Jun 27, 2009

the cretins cloning and feeding

Let me just clear something up right now: I don't hate humans.

As a matter of fact, I enjoy human inventions such as baseball, video games, and the craft of taking carefully composed and deliberate still images of places I've been, and there are quite a few humans in particular who have earned my admiration. The problem is that there are too many people and not enough room for all their stupid bullshit, not to mention the unreasonably excessive amount of offspring many of them choose to have. Humanity as a species would be done a favor if more individuals thought of how many resources the average human being consumes and its impact on the planet that sustains us before squeezing out little shits left and right as if counting little pigges on their toes. I love how the media just flocks to Octomom, as if littering the planet with her larvae is something worthy of the attention of anyone besides the humane society. Personally, stories like that makes me wish for a pandemic that does nothing to the population but leave 90 percent of it sterile. We'd all get along much better with each other and everything else if there was only one-tenth of us.

Jun 9, 2009

Geology rocks and space matters.

I received news that Gemini Observatory is shutting down for the entire month of July for telescope mirror resurfacing. I guess it's an annual tradition, since they did the same last year. Keck has one laser run in the month, but it's only six days long, and I would be given merely a fraction of those days to work. Looks like it would be the ideal month to jump on a plane and escape from the utter monotony and familial tension for a few weeks, since I wouldn't be missing out on hardly anything around here.

Another observatory, Subaru, is just starting to work out the kinks in their adaptive optics system. Ever since the 'Big One' of '06 destroyed their sensitive laser, they've been trying to g6et it going again. Whenever they do start operating the laser again, that could translate to more work available throughout the months.

It is also looking more likely that the Thirty Meter Telescope will be sited on the summit of Mauna Kea, right near the other observatories. This behemoth would take awhile to build, but it would introduce a significant amount of jobs both through the construction phase and in the form of research and maintenance positions. Of course, there are the usual native Hawaiian activists trying to fight it from defiling their sacred mountain, but the EIS draft suggests they won't have much to justify their argument. I can understand their point of view, but it's not as if they would be razing sacred temples or denuding hundreds of acres of pristine forest. The summit is hardly anything more than a huge pile of brown volcanic rocks, and I'm sure the ancient spirits residing at the summit can co-exist with another research facility occupying such a minuscule portion of their vast territory. If not, well, they'll just have to take over and scare all the astronomers back to sea level.

Mauna Kea is dormant, not extinct. Perhaps it could erupt again in my lifetime, but not nearly as likely as the neighboring volcano Mauna Loa. For now, it is at once the past of this island's creation and the future of astral discovery.

May 8, 2009

Everything grows here

Last night I decided to trek around my immediate neighborhood on foot. It's a complete ghost town for most of the night, but the advantage is no cars and their night vision-killing headlights to worry about. Just utter tranquility and solitude in a beautiful tropical mountainscape, as green and lush as ever thanks to all the rain that fell throughout the winter. I made my way up the ironwood tree-lined road until I reached the irrigation canal which leads several miles into deeper wilderness. Followed it through a densely forested gulch, across a wooden flume, and over someone's backyard or two in a sneaky manner. Explored a plant nursery for a bit, took a self-guided tour through a mostly empty and incredibly expansive greenhouse, and headed down another heavily wooded road leading down into the valley and rejoining the canal. Since a long underground tunnel linked where I had gotten to with the flume I had crossed, and the water flowing through it was only up to my knees, I opted to just switch on my flashlight and follow the tunnel back.

I definitely savored the evening, though. Nature's air-conditioning was on and the breeze through the trees was pleasant. Not only felt pleasant, but sounded euphonious in the treetops as a gently cascading waterfall. The fallen pine-like leaves of the ironwood trees richly carpeted the ground, making it entirely conducive for wandering around shoeless. And of course the moon was shining brightly through an atmosphere of orographic clouds racing by several hundred feet above me, at times completely obscuring the sky and painting a ceiling of luminous silver. My idea of paradise.

