Sunday, November 11, 2012

Armistice Day 2012

See the next BTST, which is beginning today, though for today only it will have the exact same content.


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

No more posting for a while; the archive issue has carried over to October. I will try a few more fixes, but not for a few more days, since I have boatloads of other work to do. Those 711,000+ words mentioned yesterday were only the nonpaid variety, after all.


Monday, October 01, 2012

The Fractured Archive

Test for October 1, 2012. The archive function at this blog went FUBAR about two weeks ago. No one else might care, but I want all of the entries to archive and be visible when the archive is called up. Fortunately, the problem only seems to confined to the September 2012 entries.

After some time spent on the problem, too much really, I've essentially reposted all of September's entries except for those around the date when the problem started, so that they're part of the new October archive. They aren't quite in order, but I dislike blog entries that go on and on about the mechanics of the blog, I'll leave it at that.

As long as the archive doesn't give me any more trouble, I'll continue at least until February, when I might start a new blog, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of my first entry at the original web log. Since then, counting this entry, I've posted 1,805 times here, along with 565 on the old BTST.

Not sure how many words that would be. An average of 300 per entry, which is just a guess, would put it at only 711,000 words. Gee, you'd think I'd have hit a million by now, but that's because I haven't posted every day. A million words sounds like a lot, but 10 years is 3,650 days plus a couple of leap days, and 3652 x 300 is more than a million.


Stump No Mo'

Sept 17, 2012

More rain tonight, and at one point this evening I drove through it, and saw some vigorous lightning in the sky ahead. Cool air is said to be on its way, a first day of fall to remind us of what's ahead. I don't believe for a moment we'll have two mild winters in a row.

I’m not sure what this machine is called, but a village worker came by last week and used it to grind up the stump of the tree that used to be next to the street in front of my house.

And that was all. The work of the dread emerald ash borer was done.

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Item From the Past: Holy Family Shrine, Gretna, Neb.

Sept 16, 2012

In September 2004, I was on I-80 between Lincoln, Nebraska, and Omaha. I saw a billboard that said that the Holy Family Shrine wasn't far away. It was true. Once you get to the shrine, you realize that it's on a hill with a clear view of the highway in the near distance. According to the billboard and other references, Holy Family Shrine is in Grenta, Nebraska, but in fact it isn't in any town.

It's a charming structure, apparently in the style of Fay Jones, though designed by Jim Dennell of BCDM Architects. It's celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, so without realizing it, I'd come across the shrine when it was still fairly new.

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Scraps of Mid-September

Sept 13, 2012

Some rain, some sun, hot some days, cool others. After dryness and more heat than usual, this September is turning out to be fairly ordinary, at in terms of the weather outside my door.

The gas bill came today. For the period August 10 to September 10, the charge for the natural gas itself was $7.50 – 19.22 therms at 39 cents each. The FAQ section at the U.S. Energy Information Agency reminds me, because I’d forgotten, that a therm equals 100,000 Btus. So we used nearly 2M Btus over 30 days to heat our water and cook some food. For some reason, the thought of using a few million of anything makes me smile.

That’s not the majority of the bill, however. Delivery charges were $14.40, or nearly twice as much as the gas charge. Guess it’s worth it. Natural gas would be a little tricky to pick up and take home yourself.

On the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend, I had jury duty. I have a receipt now to prove that I showed up, as summoned, at the downtown location of the Circuit Court of Cook County on August 29, 2012, and received $17.20 for my trouble. (Almost enough to pay the gas bill.) And what did I do? I read a book and worked on an article on my laptop.

I got a panel number and sat in the non-TV side of the large waiting room and waited. As the morning stretched on, other panel numbers were called and people left the room to report to their judges, but my number wasn’t called. I read 1493 by Charles Mann, an engrossing book about the Columbian Exchange. I worked on my monthly CRE tech article. I waited.

Lunch came and went – there’s a really good pita place, aptly called Pita Express, in the food court of the State of Illinois building (Thompson Center) – and by about 3, only a few of us were left uncalled. The woman in charge of the room then said, “You’ve done your jury duty, come collect your checks.” That was that.

A quote from The New York Times a little while ago, in the obit for actor William Windom:

“While stationed in Frankfurt, during the postwar Allied occupation, [Windom] enrolled in the new Biarritz American University in France and became involved in drama there. ‘To be honest, I signed up because I thought it would be an easy touch,’ he told The New York Times in an interview for this obituary in 2009, ‘and we had heard that actresses had round heels.’ ”

Round heels. There’s some slang you don’t see often any more. Maybe that's just as well, but I still enjoy running across old slang in new articles.

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Play Those 78s

Sept 12, 2012

One more clutch of central-northeastern Wisconsin pictures. While visiting Appleton, I looked around two antique stores. One mostly specializing in fine vintage furniture, the other an “antique mall” with an endless variety of intriguing old stuff. I found some postcards there at reasonable prices.

