Thursday, May 24, 2012

Early Summer Interlude

Time for a break. Back posting again June 10, more or less. This year, everything from around Memorial Day to around my birthday gets to be my own string of holidays. That doesn't mean I won't be working much of the time, though occasional days of indolence might be possible. Or I might see a few things worth describing later. I can only hope.

Or I might try something new. I already did that yesterday when I sent a text message. I've written millions of words of text in my life (a few years ago, I estimated 250,000 a year, both for-pay and not), but none to feed into a phone. Some e-mail messages are so short they might as well be text message, but strictly speaking, they don't count.

Lilly has taken to sending me text messages occasionally, which I see about half of the time. Usually along the lines of "I'm here, doing this." If I want to answer, I call her. But yesterday, on a whim, I followed the directions to answer via text. My answer: OK.

My attitude is still indifference when it comes to this kind of communication. It's a generational attitude, of course, but I don't mind being on the non-youthful side of this one.

Cole Porter's birthday is coming up in early June, which is a good reason for posting this version of "You're the Top," with Porter singing the song himself. Sure, there are more polished versions, but I like this one.

Also, annotated lyrics, including some not in the version above. I have to say I didn't know what a Bendel bonnet was either. It might have been the top once, but sic transit gloria mundi. I also have to say I've never had a strong urge to read Ulysses in time for Bloomsday, which is also coming up.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Wrong Box

The movie The Wrong Box (1966) is a fun farce. I saw it more than once on TV when I was a kid. Or saw parts of it different times, but in any case it was one of those childhood movies that stuck with me. Especially the montage near the beginning, when members of the tontine — bold Victorians, all — are shown embarking on adventures in distant lands and dying in comic ways, such as the fellow who reaches a mountain peak and is swallowed by the mountain the moment he plants the Union Jack on it.

I saw it again recently and appreciated it in a way I didn't 40+ years ago. Back then I had no idea how much British comedic talent was on screen: Michael Caine as the main character, but also John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Peter Sellers, and especially Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The following, which I'm quoting from memory, wouldn't have been so funny in the hands of lesser comedians, but these two make it work:

John Finsbury (Moore): Why do I get all the dirty work?

Morris Finsbury (Cook): Because you're incredibly stupid.

And then there was character actor Wilfred Lawson as Peacock the Butler, who stole nearly every scene he appeared in. Apparently Lawson was a long-time alcoholic and by the time he was in The Wrong Box, the condition was about to kill him. He died about three months after the movie was released. His premature decrepitude suited the character, which imdb describes as the "hilariously pixillated, decrepit butler Peacock."

Michael Finsbury: [examining a Classical Greek statue] Is it a fraud, Peacock?

Peacock: Life is a fraud, Master Michael.

I think he meant it.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Recent Complaint Letter

To: Customer Service, Mid-Sized Retail Chain

Date: April 29, 2012

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is regarding account number 0000-0000-0000, under the name Us Guys.

Recently, you charged me a $25 late fee for a payment that was apparently one day late. But it wasn't really late, since I paid the bill electronically -- a next-day payment -- on April 10, four days ahead of the due date. The bank records the payment date as April 11. Mysteriously, you record the payment date as April 16.

In any case, this is outrageous treatment for a customer. I do not have to use your card or shop at your store.

I will pay the $27.68 for my recent purchases. Otherwise, I am asking you to cancel the $25 fee.

You may, of course, continue to bill me for $25, which I will eventually pay. If you do so, however, I will cancel my account and take my business elsewhere, under separate cover. So it is your choice: $25 now and zero business later, or my continued patronage.

I'm glad to report that the retailer saw things our way and cancelled the outrageous charge.


Monday, May 21, 2012

The Butt-End of the Eclipse

What could the recent eclipse augur? The death of disco music stars, maybe.

Yuriko tells me that the Japanese media were all atwitter about the annular eclipse over the islands. As well they should be, since apparently the last time Japan saw a ring-of-fire eclipse was nearly 1,000 years ago. Yamato Japan, that is, since Okinawa caught one only a few decades ago.

Not long ago I bought a few pairs of eclipse glasses. Were these even on the market in the mid-80s, the last time I experienced a partial solar eclipse? I don't remember. I didn't have any anyway. Actually I bought the glasses for the Transit of Venus next month, but they came in time for the partial eclipse.

