Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Across the Universe

I remember when John Lennon died, 35 years ago today. It's always seemed foolhardy to try to cover one of his songs, either with or after the Beatles, since they are all so iconic.  Sill, I figured I'd mark the day by doing just that.  We still miss you, John.

Across the Universe (live acoustic mono)

for a better version by a better musician, see here: 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Two for the road

I'll be playing at the Open Mic Night at the upcoming Division of Planetary Sciences meeting.  I've kicked around what song I should do, with a few possibilities out there.  One that I considered but probably won't do is The Astronomers Song.  So I figured I'd record it and post it below.  While I was fumbling through trying to record it I also lapsed into another song of mine that it reminds me of, Girl Next Door.  That one took me several takes, I'm posting the only take that I actually finished.  Both were done live to glorious one-track mono, using the laptop's microphone and Audacity.  Both of these songs date back to the early '90s, and they've both been among my favorite originals.  Neither have been performed live by any of my bands, but both appeared on In-Jokes with Myself.

Enjoy or "Enjoy".

The Astronomers Song
Girl Next Door

While I'm at it, here are the Gedankenband versions:
The Astronomers Song
Girl Next Door

Friday, October 23, 2015

Red Album Anniversary

I've been recording myself playing music for a long time. As technology improved (along with my musical ability) I've moved from accompanying myself live on cassette to multi-track recordings with Garageband. Sometime in 1999 I got a music recording program for our Windows 95 machine. In the summer of 2000 as we got ready to move from Tucson to Boston, I decided I'd make an album as a keepsake for our friends, the first one I'd digitally recorded and the first one I distributed. The Red Album is the result.

The playlist was a combination of songs that I'd recorded early on while figuring out the new software, favorite songs of mine, and Science Diet's live set. I was able to include Jennifer, Barbara, and Joe, the other members of Science Diet, on a couple of songs (To All the Girls (NSFW) and Taking Matters (also NSFW)), and Jennifer sang backup on several others.  Chris Schaller had access to a CD burner, and made a bunch of copies. I started giving it out on October 24th, 15 years ago.  At the time I was thinking that it'd be the only album I ever recorded, even if DIY. 

It's hard for me to be terribly objective about it. Some of the songs hold up reasonably well, others are more embarrassing to listen to today.  The reaction received was pretty positive, and I believe it made it down to Antarctica one year.  The sound quality is pretty patchy in places, particularly since I had no idea what I was doing.

In commemoration of the anniversary, I'll link not only to its page on the Bandcamp site but put up a few alternate/live versions of some of the songs as played by the bands that...made them famous?

The Red Album (Bandcamp)
To All The Girls (NSFW) -- Science Diet (Live at The Barn, 2000)
Wrong Place, Wrong Time -- Dr. Lüst (Live at Bexley, 1991)
Here We Go Again -- Jury Rig (Live at The Jam Shack, 1993)
Postage Due -- Science Diet (Live, 1996)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Poem for #PlutoFlyby

Out of the Sun
from the sign of the Hunter she comes,
like the swing of a hammer
past one belt into another.

After billions of years
the king of the underworld
greets a new visitor to his court,
a brief nearest neighbor
though she will not tarry—
shining as bright in this
new world’s nitrogen sky
as this world does
at her home world.

We can look forward
to the honeymooner’s pictures
slowly uploaded to the web.
And may our latter-day
live long.


The usual suspects decided we'd write some poems to commemorate the New Horizons flyby of Pluto, happening now (basically).  I wrote one a few years ago for the 2012 National Poetry Writing Month, here's my new one! I've kept to the ethic of not spending too long on it, hopefully it doesn't show too badly...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Those of you who follow my Twitter feed know that I spent a lot of time over the winter working on a proposal to NASA to fly a mission, named MANTIS. For a variety of reasons I won't get into too many details about what the mission does, but I'm happy to link to a short abstract we wrote about it.

