An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

Archive for the ‘Gardening’ 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 »

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 »

A Duality in Domains

Posted by xbanguyen on May 2, 2010

Lately I have become hesitant in thinking of  numbers as austere things, well-defined and finite. It used to be that numbers had a different kind of charm, mostly because I knew where I was with them – one mole contains one Avogadro constant, 6.0221415 × 1023, of molecules –  exactly the number of atoms in 12 grams of carbon. There are 1000 meters in one kilometer, 149,597,871 kilometer in one astronomical unit , and one astronomical unit  separate the center of the sun from the center of the earth.  I used to think that comfort could be found in numbers because they carried no apparent ambiguity. Then I ran into this book, “The Solitude of Prime Numbers”, and my perception was shaken. Consider the solitary  3 and 5, 17 and 19, so close together but will never meet. There is a quality of timelessness in this exclusion zone where each prime number exists. That irrefutable distance makes these numbers appear forlorn and makes me yearn for time, time as a medium, intangible but could be used to track other things such as different types of  signals.  It is useful to be able to pick out a particular signal among others, for example, a human voice in the midst of a noisy transmission.  An electrical signal varies over time, and its magnitudes at instances in time differentiate it from other signals.  In time domain analysis, a signal is expressed as a function of time, made visible via an oscilloscope.  Since time and frequency are complementary in nature, the same signal can be converted into frequency domain as Fourier’s theory states that any waveform in time domain can be described as a sum of sine and cosine waves of different frequencies.  The same signal exists both in the domain of time and the domain of frequency, just like the same shade of blue exists on the petals of the himalayan poppies and in my memory of this flower one summer ago.

Now it is spring. This afternoon as I worked in the garden I saw beauty anew in the color of the geranium. Despite its red boldness, it unfurled its petals gently away from the chartreuse buds.  This brings to mind a fragment of an Eleanor Wilner’s poem:

… beauty had no figure, no sacred

symmetry, centripetal, slowly opening

To a half-glimpsed nuclear core –

hot enough to melt the artic,

icebound heart of God,

One flower in Eden

and they would have known

beauty, and knowing that,

would know how beauty fades.

Why is it not incongruous to detect a trace of melancholy here? Perhaps because when happy, it is best to leave a bit of pleasure unenjoyed, lest the gods are jealous, as if we had a choice.  That is how I feel about the anatomy of melancholy tonight. Come to think of it, we always have a choice, and the act of making choices in itself is an adventure.  Thank you, dear muse.

Acknowledgement: The waveform graph is from

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Posted in Analog, Gardening, Memory | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Clock Trees

Posted by xbanguyen on December 13, 2009

Leaning over the fallen monkshood, the daphne stiffens. It is early December but winter is already entrenched in my garden. The earth smells sharp with the scent of inevitability as I gather the rose hips and remember how lush the summer was. I have many rose shrubs but no trees. Perhaps that’s why the five poplars that marched up the hill toward a cottage in Dingle of long ago are still on my mind. But the lack of trees notwithstanding, I ought to be more content because there are many kinds of trees, not least are the clock trees in my other world of ASIC design. Not everyone gets to synthesize such intricate trees except we ASIC engineers. A dubious pleasure, you may beg to differ, if you are familiar with that perilous realm fraught with forbidden windows that send unwary signals into abject oscillation. I suppose that it is easy to be flippant now because the havoc that large clock skews could wreak on an ASIC is temporarily a thing of the past. Why is it that everywhere I turn, I see the impact of time? Why not turn the table? Why not consider the baring of their branches a way for the poplars to consume time? Yet, would it be better not to resist but to learn the rhythm of time to get some peace? There are many things to learn.   Ask Louise Bogan.


Now that I know
How passion warms little
Of flesh in the mould,
And treasure is brittle,–

I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.

Louise Bogan

I can’t very comfortably lie down on this frigid piece of earth now.  But if I could, would I be able to hear Persephone pacing the grand halls of the underworld?  Would I be able to see Demeter’s tears like a waterfall glistening in the moonlight?

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