth.  It's his picture at the top of this entry.  I could never figure out as a kid why more people didn't like those dome things.  But then... I was a virgin.  
So the scientists dusted off their bell bottoms and named their spherical little molecules, found in soot, "buckyballs".  They also named other iterations of the benzene ring latticework "fullerines"  So I guess Buckminster Fuller was covered more or less.

Initially the great excitement in 1996 was pretty straightforward:  the scientists knew the kind of bonds one would find in a molecule like a buckeyball were astonishingly strong, rather difficult to construct in a lab, for example.  And yet, here was evidence, of the self assembly of such bonds in carbon, at reasonably low temperatures in a lab:  at or below 1000 degrees centigrade.  Unfortunately Time magazine didn't think this arcane fact of at what temp the buckeyballs were conceived necessarily gave it a right to the molecule of the year.  So, in a fit of desperation, despite winning Nobel prizes for the actual, potential scientific value of what the science suggested about the generation of buckeyballs in a lab, ect.,  the journalists far and wide sold a story about buckeyballs being revolutionary for what they might do in pharmacolgy and chemistry by sticking stuff inside them.  I don't remember one mention of electronics, but there may have been a little noise as to potential there as well, but not much.
Flash ahead twelve years and what have buckeyballs done for pharmacology?  Nothing, basically.  I mean, what a perfect molecule for the next Viagra, just the name alone kind of has some suggestive potential, but no...  No buckeyball based medicine.  
However, a sort of stretched out buckeyball has been getting serious press in the last six years.  Oftentimes in hilarious ways.  If you took a buckeyball and dipped it in magic paint, then pulled the buckeyball in a line, depending on the property of the paint, it might make a three dimensional tube, of the paint, exactly as round as the buckeyball, whatever length you pulled it.  Aware of this lovely picture, but without my ecstatic imagination, scientists decided just to open up the latticework of the buckeyball and extend it into a tube of the chain link like carbon atoms instead.  "Magic paint, " they said to me, frowning, "we're real men in white jackets Andy!"  I didn't feel comfortable telling them there was no need to raise their voices.
So what do the scientists do?  Well.... things weren't going well for them.  Turns out sheets of carbon one nanometer thick and undoped by steroids, or what have you, are a bit difficult to find at the local apothecary.  So, what became the gold standard in 2006 for the achievment of nano thin films of graphite (for all practical purposes, pure carbon)?  At the time, the material that was the goal (thin film of graphite) was worth something like $2,500 a gram.  This made it damn near the most expensive substance on earth, retail.  A dollar bill weighs a gram.  I mean, if you could print this damn graphite paper stuff, you were for all practical purposes printing money, right?  What became the gold standard, was a white jacketed laboratory chief walking up to the laboratory "bench" and pulling from a long thin drawer the instrument called "Dollar General Transparent Tape".  Pulling a length of this tape, applying it to a slab of graphite and ripping like a brazillian wax job is what amounted to the gold standard at the time.  You'd be surprised, I'm sure, to hear that things have changed.  
I'm not kidding, ripping thin layers of graphite with tape was for a period one of the most popular methods.  It isn't that forms of nanotubes weren't available in nature, it's just that they were so short and small (would you believe it?) that they looked and acted like dust, which means they required a great deal of bravery to even approach and do something useful with. And given the brevity in length of these nanotubes, any application that required tubes even a millimeter long would have seemed laughable were one to stir the burned residue on a carbon anode of a recently highly charged experiment.  
All was not lost however, due to the apparatus known as "Dollar Store Transparent Tape".  Once you'd waxed the graphite, you see, you'd take the flat sheet of graphite off of the tape with a solvent, then after drying, roll the thin layer latticework like a scroll.  This is what all the fuss was about.  How Magic Tape became famous. One a thin layer was rolled up, and once scientists looked at it in their scanning microscope and tested its structural features with the proper instruments they were able to determine that this rolled up thin layer of carbon was a true nanotube.  Not the kind where the mesh, or latticework seamlessly reconnects 360 degrees all around, but due to the mechanically strong attraction of the carbon atoms to each other, the tube was found to be essentially a multiwall tube once constructed.  And it was certainly the longest one ever, even if it was a fur piece smaller than a piece of Scotch Tape.  It was way bigger than dust, for example.

So what? your thinking.  I don't blame you, that was basically my reaction to the Buckeyballs for pharmacology concept, yawn...  Turns out these nanotubes that were so hard to make before, are becoming quite a bit easier with the ripeness of time.  The military is pumping money into the subject.  And here's the reason:  for some reason (probably the energy crises and all around popularity of nanotechnology as a science subject or investing strategy) journalists decided that normal folks might understand crazy notions in the material science world like: strength, and hardness and conductivity.  Turns out that nanotubes, made of that thin film of carbon, has some very interesting qualities on all those accounts.  As you may recall from the periodic table on the dining room wall, next to the sexy poster of a waterfall, Carbon is not a metal.  However, as you may recall from superconductors, and ceramics research, ect. all that goes Zap isn't Gold.  Turns out that whether nanotubes have a particular variety of conductivity at room temperature, or not, has to do with how you roll them up.   It's easy to visualize.  If you lay out a tile floor in a room then you have a choice as to how the floor will look when you are done.  It can appear, based on its orientation, as a bunch of squares or diamonds.  turn the tile one way, it will lay out as squares.  Turn it an eighth turn, it will lay out like diamonds.  Squares on a point.  Mother nature loves this sort of thing a great deal.  Origami is based rather heavily on it.  And the yoke of geometry in the hands of men was, before the Calculus, a divided square.  I frequently wish that in the general imagination it remained that way.  Math is anything but abstract when you are laying out a tile floor, or folding a Swan for World Hiroshima day.  
So, how you orient your flat sheet of graphite, before you roll it, creates a different orientation to the bonds within the circle of the tube.  This difference of orientation has an impact on what the electrical qualities of the finished nanotube are.  For example, if the hexagons are oriented in one particular way when you roll it up then the finished tube acts, electrically, like metal.  If you orient the sheet a different way, then the nanotube will not be a metal.  The difference would hardly seem to matter since Quantum Mechanics matters so much more at this size that the inside of the tube has been rumored to be a Strange Place indeed, including such fun things as frictionless tube within a tube telescoping and lossless transmission of energy over distances.  Not that it matters for our purposes here, but this nanotube stuff, which incidentally has become a military technology and is a long, long way from Scotch Tape these days, is more conductive than copper by something like a factor of 50.  

