31, 2008: The Answer to All Difficult Questions
I apparently brought a headcold home from Chicago, and it was in
full bloom by this morning, so I don't think I'll be able to continue
my anger-free politics series tonight. Things got off to a good
start, and the LiveJournal comments are worth reading. I hope to
get back to it tomorrow, if I can get a decent night's sleep. Right
now I'm pretty wobbly.
Halloween is pretty slow this year. It's 7:15 PM and even though
it was a gorgeous day and is still 68 degrees outside, we've had
exactly three groups come to the door so far. To be fair, the last
group consisted of most of the ten-year-old girls in the western
hemisphere, all of whom wanted to pick QBit up and hug him, and
were willing to fight one another for the privilege. I quelled the
riot before it got ugly, and passed out a decent number of Kit Kat
bars so that I won't be tempted to off them tomorrow morning. QBit
mostly concealed his annoyance, since what he wanted were not hugs
I do want to relate one anecdote from our Chicago trip. We were
hanging out in Gretchen's family room after dinner, being funny
as is out wont. (Gretchen and Bill are good enough at it to do it
onstage.) We were talking about Katie Beth's exploding vocabulary,
and I was reflecting that sooner than we think, Katie (who will
be two in a couple of weeks) will be engaging us in real conversation.
So, in a fit of godfatherly ridiculosity, I looked soberly at Katie
and asked her, "Where do you stand on the issue of transubstantiation
Katie wrinkled up her forehead in rapt concentration for a few
seconds while she thought it over, and then, through a radiant smile,
She probably thought I was asking her what she wanted for dessert,
but clearly, the girl would make a good Episcopalian.
30, 2008: An Outrageous Proposition
I just got home to Colorado Springs from a week's trip to Chicago,
and whereas a week sounds like a long time, well, it may be when
you're 12. I am not 12. Poof! The week was there and gone.
But I had an idea yesterday that I'm going to pursue in this space.
It's a challenge, to myself and to all of you, to engage in an outrageous
experiment here in Contra. This will require the comments feature
of my LiveJournal
mirror (alas, I'm not quite ready to move Contra over to Wordpress
yet) but that isn't the tough part. The aim of the experiment is
to see if the larger "we" (again, myself and all of you)
can engage in online political discussion completely devoid of
I do not mean that you can't be angry; that's unreasonable
and may be impossible. What I want you to do is write without
anger. That takes some effort but it can be done, and it's a useful
skill to have. I've found that forcing myself to write without expressing
anger allows me to think more clearly. In some weird way, it decouples
my anger from my rational mind and leaves it on a side track for
awhile where it won't get in the way of the points I'm trying to
Note that this is a challenge, but (for a limited time only! As
not seen on TV!) it is also the rules. I have a rule for Contra
that I don't invoke very often: You can be either angry or anonymous
on my blog but you cannot be both. I delete ten or twelve comments
a year from anonymous flamers who come out of nowhere and flame
either me or someone in the comments. I sometimes give them a chance
to identify themselves, but this rarely happens. Mostly I get another
flame, and then the thread goes where all flames eventually go:
Out. But until I finish up this series on politics, a new
rule applies: No anger. It applies from today's entry until
I call the whole thing done, which will almost certainly be when
I go get my mouth worked on next week. Until then, angry comments
will be deleted.
However, there's one final wrinkle: If and when I discern anger
in a comment, I'm going to point it out in a nonjudgmental fashion
and ask my readers if they agree that the message contains anger.
I reserve the right to override the vote, but I promise to consider
it seriously. A thumbs-up or -down is sufficient, but explaining
why you agree or disagree with me regarding the presence of anger
in the comment (not with the comment's factual content, which should
be done separately) could be interesting.
I will be watching for the very human tendency to see anger more
clearly in people you disagree with. I may or may not say anything,
but I will be watching.
Let's see what happens.
Some of the most reliable political theater (though generally not
the best) proceeds from promised tax cuts. If I were to flip the
Magic 8-Ball this second, it would predict that neither party will
even attempt a tax cut in the next two years, irrespective of which
wins. All the promises we've heard will be quietly forgotten, and
probably explained by the obvious truth: We cannot afford to cut
taxes at this time. The Bush tax cuts will quietly expire, and among
the ill and elderly wealthy there will be more assisted suicides
(both willing and unwilling) in 2010 than a civilized nation should
tolerate. The Magic 8-Ball says no more than that, other than its
standard mantra when answering political questions: "You are
all behind me now."
What I want to talk about tonight is another oft-heard mantra:
"The rich aren't paying their fair share!" What never
seems to come up in discussion is what the "fair share"
would actually be. I want some hard numbers here. I remember
reading of a psych experiment years ago in which people were asked
a question something like this: "One man makes $10,000 a year.
