Kai Staats: writing

From the Road

/From the Road/

New Socks

I have decided that a new pair of socks may be one of the best things one can experience.

A snug fit, the kind that provides a sense of security, yet soft, fluffy, and warm. Hiking socks are the best, for they are full bodied, like a good beer, totally enveloping your foot with or without the boot. New running socks give new life to old running shoes.

Yet, if you purchase a half dozen new socks that are of the same model as the old, you run the risk of not immediately telling them apart once through the wash. Yes, under the right light it is possible to see which is faded, for black is truly a dark, dark blue in the world of cloth and dyed materials. Sometimes you are able to pinch the wall, rubbing thumb and forefinger together to determine which is thicker. But sometimes you just have to try them on, determining which is the thicker. The thinner is removed, and another tested until you have a match.

This can be a time consuming process, and anxiety producing if you are late to get going in the morning. I am considering some kind of marker, a tag or tiny bleach spot, perhaps an ID tag for the various degrees of age.

NO DOT – new
ONE DOT – previous generation
TWO DOTS – two generations old, likely ready to be come rags

By | 2018-07-12T13:11:22+00:00 July 12th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on New Socks

Lemmon Aid

It had been twenty some years since I ventured to the top of Mt. Lemmon, just to the North of Tucson, Arizona. Not a difficult venture at all, but one that has been too far off my path of travel to make worth while. As I was at the Biosphere yesterday afternoon with my colleague Don Boonstra, and the thought of returning to the heat of Phoenix too much to bear, I drove up Catalina Canyon, just as the sun set, and turned into a campground whose name I now forget.

I didn’t have any cash, and as such could not complete the self-registration form for a site. Instead, I drove to the farthest end of the campground, the sites numbered over 60. There I found a parking lot at the trail head to a lake. It was empty other than an SUV which parked long enough for the drive and passenger to venture to the lake for a skinny dip (or so I presumed, given the laughter and breathless giggles as they returned … of course, there are other things they could have done, but they weren’t gone very long.)

I pulled in backward so as to orient my car to slope from head to foot, with me laying in the back. I left the windows part way down and enjoyed the cold, pine ladened night air. Only for the image of waking to a bear tugging on the bottom of my blanket (and toes) did I not leave the back of my Subaru Forester open.

I set the alarm for 5 am so as to leave the park without being asked to pay. I know, not a good standard, but it has been many years, more than a decade since I slept-n-ran at a National Forest campground. And given that my phone had died, the time slewed, and my 5 am alarm woke me at what I later realized was 3:30 am, I didn’t feel too bad. (Yes, it occurred to me that the sun should have been up, not a star in the sky, yet I didn’t put all the pieces together until later …)

I enjoyed four, maybe four and a half hours of sleep before driving the last half hour to the top of the mountain. I drove through Summitville, and explored a trail head on the far side. Back to a turn-out that looked over the Eastern side of Mt. Lemmon and the Oracle Control Road.

Wrapped in a blanket, the calming sound of pine trees moved by a constant breeze, I intentionally missed the sunrise by my eyes, but enjoyed its warm greeting on my face.

Despite the early rise, shuffle, and sleep spent in two beds, by 7:30 am I had slept better than I had in weeks. I woke to a breakfast of yogurt and a bagel, then went to use the National Park Service restroom. To my surprise, a bird was flitting from one side to the other while I was inside, just over my head. It was unable to get out while the door was shut. I opened the door, and it immediately departed.

Then something caught my eye. Its nest was made on the corner of the interior window sill. As an NPR story I had listened to the day before shared the results of researchers moving bird nests to see if they would be discovered again resulted in a positive pattern, I thought it would be best to move the nest just outside the door, less than a meter away.

However, upon carefully lowering the nest into the palm of my hand, I discovered four sleeping chicks, incredibly small, fuzzy, and not even disturbed by the motion. Only when I made too abrupt a move did they stir, lift their heads, and open their beaks. I photographed them, then returned the next to its original location.

I returned to my car to make a sign to hang on the wall, to ask patrons of this facility to NOT close the door so that the mother can come and go. Upon re-entering the restroom, the mother bird had returned to the nest. That’s good.

I attempted to make my way down the backside of Mt. Lemmon, on Old Mt. Lemmon Road. While I had done so easily in a low-clearance Subaru hatchback many years before, my Forester struggled to find angles of approach that did not expose its underbelly to sharp rocks and small boulders that now stood out in this clearly unmaintained road.

With a conference call looming, I had no choice but to turn around and head back up the seemingly one-way road, back onto the pavement, and home.

By | 2018-11-24T00:47:03+00:00 July 1st, 2018|From the Road|Comments Off on Lemmon Aid

Where should the words go?

I haven’t had much to say lately. Neither here nor on social media (which I seldom use, anyway). My words are no longer at home outside of my head. Where do they go? What value to they carry? To whom do they intend?

I’ve been hyper-focused on my research project and team at ASU, building a mathematical model of an off-world habitat and community. My work at LIGO has slowed, but remains in motion. Mostly guiding, in a supporting role. With the help of my high school physics prof Dan Heim, we are preparing the Cave-Cassegrain telescope to ship to Tanzania, the one I drove from Wisconsin back to Arizona a few weeks ago.