The reason I mentioned the "is it, or isn't it a metal" distinction is pretty darn cool actually.  Outside of transmission of electricity inside a semiconductor, or in powerlines, nanotubes have some very fun properties.  They glow, for example, luminesece.  But only, due to the physics of the thing, where the nano tube does not act like a metal.  What's cool about all this is that you have so much control over the final product merely by making gross physical adjustments to its manufacture.  Nobody was talking about THIS when buckeyballs were the next drug D'jour.

Lastly, is probably one of nanotubes most astonishing, mind bending qualities.  Nanotubes structurally are the strongest material known.  By alot.  And when you consider man made materials, it is just a quantum leap from the next manipulatable material item in terms of hardness.
The primary reason are the SP2 bonds that describe the latticework of the carbon atoms.  These bonds are what are responsible for the measurement of hardness in the various allotropes of pure carbon (diamond, graphite, fullerines buckminster and otherwise)  Diamond's bonds are sp3 bonds, and sp3's are less strong than  sp2 bonds in nanotubes and their sibling, graphite.  
So, among other qualities in a huge range of fields, that is why scientists are going coco for nanotubes.  This is a material that will approach Moores law in terms of our ability to manufacture it industrially (incredible strides are being made in Florida State Univeristy, for example.  They are one of the biggest recipients from two branches of American defense).  It will have application in items as small as a few nanometers thick to as large as a skyscraper.  They were recently put together in a muscle made of the strands of tubes and found along one axis to be nearly as hard as diamond, but along another axis to be able to move like a muscle based on controllable conditions.  This blows my mind considerably.  As you can see, buckeyballs deserve their name, given the capacious gifts of their progeny. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dandelion's Song

The second post I ever submitted on Brand of Make Believe was entitled "Dandelions Gone".  It spoke of the peculiar dread some of us feel at the coming of Winter (that day was November 18th).  But it spoke with the deepest urgency of an April morning when after returning from the Farmers Market one gloriously rainy spring morning, I fell to my knees in my front yard and saw so many things;  and of course, intimations of the garden I wanted to plant.  I'll never forget that morning, and I think the reason I like "Dandelions Gone" so much, is that for years the sight of the "weeds" of our urban lawns, especially violets and dandelions, have whispered a little to the man in me, who himself has been something of a weed, sometimes bright green despite a drought, sometimes growing, right from a crack in a rock.  Sometimes, could it be, being "picked on".  It's strange, but for years when spring would come around I would think of the spring of 1997 when I had a bunch of days confined to taking care a friend of a friend who had no-one else to turn to.  So I helped as best I could for four days in the basement of this barely legal elderly home.  In many ways I had a nice time.  My friends Grandmother was said to have been a real jerk, but her eyes really twinkled when I helped her in and out of bed and otherwise passed whatever non-verbal information we pass under the circumstances.  By the end of the time however, I had the misfortune of looking out a window and seeing that beautiful gray color and shocking green of spring grass, and it filled me with a desire to go home and be in my yard and plant some impatiens.  So the next day I had my chance, and after digging a garden outside my back porch for an hour, I found myself sitting and reading the novel by Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow, looking up from time to time at the knee like roots of the deciduous trees, seemingly cradling from the ground bouquets of dandelions and violets.  God, they looked so unremittingly beautiful.
When I wrote Dandelions Gone, I had a month and twelve days till the season I am in right now, winter, would begin.  I could see the stations of the cross into deep winter, the holidays, and it all somehow just didn't fit what seemed like so recent a celebration: Autumns sensual divinity.  Something I love about that entry is just how sad I know that guy was to say goodbye to his garden, and the sunshine on his shoulder.  
You know, Spring isn't most people's favorite season.  Fall is.  But Spring, since I became an adult, responsible entirely for my own feelings and capacities, has been my favorite season by far for over fifteen years.  According to the clock on my computer, it will be Spring in one hour and six minutes.  I don't think I have ever dwelt before on the last hour of winter.  Autumn is something I'd be more likely to worry or dwell on. But here I am.

"That morning, on my wet knees in the rain, my body felt huge and the yard seemed an immense place of endless and beautiful complexity.  And two weeks ago the enzymatic fire that began as the average temperature reached the middle sixties Farenheight in Spring, sizzled and hissed to a head of steam from the vent pipes of my neighbors roof.  The warm, placental, resiliency of the warm season was over."   

It always comes as something of a shock to realize that the mean temperatures and hours of daylight in Spring and Fall are necessarily complimentary.  That only goes to show how gloriously deep the primal experiences of our ancestors are within us even today.  In Autumn we prepare, and feast, and string up perhaps lights a factor of three more than during other seasons, a giant candy colored night light of a scarecrow to stand sentry to the encroaching darkness.  But Spring?  

All about me in this town of transience and youth people can hardly keep their clothes on.  And the most vulnerable of everything reaches up from the darkness of winter, to break into the richness and warmth of the growing sun.  Most of the perennials gladly will lose their very first embryonic efforts to a couple of late frosts, just to feel their juices flowing, and count themselves in for another long season.