Another man makes ten times that amount. In a truly fair income
tax system, how much more should the second man pay in income taxes
than the first man?" The several choices ran from "The
same" through an ascending scale of multipliers, like 2X, 5X,
10X, 50X, 100X, and 1000X. Overwhelmingly, people answered "10X"
and seemed to think (as gleaned from subsequent discussions with
the experimenters) that this was a progressive tax. It's not. It's
a flat tax. The experiment was (if I recall) about leading questions,
and this was only one question among many. But it suggests to me
that we as a nation don't even remotely understand the tax system
that we have, which is unsurprising, given that most Americans probably
couldn't even lift the tax code. This makes the discussion
difficult and complex.
We do have some hard numbers on the state of things as they now
exist: 26% of Federal tax receipts come from the wealthiest 1%,
which comprise 1.1 million individuals. The wealthiest 6% of taxpayers
(5.6 million individuals) contribute 42% of all Federal receipts.
The poorest 40% of Americans pay no Federal taxes at all beyond
the Social Security payroll tax. And that's looking at Federal taxes
generally; if you look at income taxes alone the picture is even
more striking: For tax year 2005, IRS numbers tell us that the wealthiest
1% paid 39% of all income tax revenues. The top 10% paid
70%. This is a pretty progressive system. The question we need to
ask ourselves as a nation is whether it's progressive enough, and
we need to be brave enough to talk about real numbers.
There are two complications that need to be part of that discussion.
First of all, the very rich have a great deal of control
over how much their income is and when they get it. This is why
tax receipts often go down when tax rates are raised: The rich simply
cut back on generating new income and draw on their cash reserves
until they call their tax guys and figure out which loopholes they
can switch to in order to reduce their tax liability. This is in
large part why the very rich have not been champions of the flat
tax or other radical tax simplification schemes: Any such scheme
would increase their liability hugely because such systems offer
little flexibility and few loopholes.
The second complication is related to the first: It's not
a good idea for the Federal government to depend on so few taxpayers
for so much of its tax revenue, because the fewer people are paying,
the "wigglier" and less predictable the numbers get. Even
short-term planning becomes fluky, because a change in tax laws,
or even an innovative new investment mechanism, can sweep across
the finance business a less than a year, making previous tax revenue
projections obsolete. The very rich share a common culture, and
their money is "shaped" by a relatively few large banks
and financial services firms. Small changes in the way money is
handled are thus hugely leveraged.
I haven't even touched on the argument that everybody should pay
something in income taxes simply to have a stake in the economy
and the government. I only want to point out that Federal revenues
would be a lot more stable and predictable if hundreds of millions
of people are each paying a little (and those at the top paying
a lot) than if only the people at the top are paying at all.
And on that note, I've got dogs to walk. More tomorrow. Remember:
Keep your cool! (We may all learn something if you do!)
29, 2008: Suspending the Suspension
By conscious choice I generally don't talk about politics, having
realized by degrees over a couple of decades that politics makes
you stupid. Yes, it does. I'm amazed at the number of highly
educated people I see in the blogosphere screaming anathemas at
one another over a candidate's campaign promises, or some perceived
slight of a partisan icon, etc. etc. The sheer quantity of raw hatred
makes me want to pull the covers up over my head, even when I'm
out in traffic and hear it on the radio, miles away from my comfy
Sleep Number bed. I don't know most of these people, but I do know
a few, and I need to remind one and all that anger is how the Emperor
enslaves you. (You'd think that watching the full Star Wars
saga 23 times would have taught people that much, at least.)
But I'm now annoyed enough to suspend my suspension, and for the
next seven days I will indeed talk about politics, but with a wrinkle:
I will not mention any candidate by name. (Could you do that
too? Dare ya!) Politics is not about specific people or parties,
but rather the ideas surrounding governance, and much could be discussed
today that is not being discussed, because far too many of us have
taken up our spears, smeared on plenty of colorful gonzoberry juice,
tossed our intellects up on the rack over the mantle, and bumbled
out the door to scream tribal insults at anyone who dares disagree
with us. (Tribalism itself is an interesting psychological issue
that I will return to after my self-imposed political embargo resumes.)
Why seven days? Because seven days from today I go back in for
more oral surgery, and at that point it will all be over and I will
pull the covers up over my head.
_ . . . _
So. Have I read the latest candidate platforms? Have I evaluated
the various promised tax cuts and health plans and other goodies?
Of course I have. Have they persuaded me to vote one way or another?