I gave a short talk about MANTIS a few weeks ago, and am giving another one again today.  These are the first presentations of MANTIS to the community, and to celebrate I'm linking to a song I wrote for the mission.

This was written a few months ago to accompany a music video I made for an APL event.  It actually does a pretty good job of covering our science objectives for the mission. :)

So, here again:  The MANTIS Song

Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 30: A Farewell

We can all share the feeling,
can’t we?
It wasn’t as flashy
as other rides
at school or work,
but it was loaded
with extras
and it had so much power!
There was the sunshade
that might have looked dorky
but you used it
and never melted a cassette.

You didn’t take it
to the usual places
with the popular crowd.
Instead you explored
the shadiest nooks
and the steamiest hollows,
and found the last of the places
that the ancients
would have heard of
but never seen.
You’d take it out under the stars
and watch comets pass by.
You and your friends
felt like you’d used it
to see the whole damned planet
(though you’d admit
you perhaps saw some parts
better than others)
through days and nights
that seemed to last for months.

But mostly that workhorse
gave you uncounted miles
and let you earn your keep.
Eventually, you knew
its tank was emptying
for the final time.
You knew you’d never
see another vehicle like it.
So you got
the most out of it
you could
and drove it into the ground.
Did you forget to empty the tape deck?
No matter.
You have lots and lots of pictures
to remember it by
and smile.


This is a double commemoration, of the end of NaPoWriMo and the end of the MESSENGER mission, the first-ever Mercury orbiter. While I have no work connection with MESSENGER, I have many dear friends who have devoted years of their life to that project. While I have no right to share in the pride they feel, I do understand the bittersweetness of this day for them.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 29: The Shouting

All over but the shouting,
but there should be
more shouting.
Others have accomplished less
but done so more loudly.
The house lights may rise
too quickly for my taste,
but your curtain calls
from iron-core fans
are well deserved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 28: Not Knowing

we romanticize not knowing
call it bliss
and innocence
the way we label people
who have committed
no crime.

what a happy, blameless
people we must be, then.
and how much more
we consider ourselves
when our cities are
struck by a bolide
we could have seen coming.

Monday, April 27, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 27: The Short Life and Rapid Death of the Royal Orbiting Dageurrotype Mission

Mycroft entered the briefing room,
bowed to the ministers
and opened his folder.

“We have enough data
to deduce the answer
to any question
we could ask.”
Dyson and Christie
shifted uncomfortably
in their chairs.

“Knowing the planets
have been
in their orbits
in perpetuity;
knowing that the
have common origin
in an exploded body;
knowing all the matter
in the entire universe
must be observable;
I find the proposal
to launch a daguerrotype machine
about the Earth
technically feasible
but scientifically unnecessary.”

“God Save the King!”
said the exchequer.

The Astronomer Royal
moved to speak
“But what of the projects
the Americans study?
With Moriarty leading
a mission to study
the dynamics of an asteroid?”

Mycroft shook his jowls:
“For what it’s worth
regarding Moriarty
and others,
my brother defers
to my judgment
and he also agrees with me.”

Sunday, April 26, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 26: Some Perspective

A click moves
hundreds of tons of metal
six time zones away
to spend five seconds
collecting photons
emitted decades ago
trillions of kilometers from here,
bounce them onto a crystal
of antimony and indium
to loosen electrons
and create an image
of a star
more than
one hundred times fainter
than a human eye can see.

Still, I am impatient.


(Image from the Mount Hamilton Landolt Standard Star List: https://mthamilton.ucolick.org/techdocs/standards/Stds_Landolt_16to20.html)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 25: Very Different

"I'm glad I own property on this side of the Hudson
because it's not the side that's subducting."  she said 
as she mixed the butter and coffee concoction.
She went on about the asteroids she finds in her yard 
but I was caught up in whether the cows had to be grass-fed. 

