June 19th, 2009

krazy koati

I'm using all my might to try and find the light in the Milky Way tonight

I thought I ran across a news article saying Australian astronomers discovered the Galaxy was twice as thick as previously believed. Neither of us was injured. I couldn't find it again when I wanted to check just what was proven, and how, and what sense they meant by 'thick'. Although the encounter was an accident I can't blame it for hiding.

The obvious thing to do was call up astronomers, who recognized my voice and grumbled about ``that guy again''. Apparently I've complained too often about never seeing anything in these so-called meteor showers despite spending sometimes whole minutes looking at the night sky like the rules specify. I say I'm doing my part and it's the astronomers or their meteors letting me down. But if they're going to be difficult I can pretend I was calling the archaeologists, which gets on their nerves.

The next call was Australia. They pretended nobody was around and worse, because of the International Date Line, it was impossible for anyone to be around except for days they were not there, until I started being not there, or for the first 36 months, whichever comes first. Since I can document how I haven't jokingly conflated `Australia' with a particular central-European nation (`Serbia') in years this struck me as their being uncooperative and I don't think it was my fault. New Zealand and its dictionary-neighbor central-European partner Slovakia promised they'd pass on a message. But they said they'd pass the message in that tone of voice warning you that they won't. A couple hours later I got a call from a very confused Peru.

So the only way to get the story was to call the Galaxy and ask, using someone else's phone, because the area code alone spreads across 8.73 light-minutes, which have only 25 percent the calories of regular minutes, and there are not enough electrons in this piece of paper, if you print this out on a piece of paper, to write down all the zeroes in the rest of the phone number. We exchanged greetings and that great joke about ISO date specifications that's been cracking up the database community and got to what we really wanted to know.

``Is it true,'' I asked, ``that some astronomerian Australians figured out recently you're twice as far across as had previously been thought?''

The Galaxy seemed uncomfortable with the question, the way most people asked about their thickness tend to be without turning violent. ``I don't know how thick you were thinking of my being before, so it's hard keeping up. I don't think I've changed much recently. I've even been cutting down on candy bars lately so I should be getting thinner.''

It would be natural to talk about Mars Bars or, of course, a Milky Way, so I asked, ``What kinds do you like? Mallo Cups, I'd figure?'' I think the idea went wrong somewhere between thinking it and saying it.

``You've got me exactly. I've always liked them. You know, this week I got a 25-point card in one and that's given me the 500 points I need to get a dollar rebate check from the powerful Mallo Cup corporate empire.''

``Hey, that is good news. No wonder astronomers are talking about you, unless I heard the story wrong.''

``It could be a mistake. Are you sure Australia didn't just have a mirror up next to their telescope?'' That could be, and I promised to call Peru and ask. ``Say, is it true what they say about squirrels, that they're mostly electrical engineers?''

``Oh, no. People just think that because squirrels don't like using complex numbers, and stick to simple numbers like `three'. The engineering thing is a scurrilous rumor.''

``Sciurrilous, surely,'' it said, and it was. I thanked the Galaxy for its time and for its good work on that spiral-arm structure.

The next morning there was a message on the answering machine from Mali asking why I wanted to know if they had mirrors. They suggested I just read the news instead of calling all over. Well, I had tried the news first and look where I ended up.

Trivia: The messenger pigeon Cher Ami, credited with saving nearly 200 American lives in a World War I battle near Grand Pre by flying a message forty kilometers in 25 minutes despite shapnel in his leg, is in the Smithsonian collection, stuffed and perched on one leg. Source: Superdove: How The Pigeon Took Manhattan ... And The World, Courtney Humphries.

Currently Reading: All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, Henry Mayer.