Even after living here so long, I still don't take the scenery for granted. The drive to work is simply amazing. Over a mountain of green grassy hills and cloud forests, through a misty mountain town with rustic charm and an ever purifying crisp wind, giving way to a region of mostly barren cattle pastures of brown grass and sad-looking wilted trees (with which a little imagination could easily resemble somewhere in bumfuck Texas). Then up through fog-drenched upperlands which more resembles Ireland, with farm houses perched on hills of lush green, over a crest into upper elevation desert with a "lovely" Army base accentuating the worthless wasteland, then scaling above the clouds to a lifeless tundra landscape over 13,000 feet above sea level, where distant mountain summits appear as islands peering up from a sea of clouds. Watching the full moon rise above that celestial ocean at twilight was a spectacular sight, as were the wisps of clouds rising off the summit at sunset, a bright fiery orange that appeared as if someone had over-saturated them using Photoshop.

Technology doesn't kill people...

...stupid people with technology kill people.

another texting death


May 6, 2009

Reaching out farther apart

I'm not a fan of this "social networking" phenomenon. I can hardly go a day in the presence of others without hearing the terms "facebooking" or "twittering" being flung around as if they have already become verbs assimilated into traditional English. Even at work, I feel like I'm surrounded by twittering twits and myspace cadets. It's actually kind of an amusing and fascinating scene up here at the Gemini observatory. All four of us sitting side by side at three long tables joined together, each of us with our noses buried in our respective laptops for most of the night, carrying out our own specialized long-distance communications while barely paying attention to what's happening on either side of us.

I think that accurately symbolizes of the irony of the online social networking explosion. Supposedly it helps us meet all sorts of new people from all around the world with ease and forge valuable friendships and social networks. Why, it virtually eliminates the need to head outside and meet people in the real world, as in coffee shops, bookstores, or dog parks! The initial mainstreaming of the world wide web and e-mail was only the beginning; now sites like facebook, myspace, and who knows how many dozens of other knockoffs automate things even further and make it even easier for people to remain in the privacy of their homes while meeting people from around the world.

The advantage to this pervasiveness of social inter-connectivity through virtual means is that the world now seems smaller than ever. People who interact globally obviously have much broader cultural horizons than those who don't. It is easier than ever to meet people who you know share many things in common with you before you even speak to them for the first time.

The drawback is that it's turning more and more people into recluses who couldn't tell you who their next door neighbor is because they're too busy having their noses buried in their monitors for several hours a day rather than interacting with real people in their own neighborhood. The sense of local community and community involvement becomes increasingly eroded. Decades ago, shy people were forced to overcome their social anxieties to do a banking transaction, to submit a resume, to find a potential friend for companionship. The fact that all of that can be done online now must certainly be comforting to social recluses, but it can also make them overly dependent on technology for happiness. With tools that allow them to prolong confronting their anxieties and aggressively seeking psychiatric treatment, perhaps indefinitely, they may be doing more harm to themselves then they realize. As we become increasingly connected through wires, we become more and more distanced from each other in the flesh. I don't think I like the way that's heading.

At any rate, I have no interest personally in social networking sites, probably because I'm just not that interested in meeting a bunch of people.

May 2, 2009

The flavor has left the building

I'm working on constructing a 3-disc ultimate video game music compilation. Since I'm so meticulous with making mixes, it's going to take me awhile, but I may post the results when I'm done.

1991-1998 was the true Golden Age of Gaming in my mind. I remember being such an avid gamer who got so excited to finally hold the shrink-wrapped box of a long-anticipated game in his paws for the first time. I would test myself to see how long I could go without tearing into it like a hungry pup lunges after a Beggin' strip. I pretty much flipped out when I held my brand new copy of Yoshi's Island one Christmas. I was also in the habit of reading monthly video game publications cover to cover. I was even a member of the Nintendo Power Super Power Club and collected all sorts of nifty trading cards and pogs.