At the fine vintage furniture store, the Harp Gallery, I saw more old record players than I’ve ever seen in one place. Somehow, I had to take pictures. These are only three of the dozen or so.

I didn’t make notes, so I can’t comment on the exact models. But maybe it’s enough to know that people listened to their “Yes, We Have No Bananas” 78s on machines like these.

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Fox Valley Waters

Sept 11, 2012

The Fox River connects Lake Michigan, near Green Bay, with Lake Winnebago, the largest inland lake in Wisconsin. This is the view from a spot near Vulcan Heritage Park, Appleton, on the river.

Vulcan in this case is named for the Vulcan Street Power Plant, the hydroelectric plant that provided power in the 1880s, as mentioned last week. (The Oneida St. Bridge is the one in the picture.) A little further along the river -- actually it might be part of Lake Butte des Morts, it's hard to tell from the maps -- is a small inlet near the river's meeting with Lake Winnebago, home to boats in the warm months. A view from the aptly name Riverside Park in Neenah.

Not far away is Lakeshore Ave. in Neenah, with its view of the large, shallow Lake Winnebago.


Handcuff Harry and Tailgunner Joe

 Sept 10, 2012

I knew this was coming up, but I'd forgotten that Saturday marked the exact day when Jimmy Carter bested Herbert Hoover as the president with the longest life after his presidency. As the Atlantic article points out, September 8, 2012, was President Carter's 11,544th day as former President Carter, or nearly 32 years. Here's hoping he has some more post-presidential days.

The History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin, started out as a Masonic Temple, but now focuses on local history. Such as the previously mentioned Harry Houdini, master of escape and self-promotion, who has a whole floor devoted to him and his illusions. How is it that the former Erik Weisz (Ehrich Weiss) called Appleton his hometown? "Houdini came to America as a four-year-old boy in 1878," the museum web site says. "His parents moved him and his brothers to Appleton because of a job opening. Houdini's father, Meyer Samuel Weiss, became the community's first rabbi."

But the young Ehrich Weiss left Appleton with his family when he was only seven, after his father lost his job, moving to New York. So "hometown" is a bit of a stretch, but apparently Houdini claimed the town as his own, even asserting that he'd been born there instead of Budapest. Still, Appleton's a good place for such an exhibit, and the museum does well with it, featuring photos of Houdini during his performances, but also more casual shots; handbills and posters; and plenty of Houdini equipment, such as handcuffs and shackles and confining spaces, like a milk can and a simulated Chinese water torture box.

Various exhibits discuss how some of the escapes were done, which apparently upset some current illusionists -- such as David Copperfield, who owns a lot of Houdini artifacts himself -- as if all the information was somehow not on the Internet. There was also an exhibit, complete with seance table, explaining how some of those tricks were done, just as spiritualist debunker Houdini did during his lifetime.

The museum isn't all Houdini. The lower floors feature exhibits about local history, including an assortment of machines made or used in the area. One was a genuine early 20th-century Linotype machine. Considering how ubiquitous they once were, it's odd how few of them I've run across. Maybe I'm not looking in the right museums.

Right at the foot of the stairs in the basement is a bronze bust in a clear display case. "People ask us why we keep a bust of Joseph McCarthy," our guide said, anticipating the question. "Like him or not, he's part of our history." Sounds reasonable; he was born in Grand Chute, near Appleton, and is buried at St. Mary's Parish Cemetery in Appleton, which wasn't on my press tour. No point in pretending he didn't exist.

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Bergstrom-Mahler and Its Paperweights

Sept 9, 2012

Whenever I see glasswork that's a few centuries old -- and that's always in a museum -- I wonder, how could those items survive that long? Maybe they could under the care of a museum, but the likes of  enameled beakers, covered goblets and engraved tumblers from 17th- and 18th-century Germany (for example) were made to be used, even if they were expensive items in their time. Gravity has been continuous every moment since then, and so has the unpredictable motion of people, animals or waves of energy, such as when your city is bombed.

The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah, Wisconsin, has some fine examples of centuries-old Germanic glassware, all clearly survivors of time and random motion. It also features interesting newer glass as well, plus temporarily exhibits. And then there's the paperweight collection, which includes more than 3,000 objects: whirls of color and shapes embedded in glass globes.

I've only ever seen its like once before, the Arthur Rubloff paperweight collection at the Art Institute of Chicago (1,500+ objects). I understand Rubloff gallery has been expanded recently after some years mostly in storage, but I remember when some of the paperweights were exhibited near the front of the museum.

Paperweight collecting sounds eccentric, and maybe it is, but there are some astonishingly beautiful paperweights in the world, if the Bergstrom-Mahler collection is any indication. Click on the
for a better view, but photos displayed on line really don't do the three-dimensional, well-lit objects much justice.

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