I am settling into some semblance of a routine, now that Colleen and I share a house in Flagstaff. Runs every-other-morning from here around Buffalo Park and back. Home made fruit smoothies, fresh eggs from Nikki’s chickens on the east side of town, then work from my shed-office, a tiny tin-roofed structure built from lumber recycled from two generations earlier. Interior sideboard are covered with newspapers from the 1800s. When I need a break, I walk around the space (4 paces long, 2 paces wide) and journey back in time.

I am experimenting with crabapple pies. Colleen continues to cook incredible meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She is a natural with food. We eat incredibly healthy, yet both crave garden-fresh food knowing we have succumb to store-bought produce that always fails in comparison.

This was my summer to begin construction of a home on my land outside of Moab. But recent alterations to the C&Rs have raised confusion and tension. My ideal, modest mountain cabin may not be accepted, for it does not uphold the neighborhood that is leaning toward half million dollar homes. Legal language has been employed instead of neighborly consideration, despite my best attempts at personal communication. While the land remains astounding, I question if this is where I want to live, to raise a family. I should not have to seek legal approval to build a greenhouse or children’s playground when the nearest neighbor is a quarter mile away. I cannot help but see parallels between our small microcosm of the larger, over-developed world. Houses are sized not according to personal need nor their impact on the environment, but by the need to increase the value of the investment. This establishes a contest between frequently opposing forces. Development almost always wins.

The issues on the border are crushing to me. I fight back tears as I listen to the news. Having worked on the border with No More Deaths (https://www.kaistaats.com/blog/2010/06/no-more-deaths) I feel the pain of the situation deep inside. I contemplate forgoing a vacation and instead learning if my organizational and computer skills could somehow be applied, a database and image recognition algorithms to help reunite children with their parents.

Today, I must remain focused. Three calls with ASU research team members (ignoring that it is a Sunday), editing a film proposal, and the final submission of my book proposal for MIT Press.

By | 2018-06-24T14:34:47+00:00 June 24th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on Where should the words go?

True or False … stay tuned

There was a period in my life, from 2012-2015 when I was adept at producing a regular series of essays. I was weekly sharing stories of my travels, adventures, meetings, and interactions with the world in so many ways. I felt, at that time, that my life was rich, dynamic, and impossibly full. Yet, now, I am working more hours each day, more full days each week than in the past decade and the richness of my engagements is equally fulfilling, even if in a different way. Yet, the stories are internalized, always on hold, for the process is each day unfolding.

When a day in Palestine, Tanzania, or South Africa is a day worth describing, a day working on Python coding leaves one wanting to get away from the keyboard, not closing the day with more typing. What’s more, there is a fear of ridicule for sharing the process if the process is one already tested and proved true or false, for in research the goal is not to rediscover, but to discover anew.

To share the process is to share potential success or potential failure in the making. And that is hard to do.

By | 2018-05-17T00:46:49+00:00 May 17th, 2018|Ramblings of a Researcher|Comments Off on True or False … stay tuned

When Stars Collide

A few paragraphs from my book, “When Stars Collide” (working title)

This is the realm of multimessenger astronomy, the amalgamation of instruments each designed to witness a cosmic event though a unique point of view. Not unlike seeing the human body from the outside, optical light refracting from clothing and skin, an x-ray image looks past the superficial to the inside. Add ultrasound, CAT, and fMRI and we have a multimessenger means to probe the interior as we do the vast exterior of the cosmos with telescopes.


What makes astronomy so exciting is that while you anticipate one thing, you are often met by another. It is not that the laws of physics are being broken, rather that our understanding of the laws is being challenged and expanded. What we did not expect catches us off guard, keeps us humble, and reinforces a childlike sense of the mystery and magic of the incredibly vast universe in which we reside.


Franco was annoyed that I had not kept up with the LIGO email lists, that we could not reflect on this together. I realized my mistake, for I had missed the live unfolding of something extraordinary. But what we didn’t know then was that just three days later there would be another detection event, this one a total game changer.


This confirmed that the signal was real. It could be seen with an unaided human eye above the background noise in the data from both Hanford and Livingston. At that point, all skepticism disappeared and a chant erupted in the telecon chat: “Send the alert!” “Send the alert!” “Send the alert!”

The alert went out to hundreds of astronomical observatories around the world, partners who had for years waited for just such an opportunity. This started it all. This was the birth of multimessenger astronomy.