I wish I could experience anywhere near the same passion for gaming today as I did then. It used to be so much fun. Now I have pretty much no interest in playing any console that isn't Nintendo, and even the Wii doesn't excite me that much. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy playing it and am still looking forward to being able to afford more games for it soon, but I just can't be nearly as passionate about the hobby as I was 15 years ago, when video games were such a humongous part of my weird, wild world. In the present, I find myself paying very little attention to modern games, instead spending my time digging up soundtracks, pictures, and whatever odd little virtual trinkets or material collectibles relating to games from the golden age. That seems to give me much more satisfaction than trying to enjoy myself (and failing) by playing grand theft auto or whatever all today's little kids consider the "best game evar." As far as gaming is concerned, I think I would like to remain stuck in the past. Linked to the past, if you will. At least there is the occasional 'niche' game that piques my interest. Like Okami, for instance. Not too many games out there let you play as a wolf god who can do everything ranging from urinating on demons to smiting townspeople with a bolt of lightning at will. I suppose Wii is a very niche system, too, which is probably why it appeals to such niche gamers like myself. (I rather enjoy saying the word "niche.") I know my heart will always remain with Nintendo, bless them and their continued success.

If I had to pick just one game that epitomizes the golden age of video gaming for me, it would have to be a Super Nintendo title, because the SNES will always stand in my mind as the best console ever. It's all gone downhill since then. Narrowing my selection down to just one game with so many wonderful titles to choose from is difficult, but I believe I'll go with Super Mario RPG. Everything about the game is perfect. Unlike so many typical serious RPG's that tend to play out like a soap opera with so many heavy-hearted tragical moments, it hardly takes itself seriously and is full of delightful humor. The characters, even aside from the sexy beast that is Bowser, are lovable and very original. Where else are you going to play as a talking marshmallow-like creature who makes it rain when he cries, or some kid's wooden doll who comes to life by the power of the stars? The entire game blends plenty of creativity and innovation with the lush, colorful worlds that typify Mario games, and tosses in all sorts of nostalgia-inducing throwback Mario moments. Listening to the soundtrack for the game the other night reminded me just how fabulous the musical score is... so many euphonious tunes that make the game even more beautiful. And best of all, it's FUN. This game is the epitome of fun. If you've never played it before, I'm going to sit you down, tie you to the chair, and make you. ...Play the game, I mean.

The closest honorable mentions are, perhaps unsurprisingly, Earthbound and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. A could write a novel about how great those two games are as well, for many of the same reasons as mentioned above.

I know I've mentioned this a few times before, but once again I'm left wondering whether I've outgrown gaming or gaming outgrew me. I'm willing to bet it's more the latter, since I managed to enjoy the heck out of Super Mario Galaxy, as frustrating as the play control it could be at times (damn lack of gravity!). What I see most "adults" playing these days doesn't look appealing to me at all. I don't decline to play Call of Duty at work with "the boys" to be antisocial, but I tried it once and I knew I could never grow to like games like that one bit. Gaming is hardly the only thing that I can't enjoy nearly as much as I did as a cub. There used to be so many cool messy shows and great cartoons on Nickelodeon, and now almost all their programming is utter crap. Cartoons in general these days can't even come close to matching the splendor of those in the early to mid-90's. And another thing that seems to suck much more now compared to yesteryear is LEGO. Out of curiosity I browsed the toy section at Wal-Mart the other day, noting their LEGO collection mostly consisted of Star Wars and Indiana Jones-themed garbage. Even popular music seems tragically bad now compared to two decades ago.

What gives? Is it merely my childhood nostalgia making everything seem much worse than it used to be, or is everything really that much worse today? Once again, I do believe it's the latter, but I'm not quite sure. Maybe I would have had an even more enjoyable childhood if I was a kid in the 60's and 70's or even earlier than that... but I can say with certitude that I'm glad I didn't have to be a little squirt in this decade, because things that have gotten a whole hell of a lot crappier. But hey, if they don't know what they missed, it can't hurt them.

Oh, why didn't anyone tell me there was a Chocobo kart racing game released 10 years ago? I read the play mechanics are pretty terrible, but still, Chocobo... racing... aww.

May 1, 2009

it's the flu, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

Oh, jesus christ.

I would rather be infected with the swine flu than be a proud iPhone owner, but there is very little chance of either happening despite what the media would want you to believe!

Fucking ridiculous.