So in my yard, their is a thick coating of wood chip mulch, a green, uncomposted killer to all but the clover and legumes who can fix the nitrogen the carbon rich wood has sequestered away from the soil in its decay.  But there is one other little wizard of a weed that for reasons I can't imagine, manages despite proven lack of an ability to fix nitrogen, and despite being a green plant (fast growing one at that) it grows fast and hard, and has been growing for a few weeks now.  In forty-five minutes is the first day of Spring, but for nearly a month I have enjoyed salads of the symbol I chose to regard as perhaps the saddest thing to succumb to the cold.  For when the dandelions gone, what about me?

My friends.... Happy Spring!

And I Thought You'd Enjoy This

Just a pretty improvisation on the first one below.

Chambered Butterfly

Last night I watched another Technology, Entertainment and Design Talk, otherwise known to geeks all over as a TED talk.  As usual, the first one I watched was a bit dull.  That was Nathan Myhrvold, former Microsoft executive,  talking about how he designs nuclear powerplants, and finds T Rexs' lounging about while on vacation, but can't fit all his T Rexs' in his living room, where he already has ONE, so the T Rex he discovered just had to go somewhere else.  He didn't mention the difference in the market value of a model of a T Rex (considerable) and the market value of fossil of a T Rex (astronomical).  So why did he want the model and not the real one?  Maybe he'll take it to Antique's Roadshow and we all can clear this up.   His talk was very interesting, but managed to place him, and his brain, and his polymath tendencies, ect. ect. in these very unlikely settings, without much discussion of the origins of his privilege, in a room full of some of the most privileged people on earth.  The good thing about the whole talk is that it was interesting in the end and you could feel that he was making everyone uncomfortable.  
The second Talk was by Jay Walker, the founder of PriceLine, and someone who runs a thinktank on very high end technology and conceptual technological design.  While extremely out there, there was something so enthralled with wonder and sharing about the guy, that after awhile you sort of forgot that he is a gazillionaire and just let him wine and dine you with his "library" of curiosities.  Meteorite from Siberia, authentic replica (whatever that means) of a Gutenburg Bible.  Lots of rare machines, ect.  Then one thing that really made me smile.  The motherboard of an Apple II computer signed by Woz--- Steve Wozniak, co-creater of the Apple II series with Jobs, in the original garage that Apple started in.  I grew up using an Apple II Plus and it made me smile to see it's DNA, so to speak, sitting in a Library next to a Sputnik prototype.
And finally I saw a Ted Talk by Adam Savage, the Mythbusters co-host.  It's hard to believe that Mythbusters has only been on the Discovery channel since 2002.  Prior to that, Adam Savage was a prominent craftsman and artist (across many disciplines of special effects) in the effects industry of Hollywood.  He worked on ten or twelve very, very well known effects driven movies, and since I have loved reading trade magazines for the effects industry since I was a teenager, I really enjoy listening to Adam get out of his clowning Mythbusters mode and talk a little shop on  TED about something, perhaps, just as whimsical:  the replication of the Maltese Falcon prop from the original movie.  Of course, the purpose of passionate and single minded replication of any cultural artifact is to immerse oneself in the posture of peoples and cultures and characters one cares about.  So Adam very amusingly retells his attempt to craft a skeleton from sketchy photographs in the public record of the Dodo bird.  A sort of exo-economical case of lack of supply driving a strong personal demand.  Very cool talk by someone down to earth and driven by Techne as well as the creative spirit.  
I took Savage's bio link to his poorly maintained personal website (looks like it hasn't been updated, or visited much for that matter, since 2003).  None the less, it was instructional and inspiring to see some of the things he has done.  I have been obsessing over how to organize my tools due to time, space, effieciency, and business considerations for a few years now.  As my business grows over the years, I dread the day I look at my books and see that my fifty employees are being paid hundreds of person/hours a week to move wrenches and buckets of paint and other tools around in a circle due to the broken system to is clearly the norm in the construction world.  Factories don't work this way anymore.  The service industry is clearly the future of construction.  Clean, customer forward, uniformed, civilized, insured and trustworthy individuals building homes.  Savage's toolboxes he designed for himself are works of art.  He has pictures on his website and they made me salivate.  They have springloaded scissor lift actions that allow them to raise to your hands when you are seated so you need not bend over.  And most importantly there is available every tool one needs without moving another tool to reach it.  All in a portable system, for field, or shop use.  It's a beautiful thing.  Seeing some of Savage's creative combination of various skills of the trades (something like ten different skill sets used in construction have been "collected" by him, like a linguist collects languages) convinced me I needed to do something creative myself, so I got off the internet and took one of my photos and cut it up and made it into what I call the photo above:  a "Chambered Butterfly".  It was a dead butterfly I found last year and took many, many pictures of.  Just a beautiful object of nature that I still revel in.  By cutting to the profile of one of the butterfly's wings, and then using that profile like I used to use Geometric shapes in making simple, swirling, mosaics in the LOGO language as a child, I came up with a Chambered Nautilus like shape, in profile.  Just a little tip of the head to the visual arts, and the place they have in helping me to sculpt my carpentry and contracting in the future to a place, beauty, where people have always felt their true home to be.

