Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Clark Street Bridge

No more posting until after Labor Day. Maybe I'll see a thing or two between now and then. It's been known to happen.

This is the Clark Street Bridge in downtown Chicago, as it appeared very recently.
This is the Clark Street Bridge, rising into the air. Sure, it's pivoting on its fulcrum, but still. An engineering marvel.

Today I also learned that Carl Sandburg wrote a poem called "Clark Street Bridge." He must have been inspired by the older one on the site, since the bascule bridge pictured here was built in 1929, while the poem dates from the 1910s.

DUST of the feet
And dust of the wheels,
Wagons and people going,
All day feet and wheels.

Now. . .
. . Only stars and mist
A lonely policeman,
Two cabaret dancers,
Stars and mist again,
No more feet or wheels,
No more dust and wagons.

     Voices of dollars
     And drops of blood
     . . . . .
     Voices of broken hearts,
     . . Voices singing, singing,
     . . Silver voices, singing,
     Softer than the stars,
     Softer than the mist.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Declining Summer

I saw peewee football players in the park the other day instead of baseball players. Sometimes I still see baseball players, but footballers are part of the transition, a hint of fall even before it cools down much. Actually, it's already cooled down a fair amount from the highs of June and July. August is less like August this year than the previous two months were. Go figure.

Also, Ann starts school tomorrow. It will be the 10th time a child of mine has started a school year by walking the short distance from our house to her elementary school. The custom is for all the kids to meet on the blacktop part of the playground, with each teacher there holding up a sign with her name on it (or delegating the task to an early-arriving kid). Many parents are there, too, some even taking pictures.

I think Ann will ask both of us to walk with her, which might be the last time, even though there are two more first days of school to come for her at this school after tomorrow. I'm pretty sure Lilly didn't want to be seen with us in fifth and sixth grades.

Two more first days provided, of course, the world doesn't end in December. Earlier this summer, I had to re-assure Ann that nothing special along those lines is going to happen, since she was fretting for a few moments about it.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Item From the Past: Everywhere a Sign

I've read speculation that someday outdoor signs as we know them will be quaint relics, or be gone all together, because your GPS cloud gizmo is going to tell you all the information you need about a particular place in granular detail. In this country, anyway, here's how it would play out: as complete connectivity spread down the income scale deep into the middle class, budgets to install and maintain physical signs would shrink and disappear, since only poor people and eccentrics would need physical signs.

The infrastructure of signs would, decade by decade, disappear. Much would be lost, and only poor people and eccentrics would care. Which means, in practical terms, that no one would care.

Fortunately, I don't expect to live to see such a nightmare. For now, I'll take notice of signs. The more unusual, the better. Last year in Washington I snapped pics of a few odds ones. Such as this one at a parking lot not from from the U.S. Capitol.

This one warned thirsty passersby that the water of the Tidal Basin would do you wrong if you drank it, and I don't doubt it. I suppose the Tidal Basin counts as a finger of the Potomac, hence "river."

And this is one of the more imperious signs I saw in the city, at the pedestrian crosswalk on Connecticut Ave., just in front of the National Zoo.

How would a sign like this work in a world in which people depended on GPS gizmos to know where they were at all times? Would it blare out a DANGER, DANGER, WILL ROBINSON sort of warning? That might be amusing. Once.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Lost Art of Letter Reading

I was poking around the U.S. Census Bureau web site today, and noticed a August 14 announcement by the bureau that said, "Shortly after 2:29 p.m. EDT today, the U.S. population clock... will show there are 314,159,265 residents, or pi times 100 million... 'This is a once in a many generations event, so go out and celebrate this American pi,' said Census Bureau Chief Demographer Howard Hogan."

Today I also had a small amount of business to do at one of those endangered entities, a post office. I parked near another car, and inside the car sat a woman intently reading a long, handwritten letter. She must have just picked up some mail at her p.o. box, maybe something she was expecting and really wanted to read. Or maybe it was a surprise -- a letter from someone she hadn't seen in years.

How long will it be before no one sits in public reading freshly opened mail? Occasionally I saw that in college, people sitting on benches near the entrance of the campus p.o. with their mail from home or old friends. Visiting the post office was a daily thing for most people, me included, and pretty much everyone liked getting mail. The (lame) joke on my freshman hall that described getting no mail that day was, "I got air mail."