Except that I didn't think we'd get to see any of the eclipse, since it rained much of yesterday afternoon. But at about 7 o'clock some of the clouds cleared away. Since the sun was pretty low, we went to the nearby park and stood on some of the playground equipment. It was still hazy, but even so a slightly clipped Sun was just visible through the glasses for a few minutes, before dropping below the trees.

The transit is near sunset, too. We're going to have to find a place with fewer trees, or a higher elevation.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Item From the Past: Austin '88

On May 20, 1988, I flew to Austin for a long weekend. My old friend Tom was graduating from UT. Later, instead of detailing the weekend in diary form, I did a schematic.

I'm not going to transcribe the entire thing, but it shows my arrival on a United flight into Austin -- I'm surprised I didn't fly Southwest -- and then my movements afterward: to Tom's apartment, Kirby Lane for dinner, back to Tom's, and then that night's sleep, which was disturbed by cats. The next morning, we bought groceries, helped Tom clean up, and then went with a number of people to Carmelo's for the "Graduation Banquet," as I called it.

After that, we hung out awhile, eventually attending Tom's graduation. Bill Moyers was the commencement speaker. For dinner that night, we went to a place called Trudy's, a Mexican restaurant ("Saturday Night's All Right for Eating," I called the meal). That night's sleep was "smooth" -- the cats were quiet, I guess. The next day we had breakfast at a place called the Omletry [sic] and spent some time at Pease Park in Austin. I went to the airport after that.

The Joneses together for the occasion (from left): Richard, Lisa, Tom, Zan.

Tom, Nancy and I, during an interlude.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

RIP, Other Joe Montana

Yes, I would say spring is here. No doubt about it. My gas bill came today and it wasn't that high.

And there's all that greenery out there. I saw a fair amount on a drive I had to take toward Chicago today, but not actually into the city. East on Irving Park Road, skirting O'Hare's south end to an event in Rosemont, the little burg nestled like a truffle next to O'Hare; then home, westward by way of Touhy and some other streets that run north of the airport. So I drove an elongated loop around one of the busiest airports in the world, seeing a fair number of planes arriving and departing.

Driving in, I saw two separate marquees mentioning Joe Montana. One said, "We'll miss you, Joe Montana." The other, "Joseph Montana," with a birth year I didn't catch and a death year of 2012.

I thought, the football player is dead? I hadn't heard. But that's the kind of thing I'm likely to miss. Interesting that two organizations with marquees -- a business and the Schiller Park Village Hall -- wanted to memorialize the man that way. Later, I remembered to check, and the football player is not dead.

From the Franklin Park Herald-Journal: "Leyden Township Trustee Joseph Montana, 74, husband of Schiller Park Mayor Anna Montana for 49 years, died Monday. Joseph Montana also was a member of the Schiller Park Village Health Board.

“ 'The village’s most heartfelt and sincere condolences go out to Mayor Montana and her family during this difficult time,' said Kenneth Kollar of the Franklin Park/Schiller Park Chamber of Commerce."

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Meeting My Minimum Daily Requirement of Data

Why didn't I know this sooner? Put "unemployment rate: X city or county or state" into Google and it will pull up the current Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. I came to this today after running across a pet peeve of mine: undated data.

The web site I was consulting had all kinds of economic data about a certain place, nicely arrayed in a table, with comparisons to other polities (state and national numbers). Just what I was looking for. Except that it didn't have a date — not even a year. Making it, for my purposes, completely useless.

So, I fed Google a bit. Unemployment rate: Schaumburg, IL: 6.4 percent. Middling. Unemployment rate: Fargo, ND: 3.6 percent. We should all be so lucky, though it took a less-than-clean energy boom in the Dakotas to do it. Unemployment rate: Yuma, AZ: 16.1 percent. Just the first place I thought of that I was sure had a lousy rate, and sure enough it does.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Busted Pluto Platter

Until this weekend, I'd never seen a frisbee shatter before. We have a small collection of them, mostly freebies given away to promote something or other, and we've been careless about their storage. They're cheap, wholly replaceable items, after all. If you can't be careless about things like that, you're a candidate for one of the obsessive disorders.

That is to say, three or four of them spent the winter on the ground near the entrance to garage. Ann and I were tossing one of them around the other day, and I decided to throw one at the stout tree in the back yard. To make that mildly satisfying thump when frisbee meets tree.