Get real, people: Such things are rubbish. Nothing a candidate
says or does after they declare candidacy is the least bit useful
in making voting decisions. Here's why:
- It's legal to lie. And politicians never lie, right?
- It's legal to change your mind after taking office, even
if you didn't consciously lie during the campaign.
- There is no penalty for failure.
All this being true, candidates can be expected to say whatever
they think will get them elected. The worst we can do is vote them
out of office at some future date, after which they can safely sell
their memoirs to Random House and get rich on the lecture circuit,
irrespective of the number of deaths and lost jobs directly attributable
to their time in office.
All this seems pretty obvious to me. But there's a fourth item
that one would think a semester of high school civics would have
- Presidents are not kings. We are not ruled by presidents.
We are ruled by political parties.
Once a single party holds all three elected branches of national
government (and for the Senate, "holding" means a filibuster-proof
majority) that party pretty much governs alone. Lacking such blanket
control, we are ruled by "the politics of the possible,"
which is a glorious way of saying, "whatever both parties can
compromise on." There is a strong argument for divided government
as a way of minimizing the damage that single-party rule can easily
cause, and that argument is one of the things that informs my voting
Another and more important thing I do is look at what a candidate
did and said (in government or outside of government) before
he or she declared candidacy. Voting records matter greatly. The
political culture in which a candidate grew up is also pertinent.
One can learn a fair amount about a candidate by looking at who
their friends are, what their religion is, where they went to college,
where and in what industry they worked prior to working in government,
and so on. The key here is what the person was like before election
to office was in the picture. With long-time career politicians
this is tricky, but it can still be done.
The final factor, of course, may be the most important of all:
Look at where their money is coming from. The first thing
that any candidate does after election is pay back big campaign
donors with political favors that make the world safer for them.
The little guys don't matter at all. The big-money donors basically
own both parties and candidates. I hear a lot of tribalists deny
this, but it's true. It's how the system works. We're about to see
it happen again. Just watch.
28, 2008: Odd Lots
- I've posted a significant update of my
Carl & Jerry page, with new material on John T. Frye,
including the conclusion I've drawn (with help from 1910, 1920,
and 1930 census records provided by Bob Ballantine W8SU) that
Bailey Frye was not John Frye's brother. Bob also sent out a scan
of W9EGV's QSL card, worked up against a 50s cover (not sure precisely
what issue) of Boy's Life. New details from newspaper clippings
sent me by Michael Holley flesh out the man a little. He was quite
a guy. Do take a look.
- Science is good at puncturing legends, and German
researchers digging around in the former backyard of Martin Luther
have deflated the legend that Luther was a humble monk (and, by
implication, starving) but was instead born to an upper-class
family and became a prosperous man who weighed 23 stone, 8 pounds
(330 pounds for us Yanks) and ate goose, young piglet, several
kinds of fish, and (egad) robins. Nor did he pound his 95 theses
to the door of the Wittenburg cathedral in a fury with nails,
as legend holds, but instead used drawing pinswhat in America
we call thumb tacks. Oh, the humanity...
- While researching Marian apparitions for a seminar I'm teaching
at our church in November, I ran across the Apparitions
of Jesus and Mary Reference Chart. It sounds silly, but trust
me: The apparition curve has gone exponential in the last 30 years,
and you can't tell the Marys without a program anymore.
- I'm in the Chicago area for a few days, and found on my arrival
that the legendary Choo-Choo
Restaurant in Des Plaines (just down the street and around
the corner from our condo) is in danger of being razed to make
room for a new police station. There's a
Web site for gathering protest and forwarding it to the City
of Des Plaines, which apparently can either raze the Choo-Choo
or the defunct Masonic temple across the street. I don't quite
understand why that's a hard decision.
- Harry Helms sends word that TV Guide, which Rupert Murdoch
bought ten years ago for three billion dollars, has
been sold for...a buck. Boy, the magazine business is not
what it used to be. (If it were, I'd still be in it.)
reports a bit of useful black humor, in that Codeweavers (makers
of the Crossover product line) gave the Bush administration a
challenge: Reduce the cost of gasoline in the Twin Cities below
$2.79 a gallon, and they would give away their products for an
entire day. Well, courtesy the recent financial meltdown (which
was not caused exclusively or perhaps even primarily by the Bush
administration, by the way) gas has gone south of $2.79, and while
the Codeweavers site has been Slashdotted into paralysis, there
is a facility online whereby the firm will email you an unlock
code for something. I've been meaning to try Crossover Linux for
some time. Here's my chance, I guess. And gas
in Colorado Springs is even cheaper than that. Inc(Boggle);
22, 2008: The "Pepper Riots" and the PNCC
History is often written by the victors, and one of the gnarliest
problems with victor history is not what the victors say, but what
they leave out. You can ask the losers what they think, but sometimes
what the victors leave out is something the losers would just as
soon forget as well.
