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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Fried Twinkie, Al Fresco

Sept 6, 2012

On Saturday mornings during the warm months, Appleton, Wisconsin, closes College Ave. from Appleton St. to Durkee St. and holds a farmers’ market, which it calls a Farm Market. It has vendors, of course, both fresh food and handcrafts, including some that sell from trucks, such as this one brimming with corn.

There’s a bit of live music, too.

And some prepared food from food trucks. Note that Anthony’s has deep-fried Twinkies. I’d heard of such, but never had one. This was my opportunity, for a mere two-spot, to try it. So I did.

It was a lot like the fried dough you find at carnivals, except that it had creme in the center, all gooey and hot. Another member of our party spotted me ordering it, and later asked me how it was. “Fried death,” I told her, to conform to prevailing opinion about such a deep-fried creation. But I figured that one wasn’t going to shorten my life any more than the time it took to eat it, and that one deep-fried Twinkie per lifetime was probably enough anyway.

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Hearthstone Historic House Museum

 Sept. 5, 2012

The Hearthstone Historic House Museum in Appleton, Wisconsin, was once a well-designed, well-appointed late Victorian mansion, but that's not its signal distinction. Back in the early 1880s, one Henry James Rogers, manager of the Appleton Pulp and Paper Mill, had the house built in a bluff overlooking the Fox River and across from the paper mill that he managed. He was also overseeing the mills' electrification in the summer of '82, just as his new house was being built, so naturally he wanted electricity for the house too.

According to the Wisconsin Historic Society: "The first electricity offered for public sale flowed through wires in Appleton, Wisconsin, to light the paper mills and homes of that Fox River city. Henry J. Rogers... supplied the world's first commercial electrical power in the summer of 1882, in downtown Appleton -- before it was available in Boston, New York, Washington, or Chicago." Electric wires at Hearthstone ran through the pipes meant to carry gas for lighting.

There's a charming sign in the front parlor of the house that says: "This Room is Equipped With Edison Electric Light. Do not attempt to light with match. Simply turn key on wall by the door. The use of Electricity for lighting is in no way harmful to health, nor does it affect the soundness of sleep."

Of course, they were merely assuming that electric light wasn't harmful to health, but we can give them that. As for affecting the soundness of sleep, I think we can all report that electric light has affected our sleep at some point, especially when switched on unexpectedly. That's hindsight anyway. Apparently people came specifically to see the light bulbs in action when the house was new, since it was a marvel of the age.

Our guide said that the voltage was low -- good thing, since at first the current essentially traveled through uninsulated copper wire -- and so the lights would look dim to modern eyes. But for all I know, the new lights might have been every bit as illuminating as gas lights or kerosene lamps or candles were. Just how bright non-electric lights were is one of those familiarities of daily life lost to time and improved technologies, I think. Not even a highly accurate dramatization of the period could probably convey what it would be like to live day-to-day with pre-electric technologies as your source of light. (Though I suspect the damn things would be inconsistent.)

This is what one of the aforementioned "keys on the wall" looks like, because the Hearthstone Historic House Museum still has all of the ones that Edison's men came to town to install.

Our guide told us that they still work. But he didn't demonstrate, probably for good reason. Touch them too often and they might break, always a risk with tech, high or low. If they break, none of Edison's men are around any more to fix them.

The power was incredibly expensive at first. I forget the exact numbers, but in true Gilded Age style, Rogers spent more to light each of his bulbs every year than he would have paid one of his workers for the year, or some such. Unsurprisingly, Rogers died deep in debt in the late 1890s, though probably electricity was only one of his extravagances, and the Panic of 1893 compounded his losses. In any case, his heirs sold the house and most of the contents, so the museum's furnishings aren't Rogers'. But the modern curators have done a good job at finding 1880s period pieces, so besides the back story of electrification, the place has some charms as a house museum.

