Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hart wie Kruppstahl

I forgot to mark this yesterday:
On this day in 1796 the city of Cleveland was founded by Gen. Moses Cleaveland.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Remembering Zott's

(Photo used with permission of chuckb who did an entire blogpost on Zott's at his blog last year: link)

As I was writing the previous post about the The Kingston Trio, I kept thinking about a bar/slash beer garden in the hills up behind Stanford University now called the Alpine Inn. We lived near there (1996-98) when I had a job in Sunnyvale. My wife and I used to go biking around there in the summer on weekends. One Saturday we pedalled past it and noticed the beer garden. We were suckers for outdoor beer gardens, having spent three years in Germany and Switzerland, so we stopped in for a cold one on our way home. We loved the atmosphere! Pretty soon we were regulars at "Zott's" as the locals called it and were even befriended by some locals who then invited us to their parties up in the hills (one time was so fantastic I'll have to write a separate blogpost on it one day if the topic of abandoned houses and the Chowchilla kidnappings ever comes up).

On any given Saturday afternoon there were many locals and former Stanford types hanging around there. One in particular was a sort of minstrel who led "folk guitar" singalongs. We heard more than a few versions of Worried Man and other Kingston Trio tunes.  Good times.  Zott's was the kind of place you could imagine Ken Kesey hanging out at back in the early 60's before heading back up into the hills to La Honda.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why Don't People Have More Respect For The Kingston Trio?

No, sole-surviving original member Bob Shane (middle right) didn't die, but the passing of Nick Reynolds (bottom left) in October 2008 went barely noticed. I checked some of my favorite blogs at the time and nobody even mentioned it.  Then again, I once mentioned that the hills behind my house were on fire and nobody noticed that either. Such things would never happen on Twitter.

The Kingston Trio were a staple of my early youth- circa 1963-64. My folks had 3 or 4 of their vinyl LPs. They seemed like good clean fun--fit for all ages--but did you ever check the lyrics for A Worried Man where Dave Guard sings:
Well Bobby's in the living room holding hands with Sue, Nicky's at that big front door 'bout to come on through, well I'm here in the closet, oh Lord what shall I do? 
what's that about?

So why didn't people have more respect for The Kingston Trio?

(1) They were overplayed?
(2) They "stole" songs and generally didn't write their own material?
(3) They weren't left wing enough?
(4) Bob Dylan came along and made them irrelevant?
(5) Never heard of the Kingston Trio.

The Herd Instinct

Once upon a time in a previous career I saw an eminent biochemist give a seminar on how enzymes work.  Enzymes are those little catalytic dynamos that do the heavy chemical processing in biological systems. Our livers and guts, for example host many enzymes and their job is to neutralize any foreign substances that we consume as well as to breakdown foodstuffs to give us energy.

The guy was well past retirement age, but he had only recently turned to computer modeling to solve some questions that had nagged him his entire career.  What he had turned to relatively late was the modelling of reactions in silico, a term meant to distinguish it from experiments in vitro and in vivo.  Modelling complex things in silico (like the weather for example) has taken a hit in the public eye lately,  but this guy was smart enough to know the pitfalls of his own techniques.

Now I don't have the time to explain how enzymes work but part of the theory is the so-called lock and key model:


The multicolored molecule on the right is a substrate (the key) and the thing under it is an enzyme (lock). The lock and key metaphor comes from the very specific fit between the substrate and enzyme so that other keys can't fit the lock.  There are very specific reasons why we wouldn't want other keys to fit. Getting back to the seminar, the general topic was how to model the lock and key model for a particular enzyme and substrate.

A typical substrate molecule is not a very static thing.  If I could animate the cartoon above, the substrate would be flip-flopping and rotating, and generally moving every which way. So how does an enzyme get a substrate molecule to fit the lock?  The stock answer is that the substrate is held in place and then induced to react by a mixture of different chemical "forces" available to the enzyme: electrostatic, hydrophobic, hydrogen bonding, etc.  These little cumulative forces "pin down" a substrate. But the gist of the speaker's news was that it's not a matter of making sure that the substrate orients or lines up in preferred conformation; rather, it's a matter of expending enough energy to prevent a substrate from doing many motions and gyrations that it would otherwise do in the absence of the enzyme. That might be a subtle point but I grasped it immediately because it struck a chord with work I had previously done.