How long will it be before no one, while visiting far away countries, sits on a bench to rest and compose a post card or even a letter? I couldn't have been the only one to do that. The one I remember most fondly was a letter to a girl I'd recently met, which I wrote sitting on a bench on the terraced grounds of Schönbrunn Palace, with the summer sun above, a light but constant wind blowing, and a panoramic view of the palace below me. Who's going to ever be nostalgic about sitting around Schönbrunn sending text messages?

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Silver Buffaloes for the Chief Magistrate

Even though I don't have time for Dead Presidents Daily at the moment, I still dip into the deep well of presidential trivia and significa when I can. Such as today, when I learned about the Silver Buffalo Award, which "is the national-level distinguished service award of the Boy Scouts of America," to quote Wiki, which I don't doubt. "It is presented for noteworthy and extraordinary service to youth on a national basis, either as part of, or independent of the Scouting program."

According to my count, some 13 Presidents of the United States have received the Silver Buffalo Award, mostly for being president, though in some cases they won it before or after their terms (FDR as governor of New York, Ike just after WWII, and Taft as chief justice). It isn't given posthumously, so TR and Wilson and even Harding -- not much of a boy scout, but certainly president -- missed out, since the first ones were given in 1926. TR Jr. got one, though.

Since Calvin Coolidge, every U.S. president has gotten one, except Kennedy -- my guess is that the BSA was planned to award him one, but didn't get around to it before he died. President Obama is the other exception. Will he get one, or is he too much at odds with Scouting officialdom? If so, they aren't going to have any luck with Mitt Romney, either.

I never was a scout. I'll never get a Silver Buffalo Chip Award, much less a regular one.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012


At about 11 this morning, men from a tree-removal service hired by the village came and cut down some trees on my block. Including the one in front of my house, as woefully promised earlier this summer. This is what the tree looked like in the last few minutes of whatever existence trees have.

By this time, the ash tree wasn't actually providing much shade, so thin were its leaves, and it was a wan shadow of its pre-emerald ash borer self. Then came the man and his large chain saw, to cut a triangular notch in the trunk, in the direction it was to fall.

Soon, he started the main cut.

And then it fell. I was standing just outside my front door, taking pictures. At this point, he didn't yell timber! You know, just for the sake of tradition. Was that ever a real thing? If so, the time to yell would have been before the tree started to fall, while there was still time to get out of the way.

In a few moments, the tree was on the street, soon to be cut up and chipped, in the case of the smaller branches. The larger logs were picked up and put on a truck.

It took the crew about 20 minutes. The stump is still there. If I have the energy, I might go see if I can count the rings.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Please Collect Yr US$25,0 M

Rain today. Slow, steady rain, the sort that's gone missing most of the summer. Also oddly cool for August, but certainly there's more heat to come.

Is it just me -- it couldn't be -- or is everyone receiving a sudden upsurge in Nigerian email scams? Maybe not literally from Nigeria anymore, but I think that's a fitting generic term. The kind that should have been laughed off the Internet years ago. I've been getting one or two a day for the last week or so, after none for I don't know how long.

Most of them are the same formula: Semiliterate query from someone eager to access $X million or £X million, please help. That is, send along your banking info, and we'll do the rest. I don't look at them all, but there have been a few contemporary twists. I think one of them claimed to be from a Syrian refugee.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Item From the Past: Arlington National Cemetery

I took a lot of pictures at Arlington Nat'l Cemetery this time last year. Such as the memorial to the sailors lost on the Maine, built using one of the masts of their ship.

The Confederate Memorial is in a quiet corner of the cemetery, away from the tour bus route.

Pretty much by chance, I saw the graves of some noteworthy people. Such as Robert Fechner, director of the CCC for most of its existence.

Oscar York, a Tuskegee Airman.

Also, the two memorials to the lost Shuttles. First, Challenger. The lost crew should have a memorial – but one with bronze astronaut faces that all grin like jack o’ lanterns?

The Columbia memorial, with its flight-patch in bronze, is near Challenger. Much more dignified, I thought.

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

See Rock City, Then Tiny Montenegro

The other day I saw a SEE ROCK CITY bumper sticker on a parked car. Hadn't seen one of those in years. Or the side of a barn with those words. But I remember them well, as long ago as 1969. Repetition has that effect.

