Chirping of Stars

Looking up, I saw the beautiful stars blinking upon me. Night breezes stroked my face; it was so quiet, except the chirping of some insects, likely crickets.

It was so familiar. This whole setting. The scene, the touch, and the sound.

When I was four years old, I spent a lot of time in a rural village that I called my homeland. On many summer and autumn nights, I sat in the courtyard, overwhelming myself with stars, ten times more then and there than now and here. The adults were listening to radio and chit-chatting in the rooms, while my cousins were either too old or too young to share my little paradise in the courtyard. Night breezes stroked my face as gently then, and I heard the chirping loud and clear. ‘Where is the sound from?’ I looked around and found nothing special. Then I looked at the stars. The stars, as they always are, were blinking in rhythms, ‘apparently’ according to the beats of that loud and clear sound. I thought I made a great discovery. I did not share this great discovery with anyone because I felt it might be obvious to anyone else.

Of course the stars do not chirp. I realised my mistake on a winter night, when the stars were still blinking but I heard no chirping. But I had no idea where the sound came from, and that troubled me for some time, until on a later summer night my elder cousins told me the truth.

I remember that ‘great discovery’ so vividly because, whenever I look at the stars, I still feel they are chirping, with their rhythmic blinking, although I have already known the truth.

A Semi-Farewell to SNSes

It was not the first time I stopped using an SNS service but it was the first time I was aware of the real cause of my action.

No doubt it all reduced to my antisocial personality but this personality did not stop me from joining many SNSes. What really stopped me from using them was the disgust that I felt, and am still feeling, against the mass irrationality of the easily angered and misled mob and the impossibility of stopping their messages from reaching me.

This group of people — a very large group I should say, so large that this group in fact can represent the mainstream voices online — always impose the strictest moral standards on other people while readily excusing themselves for all mistakes. They laugh at disasters and chaos of nations they dislike or see as rivals, insult states, organizations or individuals because of rumours that they selectively believe, spread private information, call for violence, and accuse strangers without any attempt of seeking truth.

Once I tolerated them because I felt that I should not judge people, or I would become like them (oops still judging!). I tried to get my voice heard but I eventually gave up because in the ocean of irrationality my effort was just an insignificant droplet. I wanted to be more open to different opinions but the majority of those opinions were simply contradictory to either common sense or logical thinking.

The only way to maintain my sanity is not by arguing with these people but to distance myself from them. I should indulge myself in proper books, immerse myself in my work, engage myself in my numerous hobbies and build healthy friendship with people around me. I should technically be a hermit in this information era.

Of course I do not mean to completely severe my tie with SNSes (therefore ‘semi-‘ in the title). I will still use it to search for information and, if necessary, communicate with my friends — just that my involvement will be minimum.

On Space Projects

I used to be very simple-minded and against the Chinese government launching space projects with astronomical (a suitable adjective, at least literally) amount of money when there are many children in rural areas unable to receive proper education. In my over simplistic mindset, the expenses of the government can be invested in many other ‘more urgent, essential’ areas, like improving education, fighting poverty, raising productivity, and so on, instead of those ‘useless, showing off’ areas, like space projects and gigantic constructions.

But I have also been a NASA fan since the first day I came to know its existence. I cheer for every NASA success and love all those NASA legends. Why I supported NASA but opposed Chinese space programmes could only be explained by my deep distrust in the Chinese government and the Communist Party.

Yet I was wrong. Gradually I have come to understand the importance of space projects, even if it is done by communists.

Space projects are not just showing off abilities and strength — in fact, it is the most expensive way to show off strength, so expensive that the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union had to come to a halt without conclusive winner. Space projects are more science oriented, rather than politics oriented; they are to benefit the whole human race, instead of a limited group of politicians.

The technologies developed for space programmes are mostly deployed in civil productions. Military industry of course would be benefited as well, but those benefits can be justified by the benefits bestowed onto the public. Even at the height of space race, NASA carried out scientific experiments and developed many technologies that we have taken for granted today.

The first artificial satellite of China was indeed an ideology propaganda tool, but that does not nullify the importance of Chinese space programmes in recent years. Time has changed.

However, no matter how much I support the space programmes, be it of NASA or Europe or China, I could not make myself agree to the propaganda elements in the Chinese media reports. ‘The hundred years of waiting ends! We Chinese have realized our dreams of flying to the space!’ Frankly that is nothing to be proud of if a country, who thinks highly of herself, can only manage to accomplish what the other countries have accomplished decades before. And talking about ‘dreams’, have the Chinese really dreamed of anything close to this? Those vague, bluffing, bragging, pretentious slogans only make supporters like me disgusted.