Yellow Belly of The Osage Orange

I traded some labor the other day, cutting up a tree with my friend Mike, on this really cool farm owned by some friends of ours.  We only spent an hour or so cutting up two trees, and while I worked at the remains of an oak (perhaps a White Oak, we weren't certain) Mike bit into a small hardwood I completely didn't recognize.  The moment the bar of his saw bit into the trunk of the tree it was obvious what the tree was.  A shower of gold sawdust came off the saw, and before he had even made two cuts I called out to him, "you've got an Osage Orange!"  He finished his cuts and I finished off the oak tree for him.  
I learned about Osage Orange trees from William Least Heat Moon's book PrairiErth, which came out when I was seventeen and in high school.  I was enormously excited when I learned of the books imminent publishing, for I had completed Blue Highways only a year before (being a teenager then meant having been extremely young when Heat Moon wrote Blue Highways.  In it he has a picture in Tennessee of some resident, and in the background is a poster of Al Gore campaigning for a congressional seat).  I bought PrairiErth the moment it came out, and though fascinated at the notion of writing a thick book about one county in the state of Kansas, I had trouble with some of the circling the book seemed to do (so as, I suppose, not to make a short trip and whoops, end up just a tiny bit outside the county).  I read the book again three years ago and finished it at the shore of lake Monroe, sitting beneath a Persimmon tree.  See the photo of the tree above (and the Persimmon in my hand was delicious) I loved the book at age 32 in a way I simply could never have a year after I got my drivers license.  
I was real curious when I decided to write about that beautiful sight of Mike's chain saw cutting into Maclura pomifera Raf., I wanted to know strange stuff like, what makes it yellow, Turmeric??  And, has much been learned about the chemistry of the tree's wood and it's strange fruit?  A few keystokes later and my jaw dropped.  The first ten Google hits, more than the first PAGE of Google hits, were about the chemical C15H10O7, also known as Natural Yellow 8.  Prior to the discovery of coal tar derivatives as dyes, natural products were the manner by which one came to color things (yes I know, coal is natural too.)  The most popular source of yellow through the first World War (and rising demand for it driving the chemical analysis of traditional Native American dyes like the Osage Orange) came from a tropical tree called a Fustic.  When demand for Fustic was drastically increased due to the War effort, it was discovered that the virtually (they thought) worthless trees covering the banks of the Mississippi where she runs through Texas and Oklahoma were chalk full of what, initially, chemists wanted to call "Osajin".  The New York Times Archive section of their website had an article on the second page of Google results I got for my inquiry into Osage Orange Yellow Dye, that was from 1919 and discussed an inquiry by scientists into the nature of the yellow substance of the Osage Orange tree similar to Fustic.  Could of read this stuff for hours, but wanted to write this entry instead.  Just fascinating.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bracting For Cynthias'

You'll have to pardon my sentiment,
but understand, I live with a widower
whose entire life is behind him and therefore understandably considers memory more than that place where you keep stuff to tell yourself later.  I talk in Brand of Make Believe about 
Robert Boyer quite a bit, as friendships
between thirty five and ninety year olds
should be the norm (at least I have always felt that way).  But there is another spirit about the house and yard who, though I have never met her, reaches past her confinement in heaven to whisper in my ear.  She, of course, is Cynthia Boyer, Roberts beloved, late wife.  Cynthia passed away fifteen years ago, before I came to Bloomington.  But her love of antiques gives this old house a far more substantial feel than the typical
medium density fiberboard furniture I have decorated my houses with.  I could talk all day about how Cynthia dragged Robert through the experiences she wanted to have in life, despite his capacity to object to just about everything under the sun, save his unchanging  habits.  When I met Robert I didn't live with him, so I just came by his house and reveled in the gardening he dabbled in, mostly 
bush trimming, ect.  Well, one day, I pointed out a "flowering" Forsythia, that sits at the Northeast corner of the house.  Robert smiled and let me have it: " that plant is not flowering, those yellow things are bracts not flowers."  I was floored and thrilled to learn this small thing. "And besides,"
said Robert, "around here, we call that thing a "For Cynthia".  

And I will too, for as long as
I can.  

Here are some pictures of my "bracting"  For Cynthia.  On a side note my Korean friends love For Cynthia's (I usually break down and tell them the real name, given my desire as an ambassador of US midwestern charm, to not embarrass them.)
It wouldn't surprise me if the plant were from China (I'll look it up, I know, I know.)
The Korean name is Gai-Be, which sounds like "guy" "bee".  Ask a Korean you meet.
They will be thrilled to tell you what they think.  Just give them a break if they translate a Gai-Be's behavior in Spring as flowering.  

Monday, March 16, 2009

Artist Inspired By Seba

I wanted to include this in my last entry, but as you have already surmised I am a little new at this posting of pictures and muti-media stuff.

Just thought you'd like it.

Springs Here!


It's been way too long.  I have a very long post I would like to do involving the Dandelion salad I ate a week or so ago.  It would be revisiting one of my first entries "Dandelion's Gone".  Why do I have so much affection for my own output, anyway?  God help my children one day.

So, there is a blog entry in my future which will show the changes that our somewhat warmish late winter have wrought in my life in the form of gardening in early March.  I built a huge cold frame, and just yesterday attempted to take a picture of the Mesclun mix I have growing within it.
Also, just today, I planted about 155 onions (Bermuda and Yellow evenly split).  I am beginning to feel the strange heat that comes over me every spring.  Last year it caused me to ramble on the phone with my parents about vaguely hyperbolic theories of recycling, regeneration, and other concepts normally consigned to dark quiet places (at least for those of us who have taste).  My sweet mother at one point, realizing I was perhaps no longer actually capable of hearing confusion in the grunts of her and my father on the phone, said, "I guess he's just rambling," to my Dad, who was speechless.  The only consolation for such an embarrassing episode is the fact that they've been enduring it for thirty-five years.  Haven't abandoned ship yet.  Also, my friends and mentors who counsel me in such matters have told me something precious I could have no way of knowing due to having no children (and maybe having just a little to do with the fact that in my solar system, damn it Jim, I'm the Sun, not the Son):  sometimes when throwing attention at their children a parent can become a little ashamed of the sheer boredom they experience in listening to their bundles of joy babble, cashiering the unconditional love a child just knows will come like rain from Mom and Dad.  I know I'm guilty as charged, sorry if you would rather not conjecture the preciousness of your relations with your own.  