After the lecture I approached the older man at a wine & cheese mixer, introduced myself, and explained how I had worked with some very special kinds of solvents (called liquid crystals) which are able to get much smaller molecules dissolved in them to line up. Turns out that the orientation occurs not because the smaller molecules are attracted to the larger molecule but rather because they are prevented from adopting certain conformations- i.e., their freedoms are restricted (but not completely of course). The old man smiled and told me that I may have been the only other person in the room who "got" what he had been trying to say earlier.

Later on I thought about a non-technical way to explain the same thing. Being the father of a toddler, I  likened it to how a parent watches over a toddler, preventing the child from doing certain things which it might otherwise do given limitless options. Watching over a small child is often not instilling in the child to do the right things but rather restricting its choices--herding if you will.

Letters Home: "through the Mississippi darkness rolling down to the sea"

The time finally came when my dad finished basic training at Fort Campbell. Still a teenager, he went off to Europe as part of the 141st Tank Battalion in the US 3rd Army to help oppose Russian troops that had deployed along the Iron Curtain. 

Back then, interstate troop transport meant trains because there was still plenty of WW II troop transport rolling stock. He left Fort Campbell headed for New Orleans to embark on a troop transport ship to Europe--he and about 4,000 others:
July 22nd, 1952
Fort Campbell, KY

Dear Mom, Dad and all,

By the time you get this letter I will be on my way.  We are leaving thur. noon for New Orleans and will get there about 10:00 Fri. morning (by Pullman). [1]
Friday afternoon at 4:30 we are leaving New Orleans for Paris. [2] From France we are going to Bremershaven Germany. From there someplace in Germany. We will be on the boat 18 days. 2 Bn. of Air Force are getting off in Paris. [3]

I got the $10.00 Sunday morning. You can take it out of my next check.
I suppose Jr. is out of the Army now.
I got and sent back that form from the Motor Vehicle Dept., so the licence should be coming. [4] You can put them in my box because I won’t need them.
I can write on the ship if I ain’t too sick. I don’t think it will affect me any. I guess this is all for now.


[1]  At the time, troops travelled by special Pullman cars on overnight trains. Given Appalachian geography, it's likely that he first headed west to Memphis and then linked up with or transferred to a train heading south along the Mississippi flood plain to New Orleans.

I am reminded of the Steve Goodman song The City Of New Orleans (made famous by Arlo Guthrie):
Night time on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
[2] Apparently he didn't realize that Paris wasn't a seaport. :)

[3] One battalion is approximately a thousand men. Unlike the Army, the US Air Force was based in France during that stage of the Cold War. A NATO directive stipulated that all air bases be located west of the Rhine, out of the zone of occupation, for strategic reasons (link).  American air power also had a long historical connection with France dating from the First World War. Lafayette Escadrille was a squadron of American volunteers during WW I. Race car driver-turned flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker flew French-made airplanes like Nieuports and SPAD VIIIs (pictured below).

[4] He lost his billfold as described back here

Monday, July 19, 2010

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1962

Continuing with songs from my iTunes from 1962:

Song to Woody  ~ Bob Dylan
Green Onions  ~ Booker T. & The MG's

Miserlou ~ Dick Dale & His Deltones

Up On The Roof  ~  The Drifters
Big Girls Don't Cry  ~ Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance  ~ Gene Pitney
James Bond Theme Song ~ The John Barry Orchestra
Boom Boom  ~ John Lee Hooker

You Need Love  ~ Muddy Waters
She's Got You  ~ Patsy Cline
I Stand Stop Loving You ~ Ray Charles
Dream Baby ~ Roy Orbison

I'm going with Dick Dale's Miserlou as my favorite, though I have absolutely no memory of it at the time, nor any of the others.  Memory didn't stick for me until 1963 or so.

I put Bob Dylan's Song To Woody from his first album there, not at all because it's my favorite (I don't really care much at all for Dylan's first album) but because I find it historically interesting.

Also of interest:

Elvis Presley, having made a comeback after his Army stint in Germany, released three more hits that year though none of them make my favorites list.

The years 1960 to 1962 were a period of conception and gestation for Rock 'N' Roll.  Events overseas passed almost unnoticed here: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards met Brian Jones in 1962 at a London blues club. The Beatles released their first single "Love Me Do" (in the UK only) in 1962.  I'm old enough recall the dichotomy of liking either the Stones or the Beatles, but I couldn't tell you where or how that attitude arose.

Also in 1962, James Marshall Hendrix was serving in the Army and stationed at Fort Campbell KY, coincidentally about 10 years after my father was there.

So what's your favorite from 1962?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1961

In my opinion, 1961 was a more interesting year for pop music than 1960 was. Dick Dale charted with "Let's Go Trippin" (Full disclosure: I'm going to see him next weekend at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. Dale's son Jimmy is playing with him now).