Apr 16, 2009

When the mice are away, the cat will play

I was released from work a few hours early on Monday, around 1:30 a.m. The sky was mostly overcast again and there wasn't much to see up there. All I did the whole evening was hang out in the lodge and imbibe mass quantities of caffeine anyway, so I was feeling restless. The early morning was also pretty gorgeous, and I was of an energetic and adventurous spirit, so instead of heading straight home I went exploring.

Across the main highway from the road leading up to the lodge and eventually to the summit of Mauna Kea where we work is another road making its way up the relatively gentle slopes of Mauna Loa, the neighboring massive volcano. I had never made it all the way to the end before so I've always wondered where exactly it leads to. I'm curious like a cat, and that's why my friends call me Whiskers. My goal that morning was to follow it to the very end, or at least as far as it was drivable for a passenger car.

Even the intersection at the highway is absolutely in the middle of nowhere, with nothing around for over 50 miles in any direction but a small Army field, a distant prison, and a few observatories and the dormitories for astronomers. The landscape looks otherworldly, especially when illuminated by the moon only partially obscured by high patchy clouds. It's composed of mostly barren lava rock, with only a few hardy species of vegetation growing in between the cracks. The terrain is also bathed in fog for what seems like 80 percent of the time, as it was that morning.

By choosing to set out on this route, I was only leading myself deeper into nowhere. No signage existed on this road whatsoever, aside from a preliminary sign warning of "EXTREME CONDITIONS AHEAD." It was narrow, one lane, and barely had any shoulder on either side for the most part. Navigating it felt a bit like riding a roller coaster, since it was constantly twisting and winding with not 50 consecutive feet of straightaway. It also carried on in consistent up and down fashion like a series of sine waves, to the point where anyone susceptible to getting carsick would have preferred to get out and walk. However, it was nicely paved for the first few miles, with two solid white lines defining both edges. It certainly deteriorated the farther I went, though. The pavement became rougher and more potholed, and only one squiggly line remained, appearing as if someone had stood over the back of a slowly moving truck splattering a bucket of white paint down the middle of the road. But even that was a hell of a useful guide, because in the murky darkness the road blended in so well with the rocky terrain, and it would have been all too easy to drive right off it into the lava.

I still hit one deadly 90 degree curve, the only one of its kind, going too fast. There was nothing to warn me to slow down, not even a chevron sign, and I was on it before I knew it was there. Trying to slow down and make the sharp turn at the same time, I went skidding off the pavement onto what was fortunately a wide gravelly shoulder. On the way back down, the corner surprised me just as much. That time I didn't turn the wheel, just slammed on the brakes and skidded past the turn, off the pavement again and stopping short of a bulldozed rock wall. This would have been such wonderful inspiration for a track in Mario Kart.

The experience of just driving the track felt surreal. I had no idea where I would end up or what I might find, as we continued climbing up steeply along an utterly unpredictable and dangerous road. The trippy music that boomed on the stereo only enhanced the dreamlike atmosphere, as did the dense fog and mist I had to navigate through. After awhile, as we rose above the clouds and left the fog behind, I noticed the landscape had become entirely devoid of life, and it resembled a scene one would expect to see in a photograph of another planet's surface. The elevation was marked on the pavement in white chalk at various intervals, and I noticed we had already risen above 11,000 feet.

It seemed to go on and on in a relatively straightforward manner, until after climbing another thousand feet, a sign jumped out at me that read, "PUBLIC PARKING." A hundred feet beyond that, I could make out in the moonlight a heavy iron gate restricting vehicular access. So I parked and got out, suddenly hit by 35 degree mountain air, which felt so pleasant and refreshing. The surroundings were also almost completely silent, save for the humming of machinery originating from just up the hill. I could make out a fairly large complex of buildings beyond the gate. At first, though, I was stricken by the view down the mountain. The entire south slope of Mauna Kea was visible, and I could make out a pair of headlights on the summit. A cluster of amber street lights from a town far, far away and beneath the clouds cast their subtle glow, mimicking a matrix of beacons situated on another planet. I was content to just stand there and take in the beauty for awhile, though I had to move around some just to stay warm.