I learned something today about the founding of the Polish
National Catholic Church, the first significant Old Catholic
jurisdiction in America. The history we have of the PNCC describes
the the tension between the predominantly Irish Roman Catholic clergy
in America and the waves of dirt-poor Polish immigrants who started
arriving in the late 1880s. This tension did exist and was the energizing
force behind the Polish Old Catholic movement, but the actual triggering
incident in the split between Polish immigrants and the Roman Catholic
Church may have been a riot at St.
Hedwig's Church in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago.
Some of the story is here;
scroll down about a third of the way through the article. I'll summarize:
Overwhelmed by the numbers of new immigrants pouring into Bucktown,
the Polish-American pastor of St. Hedwig's brought in Fr. Anthony
Kozlowski, a fiery, European-educated young Polish priest to help
minister to the parishioners, few of whom spoke English. St. Hedwig's
was under the administration of the Resurrectionists, an order of
priests of mostly Polish extraction. Their former nationalities
aside, the Resurrectionists were conservative and fiercely loyal
to the Pope. The order attempted to play down the Polishness of
religious expression at St. Hedwig's. Many of the younger immigrants
were suspicious of the order, thinking that it was being pressured
by the Irish hierarchy that otherwise ran the American church, and
the Chicago church in particular. Details are thin, but in early
1895, Kozlowski led a revolt against the Resurrectionist pastor,
Thaddeus Barzynski, and his brother Joseph Barzynski, that eventually
resulted in two-thirds of the St. Hedwig's congregation quitting
the church and following Kozlowski away from governance by the Pope.
The revolt went critical on February 7, 1895. Kozlowski's hotheads
broke into the St. Hedwig's rectory, where the Barzynskis had barricaded
themselves, and assaulted the priests. The police were called, and
found a crowd of 3,000 immigrants milling around the church. When
the officers attempted to disperse the crowd, several protesters
threw powdered red pepper in their faces. Dozens were injured in
the ensuing brawl, and Chicago's (Irish) Roman Catholic archbishop
shut down St. Hedwig's for several months.
By that time, the 1,000 or so immigrants who objected to Papal
rule had bought land a few blocks away and began built their own
Saints Cathedral. This is where my other histories pick up:
Kozlowski traveled to Berne, where he had earlier met the the leaders
of the European Old Catholic Church. The Old Catholic bishops of
Germany, Switzerland, and Holland consecrated him as the first bishop
of the Polish Catholic Church of America. A similar but unrelated
situation was then playing out in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in which
a parish priest named Francis Hodur broke with the Pope and in 1897
founded the Polish National Independent Catholic Church, again outside
Papal control. Still more Polish-American groups broke with the
Pope as the 1890s wound down, including a major one in Buffalo and
smaller ones in Cleveland and other cities. In the years after Kozlowski
died unexpectedly in 1897, the European Old Catholics persuaded
the various American parishes of independent Polish Catholics to
unite under a new banner, the Polish National Catholic Church. In
1907 Hodur was consecrated bishop by the same groups that had consecrated
Kozlowski, and he led the PNCC throughout his long life until his
death in 1953.
It's interesting to see where the various histories disagree: The
current Roman Catholic pastor of St. Hedwig's of Chicago provided
the factual information on Kozlowski's revolt that I summarized
above, but suggested that the Polish National Catholic Church never
really went anywhere. Not so: The PNCC was a force in American Catholicism
as long as there were Polish-speaking communities in America, and
only began to decline after the children of Polish immigrants assimilated
into English-speaking American culture after WWII. (There has been
a resurgence of PNCC parishes in Wisconsin and other places in the
past few years, serving recent Polish immigrants.) Histories of
the PNCC emphasize the heroic efforts of Bishop Hodur, even though
Kozlowski was the first Polish American Catholic to quit the Roman
church, and made the European Old Catholics aware of Polish discontent
with Papal Catholicism. Riots of Poles against the Roman Catholic
Church happened in other cities as well as Chicago, but PNCC histories
tiptoe very lightly around them. Histories of the PNCC published
by the PNCC mention Kozlowski only in passing, if they mention
him at all.
Once again, the lesson is this: If you want anything approaching
the truth, you have to listen to both sides. And sometimes,
you have to fill in the gaps that neither side wishes to fill. But
hey, who ever said history was an easy subject?