Here are some songs from that year that I've collected:

Stand By Me ~ Ben E. King
Runaway ~ Del Shannon
Let's Go Trippin' ~ Dick Dale
Runaround Sue ~ Dion & the Belmonts
Back Door Man ~ Howlin' Wolf
Big Bad John ~ Jimmy Dean
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow ~ The Shirelles
Baby Elephant Walk ~ Lawrence Welk
Walkin' After Midnight ~ Patsy Cline
I Fall to Pieces ~ Patsy Cline
Crazy ~ Patsy Cline

Of these, I'd have to say that anything by Patsy Cline is a favorite, with "Crazy" being my favorite. What is your favorite song from 1961?

Failed Theories: I Must Be Bohred

A solar system model was applied to the atom in the early 20th century soon after the discovery of the electron. Tiny little electrons were thought to orbit a little sun-like nucleus.  The so-called Bohr model was easy to visualize and actually kinda sorta works for the hydrogen atom (a 1-electron, 1-proton atom) but the theory breaks down for more "complex" atoms like helium. Despite this failure, the planetary model became iconic for anything atomic.

An important outcome of Bohr's planetary model was the notion that electron "orbits" were subject to a discontinuous numerical progression, i.e., the orbits were "digital" not "analog". Go back and look at the planetary model picture here and imagine that like planets, electrons can only exist at certain regular distances. There is an underlying mathematical logic based in whole numbers for electrons (much like the periodic chart itself).  But in fact, some 18th century astronomers proposed such a model for planets more than one hundred years before the Bohr model for atoms.

Johann Daniel Titius was an 18th century German astronomer who first noticed an unusual order to the interplanetary distances between the then known planets (planet discovery had not advanced much since Galileo and astronomers had become obsessed with comets). As early as 1766 Titius had observed that a simple mathematical formulation predicted the planets' relative distances from the Sun.  He even predicted that a small planet would be discovered at 2.8 au where there was no known planet. 

Johann Elert Bode, head of the Berlin Observatory, latched onto Titius's idea and, without crediting Titius, published them. The law become known as the Titius-Bode law.  Here's table showing the actual relative distances of the planets from the Sun and values predicted by the Titius-Bode Law:

                   Relative Distance From Sun in au

Planet                    Actual          T-B Theory
Mercury                 0.39               0.4
Venus                     0.72               0.7
Earth                       1.0                 1.0
Mars                       1.52                1.6
                                   --                   2.8
Jupiter                    5.2                  5.2
Saturn                   9.54                10.0

Except for the lack of a planet at 2.8 au, the fit between theory and actual distances is remarkable. I'm fairly certain that Galileo would have embraced Titius-Bode law too, insofar as it was consistent with empirical data at the time.

Two things happened that catapulted Bode to stardom: first, the planet Uranus was discovered by Herschel in 1781. Uranus is beyond Saturn, but is exactly where the law predicted the next further out planet should be. This exciting discovery (Bode was allowed to name the new planet) led to an all out search to find the "missing" planet at 2.8 au. In the words of Titius:
From Mars there follows a space of 4 + 24 = 28 such parts, but so far no planet was sighted there. But should the Lord Architect have left that space empty?
The search was on. The heavens were divided into observable sectors among the international community of astronomers. Then, in 1801, the Sicilian astronomer Giuseppe Piazze found Ceres, the dwarf planet and largest asteroid in the asteroid belt. The calculated orbit of Ceres put it between Mars and Jupiter at a distance of 2.77 au in astonishing agreement with the Titius-Bode prediction of 2.8 au. Ceres is considered to be the largest chunk of a planet miscarriage. i.e, material which failed to accrete into a fully formed planet.  The new data is shown below in bold. These two discoveries amounted to both an extrapolation and an interpolation of the Titius-Bode law:

                        Relative Distance From Sun in au
Planet               Actual        T-B Theory
Ceres                2.77            2.8
Jupiter                5.2              5.2
Saturn               10.0             9.54
Uranus           19.2             19.6

Few things are as satisfying to a scientist as predicting something which is later backed by experimental data.  The Titius-Bode law was accepted as unexplained fact for a half century.  Its undoing began in 1846 with the discovery of Neptune at a relative distance of 30.06 au~well inside the predicted 38.9 au.  The discovery of Pluto in 1930 did not bode well for the law either. Pluto was found well out there at 77.2 au versus a predicted orbit of 39.44 au.

