Writing is difficult. Especially good writing. It takes time and mental effort to take an idea, broaden it into a theme, imagine it as a story—a coherent flow of thought expressing the idea from introduction through conclusion—then put that story into words. Not easily done. That explains why I greatly admire authors, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, journalists, essayists who are accomplished wordsmiths—those writers who always seem to find the right word, the right style, the right phrase, and the right voice to express a thought or emotion and intricately weave them together to create story.
Twitter (actually, twttr.com, at the time) arrived almost a decade ago (Can you believe it?) on July 13, 2006. Its distinguishing characteristic as an online social networking service (well, aside from introducing hashtags to the world) is its 140-character limit for online messages. The limit came from Twitter’s original objective to let a person send a status message, as an SMS text message on a mobile phone, that could then be broadcast to a group. The SMS architecture constrained the length of the messages. The initial concept of sending status evolved into the broader perception that the service would be much more valuable as a way to express any spur-of-the-moment thought as a short burst of information. Brevity and immediacy were the keys. Thus, the 140-character limit has continued as a centerpiece of Twitter even though it’s not required anymore by text messaging services—it underlies Twitter’s unique purpose as a facilitator for disseminating short, quick capsules of information.
One reason for Twitter’s proliferation (more than 300 million active users) is that the 140-character limitation eases the writing process. The mental calisthenics are gone—no more taking an idea, broadening it to a theme, imagining a coherent flow of thought, and creating story. Now it only takes an Internet link, a Twitter account, and a keypad to produce stream-of-consciousness missives on Twitter—something that appeals to many. Additionally, the audience is huge which provides even greater incentive for anyone to produce a continuous flow of 140-character thoughts.
Much has been written about the advantages and disadvantages of a 140-character world by people much more knowledgeable about the subject than I am [see, for instance, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. So, I won’t even try to add anything to those ideas. Instead, as a way to have some fun and as a bit of a mind game I began to think about some famous historical phrases and writings and how they would change if truncated to the Twitter 140. It became an entertaining exercise.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s truncated Sonnet 43:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For
It ends rather suddenly and misses the beautiful conclusion:
...I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the propo
We miss the whole proposition that “all men are created equal,” and, later, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Shakespeare’s Hamlet soliloquy:
To be, or not to be—that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take
The 140-character excerpt does include the six most famous words uttered by Hamlet as he began his soliloquy, but it certainly misses the depths of Hamlet’s introspective contemplations about life and death.
Rick Blaine’s (Humphrey Bogart’s) farewell speech to Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman):
Last night we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it
Unfortunately, the 140 truncation removes “We’ll always have Paris.” and “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.” The emotion is extinguished.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief,
The stop at 140 characters drops most of the memorable 617-character opening sentence to the Dickens’ classic.
The Bible, Genesis 1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep,
This hardly scratches the surface of what’s to come.
Abbott & Costello, “Who’s on First”
Abbott: Strange as it may seem, they give ball players nowadays very peculiar names. Costello: Funny names? Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames.
Bud Abbott’s warnings to his friend Lou Costello, who is considering a baseball career, never even get to describing first baseman Who, second baseman What, third baseman I Don’t Know in this much-shortened version of an American classic comedy sketch.
Cheech & Chong, “Dave”
Speaking of classic comedy sketches, there’s this well-known stoner skit from Cheech & Chong. Unfortunately, it does not include the legendary, “Dave’s not here, man.”
“It’s, it’s Dave, man, will you open up? I got the stuff with me.” “Who?” “Dave, man. Open up.” “Dave?” “Ya, Dave,
“Over the Rainbow,” by Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harburg
Dorothy would have never returned from Oz with this rendition of the song.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue And
The examples are endless. Although, ironically, I noticed that the majority of my comments about the 140-character excerpts could easily be reduced to something less than 140 characters. Maybe there is something to this easy, quick way to write after all. 🙂
Super-Typhoon Haiyan produced some of the strongest winds ever recorded within a tropical cyclone as it moved across the northeastern Philippines early Friday morning, Philippines Time (yesterday evening, U.S. Mountain Standard Time). With sustained winds estimated at least as high as 190 mph (165 kts, 306 kph), and gusts over 220 mph (191 kts, 354 kph) at landfall, Haiyan had winds similar in strength to Typhoon Tip from 1979. Very impressive! Depending on a reanalysis of the storm winds once more data can be made available, Haiyan will probably rank as one of the top three strongest tropical cyclones ever measured. Here’s a visible image of the storm from a geostationary weather satellite as it made landfall (Thanks to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, CA for the image):
The following animation of the landfalling typhoon shows it having all the characteristics, as seen from a geostationary weather satellite, of a very strong tropical cyclone. It has a small, well-defined, very warm eye; the eye is embedded in a circular, symmetric, and uniform area of dense cloudiness with very cold cloud-top temperatures; and higher clouds emanate from the storm almost equally in all directions. This is a 7-hour loop showing the storm as it moves into the northern Philippines (Thanks to NOAA for this set of images):
Some days, especially in summer, the clouds of central Colorado present a spectacular skyscape constantly changing and shifting from puffy cotton balls to ominous thunderclouds to occasional bright blue skies of the American West. One such day was last Sunday and the following time-lapse video captured the scene:
A brief aside, if you like Madeleine Peyroux‘s music, you can buy her “Careless Love” album at:
Why the clouds?