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Greater Appleton, 2012

Sept 4, 2012

Back in June 2008, I was invited to go on an August press trip to see some for-sale residential properties in Sandpoint, Idaho, which would have been a fine little excursion. But it was cancelled, because by that summer all the air was already rushing out of the housing market like the popped bubble it was, even for resort-style properties in picturesque settings. I'm surprised the invitations got out at all.

Then came the Panic of 2008, after which I was pretty sure that press trips were things of the past, at least for me. Fast forward to this summer, and to my surprise I was invited on one that took place August 23-26. Also to my surprise, it was to a place I'd never spent much time in before, despite all the many places I've been in Wisconsin: Appleton, a town of 72,000 or so on the northern shores of Lake Winnebago.

Actually not just Appleton, but the cluster of small cities and towns in that area collectively known as the Fox Cities, since they're also near the Fox River, which runs from Lake Winnebago to Lake Michigan. Other Fox Cities include the Wisconsin-sounding Kaukauna, Menasha and Neenah, and the charmingly named Little Chute and the curiously named Combined Locks. Nineteen communities in all, population about 220,000.

We packed a lot in: a museum devoted to glass objects, another devoted to industrial paper making, long a local industry, and yet another with an entire floor devoted to Houdini. If that's not a cool museum subject, I don't know what is. Pictured: a bust of Houdini that the museum tells us is "said to be haunted." By whom, it didn't say. You'd think the ghost of Houdini wouldn't inhabit anything as confining as a piece of stone.

We visited shops that sold antiques, cheese, books and more -- and I saw a shop on Appleton's lively main street that seemed to sell Egyptian-theme New Age merch, but it was closed for the day, or maybe for the birthday of Ra-Horakhty. We toured a Victorian mansion electrified in 1882 using equipment bought from Edison. We went to a building that had been a brewery in the 19th century, was something else for part of the 20th, and is now a brewpub with a restaurant in the cellar, where we drank beer and ate cheese. And a Scotch egg.

Somehow or other I'd never had a Scotch egg before. While looking into it, I found this charming bit of unsourced information that makes Wiki the unpredictable thing that it is: "Scotch Eggs have recently grown greatly in popularity in the Marshall Islands [citation needed]." In any case, the Stone Cellar Brew Pub serves tasty Scotch eggs, and a variety of satisfying brews from their own stainless steel vessels.

The tour featured plenty of other food, as these tours do, showcasing a variety of excellent fare. Except for the fired haddock I had on Friday night, which is just about as Wisconsin as you can get, I also ate at a Mexican, Italian and Japanese restaurants. Some of my dinner companions were food bloggers (restaurant critics, really), so many dishes were photographed before they vanished. On the whole, the other members of the tour were well-traveled, well-read people, so our conversations wandered far afield.

Probably in all of our travels, however, none of us had ever met a professional cheese sculptor. I know I hadn't. Early in the tour, we were introduced to Troy Landwehr, professional cheese sculptor. He's also the proprietor of Kerrigan Brothers Winery. He told us that he thought that maybe a total of three people carve cheese for money -- he does weddings and other events -- and that he likes young cheddar as a medium.


Test for Today

Sept 27, 2012

Blogger's acting up. The pre-September 19 posts do not display in the September archives, even though they're still listed as posted, and I can access them. Also, six of the most recent posts display on this page, instead of the usual 10.

This makes seven visible postings. I could send a query to Google about it, but that would be like querying the wind.


There's Such a Lot of World to See

 Sept 26, 2012

As I stood in line at a grocery store earlier today, I heard the cashier say to the customer ahead of me, "Did you hear that Andy Williams died?" The customer, a woman in her 70s at least, didn't react much. It was news to me, but I'd spent much of the morning working on an item that didn't require that I look at Google News, or I would have.

Naturally the articles about him mention "Moon River." You have to wonder whether he ever got tired of it. Maybe not: as the AP reported, "... though 'Moon River' was covered by countless artists and became a hit single for Jerry Butler, Williams made the song his personal brand. In fact, he insisted on it. " 'When I hear anybody else sing it, it's all I can to do stop myself from shouting at the television screen, "No! That's my song!" ' Williams wrote in his 2009 memoir titled, fittingly, Moon River and Me."