The thing shattered into one large piece, something like a crescent had been taken off of the disk, and several smaller ones. I'd never seen such a thing happen to a frisbee. The elements must have made the plastic brittle and ready for breakage. I plan to see what happens to some of the other disks when I throw them at the same tree.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day Spuds

A pleasant, at-home weekend. On Sunday the air was so warm and calm that I fired up the ovoid grill to burn excess sticks and convert raw meat into something juicy and fine. At their mother's request — for Mother's Day, you see — the girls did some planting outside, mostly in pots. Some flowers, some herbs. Spring's in full flush.

With the grilled meat we ate, among other things, mashed potatoes out of a bag. On Saturday I happened to be at a large grocery store, a hypermarket really, but not the one that allegedly (ahem) bribed its way to spectacular growth in a certain Latin American country. I saw a bag of Yoder's Whipped Mashed Potatoes (whipped 'n' mashed: their wills thoroughly broken, I'd say), "Like Mom Used to Make!" and "It's Grandma Good!"

How's that for a double matriarchal seal of approval? But I doubt that my mother ever added hydrogenated cottonseed oils, sodium benzoate or sodium acid pyrophosphate (to protect color) to her mashed potatoes. (What color?) Besides potatoes, however, the main ingredients were butter and salt, which are the soul of mashed potatoes.

Anyway, the main selling point was that the sale-by-day was that day, so that a 2 lb. bag cost me 99¢, compared with a regular price of more than $3. Sold. It took about five minutes of nuking and stirring to get the contents ready for the table. For bagged and microwaved spuds, they turned out pretty good. Not an always-alternative to actual mashed potatoes, but much better than dried potato flakes in a box, which I lost any taste for years ago.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Item from the Past: Zion NP

Zion Canyon at Zion National Park, May 2000.

To get a sense of scale, note the people standing on the trail near the bottom of the picture. A fine walk along a river that, I assume, created the canyon in the fullness of geological time.

At one point, the river was shallow enough so that we could stand in it and only get our feet wet. Lilly, who wasn't yet three at the time, was eager to do so, and spent more than a few minutes picking up stones from the water and throwing them back in. The majesty of the canyon didn't impress her, but those rocks sure did.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Creating Permanence in a Specific Location

Press releases include many kinds of information, from complete pabulum to surprisingly useful nuggets of information. Rarely anything I see in one surprises me any more, but today I found one that made me think: this can't be for real.

It concerned a residential development. The quality of the release, I hope, isn't a reflection on the property, though very likely the development will be a fine place to live. This following are the first two sentences of the release, verbatim.

The uprise of building projects in general always show a good sign that the market is turning around for the better. The specs of this listed project while as a whole is impressive, it is not what makes this project the standout in Florida, but instead the standout project in all of the U.S and that is something to be excited about."

Mind you, this went out on PRWeb, so someone paid to have it published. Even though, as you continue to read, you can't help feeling that the writer isn't a native speaker of English.

With the housing market being in the current state of turmoil, consumers are seeking alternative options. The other options include luxury residences such as renting, which do not necessarily involve a mortgage payment or creating permanence in a specific location.

The buildings will be an amazing two to three stories high featuring single flats around 800 square feet to 3 bedroom units including parking garages. There will be a mixed population of occupants including families to singles. With 456 units, this green project will touch many different groups.

There are several individuals that will experience building green and others that will be lucky enough to live green. This is the future for building and we are spreading the message of sustainable building and healthy living.

I can see the writer's giving it the old college try in that weird language, English. But it's a slog for us native speakers to get through, and I can imagine releases of this kind being ignored by members of the media, something you don't want if you're paying to get your message across. The takeaway? Hire a writer from within your language group.

(This, on the other hand, is an example of a well-written press release.)

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

YouTube Revolver

I had the urge to listen to "Tomorrow Never Knows" today, which I probably hadn't heard in 20-plus years, except for the excerpt on Mad Men on Sunday (which I've read cost the show a quarter million). Not owning a copy of Revolver, I naturally went to YouTube to look for it. But I also was astonished to find the entire album (UK version) posted as one chunk.

Not only that, but there are more records: mostly canonical rock albums of the period in the suggestions bar, but a few more recent ones as well. I vaguely thought that there was a 10-minute limit on videos, but I don't really don't pay attention to YouTube that closely. The bigger surprise is that the copyright holders haven't swatted these down. Surely they could. Maybe the postings are considered a free way to market mp3 downloads.

