An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

Archive for the ‘Colors’ Category

In the Presence of Light

Posted by xbanguyen on April 28, 2013

What part of speech is your most favorite word? Is it something you reveal to amost anybody who cares to ask, or only to a selected few, or would you reveal nothing even to the most intimate, hugging the word all the while? Let’s say that your favorite word is an adverb that brings to mind the sea, as in


What does that reveal about you?

The coming of May brings to mind the fragility of the himalayan poppy. The blue of this flower holds hints of promise from the bluepoppysummer sky to come.  The almost translucent petals have a daintiness that belies the rocky terrain of their native land. They look ethereal, perhaps because their color is not an intrinsic property of theirs.


Rather they give off light that enters the eye,  striking photo receptors, the rods and the cones, on the retina. As you know, light is a form of electromagnetic energy, comprising of photons  characterized by wave-particle duality.  The photo receptors in the retina convert photons into eletro-chemical signals that are then processed by ganglion cells, a type of neurons, then sent to the brain [1] to be perceived as blue, azure, cerulean, but perhaps not indigo, sapphire nor cobalt.  What about the colors we see in dreams? What about remembered colors? How can my memory still recall with minute details the green of the leaves one summer I spent in Minneapolis and the coral of my dress bathed in light one morning as I found that my ASIC worked first time? Perhaps memory delineated with colors lasts longer, but whether it can be done intentionally I do not know. I do know that I am drawn to this poem, almost helplessly, inspite of the bright blue outside my window this morning.


The emphatic  negations pulsing with resigned affirmation pull me inward with a longing to arrive at the source of this turbulence. The different shades of blue appear to blend into a blackness, paradoxically because black is the absence of light. The despair imparted by the poem lies heavily but not unpleasantly on my mind. Then logic prevails. There must be some light to perceive colors.  The short-lived plants of years past notwithstanding, I will again try to coax the meconopsis betonicifolia to grow far from home.

Happy birthday, dear muse.



[2] The poppy photo is from
[3] The retina diagram is from
[4] The electromagnetic spectrum is from


Posted in Biology, Colors, Gardening, Lynn Powell, Physics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

In Praise of Sleep

Posted by xbanguyen on July 21, 2011

Falling asleep under the sun is not an overrated experience as you’d think even if you don’t live in Seattle.  Receding, the minutiae in the dreams you had under the sun’s influence  left a peculiar disorientation as you surfaced out of the heat back to everyday life.  Admittedly, it is not the same as being alive twice. For that, you will have to come back from inhabiting certain images, like Van Gogh’s field of poppies, in  a not-quite-still life fanned by the quivering wind, the red flowers indelible once imprinted by the cones of your retina.  Burns’s love, Kayyam’s rose and the dress Kim Addonizio desired are red too.  Would I be able to create the experience of seeing those shades of red if I have the exact size of their wavelengths, knowing that red has the longest, 780-620 nanometers? To be exact is necessary in engineering. In recreating the field of red flowers as they move gently in the wind in high resolution, the clock of the video circuitry that sends the images to the monitor needs to be at a definite range of frequency. Predictability and precision are virtues in engineering whereas the usefulness of poetry is inexact. Far from repelling, this tension can be inordinately attractive when I work to remove the last pico second in a setup path to close timing in an FPGA. It is a relief to be able to let go of certainty to return later. The sleepwalkers are always able to return.

So by sleeping they can literally “walk through the skin of another life” and return with their hearts intact even after that feat of flying, figuratively though it may be. Such adventures they had in the dark!  No poetic license was taken to recreate that well-being feeling upon awaken after such deep sleep.  The price of consuming darkness in exchange for that is paltry, especially as that other life comes with it. The resonance in the last line of the poem makes me feel grateful because of the self-sufficiency it induces. All is within our reach. Surely there are mornings when you start anew, brimming with energy so much that if you walk faster it will spill over. Never mind that this well will be depleted, for some by day’s end, for others sooner because  some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal (1) . There is always tomorrow.  Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Time to stop before the ricochet starts.

Thank you for the seeds, dear muse.


1) Albert Camus

2) The painting of the sun landscape is from

3) The Van Gogh’s Field of Poppies image is from

4) The color spectrum is from

Posted in Colors, Digital, Edward Hirsh, Kim Addonizio, Sleep, Van Gogh, Visual | 2 Comments »