So my Garden Blog is called Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, for now.  It's at cabinetofnaturalcuriosities.blogspot.com.  It is very much a work in progress, but is going to be the best damned garden journal (with the most widely applicable usefulness ect.) I've certainly ever had.  The blog is named after Albertus Seba, a nineteeth century pharmacist, zoologist and collector from the Netherlands.  The kind of guy Linneaus and Darwin dropped in on.  He created from his amazing collection culled from all over the world to supply his apothecary, a series of engravings.  These were eventually brought together in a volume (once translated) called the Cabinet of Natural Curiousities that sells to this day from Taschen for nearly a hundred dollars or more.  Barnes and Noble has a Taschen version for under thirty dollars.  It is not the best edition ever to come out, but none the less makes a hell of a gift for kids and geeks like me.  Even better, search Albertus Seba.  Or rather, just hit the link.  All his work is in the public domain, I was delighted to discover.  So download it, look at it, and ask yourself if, as a great man used to say, "Nature's for the eyes that see it."  Seba suggests nature is not for just anyone.  

Oh well.  

I will write another entry soon.

Andy Coffey

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Yellow Bellied [(Indian) Corn], Gotta Have Your Pops

Popcorn and Mom

While I briefly attended Goshen college in fall of 1993, I received the first letters from my parents in my life that hedged, however briefly, toward that elegiac project of letting you know that you mean something to them, more broadly, than a hug can any longer furnish, given the circumstances of your leaving (and your mutual new problem, life without each other).  Little did we know that I'd be back home in time to see the second or third snowfall and quit college, but that didn't diminish my interest in this new tone coming out of Mr. and Mrs. Alpha and Omega.

My mother wrote me a letter one day, for example, that I still can see in my hand.  She mentioned directly that she missed me, loved me.  But then admitted my spirit was missing around the house.  She said something to the effect, "Every night the house is without popcorn, and your father and I miss it!  We didn't realize how often you made it, how often you made it for us."  
I still make popcorn nearly every night. Its been eighteen years.  More than once I have bought fifty pound bags of popcorn at the wholesale club, and five gallon buckets of canola oil.  Combined cost of these is around thirty five dollars.  You can look at the nutrition facts on a bag of popcorn to figure out how many servings this amounts to, but whatever the figure, it is less than what I eat.  My friends frequently tell me, "Oh, I have never had popcorn like that!  Isn't that, like, cowboy popcorn or something?"  Not all of them call it "cowboy popcorn", but the intimation that I make it in a primitive manner, on the stove, in a pot, unadorned with options beyond oil and salt, is ubiquitous among this microwave generation that I am lucky to be part of (and let me tell you how grudgingly I admit that).  
Then again, it doesn't hurt that this habit of mine, like pulling my hair behind my ears used to be, is ingrained and autonomic by this point and can seem doting to women, and sometimes even guys, such that I slide in and out of the role of festive, nurturing host, without even realizing it.  Just as I had no idea that my mother would ever miss my eight o'clock, completely nutritionally avaricious, popcorn habit.  But she did.  And may very well to this day. 

I am a profoundly poorly trained, self taught, and sometimes abominable songwriter (in the mostly country/rock/ alt category).  Since I have never taken a class in songwriting, any little trick that comes out of Nashville seems ingenious to this cat from Blooming-Holler.   Like the "code" that charts are written in for session players.  It came out of Nashville, and is called The Nashville Method or more endearingly, and ungrammatically, "All The Notes There Is".   For any scale it simply removes the extra modifiers like the number sign for sharps, throughout a scale, and adds the letter b, to a roman numeral to code for all the half-steps in a scale.  Then you line up a typical scale (a coded thing that we are used to translating from our grade school days, "reading" music)  with roman numerals (from Do till it brings you back to Do).  Anywhere there is a sharp or flat you code that as a IIIB or what have you.  The point is that in the end you get a scale, that has "All the notes there is" and can be played by any instrument and player due to that fact that within the text of the scale there is embedded the technique of the theory of musical notation.  This allows songs to be written in this chart notation and handed out for extemporaneous, and highly entertaining off the cuff chart sessions.  This is what amounted to a classic night of drinking at the high tide of Nashville's Music City Row 'NightLife'.  Beautifully romantic, and probably very, very much dead these days.  But "All The Notes There Is" taught me even more about the idiomatic richness of not only the language of my area of the United States (for all practical purposes),  but of the deeper desire to communicate together, right now, on the same page, only just a bit out of tune.    I learned all of this from a songwriting book that cost me five bucks.  It was like learning a part of myself I had always contended with, my musicality, coming in and out of focus for me as have tried different modalities of sound.  Sounds you feel for as a singer (or writer) that you didn't know were Spanish, or vaguely Caribbean, or could be pinned by theory as Mixolydian.  Sounds that just shock you arise from your unconscious memory, it so often seems.  And now, I have a map that helps with that as well.  

Some examples of "All The Notes There Is": 

I     II    III    IV    V    VI    VII    (I)
do  re   mi    fa    so    la    ti       do

Roman numerals, strange but boring.
It's called the Nashville Number System,  but...

Here's "All The Notes There Is" with sharps and flats included, to represent a universal scale:

I    bII    II    BIII    III    IV    bV    V    bVI    VI    bVII    VII
C    Db   D      Eb       E     F     Gb    G     Ab     A       Bb      B

Since an D# is the same as an Eb, sharps can be regarded as redundant, so have been made into flats in the universal scale.  The flats are always before the letter designating the note, to avoid confusion.

Now to determine scales and Modes, it's a plug and play matter of very simple cryptography or code:

for the scale of D:

I    bII    II    bIII    III    IV    bV    V    bVI    VI    bVII    VII
D   Eb    E       F       Gb   G     Ab    A    Bb      B       C         Db

To determine the D major scale from this, all you need to determine is which of the letters lie beneath the universal scale (without flats) and voila!, you have all the notes there is in a D major scale.  If you memorize those notes in the universal scale that apply to D major, then when you read a song written in the Roman numeral Nashville way, you can plug in the key by memory and play any instrument with the same chart (sheet of music).  Wow!  It is a little work, for huge payoff at the recording session (which is why it came into existence in the first place) or just when you want to sit with some friends and play songs together without bringing an entire filing cabinet of paperwork, or what have you.  Dem folks sure is swell.