So I listened to "Tomorrow Never Knows." When I heard it in younger days, it was just one of many Beatles songs. Sure, they did songs like that. But I was listening some years after all their work had been released. Now that I know more about popular songs recorded in the decades before it, I have some inkling of how strange the song must have sounded when new; it and most of the album.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Passing by the Beasties

Everyone has a Beastie Boys story, don't they? No? It's never good when anyone only 47 dies of cancer, but I have to say that the band left a very light impression on me. Except for the time I rode in the same El car as a number of Beastie Boys fans. It was a fairly crowded car, but they stood out. How do I know they were Beastie Boys fans? They weren't shy about it.

No property damage or fights occurred during their ride, but they sounded like they were up for either. After a few minutes of noise, the lads got off to see the band at the Aragon Ballroom, which is on the North Side of Chicago, within sight of the El. I did some looking around, and that must have been during the Beasties' infamous 1987 tour.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes in Allmusic: "In fact, Licensed to Ill became the biggest-selling rap album of the '80s, which generated much criticism from certain hip-hop fans who believed that the Beasties were merely cultural pirates. On the other side of the coin, the group was being attacked from the right, who claimed the Beasties' lyrics were violent and sexist and that their concerts -- which featured female audience members dancing in go-go cages and a giant inflatable penis, similar to what the Stones used in their mid-70s concerts -- caused even more outrage. Throughout their 1987 tour, they were plagued with arrests and lawsuits, and were accused of inciting crime."

Remarkably, I'm able to pin it down: They played the Aragon on Friday, March 13, 1987, according to this fellow, who claims to have documented the many concerts he's been to. I'll go along with that. I don't have any record of what I did that night, but I was out doing something, and it's what I think of on those rare occasions when I hear about the band, such as this week.

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Remember the Akron

I forgot about the 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster, which was yesterday, but today's close enough. So I poked around a little because it's easy to find film and audio and a lot of reading about the disaster on line, such as on this page about the history of WLS, where Herb Morrison worked when he made the famed recording describing the explosion and fire as he saw it. The lesson here? Besides not to load your airship with hydrogen, that is. If you want your disaster remembered, point cameras at it.

The point is driven home by the loss of the U.S. Navy airship Akron in 1933. More people died in that disaster than the Hindenburg. Though it was a helium ship, bad weather took it down off the coast of New Jersey (and what is it with New Jersey and airships?). Still, who's heard of that accident anymore? Of course, the Akron was major news at the time, but left no dramatic images. Even the song about it, I think, is lackluster, but things might have been different had Jimmie Rodgers or Woody Gutherie written a song about the Akron, though Rodgers was nearly dead himself by then.

Speaking of helium, years ago I read that the Germans couldn't make enough of it to raise a ship like Hindenburg, so they used hydrogen and tried with German thoroughness to control any possible sources of ignition. In hindsight, not thorough enough. According to this always interesting site devoted to National Historic Chemical Landmarks, the virtual U.S. monopoly on helium also had its advantages in wartime a few years later.

"Large-scale production of helium came too late to be of much value in World War I, but it did play a major role in World War II, when helium-filled U.S. Navy patrol blimps safely escorted thousands of ships carrying troops and supplies," the American Chemical Society says (and they ought to know). "The blimps used sensitive listening devices that when lowered into the water could detect submarines up to five miles away. At the time, the Allies had a virtual monopoly on helium, because the only known gas wells capable of producing helium in large quantities were in the United States and Canada."

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Item From the Past: Mutianyu

Terrific thunderstorms late this morning and early in the afternoon, while we were out and after we got home. May has turned warmish and wet, to contrast with April's dry and cool, and March's summertime preview. Thunder continues to rumble off in the distance even now.

The Nixons went to the Great Wall of China at Badaling. We went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in May 1994, mere weeks after Nixon died, though I'm certain that counts as a coincidence. I've forgotten why we made that choice, but it was an impressive pile of stones, about 50 miles from Beijing. Most of the pictures I've seen capture the arc of the wall as it makes its way atop a wooded ridge, and there's no arguing with fine vistas like that. But the wall has its charms closer up, too.

Little-mentioned in the tourist literature is this stone, not original to the 6th century structure or the Ming reconstruction. It says in German, Chinese and English, besides world peace boilerplate, "In gratitude for the help provided by the Henkel-Group, Düsseldorf, in restoring this section of the wall. Beijing, 1989." Solidarity among socialist nations is fine and dandy, but when you want help restoring a prized historic site and hard-currency earner, hire some West German engineers.