                         Relative Distance From Sun in au
Planet               Actual        T-B Theory

Uranus              19.2            19.6
Neptune            30.06          38.8
Pluto                   77.2            39.44

I know, I know: eccentric Pluto was downgraded from planetary status in 2006 and deemed extrasolar in origin and so shouldn't count. But that still leaves Ol' Neptune.

Today, Titius-Bode "theory" is regarded as a historical curiosity.

Der Planetenweg

Jason (The commenter) posted Galileo's scheme of the known planets ca. 1663 here: link  The scheme shows the relative positions of the planets then visible to the naked eye and telescopes.  Galileo's scheme was in Latin and "glyphs" and is hard to read. Here is a less detailed English version for comparison:

Note that Saturn was the outermost known planet at the time. The map that Jason linked to actually has more detail, including 4 moons orbiting Jupiter, all of which Galileo named (Jupiter now has 63 confirmed moons).  Anyway, the chart reminded me of the Planetenweg (translation: planet trail) which runs along a hill crest west of Zurich, Switzerland.

The Swiss love walking, especially the German Swiss.  From the Zurich train station, the Uetliberg train takes you uphill to a long serpentine park straddling a hill and looking down on the city.  Getting off the train at the beginning of the walk, you are soon confronted with a gigantic yellow sphere on a stick that represents the: Sun.  If you keep on strolling, you come upon a little enclosure housing a tiny sphere the size of a BB that represents the planet Mercury on the same scale.  If you keep on walking, you eventually run into the planet Venus and then the Earth, etc.  The cool thing about the Planet Trail is that the interplanetary distances and sizes are all scaled with one kilometer equal to km = 1 billion km. There are some photos of all the different planets here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

50 Years of myTunes: 1960-2010

Most everybody now has a personal iTunes collection.  I have around 10 GB of material. One of the first things I do whenever I add something is to tag the song with the year it was released.  I do this by overwriting the "genre" entry in the song (I detest sorting music into genre anyway and prefer the chronological tag).  I can click on that column and see my iTunes all neatly chroned by year of release.

A while back I started making friends and relatives CDs with music compilations for their birthday.  Amusingly, this actually led me to go looking for a few songs to fill a few gaps (for some reason the year 2000 is under-represented in my collection).  I now have material going all the way back to the 1930s for such lists.

To make a birthday CD I generally start with a person's "birthsong"- the song that was number 1 on the charts on a certain date. Everybody should identify their birth song.   Follow the links at this old Althouse post (link).  My birth song is Theme From A Summer Place.   Althouse even mocked it here.


Other choices for the year 1960 from my list include:

Save The Last Dance For Me ~ The Drifters
Cathy’s Clown ~ The Everly Brothers
Only The Lonely ~ Roy Orbison
Merry Little Minuet ~ The Kingston Trio
Everglades ~ The Kingston Trio
Chain Gang ~ Sam Cooke
Perfidia ~ The Ventures
Walk-Don't Run ~ The Ventures

My favorite from that list is the timeless "Merry Little Minuet" popularized by The Kingston Trio (and not by Tom Lehrer):
They're rioting in Africa. They're starving in Spain. There's hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls. The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch. And I don't like anybody very much!
But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud, for man's been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day, someone will set the spark off... and we will all be blown away.
They're rioting in Africa. There's strife in Iran. What nature doesn't do to us... will be done by our fellow man.  
~Sheldon Harnick

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth Of July!

I could be wrong but I think that B of A building and trolley tracks are in downtown San Francisco.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Letters Home: "We Saw A Parade For Taft"

The rather personal narrative of my dad's letters occasionally runs across concurrent American history.  Here is one such letter.  He mentions passing through Chicago on the day before the historic 1952 Republican Convention, a crucial event in mainstream American politics.  It's not clear from his letter if he even knew that the convention was happening--he was never overtly political and being only 19 at the time wasn't yet old enough to vote--but I'm fairly certain that my grandfather was keenly interested in that election, hence the mention of seeing a parade for Robert Taft:

July 7, 1952 
Fort Campbell, KY
Dear Mom and Dad and all,
I got back Monday morning at 1:00 o’clock so I got 4 hours sleep. [1] We had good luck all the way. A new Hudson brought us about 300 miles. [2]  We didn’t start hitchhiking till 2:00 Sunday afternoon from Hammond Ind. [3]  When we went through Chicago, we saw a parade for Taft. [4] He was going to be there at 3:30 Sunday afternoon.
We aren’t doing anything today so I’m resting up, and writing this. I am going to Clarksville Tenn. tonight and get Jr. a muffler for his pickup. It’s 9 miles away. Sure is hot down here today, about 100.  Maybe after I get overseas there will be more to write. The way it is there is nothing new here. We have to go through the infiltration course again. [5] I went through it at Ft. Knox, but you have to do it at least within 3 months before you go overseas. It’s been more than 3 months since I went through it. That’s where you crawl on your back and belly and a machine gun is shooting over your head.

