Saturday, 3/16/02

An unusual event occurred today. I thought it might be worth recording.

So, I was out for one of my little strolls. (My working definition of "stroll" is a walk intended to last less than a few hours). Just letting some ideas roll around in my head and sort themselves out. No particular place to go. The kind of thing that might have inspired a pre-automotive Chuck Berry.

I passed a house. I had passed many houses, of course, but what made this particular house stand out was that as I passed, an earthquakingly loud rumbling noise started up from behind it. It was an unnatural sound. It worried me. What happened next did not alleviate these worries.

A giant ball of blue flame appeared from behind the house, and slowly started to move across the sky. It looked sort of like how one would picture a meteor falling through the atmosphere, except translucent, and blue, and flying horizontally, and 100 feet from my head.

It is well accepted that a human (as well as any other highly evolved creature from this fine planet), when presented with a particular stimulus, will respond in a manner learned from its responses to previous similar stimuli. That is, everything we encounter is implicitly compared against everything we have ever encountered before (including information encountered in communications with others), and the closest matches are used to develop a response.

For the first time in my life that I can remember, no matches were found. My mental egrep returned an end-of-file. This was completely and utterly a new experience.

I am quite embarrassed to admit that my initial fleeting thoughts centered around extraterrestrial life. I suppose that implies some sort of terrestrial arrogance, that I understand my own world so well that anything new must be from outside. My next thoughts involved a terrorist or military attack. Still an alien invasion, I guess, just in a broader definition of the word.

Before long, I noticed that E.T. or the nuke or whatever it was was traveling down a power line. Indeed, the ball of flame was surrounding the power line. Aha! Science to the rescue. It was merely an enormous power surge. The extreme voltage in the wire was vaporizing the insulation and ionizing the surrounding air (that's how lightning works, minus the insultion bit), and the electrical fire was traveling across the line like a flame down a candle wick.

That's just my guess, by the way. I still don't know for sure if that's correct. I am an electrical engineer, but my fields of expertise do not include huge blue flaming balls of plasma 100 feet from my head. Check my resume. It ain't there.

The rest of the story is fairly anticlimactic. Even post-identification, I was worried about an explosion, but nothing exploded. I chatted with some people who had been driving or living nearby, the transient, impromptu sort of friendship-forming typical in times of crisis. Passed on a description to a 911 operator. Found another route home. The ideas in my head had stopped rolling, and the streets of El Cerrito, with power lines strewn overhead everywhere you looked, no longer felt so comfortable for this pedestrian. That was enough of a stroll for today.

In other news, I'm considering a somewhat major addition to this here website. In the meantime, I made a couple of ad parodies that you can check out. They are both rather hit-or-miss, in their own ways, but I think they're funny.