The Schleswig-Holstein High "Calendar/Handbook" arrived in the mail yesterday, ahead of Lilly's first day of high school, August 23, which is right there on the calendar. The handbook section is lengthy: 25 pages, twice as many as the calendar itself, and chock-a-block with policy and regs. The index includes, among many other subjects, Behavioral Intervention Policy, Bullying, Disabling Products, Excessive Show of Affection, False Fire Alarms, Gangs, Hazing, Loitering, Pranks, Search & Seizure and Sexual Harassment. Sounds like the subjects covered in Room 222.

The list of disabling products, in case you're wondering, includes stink bombs, mace, pepper spray and other noxious substances. Do kids even make stink bombs any more? If so, leave them at home, kids.

I've been too busy to pay much attention to the Olympics, but I did check the medal standings this evening. Not so much the big-damn-deal headline contest between the U.S. and China, or the home-team surge by the British, but for more obscure medal winners. I didn't see Togo on the list this time. Too bad. But I have a soft spot for the places that are taking home exactly one bronze, which so far is quite a few: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Hong Kong, Latvia and Argentina.

Maybe no Togo, but Botswana has won a single silver, its first-ever medal: a fellow named Nijel Amos in the 800m footrace. Other countries taking home medals for the first time (according to CBS; NBC can't be bothered with anything but Team America): tiny Montenegro -- Google the term, you get some hits -- and even tinier Grenada.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

My Fine New Map

What better (besides a check) to get in the mail but a spanking-new map of the world? A little while ago National Geographic Traveler wanted me to renew my lapsed subscription for a small sum, and sweetened the pot with an offer of a spanking-new map of the world, no extra change. My esteem for Nat'l Geo maps is high; I've been perusing them since I can't remember when; and so I subscribed.

One side is the world, the other the United States. It's a fine, fine map, complete with the latest nations (e.g., Kosovo, South Sudan) and the land done all in earth colors, even the purples and oranges somehow. The oceans are white, with grays for undersea ranges and other formations, and the lettering for the oceanic features is brown. Interesting choice, especially considering that the water features on land, such as rivers, lakes and glaciation, are lettered in blue. All the typefaces are the standard Nat'l Geo ones that the organization seems to have been using forever, and which they never should change.

The map easily contains as much information as a paper book or an electronic map, without the worry that it will crash without warning. Also I can -- when I clear everything else away -- spread it majestically across my desk. Try that with an iPad.

Though I don't have time for a complete inventory, I find myself looking on the map for alternate names, which appear in parentheses on Nat'l Geo maps (as they always have). The Chagos Archipelago, for instance, is alternatively the Oil Islands. I didn't know that, but my knowledge of the BIOT is shockingly meager. Others are no surprise: the Falklands is also Islas Malvinas; Greenland and its towns have their alternate names listed; Burma has its official name listed, though we can all hope it will be Burma again someday; and Bombay and Calcutta and Madras have their officially sanctioned names, too. But really, if we must use Mumbai, Kolkata and Chenai, shouldn't we call the country Bharat Ganarajya?

None of the Wade-Giles romanizations of Chinese names are still on the map, which I suppose is to be expected, though Dongbei has the better-known Manchuria next to it in parentheses. My own favorite place name (sort of) in China remains Ürümqi.

Oddly, Ho Chi Minh City has no parentheses next to it containing "Saigon" next to it. Also oddly, the island generally called Sulawesi these days is called Celebes on the Nat'l Geo map -- no hint of any other name. The good old name I learned when I first learned about this island and its excellent shape. What's up with that? I might have to send an email to Nat'l Geo to ask.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Hello, Mr. Coffee

My idea of brand loyalty doesn't really extend to coffee makers, but I went ahead and bought a new Mr. Coffee at a big box retailer today. First, it wasn't any more expensive than the other brands, because a sale knocked off a few dollars. Second, I can be sure that the carafe from the old maker can be used as a spare for the new one.

It's a basic model. The more expensive coffee makers, including the Mr. Coffee brand, feature "programmable" features. Pass. First, because I doubt we'd ever use the more elaborate functions. Second, it's just another damn thing to break, and for all I know a failure of the programming functions might bollix the simple functions -- consumer engineering has occasionally been known to roll that way.