The Rocky Mountains, as with all imposing mountain chains, affect weather and climate in a number of significant ways. Summertime heating of the mountain slopes causes one of the more majestic effects, the regular, almost daily, development of thundershowers over the higher terrain.
The Rockies in central Colorado reach elevations just above 14,000 ft (4267 m), about one-third of the way up into the troposphere (the layer in the earth’s atmosphere closest to the ground where most of our weather and clouds form). When the sun warms a high-elevation mountainside during the day in summer, that heat is quickly transferred to the atmosphere. Putting a heat source at 14,000 ft up in the troposphere, a level where the atmosphere is usually chilly, causes convection, the rising of air due to heating. Even on relatively dry days with only a meager amount of moisture in the troposphere, the convection caused by the elevated heat source of the mountains is so strong clouds can still form. If there is enough moisture, those clouds will become showers and thundershowers.
Ah, summer! (Well, in the Northern Hemisphere, that is.) Aside from ice cream, beaches, flowers, vacations, and sunburns, summer also means impressive thunderclouds (cumulonimbus clouds). Over the mountains of central Colorado, we usually don’t get the massive “supercell” thunderstorms that occur over the Great Plains of North America, but picturesque convective clouds still form almost daily. Here are just a few examples from the last couple of weeks:
The French novelist Colette coined a truism when she said, “There are no ordinary cats.” Both of the cats in our household live up to their non-ordinary qualities on a regular basis. However, it is the younger of the two, with her kitten-ness still intact at two years of age (human years, that is), who tends to exhibit precocious whimsy a bit more often than her older feline housemate.
Recently—well, really since the snow stopped flying at the beginning of May—Daisy, the younger cat, has discovered the bird and squirrel activity just outside the windows on the north side of the house. Out there, a beautiful ash tree and equally verdant blue spruce grow in the yard. I’ve hung a bird feeder on one of the branches of the ash tree (and protected it with the all-important anti-squirrel cover). Thus, a never-ending source of avian action ensues as finches, wrens, chickadees, and other assorted species flitter from the safety of the dense spruce to meals at the feeder. Meanwhile, seeds fall below the feeder keeping the squirrels and morning doves happy. To complete the scene, a hummingbird feeder hangs on a metal rod just to one side which has been discovered by a family of the broad-tailed colorful birds.
Daisy sits inside at the window enjoying the true-to-life Kitty TV appearing before her. Her funniest moments come when she crouches down with ears lowered in an attempt to become invisible to the unsuspecting ones outside. It’s entertaining to watch especially from the outside as she becomes a stealth kitty:
And, from inside the house, she’s not nearly as invisible, but still just as cute:
Yesterday was an active weather day along Colorado’s Front Range. A relatively cool springtime weather system from the Pacific, which had moved through the Pacific Northwest on Memorial Day Monday (even affecting San Francisco with a bit of light rain), made it to the central Rockies yesterday morning. Bands of thundershowers formed ahead of the system and moved out of the mountains into the Denver area during the late morning. From a park in Littleton, I took a few photos of one of the approaching lines of storms. The silhouetted darkness of the distant foothills and the angry look of the sky contrasted vividly with the green spring grass in the foreground. I used Aperture to modify some of the images to discover how different enhancements changed the photographic mood of the morning. The results follow…
And, just what did this menacing line of storms look like from above? Fluffy white, and relatively disorganized, as this image from NASA’s Aqua satellite shows (taken a couple hours after the ground-based images; Denver is near the center of the image):
Despite our late snows and cold weather…
[Aside: For the record, April 2013, was Denver’s fifth coldest April since observations began in 1873. The average temperature was 5.7°F (3.2°C) below normal. 20.4 inches (52 cm) of snow fell during the month making it the eleventh snowiest April on record. Boulder, a city about 30 mi (48 km) to the northwest of Denver and closer to the foothills of the Rockies, had its snowiest April ever with more than 4 ft (122 cm) of snow measured during the month.]