21, 2008: Bending Your Thumb
was given Carol's sister's old 2002-era Dell laptop recently, in
hopes of degunking it and making it useful in Carol's hobby room
for Web lookups. My approach in dealing with the machine was what
I generally do: Leave it off-network, and plug in a USB thumb drive
full of portable degunking utilities. Being in a hurry rarely leads
to anything good, and what I was not used to was a laptop
in which the USB ports are on the spine of the machine rather than
one side or another. So I plugged it into the back, and at some
time during my first ninety seconds in front of the laptop, I tipped
it back and up on its spine to see if the battery lock had come
loose on the bottom plate. The obvious result is shown above.
Dratz. Cruzer Minis are getting increasingly uncommon, and this
was literally the first time that I have ever had one go bad on
me, whether I was the proximal cause of badness or not. Astonishingly,
the drive still works, though the metal USB connector is now holding
on solely by its printed circuit contacts. Fortunately, there was
nothing on the drive but software that I have elsewhere, so it went
into the trash without huge regrets. Not huge. Not small. Middling.
20, 2008: Odd Lots
- Sorry to be gone so long here; I haven't felt well for some
days and did not do my usual daily quota of follow-your-nose Web
exploration. Part of it is the politics; I seem to be hitting
the I-Can't-Stand-It-Anymore level about three weeks earlier than
I did in 2004. The rest seems to be the result of eating too many
MSG-laden barbecue potato chips.
- Or maybe it's all the purely amateur reporting on the current
financial crisis, declaring that it's either the end of the world
or already well past it. Michael Covington (who would probably
win any contest for World's Sanest Man) has some perspective on
financial crisis and the
stock market's recent fall. Read them, and heed the advice
printed on the front cover of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the
- I learned yesterday that Herb S. Brier W9EGQ was a paraplegic
and could not walk. Like John T. Frye, he lived in Indiana (Gary)
and was almost entirely self-taught in electronics. Bob Ballantine
W8SU wrote up a
short bio on Brier, and if you ever followed his Novice columns
in the 50s and 60s, do read it. The closeness of the two men's
call signs (W9EGQ and W9EGV) is probably a coincidence; as best
we can tell the two men did not know one another.
- If you build radios, particularly tube or crystal sets, The
Radio Board is worth a look. The sheer amount of cumulative
tube-hacking expertise there is mind-boggling.
- The local newspapers have been breathlessly reporting rampant
theft of campaign signs from both sides of the spectrum, and now
that several perps have been caught, it turns out that they were...junior
high kids! Wow! (Like I couldn't have told you that.) The little
snots are not being charged with anything; after all, theft is
political speech. Solution: Force them to give their allowances
for the next year to the parties whose signs they stole, and wear
a T-Shirt printed with that party's canididate's portrait.
- Pete Albrecht sent me a link to a
PDF railroad map of Illinois, containing all currently active
- And while I'm at it, let me point you to Pete's
photos of Stephan's Quintet, a group of five close-set galaxies
(two are actually foreground objects) that are one of the meanest
challenges for backyard galaxy collectorsespecially if your
backyard is in Costa Mesa. The group is fascinating, and this
article about them is worth reading.
- From David Stafford comes an article about what
it's like to be a professional term paper writer.
- Once again, The Economist proves itself to be one of
the few intelligent print mags remaining by explaining why
even peer-reviewed scientific journals are not as trustworthy
as we would like. (The Atlantic is on my S-list again
for running too much politics; maybe I'll resubscribe in December.)
- Here's a
robot that carries your houseplants to a spot in the livingroom
where there's more sunlight. It's unclear what happens when
the robot tries to share the sunbeam with the dog. I guess it
depends on the dog; QBit would tear it to shreds; Aero would lift
his leg on it. Suum quique.
15, 2008: Odd Lots
- Speaking of sunspots (see yesterday's entry) The Boston Globe
posted a series of some
of the most amazing photographs of the Sun that I've ever
seen. I'm not sure there's much more I can say but go look.
- More sunspot stuff: Wikimedia has a
very nice graph of sunspot peaks since we started tracking
them more or less scientifically in 1749. I have sometimes wondered
if better instruments built in the last 100 years have led to
higher sunspot counts, simply because we can see smaller and shorter-lived
spots, but supposedly that's been taken into account. My one serious
quibble with the associated writeup is that it's the Wolf Minimum
and not the Maunder Minimum that corresponds to the beginning
of the Little Ice Age. Maunder just made it worse, and Europe's
coldest era does indeed correspond to a 70-year near-absence of
spots between 1645 and 1715.