He told me "I've been reading up on all this stuff. 
I know all about Europa and Titus 
And all the planets Kipling is finding."
I nodded a bit absently. 
At least he wasn't talking about the Mets 
for once.

"Oh, you're an astronomer not an astrologer?"
he corrected himself. 
"They're totally different, aren't they;
It'd be like mistaking a mathematician for an English teacher."
I paused and considered 
and simply agreed they are indeed
very different.

Friday, April 24, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 24: Fellow Travellers

we cannot always agree
on red or white,
the lake or the dunes.
i confess
i resent
when you’re
“a bit short”
and you sheepishly promise
to buy the next round
(or not so sheepishly
pretend not to notice).
but i do enjoy our travel together
and i am happy to
celebrate your successes
even if i inevitably
enjoy mine a little more.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 23: On Finishing Things

it is harder to finish things
than it was
when i was younger.
i can cast aspersions
on the streaming decks
or blame distraction
from posies or jayhawks
or other voices.
i can note the mounting
and a lengthening reading list
from better-looking people
with better ideas
and more talent
(who are actually really, really nice).
but if i look at the problem,
there just seems
like there’s always
more to say
and i can’t do the universe
any justice.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 22: Earth Day

How soon could we have known
that it would be different,
that it would be special?
When would the modelers
have written the papers
saying the further one
was a red herring
and the closer one was doomed;
the icy and oily ones were places to go
but not places to be from,
and all the others were non-starters.
But the third one—
that had real potential,
as long as something
(or someone)
didn’t screw it up.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 21: Shared Vision

long-awaited birth.
embarrassed eyes
turned away
but maturity brought
shared vision.
even in dotage
it towers
over a deep field.
we can look
to those calling
for early retirement and ask
who was near-sighted?

Monday, April 20, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 20: Re-entry

the unreality of my surroundings,
unmoored from the familiar,
the strange food and sleep schedule,
the science i strive understand
that’s been my job 24/7
now pauses
for re-entry:
not through fire and parachutes,
but crosswords
and blessed sleep.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

2015 Post 19: When Collins Wakes

Did Collins wake 
above the sea of dreams
and have to take
a moment
to remember where
he was and why
he was there?
Did it seem real
to Collins then?
did he feel
as alone as he was?
And when he stirs
so long after 
is it a blur?
Or is this world fake
when Collins wakes?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 18: Birthday Wishes

she was born
the month fdr died
as jupiter and neptune
ruled the night.

she rarely hears
any learn’d astronomer
much less look up in perfect silence,
though she has been known
to greet with much applause.

she may not know
about redshifts
or the Hubble constant
if asked
she can tell you about
the center of the universe.


So, it's my mom's 70th birthday and I figured I'd write her a poem.  In case it's not obvious, this is meant to be affectionate. :)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 16: Swoops and circles

The graphs and charts
have their own
garish beauty,
palettes covering
every color in the rainbow
swoops and circles
with delicate, intricate
But they all encode
life or death matters.

Picasso and Bosch
and artists
through the ages
have also
done no less.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 15: Untitled

black unwatched sky
with an unsoftened sun.
abandoned equipment
like toys left behind
by kids called home
for dinner
to the weird blue house.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 14: A Grain of Sand

a grain of sand
in the right place
moving the right way
can inspire a wish
and move a heart

Monday, April 13, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 13: Working Scenarios

I sometimes imagine
that all of this work:
Looking for asteroids,
working scenarios,
strong personalities,
is all just like Act I
of a disaster film.

I remind myself that
I’m not so genre-savvy,
and that the
hubris and genius,
leading ladies,
villains and anti-heroes,
are working
not for a happy ending,
but to have no ending at all.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 12: On Return Visits

So many ancient wonders
within three kilometers
of my position,
an easy walk.
With a bit more mobility,
I could reach
countless treasures.

But most of my time here
will be spent
in a convenient location
with a nondescript view,
Concentrating on the job
I was sent to do.

