Monday, April 26, 2010

Don't talk to aliens! says Stephen Hawkings. Excuse us?

It was reported today that Stephen Hawkings, probably the most famous theoretical physicist in the world, has suggested that it is almost certain that extraterrestrials exist, and that we had better do all we can to avoid all contact with them.

Hawkings is preparing a documentary for the Discovery Channel in which, according to the reports, it is pointed out that (1) the universe contains billions of galaxies; (2), that we, even with our primitive means of detection, have discovered hundreds of planets around not-too-distant stars in our own galaxy; and (3), that the odds would seem to favor at least some of the billions of stars in our own galaxy, or the billions of stars in some of the other billions of galaxies, would support planets that harbor intelligent life. What kind of life that might be requires still more speculation, but the documentary will point out it could be hostile and contact with it could be a disaster.

As readers of this blog and the Distant Cousin series know, Ana Darcy Mendez, nee Anneyn Darshiell, and two members of her family--her uncle and her sister--are extraterrestrial aliens now living on Earth. They may be even better qualified to speculate on this issue than Mr. Hawkings. They not only came to Earth from another planet, but their ancestors were taken to that planet from Earth approximately 3,000 years ago by non-human extraterrestrials! Ana has described them in one of her interviews (Question 5). We know little about them, but it is known that they were not hostile. Quite the contrary: they seemed intrigued by humans, to the extent that they carefully moved a sample to a similar planet, provided them some basic technology, and then broke off contact except to see what progress they might make over time.

This certainly does not prove that other extraterrestrials, if any, might not be hostile. We might take comfort in the fact that Ana's people have inferred from their earliest memories that these mysterious aliens were not able to travel faster than the speed of light. If it is correct that faster than light travel is indeed impossible, then the incomprehensibly large distances between Earth and most other stars in the Milky Way, not to mention the exponentially more incomprehensible distances to stars in other galaxies, would suggest that our sun will have burned up and taken Earth with it long before aliens roaming through the galaxies happen to notice our insignificant (except to us) planet.

In the meantime, if you have the good fortune to encounter Ana Darcy Mendez at some point, do not be afraid to speak to her. She is NOT hostile!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Love Poem to a Cat

Ana has a sentimental streak, though it may not be obvious. She tends to guard her emotions. (If you were the first person on Earth from another planet you might guard your emotions too.) She loves nearly all cats, of course, and she almost loves the family's two Rhodesian ridgebacks, but Ana really bonded with one particular cat, and that cat bonded with her: the fluffy Eleanor. The reasons were not obvious to the casual observer, nor even to Ana and probably not to Eleanor (but who knows about cats?).

Eleanor was not demonstrative. She performed no amazing feats of athleticism and was only occasionally playful. She simply was: calm, sweet-tempered, and totally devoted to Ana. She may have been the first living creature on Earth for whom Ana felt unabashed love, which Eleanor returned. They understood each other. Eleanor's tiny grave, in a shady spot in the back of the Mendez compound, is well tended.

When Ana found the poem "Pushkin," by Marjorie Kowalski Cole,* it struck her keenly on first reading. She has reread it so many times she surely has memorized it. Pushkin the cat is not sweet-tempered and not female, but his relationship with his person made Ana's eyes watery. Like Pushkin did for his person (we avoid the word "owner"), Eleanor did for Ana, and, perhaps, vice versa.

*The host site for this poem has unfortunately been closed. Please see the Workaround for another way that usually gets you to it.

Many more poems about cats, believe it or not, may be found in the right column, under the photo of the LOVE sculpture-->

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Musical Palindrome

It's no surprise that Ana is a competent, or better than competent, mathematician, having received early training in math as a toddler on Thomo and having learned to navigate a vessel through the universe. Perhaps that's why she so enjoys the music of J. S. Bach. (We are reminded of her comment that one of Bach's compositions sounded like "the engine of the galaxy.") Of course, she could enjoy the music of Bach simply because it is so surpassingly beautiful....

In particular, she treasures several recordings of Bach's Musical Offering, a famously cerebral composition in which Bach seemed to be exploring the farthest possibilities of the fugue, far beyond anything ever done by any other composer. We must admit that we have found the piece interesting, but not so compelling as to become one of our favorites. Ana, however, was profoundly affected by a video clip which illustrates the theme of the piece in a most unique, and visual, way.

We must admit she has a point about the Musical Offering. Even for the casual listener, the clip reveals the theme of The Musical Offering (shown above) in such a way that, if it isn't perfectly transparent, it can easily be appreciated for the immensely intricate and clever creation it is. Any music lover should find it as mind-bending as Ana does. It amounts to a musical palindrome, and a three-dimensional musical palindrome at that.