[1] Apparently, he had been to Wisconsin on leave over the Fourth of July and had hitchhiked back to Ft. Campbell.

[2]  A 1952 Hudson looked like this: Link

[3] Hammond, Indiana was another Route 41 town on the southeastern side of Chicago, just west of Gary, Indiana.

[4] Taft was of course Sen. Robert A. Taft, eldest son of William Howard Taft (27th President and later the 10th Chief Justice).  Taft had represented Ohio in the US Senate since 1938 and had twice before sought the Republican nomination. An outspoken critic of FDR's New Deal legislation, Taft often led efforts to curb its excesses, for example, via the Taft-Hartley Act which had overridden President Truman's veto. Taft-Hartley remains in force today. Taft also opposed unchecked deficit spending, high farm subsidies, excess governmental bureaucracy, the National Labor Relations Board, and nationalized health insurance.

Robert Taft was unloved by the eastern Republican establishment, personified by his arch rival, New York Governor (and three-time presidential candidate) Thomas E. Dewey. Taft was harshly criticized in the press for opposing the execution of Nazi War criminals at Nuremberg; he considered it ex post facto law and a precedent that we would later regret. Taft also opposed the Korean War, basing his opposition not on softness towards communism but instead on the way in which the conflict began--Taft simply opposed the usurpation of Congressional War Powers by President Truman. Again Taft called it a precedent that we would later regret.

JFK posthumously lauded Taft (along with seven others) in his Profiles In Courage, calling him "Mr. Republican" and "Mr. Integrity." And while Taft inspired respect from both sides of politics and loyalty from Republican partisans, he was ultimately considered unelectable to the Presidency by his own party.

The outcome of the Republican Presidential primary in Chicago was still uncertain that first weekend in early July, 1952.  Those were still the days when conventions were decided by men in smoke-filled rooms.  Neither Eisenhower nor Taft had a majority of delegate votes needed going into the convention. Each man represented differing factions within the same party, yet nothing seemed to be a deciding factor other than the inchoate "electability" factor of Eisenhower.  And that was just it.  Ike was liked. Well liked. The general had famously rejected candidacy four years before in 1948, despite a nascent and popular "draft Ike" movement. Hardcore Republican delegates were loyal to Taft, but in the end they listened to their constituents.  One-by-one during the next week of the convention they found ways to switch from Taft to Eisenhower.

The following passage is from William Manchester's historical narrative, The Glory And The Dream. Manchester describes the pivotal (televised!) moment as the convention delegates decisively turned against Taft, switching to Eisenhower:
He [Eisenhower] had watched it on television in his suite at the Blackstone Hotel, standing with his four brothers and nervously fingering two good luck charms, a Salvation Army coin and a Boy Scout souvenir. As Minnesota switched, Herbert Brownell rushed up and embraced him. The general’s eyes filled. Too moved to speak, he sought out Mamie for a private moment. Then he picked up a phone and asked to speak to Taft. It was precisely the right thing to do, and he, the presumed amateur in politics, was the one who had thought of it. He asked the senator if he could pay his respects. Fighting crowds all the way, he made his way to Taft’s lair in the Conrad Hilton. Both men were exhausted, stunned and dazed. Photographers begged them to smile. They complied, though Taft was clearly in agony.  He was going through this for the sake of the party, and his devotion to it had never made a greater demand. Though his eyes were bleak with pain, he managed to keep on grinning. He said huskily, “I want to congratulate General Eisenhower.  I shall do everything possible in the campaign to secure his election and to cooperate with him in his administration."
Eisenhower emerged victorious from Chicago and Richard Nixon of California was unanimously selected as his running mate. Of course Ike went on to win the 1952 Presidential election, defeating Adlai Stevenson that November (and again in 1956).

Taft enjoyed a brief stint as Senate Majority leader as the Republicans swept back into power with Eisenhower, but he died unexpectedly of cancer the following year, aged 63.

An inscription at the Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon in Washington DC reads:
This Memorial to Robert A. Taft, presented by the people to the Congress of the United States, stands as a tribute to the honesty, indomitable courage, and high principles of free government symbolized by his life.

[5] My dad had described the infiltration course back here.