The Malleability of Time

Posted by xbanguyen on May 15, 2011

The word elegiac comes to mind today for no discernible reasons because conventionally elegiac is a wintry word and we are well past that season, aren’t we. The primroses have run their course, the disheveled leaves a fair price to pay for the boisterous beauty of the flowers enjoyed earlier.  Thankfully, the leaves on the rose bush “Jude the Obscure”  are glossy, sturdy foils for the swollen buds from which fat buttery blossoms will surely emerge. June is but a couple of weeks away, but it is easier to be in tune with the passing of time when gardening.  So then why elegiac? Could it be because I lack the ability to stay in the present but race forward already to winter while summer is not yet here even while aware that spring will come again?   A competent engineer specialized in digital design should be more mindful of the cyclical nature of most matters as she must ensure that the clocks governing the digital FPGAs are precise in their cyclic property. On the one hand, it is desirable for a clock to have a narrow spectrum so that the timing budget for setup and hold is maximized as there is no wasteful uncertainty to be subtracted from the clock period. On the other hand, having all energy concentrated at a single frequency carries some perils, most notably causing interference to other signals in wireless communication. The spectral density of signals in a system influences the electro magnetic interference (EMI) emitted.  One method of reducing EMI is spread spectrum clock generating (SSCG) by which the clock signals are distributed across a wider band of frequencies.  Here randomness has its use because a noise-like signal from a pseudo-random number generator is applied to spread a clock in one technique.(1)  And if you happen to be in need of hiding a signal, this technique is also useful.  In the heart of that apparent randomness, a precise signal dwells. Is there an analogy to that of what dwells in the human heart?

The wind blows

through the doors of my heart.

It scatters my sheet music

that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.

Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,

flattened against the screens.

The wind through my heart

blows all my candles out.

In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.

From the mantle smashes birds’ nests, teacups

full of stars as the wind winds round,

a mist of sorts that rises and bends and blows

or is blown through the rooms of my heart

that shatters the windows,

rakes the bedsheets as though someone

had just made love. And my dresses

they are lifted like brides come to rest

on the bedstead, crucifixes,

dresses tangled in trees in the rooms

of my heart. To save them

I’ve thrown flowers to fields,

so that someone would pick them up

and know where they came from.

Come the bees now clinging to flowered curtains.

Off with the clothesline pinning anything, my mother’s trousseau.

It is not for me to say what is this wind

or how it came to blow through the rooms of my heart.

Wing after wing, through the rooms of the dead

the wind does not blow. Nor the basement, no wheezing,

no wind choking the cobwebs in our hair.

It is cool here, quiet, a quilt spread on soil.

But we will never lie down again.

Deborah Digges

The imagery within the poem resonates. The teacups full of stars bring back a childhood desire to raise a ladder leaning against the sky to paste more stars there. The wind comes alive in the poem. It could be the same wind painted by Edward Rochester’s Jane depicting her interior landscape. Refraining from analyzing the poem, I find it a pleasure just to quietly acknowledge the electrical signals emitted  in those four chambers of mine, gentle like a sign, as I read it one more time.  How much of that is physiologically induced – what the eyes read, the mind comprehends, the heart empathizes, I do not know.  The number of neurotransmitters  involved in the entire process is an esoteric matter.  I’ll continue to be grateful for the power that poetry can induce, unquantifiable though it may be.

Thank you for the subject, dear muse.


2. The rose photo is from
3. The spread spectrum waveform is from
4. The neurotransmitter image is  from 

Posted in Colors, Deborah Digges, Digital, FPGA, Gardening, Time, Visual | 2 Comments »

The Many Colors of Noise

Posted by xbanguyen on January 17, 2010

If I could see intangible things in colors, Wednesday would be green, time would be pulsing silver, the letter A a crisp yellow.  In an earlier paper I went so far as declaring that “regret appears purple, yearning taupe, denial blue …”  But that was last year and the writing did serve its purpose.  Tonight I am thinking about violet and how a phrase about a dusky violet unfurling its petals that has lain dormant since high school reappeared in my mind as I read these lines of Neruda

Oh love, oh mad light-beam, threat of violet,

you visit me, and climb, by your cool stairway

the tower that time has crowned with mist,

the ashen walls of an enclosed heart.

Towers and caves appear frequently in Neruda’s poetry, often figuratively for the many chambers of that mysterious and volatile organ. In another poem, XXII, of the Stones of the Sky collection, he wrote

I entered the amethyst grotto:

I left my blood among purple thorns:

I changed skin, wine, outlook”:

ever since. Violets hurt me.

One can come up with several scenarios explaining the last sentence if the desire to analyze persists.  At this moment, I am thankful that the image of violets growing in the amethyst grotto delights my senses especially the hardness of the quartz and the softness of the flowers suffusing with the sweet scent in the gentle  gloaming inside the grotto.   As it is late on a Saturday night, I ask your indulgence on  my wanton use of adjectives. I did warn you that I fall for words easily, a handicap at times especially when writing technical documents.  But there are other compensations.

In engineering, colors are used to describe other intangible and invisible entities such as noise.   Electrically speaking, noise is a random signal.  Its power distribution in the frequency spectrum is classified in colors: white noise has a flat frequency, pink noise is flat in log space, red noise is inversely proportional to frequency and azure noise’s power increases with increasing frequency.  It is a pleasure to come across the word azure in this context.  Noise is perhaps absent in Neruda’s grotto, saved for the soft whisper of violet petals  falling from Persephone’s gathered skirt as she ran in vain away from the Prince of the Underworld.

Literature Blogs
Poetry in Engineering?

Posted in Analog, Colors | Leave a Comment »

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