By | 2018-05-17T00:11:11+00:00 May 17th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on When Stars Collide

10 steps to improved digital security

  1. A unique password for each on-line account or account groupings with a minimum of 8 alpha-numeric and non-standard characters that are not an explicit word or phrase. While you may have an incredible password, if it is the same across all of your accounts, a thief with immediate access to one of your other accounts has access to them all.
  2. Encrypt all data storage devices such that if your phone, tablet, or computer is stolen (assuming you were not logged in and active at that time), the data cannot be obtained even if the storage is removed from the device. Encrypt your SD card too, if supported, or do not move key apps and dadta onto the SD card.
  3. Enable remote locking of your phone so that if lost, it can be disabled.
  4. Do not install bank, PayPal, or investment apps on your phone, or do not auto-enter your account name and password. The chance of you losing or having your phone stolen is substantially higher than your laptop or desktop computer. And as your phone is always on-line, it is interrogated on a regular basis and therefore is more susceptible to a break-in.
  5. Use the Private Mode on your web browser for all financial transactions. Do not allow 3rd party cookies. Clear your browser cookies once a day, or worse case every week. Remember that in a non-private mode, when you move between websites your browsing history can be tracked by cookies, meaning companies know where you came from and where you will go next.
  6. Log out of every account you are not using, on your phone, laptop, and especially at a cafe.
  7. Use a cable tether from your phone to your laptop, not cyber cafe networks or open networks on city streets if you are at any point in time entering a username and password. Or use a Virtual Private Network (VNP) to secure the full connection, end-to-end.
  8. If you have the capability, create an email alias for every new on-line account, such that facebook@[your_domain_name].com and twitter@[your_domain_name].com are different from united_air@[your_domain_name].com or first_bank@[your_domain_name].com. This allows you to track who is selling your data and at the same time, keeps bots guessing as to what your login email address might be.
  9. Get your friends and co-workers to drop Hotmail and Yahoo! as these email systems are single-handedly responsible for the vast majority of spam. Every time an account is hacked, the bots harvest the address book and deliver its contents to massive databases sold to marketers.
  10. Never accept a broken or invalid security certificate. Never. A broken security certificate can be a sign of a man-in-the-middle attack or spoof in which your credentials are intercepted and stored for use by hackers.

Finally, read every End User License Agreement (EULA) before installing a new app on your phone. Use Uber? You might not if you knew how much of your life they have acquired: your full contact list, calendar, and every text message you send. Just because a company’s services are cool does not mean the company is cool with your data. You need only look at Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony to understand the effect of an open-ended EULA and associated privacy and distribution. As of May 25, the European Union implements the General Data Protection and Regulation (GDPR) policies which will change the way in which all international corporations manage client data.

Thank you Chris Murtagh for guiding me for the past two decades to maintain high quality server and personal computer security. Surely, the horrendous mistakes you have witnessed in your world of systems administration has saved me and others countless catastrophes.

By | 2018-04-28T15:21:39+00:00 April 24th, 2018|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on 10 steps to improved digital security

For a loss of words

I have all but lost my philosophy. It lingers, here and there, a remnant of its once prominent place in my daily routine. The words used to describe something deeper, a connection to more than the mundane are now missing from my vocabulary. I can discuss algorithms, programming paradigms, and the missing depth of themes in modern film, yet I feel next to nothing. That upwelling, that hidden source of power, angst and rhyme has eluded me for months at a time.

In daily conversation I find that what I say has almost no impact, not on me nor those with whom I speak. Just words. Just phrases. A kind of auto-complete. Yet inside there is a depth that has not been tapped since I departed South Africa in 2015 and moved back to the States. I seemed to have left that part of me behind that listens more than I do speak, contemplates more than I generate, and creates more than I mitigate.

Productive I remain, checking off items on my list every day. Yet closer to that which I desire … I remain at a distance for my goals are amorphous, ambiguous, and ever set to change. Only with a foundation set in philosophy, some undercurrent of constant flow and direction does everything I do carry the subtle underpinnings of a belief system, a philosophy of hope and change.

Maybe it is time to read the classics again, to be reminded of the words of those who have come before. I need to allow the stories, the poems, the rhymes of many generations to settle into me, to again become integrated into who I am such that when I speak, I speak with the depth and conviction not of a single entity, but of a whole.

It is time to read more, write more, sing more–to no longer fail for a loss of words.

By | 2018-03-25T16:42:33+00:00 March 25th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on For a loss of words

March for our lives

March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24

Future generations will look back on this time and place and see us as selfish and corrupt, as barbarians who were year after year, election after election willing to put congressional desires for power and control before the lives of those they claim to represent.

As one of the high school survivors shared, “We are survivors of a cruel and silent nation, a nation where we do not live out the true meanings of our creed. When will we as a nation understand that non-violence is a way of life for a courageous people … we are here to fight for love and peace. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Violence cannot drive out violence. Only peace can do that. Death cannot drive out death. Only proactive life can do that.”

To not directly address the issue of this nation’s addiction to violence is to perpetuate a state of insanity that future generations will look upon as we do now electric shock therapy, castration of those with learning disabilities, and witch trials. Looking back we will see clearly how inconceivable it is to reduce the use of weapons through the application of more weapons. We are on the verge of curing cancer, building synthetic thinking machines, and walking on the surface of Mars. At the same time our congressmen and women would rather watch hundreds of school-age children be gunned down than admit they were wrong to accept overt monetization of our democratic process for the increase of their personal wealth and power.

We will some day look at those who ignorantly repeated the phrase “Guns don’t kill, people do” and say simply, shame on you.

March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24 March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24 March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24 March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24

By | 2018-03-24T19:38:49+00:00 March 24th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on March for our lives