How much worse
would it be
if instead of a one
trip to Rome
of a series,
I were looking
out my window
at a fine regolith,
Earth hanging
in the
blackest of voids,
precious hours
used for
and catalogues,
with no prospect at all
of a farewell espresso
within sight
of the Apennines.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 11: They worshiped

They worshiped
in a way we do not,
hoping for intervention
by Mars
rather than the reverse,
acknowledging the beauty
of Venus
instead of
dwelling on unearthliness,
dreading acquaintance
with Pluto
instead of eagerly anticipating it.

Friday, April 10, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 10: She Could Be

The woman next
to me gushed when
she learned
I was an astronomer.
She asked me
the usual questions
and I was happy
to answer.
She said I
was so lucky
and I couldn't

She says
she wanted
to be
a scientist
she was good
I could tell her
that I'm sure
she would be
good enough,
but would that
be a kindness
to her?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 9: Pearls made of beads

It came together
we think:
a beaded work
of ice and glass
with pieces born
throughout the solar system
and pieces borne
on hydrogen winds.

The first push
must have been soft
as well.
After eons beyond Neptune
perhaps a gentle tug from an
unknowable star
or a poke from an
anonymous neighbor.
A change in speed
a glacier could outrun
leading to catastrophic
climate change.

The first encounter
was by chance
if inevitable.
A random disassembly,
violent but low-stress,
more Roche than rock
as pearls made of beads
were served on plates
full of stars.

When the end came
we were privileged to watch.
Ice and glass
borne on hydrogen winds
in a ceremony completed
by uncounted
and unwatched
cousins before.


This is something of a group effort: The excellent Christine Reuter and Noam Izenberg are also writing poems on the topic of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 today, and there's the chance some others will also join us!

I'd also be remiss not to point out this is SL9's second appearance as a poem subject. I wrote about it in 2012, though that has a very different slant. I've also incorporated a bit of more recent science into this one. :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 8: Questions in my head while traveling from south to north

What will we bring
with us
into the galaxy
if humanity
as some say
we must?

Will the first tattoo
predate the first PhD?
Will the first dive bar be constructed
before the first statuary is commissioned?
Will we construct townships
of obsolescent habitats
before we build kindergartens
and teach kids
what it means
to be "it"?

Will the first mojito be poured
before the first hangover is suffered?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

2015 Poem 7: Ode to an old telescope

What we have seen.
Carding the beams
as mice fell to the ground.
Artifacts found,
come-alongs to winch
when short by an inch
or as much as a meter.

Still, little was sweeter
than a stack that was tight
on a warm moonless night,
non-sidereal tracking
(a short time for slacking).
Skies that could not be clearer.

And multiple mirrors.

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 6: Begrudging a few bounces

If we consider
what they knew,
what we knew
back then,
it’s even more

Our attention
was still on erotic pictures,
and steins
yet to be filled,
far from holmes
with no cares for
papers on plastic bags.

It sailed from a world
buzzing with PDAs,
sailing with majesty
and beefy instruments,
moving the way we liked.
And if it did not stick the landing,
after so many years,
surely we cannot begrudge
a few bounces.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 5: Misconceptions

I may have grimaced
when the sophomore from Connecticut
asked me how many people
go to the moon every year.

"Zero" I said.
She was surprised and asked
was my only response.

I must have shook my head
When the macher from Johannesburg
asserted that nobody
had ever visited the moon.

"We certainly have" I responded.
"Why hasn't anyone gone back?"
He asked.
I've noted
 that I've asked that myself.

The conversation turned
to life and Mars
to elements and the stars
to comets and impacts
to mining and contracts

By the end
I know
we all were smiling.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 4: An Excerpt from the "Tau Ceti Haggadah"

The problem arose
with the first Mars colonies
who fixed the festival
to Jerusalem time
and saw it precess
through the seasons
like Ramadan and Eid,

Things became pressing
during the Second Exodus.