The clip is on a site called "Strange Paths: Physics, Computation, Philosophy," which sounds forbidding enough to put most of us off. If that weren't enough, the description of the presentation is even more dense:

"In the enigmatic Canon 1 a 2 from J. S. Bach’s 'Musical Offering' (1747) (also known as 'crab canon' or 'canon cancrizans'), the manuscript shows a single score, whose beginning joins with the end. This space is topologically equivalent to a bundle of the line segment over the circle, known as a Möbius strip. The simultaneous performance of the deeply related forward and backward paths gives appearance to two voices, whose symmetry determines a reversible evolution. A musical universe is built and then is 'unplayed' back into silence."

Do not be put off by that description! The actual performace is exhilarating. If you would like to hear and see an example of what Ana calls "brain frisks," click (or right click, to open in another window) this video clip.

(Editor's note: Ana had to look up the word "cancrizans." It's from a Latin root meaning "crab," as in "cancer," the astrological sign for which is a crab. In this case, "cancrizans" means "moving sideways," like a crab!)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Easy (?) Cat Puzzle

Here are some new kitties born at Julie's Jungle this month. Can you name the species of cat? You can if you've been following this blog. They're graceful, beautiful, and make active, affectionate pets.

To be sure, you shouldn't mind if your kitty jumps to top of your refrigerator, the better to check things out. You also shouldn't mind the occasional, playful snag. Note the spot of blood on Julie's arm, and the claws on the wee kitty to the right. Pointy bits aside, it's all in good fun.

We have no knowledge that Ana's family is looking to include one of these gorgeous cats in their menagerie. Then again, we have no knowledge that they're NOT!

You'll find the answer to this puzzle, if you need it, and a look at what they grow up to be, here. There are lots more pictures of these wonderful cats, and several other unusual species, in the right column under the picture of the blue-eyed Siamese.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Poem about Commercial Air Travel

The Mendez family subscribes to a number of magazines--Scientific American and the New Yorker, to name two. Both Ana and Matt love the longer, well-written New Yorker articles, but Ana has yet to find one of their poems she's enjoyed. She asked Matt why that would be and Matt had to admit that he generally skipped them himself. They weren't on his "wavelength," he said, "too deep."

Ana is still learning Earth's cultures, to be sure, and poetry would doubtless be one of the more difficult areas to understand, for an outsider. Thoman poetry, like their society, is generally more rule-bound than ours, having definite metric patterns, stresses, assonance, and even some rhymes. It is often lyrical, and makes frequent use of metaphors, but seldom as freely associative (and as delightful to Ana) as modern English poetry.

If you've sampled Ana's favorite poems here on her blog, you might have noticed that for the most part they are clear and direct (as direct as poetry usually is), and they contain some innovative thought or observation worth thinking about. That's what she likes: that sudden insight, seeing something familiar in a new way. For example...

...those who know about Ana know she travels by air from time to time. Once in a while she charters planes when circumstances require it--money is not a problem for her, fortunately. Most times, she flies commercial. She immediately took to this poem, written through the eyes of a person waiting to board a flight, which she has done many times. Anyone who's flown on a commercial airliner would probably enjoy it as well.

Passengers, by Billy Collins

Monday, April 12, 2010

Answers to the Mendez Family Hour Puzzle

Here are the actual city and town and geographical names in Spanish. A list twice this long is easily possible!

holy faith--Santa Fe
the crosses--Las Cruces
the cottonwoods--Los Alamos
up river--Rio Arriba
poplar grove--Alameda
cold water--Agua Fria
deep stream--Arroyo Hondo
little island--Ysleta
the jewel--La Joya
the otters--Las Nutrias
the doves--Palomas
the meadows--Las Vegas

(Photo: San Albino Church, in the plaza in Mesilla, New Mexico)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Puzzle from the Mendez Family Time

It started with reading to toddlers. Once the children learned to read, the members of the Mendez family would often spend an hour or two reading to each other, playing games, or telling family stories. That's when Ana discovered that she liked poetry, or some poems. Most recently, they've tried their hand at reading plays to each other, often to hilarious effect.

Here's a simple little word puzzle Matt came up with to sharpen Ana's Spanish vocabulary. These are all towns in New Mexico, but translated from Spanish to English. How many can you name in the original Spanish?

holy faith

the crosses

the cottonwoods


up river


poplar grove

cold water






deep stream



little island

the jewel

the otters

the doves

the meadows



Photo Puzzle! Find Ana Darcy!

Here's a photo puzzle that needs no answer. Of all these classic faces, which is the face of Ana Darcy Mendez?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Baby Kitties!

Ana Darcy Mendez isn't the only person to whom cats are attracted, to be sure. Julie, of Julie's Jungle, must be another. Julie doesn't just raise large cats and other exotic animals. She also has barn cats! Anyone with a barn surely knows the value of a good barn cat. This spring, Julie has even more barn kitties than she did the past winter.

Even more kitties (serval kitties)!

More! So cute!

Still more!

A bit older!

An adolescent serval, more tiny babies, and a tiger baby!

Meet Ana Darcy!

A reader comments:  "Even though it was the fifth book the characters seemed fresh and alive. Al has always done a great job at character development and it continues in Recirculation. The book is about family values, but it doesn't stop there. There is plenty of adventure to keep you reading to the wee hours."