Of course, I had to see what was going on just up the hill. It attracted me like a gecko is drawn toward an outdoor light. I left Petunia and made my way up the steep slope, walking around the gate, which seemed built to guard a fortress like Fort Knox- from vehicular traffic, at least. I had to take my time trudging up, since the oxygen-deficient atmosphere of such a high elevation can leave even the most fit out of breath quickly. I came upon quite an assortment of bizarre-looking buildings, some of them resembling the cylindrical or circular-shaped domes that house the telescopes I usually work amongst. On rooftop decks reached by rickety wooden stairs were arranged a variety of elaborate-looking instruments pointed towards the sky and the horizon. When I looked through the windows of a couple of the buildings, I noticed expensive-looking laptop computers left open and running in darkened rooms, but there was no sign of anyone around to operate them. Besides plenty of unusual-looking machinery, also filling the space were large electronic wall displays, scrolling all sorts of graphical scientific data. This was beginning to feel delightfully James Bondish, especially with my vivid imagination.

I was able to visually detect a few obvious security cameras, which I took care not to walk right in front of. I had no way of knowing whether they were equipped with night vision or if anyone might be watching. For all I knew, I could have been walking around on live webcam, though I doubt many people would be watching at 3:30 in the morning. The element of mystery was spoiled somewhat when I read a plaque that tipped me off: this evil lair belonged to the [url=http://www.mlo.noaa.gov/]NOAA[/url]. I knew there was an atmospheric research facility somewhere on the island, but this just goes to show how well they keep it hidden. Perhaps it was my fate to discover and foil some evil Blofeldian plot to send all future Atlantic hurricanes away from Florida and into Cuba!

After examining the website, I now recognize that most of those cameras can't see shit in the dark. Only the [url=http://www.mlo.noaa.gov/Live/mlocam/MLO360CAM2.jpg]Tower Cam[/url] reveals much detail at all. Speaking of which, when I first spotted the high steel tower rising mightily towards the moon, I figured I had to climb it. My obsession with climbing things is another feline quality about myself and I can hardly explain. Unlike Catcall Tower, I could see that I didn't require divine powers to climb this one; a series of steel steps led all the way to the very top. The only catch was that the tower's base was surrounded by a high chain link fence topped with barbed wire. I always seem to find an easy way around that sort of thing, however, as it usually seems someone else invaded before me. On one side I found a couple of cinder blocks stacked up, and the barbed wire on the top was mostly undone. So I climbed over without much trouble and began making my way up. It actually proved to be a bit of a workout, as the apex was even farther away than it looked, and I felt like I was climbing into the heavens.

The view for up there was positively jaw-dropping, well worth being out of breath for. I nearly felt as if I was flying, standing what seemed like 300 feet above the ground. I suppose it's no wonder I'm attracted to high places. I just let my imagination run wild for awhile in the cold morning wind as I surveyed from my perch the world I know, or think I do.

After making my way back down, I tripped around the facility and explored some more, until I realized the supply of caffeine in my body had pretty much been exhausted, and the physical effects of running, climbing, and snooping around above much of earth's atmosphere were starting to catch up to me. I still made it home before dawn, though. It's great to enjoy a unique and rejuvenating experience like that in a place where I often feel like I've already experienced everything it has to offer at least a few times before.

Apr 14, 2009

Changing with the weather

I haven't been working much at all the past couple months. It isn't due to the gloomy economic climate so much as the very unstable tropical climate. There isn't much point in sending me up to the summit to work if the sky is completely overcast with a chance for snow and ice, since the telescope isn't even going to be able to operate. The extremely delicate mirrors of the telescope cannot be exposed to high levels of humidity lest hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage occurs. Hence, the domes housing them must remain closed in such conditions, and no observational work is done.

The weather has been very unusual; frequently storming over the summit and dropping at least a couple inches of snow every other day, which add up over the span of several weeks. The summit of Mauna Kea is typically an absolutely bone dry and very cold region with absolutely zero humidity- the textbook definition of "alpine desert." It seems however that the harshness of winter carries on a little longer each year. I do suspect the weather will settle down by May, allowing for more laser guide star operations to be done, but one never knows. The climatic patterns that govern the weather on this island are probably as quirky as anywhere else in the world, which is why we have rain forests, hot deserts, steppes, alpine deserts, sub-alpine zones, mesic woodlands, cloud forests, marshes... the list goes on and on.