Rabbi Izenberg argued
that time dilation
and speed uncertainties
required shipboard
commemoration untethered
from Earthbound calendars,
Rabbi Rhoden advocated
a new calendar for each system.

So began the Kochavim tradition
of eating simple foods
similar to ship’s rations
during the holiday.

Rabbi Wolven added
a sixth cup of wine
to the seder
for reasons
that are lost
to time.

Friday, April 3, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 3: The Sea Haunts the Camp

The sea haunts the camp.
We can turn our back
to it
and face
the churning
polyglot delights
and despairs
of the home we
know and love,
and resolve
to take on
its problems
and inequities.

But still we hear
the roar
of the sea
mocking us
to take to the water,
pick a direction,
and see
what else is out there

even if we know we cannot swim.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

2015 Poem 2: FOMO

Somewhere a volcano is erupting
beneath the pastel glare of a giant planet,
Pele crying on a world
that only knows her kin
through projection.

Somewhere an anonymous
floating iceberg
feels the tug of a foreign star,
throwing it from
precarious balance
to meet its doom
in an echo of Icarus

Somewhere a hillside
sees the morning sun
for the first time since
the time of the Inca,
and nitrogen awakes
only to wander the surface
in search of a site
for further slumber.

All this and more in front of our eyes
How can I sleep and miss out?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

2015 Poetry Post 1: Even Now

Even now,
with folders full
of half-finished tales
waiting for clear mind
and clear schedule
not clear sky,

even now,
when long-awaited
ships have sailed
to cheers,
yet still wearying
on our Sisyphean band,

even now,
worlds uncounted
ruddy and pale
remind me why
I came
and why I stay.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Annual NaPoWriMo Post, 2015

It's that time again-- National Poetry Writing Month. The idea behind it is to get people writing poetry (hence the name). The one "rule" I'm aware of is to write a poem every day. It needn't be a terribly long poem, and it needn't be shared with anyone. I've been sharing my poems here, though I've tried to restrict my writing time to be relatively short so that I don't try to be too perfectionist about things. I've "won" NaPoWriMo five years running, I'm hoping to make this my sixth!  I really enjoy the month, and my most-visited post on this blog is a poem from 2012's NaPoWriMo. Even better has been some of the camaraderie I've been able to enjoy and people I've been able to meet through NaPoWriMo!

In past years I've tried to have a theme-- in 2010 I devoted each of the 30 days to a different Major League Baseball team. In 2011 it was all chemical elements. Since then I've focused on space and astronomy. I kind-of plan to do the same this year, though I'm going to allow myself to wander off into other topics if the mood strikes me. I'm on a spate of extended travel, so if I'd rather write about the Alps I'm going to do that. :)

In the past I've also made an offer to my gentle readers, which I'll again extend: I will happily host any poem you'd like to share. You can do it anonymously or credited. Just get ahold of me here in the comments (or otherwise if you have other means) and we'll work something out.

Come join us, won't you?

Intro posts for:
NaPoWriMo 2010
NaPoWriMo 2011
NaPoWriMo 2012
NaPoWriMo 2013
NaPoWriMo 2014

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Astronomers Song (Part 2)

Way back in 1990 I wrote "The Astronomers Song", which has been a bit of a go-to song of mine ever since. It focuses on three giants of Renaissance-Era astronomy: Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo. It's a fun little song, and I've always liked it.

Occasionally, I'd think about adding more verses. Over the last couple of days I did just that, adding some much-needed diversity to the mix by singing about Caroline Herschel, Maria Mitchell, and Annie Jump Cannon.

I also happen to be at the telescope right now, observing at the Radcliffe 1.9-m at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland. I'm in the middle of a long trip and brought my guitar along for company. The observing cadence right now has basically 10 minutes of exposures, then a minute or so of setting up the next one, then 10 more minutes of exposures. Every hour or so there's about 10 minutes of monkeying around to find a new target.