Lastly, there are chord building conveniences and what they call Modes, which I briefly mentioned above as having to do with the way a type of music sounds.

For the chord building

For a major chord you can use the Universal Letters     I         III         V
Simple enough.

For a minor chord you can use the Universal Letters     I          bIII        V
You know, for that dark and stormy sound.....

But what about things like Major sixth or Seventh chords.  Or how about Suspended second chords, I mean, what the hell are all those chords in the chord book anyway?  Well, if you don't know the chord book, and what it's for, fine.  But if you do play guitar, and love to write songs, but have found your ability to identify chords that are helpful in the literature massively impeded by your ignorance as to how to construct them, then this universal scale was made for you.  Only one more chord and the truth would do for some, but here's a couple:

After following the instructions with the scales above, and coming up with the corresponding notes to any scale conjured in that manner, your universal notes are:  

For Major Sixth Chord          I                III           V              VI

For Seventh Chord                  I               III            V             bVII

For Minor Seventh Chord      I              bIII          V              bVII

Suspended second Chord        I               II             V     

Half diminished Chord           I               bIII         bV             bVII

Diminished Chord                   I               bIII          bV              VI

The technical name for the Do Re Mi scale (the major) is Ionian, which makes it sound Greek to me.  All scales are "modal" which is to say they  have a sound and feel that conforms to a certain backwater of culture that hey, just might, like Ionian, be your own today, or your particular heritages (Jesus, I'm Polish, German, Irish, French and rock and roll countrified American in the here and now.  Whatever day the music died happened before I was born, that's for sure.)  Some of you may know that the scale made on the black keys of  a piano, played alone, are pentatonic.  Some of you may even have surmised on your own (not me) that they were named this due to their peculiar limitation to five notes.  Outside of the major/minor pentatonic, there are damned few scales in music with five of anything.  Fewer even called something other than pentatonic.  So we'll start there.  Using the rules for finding notes of any scale, given above, (and go ahead, if you don't have scales memorized, just use the universal D chart above and plug in these modes, then go to a piano for their sound.  Dorian is said to have a "Santana" sound, and Fleminco music is in the Phrygian mode.  My favorite mode, which I mentioned up above, just in terms of crazy things to remember is Mixolydian.  You'll know it, when you hear it.  That's because it's music.  And music, like you, and the smell of bitter almonds, is inherently human.)

Chart Of Modes:

Major Pentatonic   I      II      III       V       VI

Lydian                      I       II      III        bV          V        V       VI         VII

Mixolydian              I       II       III       IV            V                 VI          bVII

Natural minor        I         II      bIII     IV            V                 bVI       bVII

Melodic minor        I        II       bIII     IV           V                 VI          VII

Harmonic minor     I        II       bIII     IV            V                  bVI       VII

Minor pentatonic    I                  bIII     IV            V                              bVII

Phrygian                   I       bII       bIII      IV          V                bVI      bVII
Dorian                      I        II        bIII       IV          V                VI       bVII

Locrian                    I          bII     bIII        IV       bV               bVI      bVII

Blues                        I                     bIII       IV        bV       V                 bVII

Hungarian               I           II           bIII      bV       V              bVI        VII

Neapolitan Ice Cream (just kidding, )

Neapolitan (for real) I       bII      bIII        IV       V                 VI         VII

I love thinking and reading about the philosophy of things as mundane as musical scales.  It had never in my childhood occurred to me that  scales have a "sound".  To me, they were the sound of music. Lest there be any confusion, repeated viewings of "The Sound of Music" allowed for a sleepy acceptance of this "way things are" and its sibling "the way things ought to be".  In truth, I was acting as all children will, for there were arguments to the contrary all over the place, in the face of this monolithic twelve tone Do through So.  Indian music went through its initial earthquake, pre-Putumayo days in the '70's with Ravi Shankar.  And as a child of people who edged rather precariously around that high lip of the late sixties construction of far outness, (while never really "dropping out" of their world) I dutifully attended some Indian music concerts which my parents seemed to really appreciate.  I learned early in life that when it came to high culture, feeling nothing but a fidelity to some authority other than my own heart (preferably even, someone else's head space) was a sure sign that something important was happening. And classical music to this day remains a outgrowth of pure Western culture but is hardly being composed today within the idioms and rules and realms of the songs I write. It was such a surprise to me when music started to come out of the very center of myself thirteen years ago. That was where I least expected to listen to. And that was certainly a place I wouldn't have asked anyone else to listen to.  

A strange and wonderful thing happened the other day while I was editing a song.  I have for a few years had trouble understanding certain relationships in some of my songs that revolve around tempo and length.  As will surprise no one who is interested in even the most marginal aspects of songwriting, there are a few basic song structures that most popular songs conform to.  The best way to describe this, without pointless and arbitrary jargon, is to remind anyone who has sung in a church or a chorus, of the refrain in between each stanza of phrases.  Typical is a paragraph of phrases, then a paragraph of chorus, then a paragraph of phrases, ect. ect.  This is the singing part of  a song, alternating amidst imagery and narrative, reminding the singer (and listener) with repetitive metaphor. This is about reminding and remembering the subject of whatever you have embarked on, as a singer or congregation, or for that matter, have been handed down to you from slaves in spiritual:

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus.

When I am alone
When I am alone
When I am alone, give me Jesus.


Even an atheist can feel a tingle of rapture in the Bible belt singing that line, "You can have all this world."  The sopranos in even the the least qualified congregation have a tendency to belt that line such that God simply has to hear it.  Really nice stuff. 