- The Make Blog aggegated an item on a
beambot built in...1912. It works essentially the same way
Popular Electronics Emily robot that I built in 1962,
minus the solid state current amplifier. Relays can "amplify"
current in a snappy, sparky, ozone-y kind of way, and this device
has a definite steampunkish air about it.
- I am two days older than musician/composer David
Arkenstone, and we're both Chicago boys. Didn't know that
until ten minutes ago. Will probably forget it sooner or later,
but not in time to make room in my head for more useful knowledge.
- More of what my sister calls "brain sludge": I built
my first kite in September 1962. How do I know this? I remember
pulling a sheet of newspaper off the top of the pile in the basement,
and seeing the ad announcing the permiere of "The Beverly
Hillbillies," complete with an Al
Hirschfield caricature of the Clampett clan in their truck.
I had read of his habit of sneaking his daughter Nina's name into
every one of his cartoons (I think in the Saturday Evening
Post) and took time to find it. I then used the sheet in the
kite, which flew well, and was the first of many to be made of
newspaper, and other (odd) things. Now, howcome I can remember
this so vividly, and still have to think hard about where I left
my damned cellphone ten minutes ago?
says something about human nature, and nothing good. Me, I prefer
cars that don't go off the road, though I have eaten and enjoyed
a number of smoked chubs that looked very angry.
- The email consensus is that the Turtle Wax Turtle was indeed
atop the Wendell Bank Building at Ashland and Ogden. One correspondent
asked the obvious: "Why not email the Turtle Wax people who
posted the video?" Duhh. Will do. Sorry.
14, 2008: The Sunspot Curse
Sure as hell, every time I go looking for sunspots, they run screaming.
I was first licensed as a ham radio operator three whole solar cycles
ago, and when I finally got my
haywire, buzzing, borderline lethal homebrew transmitter running
in 1973, Cycle 20 was rolling over on its back and kicking its legs
in the air. It didn't seem fair: Most of the reason I started studying
for the ticket was that my friends were speaking glowingly of how
you could work Rangoon on three milliwatts into a bent paperclip
in 1968. (And you only needed one milliwatt in 1957...) By
the time Cycle 21 was peaking in 1980, I had discovered computers
in a big way, and my trusty Kenwood mostly gathered dust. And of
course, when the next peak rolled around in 1990, I was working
myself to exhaustion getting PC Techniques off the ground.
When Cycle 23 peaked in early 2001, the ionosphere was screaming
again, and my publishing company, which had expanded so amazingly
in 1990, was imploding along with the tech bubble. I had other things
to think about.
So now life has settled down, and I have a marvelous multiband
dipole up in the rafters. I
need to talk some sense into my fire sensors, but the shielded
alarm wire is on order and the rest is seat-of-the-pants attic carpentry.
By the time the warm-weather QRN has receded south of the equator
to deafen the VHs instead of me, I will have the best antenna system
I've had in a long time. (Not like I've ever have anything especially
jazzy.) Alas, the sunspots ran screaming three years ago, and the
sun's complexion has rarely been this clear nor healed so rapidly
once the occasional blemish appears. Supposedly, the first Cycle
24 sunspots have begun showing up, but they are so small that they
can only be seen in significant telescopes, and disappear again
in only hours. I'm sitting here starting to stress: What's
going to keep me from getting on the air at the next peak in 2012?
Oh, wait, I forgot: The
world's going to end that year.
Bummer. I need to work on my timing.
11, 2008: The Turtle Wax Turtle
in Chicago (Pete Albrecht and I are still trying to figure out precisely
where) there was once a very Gothic-looking building with a giant
turtle on top of it. It was the Turtle Wax turtle, of course, and
it existed when I was quite young. Any time we'd be in the car passing
by it, my folks would very carefully point it out. That would have
been 1958-1962 or so. Pete thinks the building is the Wendell Bank
Building at the intersection of Madison, Ashland, and Ogden, and
it certainly looks right, though Pete remembers the sign being somewhere
on Cicero and not Ashland. I confess that I have no idea, but that
intersection would have been on the way to visit my grandfather
and Uncle Louie, so it's a plausble hypothesis.
search for the abode of the Really Big Turtle did turn up an interesting
little video on the
main Turtle Wax history page about Ben Hirsch and the genesis
of Turtle Wax. Hirsch invented Plastone Car Polish, which became
Turtle Wax after Hirsch stopped by Turtle Creek near Beloit and
had the brainstorm that his car polish created a "hard shell
finish." Hirsch also invented the chocolate-covered banana
on a stick and a few other things, though I suspect he made most
of his money on Turtle Wax. The video shows some stills of the Big
Turtle being erected and is worth a look, especially since it shows
the monumental size of the statue. The video also includes an animated
ad from the 1950s that's worth the cost of admission. The turtle
sounds like Jimmy Durante.