I figured I'd put those two things together and record a quick video of the new verses to the song, which I'm dubbing "The Astronomers Song (Part 2)". I look pretty bleary because I'm in the middle of an observing run and I'm getting over a cold, so please don't judge. :)

Also relevant music:
OBAFGKM (song in question in the lyric "the mnemonic lives on in song")
The Astronomers Song (In-Jokes with Myself version)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Down From The Skies: Silver Anniversary

OK, here's a song that's always held a dear place for me. I wrote it 25 years ago today during the on phase of an on-again/off-again relationship. I'd recently been to some kind of Laser Rock show (as was the style back in the late '80s/early '90s), with a mix of psychedelic music rather than the usual Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin focus. I remember coming out of there and thinking I wanted to write a song like "Magic Carpet Ride", that Pat could use his fancy new phaser pedal on.

I'd also just TA'd the Intro Observational Astronomy class the previous semester, at a point when the aforementioned relationship was off again but she was taking the class. The second verse was a nod in that direction, with its mention of "so many nights spent under the stars" and reference to bringing her home (since as TA I dropped everyone off at their dorms after driving them back from the observatory in the Mighty EAPS Van (tm)). Between the time the semester ended and the time I wrote this song we were back on again.

This immediately entered the Dr. Lüst setlist, and we played it at both Battle of the Bands appearances.  Dan came up with the riff, which has stuck around ever since. When the relationship was off again, and as we came up with more and more songs we wanted to do, the song slipped out of the setlist. Without Pat and his fancy phaser pedal (or Dan and his keyboard), none of my subsequent bands picked the song up.

However!  I've happily stayed close friends with the subject of Down From The Skies, and it remains a favorite of hers whenever we're together and there's a guitar available. Of course, she also purports to like the songs I wrote about her during the off-again periods of the relationship, so the bar may be low. And while it didn't get onto The Red Album (which was mostly songs that Science Diet did), it did make it onto a subsequent album.

I present here four versions of Down From The Skies, because apparently I can't help myself.  They span the entire period from 1990-2015, from live with Dr. Lüst to live solo to a couple of Gedankenband versions.  Enjoy. But even if you don't, I know at least one person who will. :)

Down From The Skies (Dr. Lüst live at 1990 MIT Battle of the Bands)
Down From The Skies (solo live on Mars Hill, 1995)*
Down From The Skies (from 2005's Do Not Tip Or Rock)**
Down From The Skies (Gedankenband Unplugged version***)

*also about an octave too high for my actual range.
**Yeah, I'm sending you to the Bandcamp page to download or listen there.
***Blame Katsumi for the harmonica, I don't know what she was thinking.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Surf Titan!

Another oldie.  I didn't really intend to post anything so soon after the Passerby post, but it's the 10th anniversary of the Huygens landing on Titan and I remembered I'd written a Titan-centric song long ago.  So I figured I'd record it for posterity. Here for the first time ever:

Surf Titan!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Passerby: Not Quite Silver Anniversary

As I just mentioned on Twitter, I seem to have written a lot of my favorite originals during the winter of 1989-1990.  So you'll be getting some Silver Anniversary posts, just as I've marked a few other anniversaries.

This song, Passerby, is not quite one of them.  It was written 24 years ago yesterday.  That means in theory that I should have posted this yesterday, but I only just happened to notice and you know how these things go.  I was still very early in learning how to play guitar, and a lot of my songs went C-Am-Dm-something. In this particular case, something is Fm (which was super-hard as all novice guitar players know). The content was sort-of inspired by the Replacements song Skyway, which is needless to say superior in every way and is a fan favorite

I've always loved this one anyhow, which makes it a bit surprising to me that there are no versions on any of the Gedankenband albums, nor did I even record it with my old 4-track.  I think it's quite likely that I'll remedy that for real on the next Gedankenband release, but until then, for the first time anywhere:

Passerby (live to one-track)