…and, with the last, late-season snowstorm coming on May 1, the hummingbirds still managed to return to the mountains about on schedule this year, arriving during the last week of April. They were hungry after their long migratory flight, so the hummingbird feeder was deployed outside as soon as the first trill of hummingbird wings was heard near the house. Surprisingly, especially for so early in the season, I noticed the level in the feeder dropped very quickly in the first few days after I put it outside. I surmised that we had very hungry birds this year or, maybe, there were many more hummingbirds in the area using our feeder than I had seen.
Then, last weekend, the real explanation for the rapid consumption of hummingbird nectar appeared at the feeder:
That’s a Bullock’s Oriole, and I’m no ornithologist (IANAO 🙂 ), but it, apparently, likes sweetened water and it has a beak small enough to fit into a hummingbird feeder. It had a “field day” taking long gulps out of the feeder, despite the cackling and diving of the hummingbirds as they tried to scare it away from their food source. Needless to say, until the wildflowers start blooming, there will probably be an ongoing confrontation between the oriole (or orioles) and the hummingbirds.
Often in May, with the air still retaining some winter chill, and the land warming rapidly from near-summer sunshine, convective showers of snow and hail form over the Rockies and adorn the sky-scape. This happened over the weekend and I caught this image showing a beautifully picturesque shower as it was passing by to the east. The fibrous texture of the cloud’s top results from ice crystals formed as the shower cell bubbles skyward due to the heating below. Grayish snow and soft-hail can be seen falling out of the cloud obscuring the land surface underneath it. Surface temperatures were in the low 50s°F (12°C) in the sunshine, dropping to about 40°F (4°C) when one of these showers passed overhead. The snow and soft hail would whiten the ground, briefly providing a wintertime look to the May landscape and angering the nesting robins chilled by the sudden squall.
Ever since I learned about the Cloud Appreciation Society (CAS) a few years ago, I became an instant fan and, as quickly as international post would allow, I became a life-long member. Not only does the society have a wonderful collection of cloud pictures and videos from its 32,000+ members (not to mention cloud music, art, and poetry), but they (we) also encourage learning about clouds through a mix of solid science and a bit of whimsy. After all, learning while laughing definitely speeds learning, no matter what the subject—especially, if it is about something as ephemeral as clouds.
Given my enthusiasm for the Society, it’s no big surprise that I have managed to convince a few wise members of my friends and family clan to appreciate clouds with me and join the CAS. There is at least one very important member of the family, though, who I missed. And, she made it quite obvious to me today that she, too, has as strong an appreciation for clouds as anyone else. Meet Olive, the cloud-spotter feline of the household:
Just what has attracted her attention, you ask? It is a picture of one of several thunderstorms which moved over the Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs metro areas today. I took the thunderstorm picture earlier in the day thinking it would be a nice contrast to the winter weather pictures I took last week during our late-season snowfall (Last week was winter, this week is spring; extrapolation predicts summer soon). While cropping the image on the computer, Olive the cloud-spotter feline spotted it. She was mesmerized, quite unusual for her capricious personality. In fact, she was mesmerized to the point where she remained still long enough for this, and a few other, cute cat pictures. To keep her purring, I promised to remit her lifetime membership fee for the Cloud Appreciation Society as soon as possible. They already have a dog who is a member, but I think Olive would be the first cat.
To complete the story, here’s the thunderstorm image that so intrigued Olive:
With this storm and the showers that followed it, we received about 0.5 inch (12 mm) of rain today. Any rain (or snow, for that matter) this spring is a big help for us because we are still trying to get out of long-term drought.
With the early May sun providing about 5 times the energy as the mid-winter sun (in the Northern Hemisphere at 40ºN latitude assuming a clear sky), it doesn’t take long to melt the 6-15 inches (15-38 cm) of snow that fell along the Colorado Front Range yesterday. Before it all melted, I took this beautifully white picture looking west from the southern Denver suburbs towards the mountains. The higher peaks along the Continental Divide which would typically be visible behind the mountains shown are obscured by the cumulus clouds in the picture.