So, the structure of a songs lyrics are certainly relevant to the writer and singer of a song.  And everyone understands this without even thinking about it, for music composes at least some of the blood of any culture.  A real challenge, however, to an amateur songwriter such as myself is the interpolation of that other thing in a song, that so far has gone unmentioned by me.  Not the words, for these purposes, but the music.  What about the instrumentation of the song, what about the time signatures?  What about the repetition of musical motifs?  The key of the song.  The length of each phrase and its complexity of improvisation.  When I began to sing, in earnest thirteen years ago, in a hotel room in Indianapolis, none of this mattered to me.  For me, my main concern was more a feeling of relief.  When I sang a line, somehow my fingers were playing (a very few) chords on the guitar that didn't ruin the song.  That was the sum total of what I brought to the songwriting table.  And for that reason, and another even more important one, I didn't really write songs for years and years.  The reasons are related:  I didn't want to screw up, and I didn't want to screw up a good thing.  I loved singing.  And once a month I learned some silly little trick that took me a little farther along.  Sometimes I wouldn't have a guitar, and I would just belt songs to God, or whatever, in my car, or while painting a fence at the farm.  Sometimes I even sang while working in a kitchen, listening to my coworkers sometime amusement or watching them roll their eyes.  Criticism, or approval, was all the same to me, a sign that I could provoke with my choices of phrase and words through my voice.  But mostly this was a private affair with roots in my domesticity, and the friends and family that have always shared my homes.  Sometimes a housemate  would tolerate my thoughtful choice to only sing while they were  not sleeping, or hosting company.  Sometimes a friend would ask me to sing right in front of them and their friends.  And rarely was there a dinner party where I would not be encouraged, to my terror, to share my hobby.  People are, of course, wonderful and sensitive to insecure, private performers.  They can really be so kind.
So, its been a somewhat long road.  I add up the hours occasionally, and realize at the end of the year that if I was studying something useful then the advice I would give to someone other than my self is that ubiquitous line, "Hey, you should really do something with that."  But
as it stands, the music is really something in my personal life. Something I am proud to share with loved ones, sometimes on stage, and mostly just for the guy who deserves it most of all, myself. 
On occasion, being human, I will awake in the morning and feel like I have mortar block hooked to all my limbs.  Prickly, and extremely excitable, I will go to work dreading the human company that normally I accept with so much joy.  Slowly the day drags on, and I feel lucky if I can so much as get very much OUT of the moment, and anesthetize myself from my rotten feeling, whatever it is.  This does not happen often, but it is certainly an insight into what it would be like if it did happen more often.  It's a terrible way to feel for even a few hours.  In any case, usually the feeling sort of lifts, and I roll my eyes at my emotionalism and go home relieved to know whomever I find there will hear in my voice the guy I mostly want to be known as.  After dinner I frequently get together with a friend or loved one (if in fact I don't have dinner with them) and eventually, most nights I find myself with a guitar in my hands, alone either at the school where I sometimes work, or at home in my room.  If I am at home, I sometimes warn my ninety-year old housemate that I am going to be making some noise, and he is so great about this.  When I first lived with Robert, whom I mention all the time on this blog (he is a great friend), he would on occasion knock on my door (which is always closed) and I would furtively open it, ready to apologize, and Robert would say, "Please keep singing for another hour, or so, it is so wonderful to fall to sleep to."  He, no doubt, is as practiced a person, in flattery and compliments, as anybody I will meet, but wow, I really do sometimes sing to him while he sleeps.  For who does not love to sing a ballad?  As they say, smoke 'em, if you got 'em.  By then end of singing, while I put my guitar up, and sometimes walk with it, or drive back to my home, the end of another day finally come, I will think back to the morning, and the days work with wonder, how can this music so transcend those valleys, and that exhaustion.  I don't know the answer.  Only that for when things have been feeling pretty bad, within the mansions of my heart, they completely turn around in the presence of song.  And when things are pretty good, within the mansions of my heart, the song can sometimes fly, and completely take my breathe away. That is why real musicians call it "this music" as often as "my music".  Nobody takes credit for stuff like this, and then sleeps properly.  I know it is as much a gift of spirit, as yet another doggedly stubborn character trait of Andy.   
So, the other day I was analyzing the patterns of my songs tempos, and the length of their musical phrases across a range of time signatures.  This was due to a period of years of wondering about this and never doing anything about it. So I built a spreadsheet, and plugged in the various variables from beats per second tempo data, to length of measure, to bar lengths of average phrases, to total bar length for song.  And I read the numbers that came out the other end, which I then plugged into another page that split various numbers into categories of song structure that I typically employ (unconsciously, I readily admit.  Poetry, years of bad poetry come in very, very handy.)  A ton of interesting numbers resulted, some of which caught my eye and took me over an hour of staring (not my goal in this process, to say the least) to determine what was so interesting about them.  Turned out they reminded me of Fibonacci sequences I had read about ten years ago, and more recently on the internet.  Ten years ago I read various books the centered on the subject of irrational numbers in nature.  I also read in 1999 many histories of math, so many in fact, that my girlfriend at the time seemed a bit frustrated with my "mistresses" work, and mathematics.  Well, I had always imagined myself a failure when it came to math, something it is easy for some people who are good at math, and insecure, to encourage you to believe.  My girlfriend, at the time, had breezed through her calculus in high school and then given last rites to all things numbers, and so found this romance in her lover a bit different then the way she'd planned things.  This should have been a gift to me of insight into her nature, but we had a lot of fun between various textbooks and amidst smaller volumes as well so I guess all was not for naught.  The point is that I saw a stream of numbers running down the axis of my analysis of the length of my songs by phrase length, for example:  where a phrase was sixteen measures you can compare it to a phrase that was ten measures, and that to a phrase that was six measures and all of this to phrases of the same length, but within a different signature.  The reason for being interested in all of this goes back to my introduction to myself of the relationship of LOG(10) math to music, and a dalliance with prime numbers I found interesting in 1997- 1998, especially in light of the construction of musical instruments in general, and more to the point their construction before the widespread teaching of calculus.  Long before I was interested in carpentry, I knew I wanted to build a guitar one day (reflecting my tendency to drag horses about with carts, I know, I know).  So one day I was sitting in a cafe, and dividing a page of my lined journal paper (the page, in fact, after the telling poem, I smirk with this memory, "My Poems Often Turn Into Love Songs", Danger Will Robinson, indeed.  Turn now to the death knell of your future relationship, next page: prime numbers.)  Just marking out even printed parallel lines in three's, then fives, then sevens.  Mostly for the pleasure of seeing the interaction of the blocks of 3's, 5's and 7's as you went out in the sequence.  Well, I'm no mathematician, and I certainly was no luthier, but by and by it reminded me of enough things I had vaguely seen in books ect., that I went to the library to find out more about math and its relationship to musical instruments, the production of tones, the circle of fifths, and other music theory stuff, from the material science, and construction side of things.  And all of that led to reading about Pythagorus, and his columns of numbers (sort of an archaic cousin of cellular automata), and polynomials and their relationship with polar coordinates and Fibonacci sequences (for example the fixed relationship of angles and distances between seeds in a sunflower head describe Fibonacci sequences, and suggest Fibonacci sequences result from conformation pressure caused by natural selection, not mathematical genius, in plants, per se). In a future post I will give links to many, many websites that look at some of these fascinating things in great detail, with an emphasis on the ones that I found most useful (read: lucid, and easy to understand).
Turns out music has a lot to do with mathematical themes from its head down to its shoes.  And I was shocked, when I looked at my favorite website on the subject of Fibonacci numbers, how similar some of the ratio's I was unconsciously constructing into my songs were to them.  I finally plugged in enough comparisons of various things I knew to be likely candidates for fruiting these kinds of behaviors in the calculations, and a few basic things arose.  My sixteen bar phrasing in the music and lyrics of my songs strongly influence song length in common four/four time (many, many songs I write conform to about five different song lengths, nearly to the second.  "No secret there, " my old girlfriend, Christine, would have loved to say, "all your songs sound the same.  Turns out they are the same songs!")   This means that other variables, such as tempo (usually 120 beats per minute), and seconds per measure being the same, then the statistics on the songs, over a few dozen songs (and probably over the hundreds I have written) come together, to paint a similar picture.  And that picture includes ratios that spring out as eerily recognizable irrational numbers, in most sequences at every fourth entry point down a column. Or so.  It was very cool to see and investigate, especially since I did it on a hunch that it would be solely musically interesting as an experiment (but it took three and a half hours, so I put it off for a year).  Math is worth losing a few lousy calculus prodigies (who happen to be your girlfriend) over.  Trust me.  Sucking at math is a gift.  