I can report that the new maker made a satisfactory cup of coffee this evening. At least there were no complaints. I hope it lasts at least five years, which would put its use at about $3.60 a year, not counting electric usage.


Monday, August 06, 2012

So Long, Mr. Coffee

I'd been paying some attention to the voyage of Curiosity, but in the last few days only enough to know that the landing was supposed to be today. I figured I would check its progress through the day, but I hadn't noticed that the scheduled landing time was very early in the morning here in North America. So I slept through the Seven Minutes of Terror. I opened up Google News this morning and there they were: numerous stories about the successful landing, an astonishing bit of spacefaring by an unbelievably complicated set of machines.

Here on Earth, more specifically in my kitchen, a much simpler machine gave up the ghost today, our Mr. Coffee. Relatively simple, I have to add, because I understand that Mr. Coffee represents a nifty bit of engineering itself, one that revolutionized home coffee-making in the early '70s, and introduced young TV-watchers to Joe DiMaggio.

I don't have any opinion about the quality of Mr. Coffee coffee, since I don't drink coffee. But Yuriko seemed to like it. Often, late in the afternoon, I would use it to prepare her some coffee to drink after she returns from work. Today, I loaded it up with coffee grounds and water, and flipped the switch. The little green light went on, but other than that, nothing. Tried it a few more times: still nothing. Cleaned it out and tried again. Nothing.

There'd been nothing unusual about the appliance's performance lately or any strange noises. No hint that the end was near after what -- six or seven years on the job? (I can't really remember.) Mr. Coffee just up and died.

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Sunday, August 05, 2012

Item From the Past: Old Faithful

Seven years ago, I wrote: "Naturally we visited Old Faithful. Gotta go see Old Faithful, and wait for it to fulfill its impressive duty, which it did for us at about 6:45 pm on August 5, 2005, pretty much as the rangers predicted — at the information booth, they wrote an estimated time of eruption on a little whiteboard. I also saw it on chalkboards at other places around the geyser."

Do kids hear about Old Faithful in school any more? I think -- and I'm in no way certain -- that we discussed the geyser in second- or third-grade class, maybe because of an article in our Weekly Reader. (I'm certain that's where we heard about the exciting prospect of a new Disneyland in Florida.)

Then again, maybe I first heard of it from "Tweety, Tweety, Tweety," the Looney Tunes cartoon in which Tweety moves forward the hands of the clock predicting the next eruption of an Old Faithful-like geyser, causing it to spit out Sylvester with some force.

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Next Voyage for the Swan: Faroe Islands

Got another postcard from Ed today. His cards can be counted on to be from far-flung places I’m unlikely to visit. Sure enough, today’s missive from the Shetland Islands, since he’s on a long tour of near-Arctic places best visited in August.

I’m more likely to visit the Shetlands than, say, Uganda, but even getting to Scotland, much less remote islands to the north, would be something of an achievement. It’s a lovely card, one of the long ones (8.5 x 3.5 inches, or more likely in the EU, 21.5 cm x 9 cm). The image is a waterside view of Lerwick, capital of the islands, looking very Nordic, or maybe a Scot-Nordic blend. The back of the card simply says The Swan.

There’s no other explanation of that, so I had to look it up. It’s the sailing ship in the picture, near the right side of the card: a restored vessel that the SwanTrust calls “one of the finest boats among the Scottish fishing fleet, and… the largest ever built at Lerwick in Shetland… The Swan Trust offers voyages around the Shetland Islands, and to other destinations such as Faroe, Norway, Iceland and Amsterdam.”

Ed mailed it on July 30, so that’s only four days in transit, a minor marvel by itself. It costs 87p to send a long card from the Shetlands. Her Majesty is still looking not elderly on her stamps, unlike the woman who opened the Olympics last week.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Business Card?

A business card came to my attention today, by way of an emailed image. It was good for laugh only because Lilly turns on the radio in the car sometimes, and the song that the card draws its inspiration from happens to be in heavy rotation on some stations at the moment.

Context, that's the thing in comedy. That and timing. Under the lyric-inspired text is a name and phone number, now greened-out. Not too many people would hear the song and think, "Business card," but I guess the person who created the card did.

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