I'm a little surprised that something that big and that iconically
Chicago has been so little recorded online. It may be that it existed
for only a few years, and it may have been moved to another location
at some pont. We're looking for better information and I'll post
any updates here as they happen.
7, 2008: All Dogs Go To Heaven
Sam Paris sent me an image that's been bouncing around the Net
for some time now, and I roared. It's funny on the face of it, whether
you know anything about religion or notbut if you've struggled
like I have with the difficulties of understanding the several competing
concepts of God, salvation, and the life to come, it was, well,
I understand that it's not real, and in fact was created with Church
Sign Generator. I don't know where it came from so I can't credit
it, but read
it all the way down. Yee-hah!
Where the topic comes up for discussion, I've heard many people
say that the descriptions fed to us in childhood of Hell were vivid
and very detailedbut Heaven was always vague, colorless, and
ultimately boring. I keep flashing on the classic Gahan Wilson cartoon
of some guy with wings and a halo sitting alone on a cloud, thinking
to himself: "I sure wish I'd brought a magazine."
Although the Catholic Powers go out of their way to deny it, buried
deep in Catholic culture and tradition is a very radical kind of
universalism. God did not create the physical universe as a temporary
nuisance to be endured and then left with no regrets. The physical
universe is in fact a crude, low-res reflection of higher realities
that we simply cannot apprehend in this life. One metaphor might
be Olaf Stapledon's cosmology from Star
Maker, in which the Star Maker crafts a steady succession
of increasingly mature creations, each creation "better"
in a metaphysical sense than the one before. Another metaphor might
be one I heard in college 35 years ago: That our physical creation
is a faint echo of a higher world, which in turn is a slightly clearer
and louder echo of an even higher world, and so on far beyond our
ability to grasp. At each level there will be challenges, struggle,
and probably suffering appropriate to our levels of spiritual development.
Creation was in fact a far, far bigger Bang than we think.
So do dogs go to heaven? Hardly. They are already there.
And when we leave this world and continue our long walk back toward
the Creator, they will be right there beside us.
5, 2008: Odd Lots
- Small, short-lived sunspots are starting to turn up on a fairly
regular basis. (I monitor spaceweather.com
daily.) Their polarity suggests that they belong to the long-delayed
Cycle 24, but they are so small as to be almost invisible without
a powerful solar telescope, and many vanish within 24 hours of
their initial detection. So we could still be facing something
like a Maunder Minimum, with small and short-lived spots keeping
the count up even with generally minimal solar activity. The coming
year will be especially interesting in solar astronomy.
- I ran across a
fascinating couple of homebrew radio projects, and the tube
design is especially intriguing. If you understand tubes even
a little bit, read the
article (PDF) on the low-voltage 3GK5 "Hellenedyne"
one-tube reflex AM receiver. This is like nothing I've never seen
before, and it's making me itch to throw one together just to
see what this peculiar tube can do.
- This is humor for deep, deep railroad geeks only, but wow: Parodies
of classic locomotive designs, some of them realized as HO
scale models. Ok, you may not think these are funny without knowing
a little bit about railroad history, but hey, there's just something
inherently silly about a locomotive painted with the legend "Wrong
Island." Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.
- Also from Pete: Suppose that Tolkien's Hobbits, out from under
their terror of the Dark Lord, had a thousand years or so (Hobbits
don't hurry) to develop a reasonable technological civilization.
Their astronomical observatories might well look like this,
which is in fact a working observatory in Potsdam, Germany, named
for Albert Einstein (I can picture Buildo Baggins, a distant descendent
of the Sackville Bagginses, analyzing variable star luminosity
curves at those desks, between bites of bread spread with entirely
too much butter...)
- Interestingly, the ebook edition of my Souls in Silicon
collection is outselling the print edition 3 to 1. Even more interestingly,
I make 23c more per copy on the ebook edition, priced at
$3.99 vs. This is an extremely useful dataset, and I'm tempted
to drop the price on Cold Hands to $2.99 when I release
it in December, just to see how it does.
3, 2008: Three Days in Hot Water, with Color
Yesterday was our 32nd wedding anniversary, so Carol and I took
the puppies up to Woodmen Kennel on Wednesday and then blasted over
Ute Pass to one of our favorite places: Mt. Princeton Hot Springs
Resort. It's a little south of Buena Vista, Colorado, and only 110
miles from our front door. I
reported on it briefly back in 2004, but the resort has changed
hands in the past four years and the new owners are putting a lot
of work and money into it. Brand new log cabins are going up on
both sides of Chalk Creek, and there's a pavilion for weddings and
other events. All that being the case, it's no longer the cheap
date it was in 2004, but I definitely feel it's still worth the
price. (~$120/night in the off season, including October.)