The last entry in this rather long evening of writing concerns a new face in the neighborhood (the egg timer is experiencing mechanical problems, please stand by for run on sentences and fever dreams.) 
She is, of course the dirty debutante of Spring, the Crocus, a patch of which I came across the other day while walking back from my friends Michael and Luanne.  It was a crisp 20 degrees outside, the soil felt like candle wax and was buckling and moving all over the place.  I finally got off my knees, praying at the temple of my friends capacities with lettuce, and had just passed a herd of six deer, in broad daylight, a commonplace here in Bloomington (the other day I saw NINE).  And what did I see a few blocks down, but growing from the frozen waxy earth, limp white crocus, laughing off winter, stooping to conquer, and inviting my rather Asiatic bow in return.  Dudes driving by in their trucks no doubt were unsurprised by another liberal weirdo, mouthing strange words of praise to the frozen earth filled with little, half dead flowers.  I'm basically in complete agreement.  Like puberty, my affliction is not particularly flattering.  But we won't tell the dudes in trucks how funny they look after a day at the lake going in circles and drinking diet beer.  Cus, hey man, can't we just get along.  Give you a Crocus for a beer?  I think I'll open a spray on Redneck clinic. UV protection that actually feeds your skin as it burns it.   Ought to be popular with the graduate students majoring in irony and pegged leg jeans or what have you.  Could be popular with the still married rednecks!?!

And now I'll really end (?) with a note about my neighbors.  I have mentioned what long suffering and lovely people they are before.  The other day I was out in my garden, in my standard pose (and favorite tool in hand: coffee cup), standing and staring.  Planning what should happen, eventually....  And my neighbors come my direction.  Now given that they have been assaulted by my family with full bore appalachian guerilla, broke down Dukes of Hazard--- Uncle Jesse sicks the boys and their vixen sibling on you should you mess with our junk filled yard!!!! And multiple broke down vehicles, PRACTICALLY SMASHING A PORTION OF YOU'RE CAREFULLY CRAFTED LIFE INTO THE DIRT;  I rarely expect a hello from them.  I thought about it hard, and said the midwestern greeting, "Hello," with as mirthful an expression as my weasel face could produce. I felt it useful to hold my hands out in exclamation of the unseasonably (that day) warm weather, saying, "God, I am in heaven."  The female component of the middle aged couple, who's name I can never remember since having learned they are not married, and she, therefore is no Mrs., smiled so broadly, that I actually got the feeling she was feeling it herself as well.  She maintained eye contact. Her lovely husband who is apparently a sculptor as well, managed a perfectly well pitched grunt, and brief eye contact, and the whole thing made all my efforts on their side of the yard seem worth it.  And made me feel like the neighbor whisperer, or what have you.  Thank God for the Saints of the world who stay their hands in execution of little men such as myself.  Hosanna, Hosanna.

Andy Coffey