Less mentioned in Williams' obits -- not all all, that I could see -- is the The Claudine Longet Invitational, but my mind has some roundabout and peculiar associations sometimes.

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New Nations for the 2010s

Sept 25, 2012

The New York Times has published an interesting interactive page about potential new nations. I hadn’t heard, for instance, that “at least a half-dozen Tuareg rebellions in the past century predate the recent declaration of Azawad as an independent state in Mali’s vast northern Sahara territory.” 

But it’s been a while since I paid any attention to any TPLACs of that part of the continent, and of course the conflict seems to be fairly byzantine. The odd thing about modern African borders, which were colonial impositions anyway, is that they’ve (mostly) lasted this long.

The one about China biting off a chunk of Siberia (#10) seems far-fetched. Sure, Moscow is far away, and the Russian state isn’t quite what it used to be. But I’d guess that any formal territorial grabs – as opposed to the informal kinds – would awaken the bear pretty quickly, and the bear would be in a vodka-besotted fury.

Interesting to note that none of the posited new nations are in the Western Hemisphere, so maybe the NYT thinks that Quebec’s secession isn’t too likely. This doesn’t involve a new nation, but I learned the other day that Bolivia has finally regained its access to the ocean, sort of.

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Tilting at Tuition Windmills

 Sept 24, 2012

What's with Blogger? It went from displaying 10 entries on this page to four, without being asked to. The preferences still say 10. It's like the shaky old days before Google bought it.

Got another gimme letter from my alma mater a while ago, which I found today under one of the stacks of papers that grow on one of my desks. "Vanderbilt is already full of energy as students arrive on campus and the preparations for the new academic year intensify," says one of the opening sentences. Yep, that and early-year parties.

One September dorm night many years ago I remember learning how to play Thumper with a circle a people I'd just met. That evening I became acquainted with a fellow who later became a close friend. He drank more enthusiastically than I did, and threw up vigorously in the bathroom. These days he's a tenured professor of history at a different Southern university.

Back to the gimme letter. I have a deal for VU. I'll start donating money after tuition has been lowered to the equivalent of what it was 30 years ago (1982 tuition, adjusted for inflation, that is). Heck, they can add 5 percent to that adjusted figure, just in case the inflation calculations are a little rough. It wasn't an inexpensive school back then, as I recall. But it wasn't insanely expensive, either.

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Item From the Past: Fortaleza do Monte

Sept 23, 2012

This from Reuters recently: “U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson opened his latest resort in Macau on Thursday, adding to a string of casinos in the world's largest gambling destination that has helped the high-profile donor to the U.S. Republican party earn most of his multi-billion dollar fortune.

“Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp and its Macau unit, Sands China Ltd, presided over the opening of his Polynesian-themed casino and Sheraton Macau hotel, adding to his Sands Cotai Central property, which opened in April.”

Ah, Macao. I wandered into the round Hotel Lisboa during my visit in September 1990 and watched a packed gaming room for a few minutes. Some tables were packed with people playing recognizable games, others playing unfamiliar Chinese games. It was one of the few casinos in Macao in those days, I think. Now there are many, catering to the many more Chinese who have disposable income in our time.

The Lisboa was only one stop during my peregrinations that long-ago day. I also visited the hilltop Fortaleza do Monte. Wiki tells us that the site’s official name is Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora do Monte de São Paulo. In English: Fortress of Our Lady of the Mount of St. Paul. In Chinese: 大炮台)

As you can see, it had a spot of topiary. Old cannons also pointed outward from the hilltop – maybe for protection against junk-borne pirates, or Dutch or British ships eager to claim the territory, once upon a time. The building in the picture has been converted into a museum, I’ve read. When I visited, it was mostly empty, and had only one function as Macao’s weather station.

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