Fragmentation

It’s been almost three months since the last post. I have been updating on Twitter and Weibo, on all kinds of topics and yet seriously fragmented. Fragmentation seems to be the major trend and concern in today’s world; from content generation to content consumption, from software development to offline education, from organization management to daily grocery, we all face the overwhelming urge and often inevitable necessity of fragmentation: breaking a grand, higher order mission into much smaller, easier tasks, which can be accomplished by utilizing our already fragmented time slots, and yet most of time stop us from seeing the actual mission, making us focus on short term benefits and instant gratification.

Fragmentation has its value in this fast-paced, information-overloaded era, but it is an enemy of pleasant reading experience. I started reading Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, on 14th May, and finished it on 25th May. If I were to read it during a holiday without any work to do, I would have finished it in at most 3 days, and because of the continuous, uninterrupted reading, I would have immersed myself in the book more deeply and enjoyed the flow of the events with more anticipation and fulfilment. However, in reality, I finished the book in 12 days, with some days in between without reading at all. As a result, the flow of the events did not seem intact, and I needed every time to re-read the previous page to get myself reconnected with the story. I could not absorb myself completely in the story, like I did when reading Angels and Demons. I still enjoyed the book, but it would have been so much better without the fragmented reading process.

Not just reading; fragmentation affects my work as well. A very obvious example is the setting of examination papers. I can set a complete set of examination paper of high quality, with all formatting perfectly done, in just three or four hours without any interruption. However, ‘three or four hours without any interruption’ is more and more a luxury, partly because of my never-ending official duty and flooding of emails, partly because of my inability to resist distractions from my phone and my web browser. The time taken to set a paper is not simply ‘three or four hours’ plus ‘the time spent on the web and other distractions’; it is a typical ‘1+1>2’ situation. Besides a longer process, the quality also drops, even if given longer time to finish. In another words, fragmentation reduces efficiency and effectiveness.

To counter the negative effects of fragmentation, schools organize intensive classes, some companies (like Facebook) hold coding and design days, cinemas hold movie marathons, and some text processors (like iA Writer and Microsoft Word for Mac) provide full screen, distraction free environment. Even WordPress editor comes with a ‘distraction free writing mode’, in which I am writing this post.

Orion

Whenever I look up at the dark night sky and find the three stars in that nearly perfect straight line, and the four stars that form two huge quadrangles with the belt, my mind always drifts back to that cold night, in that small county that I call my hometown; and it drifts once more to that breezy evening, in the school that I call my alma mater.

Orion is the first constellation I managed to recognise, simply because it is bright enough and also easy to locate. The three stars on the hunter’s belt serve as the landmark, and once you see them, you get Orion. I got it at home when I was 11 years old, and my interest in stars lasted for a few months before it slowly died due to the constantly worsening light pollution.

Before I joined the Astronomy Society of Chung Cheng High School (Main), I could recognise three constellations: Orion, Leo and Scorpio. They are huge constellations with easily visible stars that can be connected to form beautiful shapes. Somehow I knew about Antares, the heart of the scorpion, too; and knowing that this heart is constantly aimed at by the arrow tip of Sagittarius, the half-horse, half-human creature, I learnt to locate Sagittarius too.

On the first evening after I joined the Astronomy Society, I saw Orion, the dominant figure in the sky. I also learnt that the three stars mean more than a belt. They even point to Sirius, the brightest star in Canis Major, one of the hunter’s two loyal companions, and to Aldebaran, the alpha star in Taurus, the hunter’s eternal target in the sky.

And if you extend the shoulders of the hunter to the left you can find Procyon, the alpha star of Canis Minor, the smaller dog following the hunter. The star on the hunter’s left shoulder, Betelgeuse, also the alpha (though only the second brightest) star of Orion, together with Procyon and Sirius, forms the Winter Triangle.

I read about this fascinating triangle on books before, but it was my first time connecting the three stars and looking at the triangle. We were lucky that the first evening in the Society was a clear, cool night. The sky displayed the full panaroma of all these blinking stars and shining planets above me, and for the first time I felt overwhelmed at the sight.

This sight took away my breath. I started to imagine what the Earth would look like if there were some aliens looking at us from some lightyears away. I started to feel the moving of our planet through the emptiness in the space. I started to visualise the brevity of our life and the meaninglessness of our everyday trouble. I started to see clearly the tininess of the space we have occupied and the ridiculousness of human beings fighting over territories.

I was amazed and scared at the same time.

The majestic constellation, Orion, and the Winter Triangle always remind me of the feeling and thoughts on that breezy evening. They are kind of the dearest friends to me because, after all, we are some remnants of ancient stars. We are stellar dusts, too.