Even before the economic recession began cutting in deep, worthwhile employment opportunities were scarce on Hawaii Island. Now they're practically non-existent, as either no one is even considering the possibility of hiring, or managers are extremely selective about who is hired for a position. There isn't much going on around here to begin with, besides the retail, hospitality/tourism, agricultural, and usual education/medical industries. And those jobs are pretty much all locked up by people who are very well established on the island. Fewer people traveling to exotic isolated locales translates to fewer jobs here. It's quite a dismal situation. I just take what I can get with the extremely unique part-time job I have now.

I've lived here for maybe 12 or 13 years of my life, and I still don't feel quite at home in a social or professional sense. I probably never will. The most redeeming quality of Hawaii is its natural and cultural beauty and lushness, and its natural environment is what I have always taken to- probably due in part to the absence of much else. I have come to firmly believe that being raised in such a special place has significantly shaped who I am and what I value. Hawaii is what I know best, and the spirit of Hawaii will always be in my blood and something I most strongly identify with, no matter where I go. I wonder how much of a different person I would be if I was raised in a place like, say, Chicago. I'd probably be a city slicker without much appreciation for nature and outdoor recreation but a strong affinity for fine dining and fashion. It wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, just very, very different.

Given a choice, I wouldn't change a thing. My childhood and adolescence is full of unique experiences here in the islands that have left me full of stories to tell. Such as the time we navigated a couple small inflatable rafts through several miles of underground irrigation tunnels, wherein our flashlights died, leaving us helpless but to slowly drift along for hours with the lazy flow of the water. When we first spotted the literal light at the end of the tunnel, we were overwhelmed with relief, but it took us another 45 minutes of shivering in the dark and floating idly along to reach the end of the tunnel.

There is also a certain amount of pride that comes with being from such a unique and enchanting place. I'll always have plenty of Hawaiian in me no matter where in the world I end up.

I still feel the time is coming to leave this paradise behind in search of greater opportunities elsewhere. It's difficult to leave behind almost all my familiar possessions and a place so deeply familiar to me, but I believe greater promise lies elsewhere, and I don't believe I can realistically realize my dreams in such a constricting, isolated place. I seem to want more out of life than the average person. I don't want a wife or kids or a perfect little house in the suburbs or a necktie job, but I do want to be closer to my pack of soul family. Money is of little importance to me so long as I have enough to comfortably survive. Ultimately, I want to be able to finance my survival doing something to help the natural environment, but I don't wish to remain thousands of miles away from those that are dear to me. Something I crave most is the freedom to travel, which is horribly limited in a small archipelago almost humorously located smack dab in the middle of the Pacific. My strongly adventurous spirit becomes more and more restless for new experiences, and everything here is pretty much same ol' same ol'.

I believe I'm just waiting for the right time and the perfect excuse. I just find it ironic that so many people consider Hawaii to be an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime escape... and here I am looking to escape Hawaii.

Jan 5, 2009

All U Can Eat

Son look at all the people in this restaurant
What d'you think they weigh?
And out the window to the parking lot
At their SUVs taking all of the space

They give no fuck
They talk as loud as they want
They give no fuck
Just as long as there's enough for them

Gotta get on the microphone down at Wal-Mart
Talk about some shit that's been on my mind
Talk about the state of this great of this nation of ours
Poeple look to your left, yeah look to your right

They give no fuck
They buy as much as they want
They give no fuck
Just as long as there's enough for them

Son look at the people lining up for plastic
Wouldn't you like to see them in the National Geographic?
Squatting bare-assed in the dirt eating rice from a bowl
With a towel on their head and maybe a bone in their nose
See that asshole with a peace-sign on his licence plate
Giving me the finger and running me out of his lane

God made us number one because he loves us the best
Well maybe he should go bless someone else for a while, give us a rest
Yeah and everyone can see
We've eaten all that we can eat

Lyrics © Ben Folds, 2006