The gimmick is that by the side of the creek, water comes bubbling
up from parts unknown at 133° F. By judiciously mixing the hot
springs water with filtered creek water (which is Rocky Mountain
snowmelt and generally in the mid-high 40s) they keep two huge pools
steaming away at human-tolerable temps. The large pool (at left
in the photo above) is a trifling 95°. The small pool is kept
at 104° and is basically a 35' by 15' hot tub. If that's not
hot enough for ya, there's a steam room in the middle. The resort's
most unique gimmick is the creek pools: Because the water comes
up from the ground on one bank of the creek, the resort has artfully
arranged boulders on the creekbed so that the hot water mixes dynamically
with water from the creek, keeping the temps generally in the 102°
vicinity. And they're adjustable: If you want a cooler pool, you
shove a boulder a little to let more of the creek in. If you want
a hotter pool, you put small stones and creekbed sand in the cracks
to keep more of the creek water out. Part of the fun is that the
seep rate changes from second to second, so now and then you get
a burst of hot water or ice water and there's no way to know what's
coming. The brave are regularly observed to hop from the hot pools
right into Chalk Creek. They always seem to sound European when
they yelp. You'd think that they don't have cold rivers in Germany
The resort is open year-round, irrespective of temperature. (They
do close when snow makes the county road impassable.) This includes
the creek pools. We want to go back in January to see how much steam
comes off the 104° pool, and whether the Europeans are still
hopping into the creek.
The resort uses the hot water for everything. They have to; every
well on the property brings up hot water, though not all of it is
at 133°. The rooms are heated with hot springs water. There
are little radiator/fan things in the walls and if you want heat,
you turn on the fan. If you don't want heat you get some anyway;
there are pipes everywhere full of 133° water. The solution:
Open the windows. The toilets flush with hot springs water. Think
about it. (And don't flush while sitting down...) The faucets run
hot springs water from both the hot and cold spigots, but the water
going to the cold spigot runs through pipes somewhere that bleed
some of the heat off, probably into the creek. The downside there
is that the longer you run the cold water, the hotter it gets. Showers
are of necessity quick.
The food is good, and the restaurant plays some satellite channel
that specializes in top 40 songs from the 80s, everything from Roseann
Cash to Dire Straits. Lots of Dire Straits. Out by the hot
pools, they play jazz banjo improv, or else whatever the crew on
duty happens to like. It was tough to predict, but after a couple
of days, I realized that I will take jazz banjo over jazz sax six
throws out of four.
Yesterday morning we took the road west, up into the mountains,
to see the fall colors. We chose wisely: The colors were at their
peak, and were breathtaking. You could trace the paths that water
takes flowing down the mountains by the bands of yellow aspen groves.
After the first hour or two, I was very glad I have a 2GB SD card
in my camera.
At the end of the "good" dirt road pavement was the famous
Colorado sort-of-a-ghost-town, St.
Elmo. The opening of the central Colorado mineral district in
the early 1880s made St. Elmo happen, and the Denver,
South Park, and Pacific narrow-gauge railroad kept the supplies
flowing in and the ore flowing out for almost forty years. St. Elmo
is not quite dead; people still live in some of the ancient buildings,
which are painstakingly kept looking ramshackle because it's what
people expect, even though the old photographs make the town look
far better, and almost sprightly. Land there is mind-bogglingly
expensive, and encumbered by deed restrictions that require that
your buildings look "historically accurate," which as
best I can tell means looking like they're about to fall over. Maybe
living at 10,000 feet will do that to you.
The old DSP&P right of way is still there and can be traced,
and parts of it are now a hiking trail. I tried to climb a 100-foot
embankment up to the trackbed from one of the small lakes that the
Forest Service maintains along Chalk Creek, but 10,000 feet will
do other things to you as well, especially when you're 56. Note
that it didn't stop me; it just made me angry, and I will return
and get up to the alignment at some point in the future.
In summary: Our trip was a complete success. Carol and I allowed
ourselves the privilege of staying in bed and cuddling until 8:00AMwhich
is easier when Aero hasn't been throwing himself bodily against
the walls of his kennel to get our attention since 6:15. We took
care to remember not only why we fell in love but why we stayed
in love all these years: We continue to look at the world like a
couple of wide-eyed kids, practicing the art of being delighted.
Taking delight in one another makes it easier to take delight in
the world, and vise versa. (Being jaded is for statues.) 32 years?
Heh. We're just getting into second gear!