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Springtime Misc.

Recently I interviewed a fellow at Pure Industrial Real Estate Trust, a company whose portfolio is made up of industrial buildings in Canada (I'm using the commercial real estate definition of "industrial," mainly warehouses and distribution centers). The company's acronym is PIRET. I didn't think anything of it until he told me that its symbol on the Toronto Stock Exchange is AAR.UN.  You know, ARR like a PIRET says, he told me. I got a kick out of that.

I pull up Google News every day and see more stories about the election, mostly horse-race coverage. Do I want to read this? No. The election is six months from now. I know who's running. I might take a passing interest when the Republicans fill their VP position, but other than that, this mess can wait till October.

Lilly and I saw some cool cloud-to-cloud lightning this evening, off to the east, where it must have been raining. She hadn't been aware that lightning could do such a thing. I told her that it could; a meteorological teaching moment. Ball lightning didn't come up, though.

Ann did her state report recently: writing, making a cube with pictures and drawings on it, and doing an oral report with props. She picked Texas as her subject. I was able to supply her with a number of props: postcards of various Texas spots, a plastic bluebonnet, a bag of Fritos, a 21 X 34-inch Texas flag that I hang in my office. She said a classmate held it up while she did her report.

But there was more. She wanted some Texas songs. She'd read that "Texas Our Texas" was the state song, so she wanted that on tape to play the class. I didn't tell her how seldom I'd heard it growing up, or the fact that a lot of people — a lot of Texans — think "The Eyes of Texas" is the state song. She wanted two others, and asked me for suggestions, which is a recipe for me suggesting something unusual.

Which I did. I suggested "Galveston," which I hadn't heard in some years. Not really about Texas, though part of the theme, and she took to it, maybe because she'd read about the city in one of her books. It's an example of song that's melodically peppy yet lyrically poignant. Not nearly as many people know the follow-up song, "Dear John, From Galveston," in which the narrator is so upset after receiving the title letter that he takes out an entire nest of Germans or Red Chinese or Viet Cong single-handedly in a berserk fit. Not to worry, he only lost a couple of fingers and some hearing in one ear, and lived out his days quietly as a family man in Houston — he married another girl — working as an appliance, and later car, salesman.

The other song I suggested was "Across the Alley From the Alamo," which doesn't have all that much Texas in it either, except for the essential ingredient of the Alamo, added for euphonious purposes. We played all three songs on YouTube, taping them on one of the tape-using microcassette-recorders I quit using a few years ago in favor of a digital recorder, and she played them for her class. Lo-fi, but passable. If that doesn't count as fair use for educational purposes, I don't know what would. It isn't likely that any of the other kids had ever heard those songs, and maybe the teacher was unfamiliar with them too.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Lion Bridge

During our walk on Sunday at the Poplar Creek Forest Preserve, we came across the Lion Bridge.

I'd never seen it before. But this was a new part of the winding trail for me, passing close to the intersection of Sutton and Golf roads. Just south of the intersection, Sutton crosses Popular Creek, and so does the Lion Bridge, though it's positioned parallel to Sutton, not far to the east. This makes me think that before the modern road was built, an older version of Sutton -- probably a dirt road -- crossed Popular Creek via this bridge. Now the hiking-horse trail crosses via the bridge, with the bicycle trail crossing next to the modern road.

A fine site,, tells me that "Very little is known about the history of this bridge. The designer and contractor is unknown, nor is it known why such elaborate decorative design was applied to this bridge. Nothing about the location of the bridge stands out as reason for the decorative design, which is more like a bridge that would be found in a large city park rather than the relatively open and undeveloped location in which this bridge is located. Constructed in 1906, the bridge is a very early surviving example of a reinforced concrete bridge."

I got as close as I could with my primitive camera, to take a shot of one of the lions.

And of course, we walked across it. Been a while since I was able to walk across a new (to me) bridge.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Hoofprints on the Trail

On Sunday we were at the Poplar Creek Forest Preserve, walking along a unpaved but well-maintained trail in the Shoe Factory Road Woods -- bet there's no other forested area in the world with that name -- and we came across something you don't see too often in the suburbs.

Hoofprints. The hiking path doubled as a horse trail, though none were to be seen at that moment. Still, one had trod by in the not-too distant past, probably on its way back to the horse farm on Bode Road that's surrounded by forest preserve territory.