Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chemistry Is Like Sex: Coupling Illustrated

G.N. Lewis (I wrote about him back here) was from Berkeley and thus a bit more liberal when defining acids and bases: He gave more general definitions of them than Brønsted and Lowry did. And while more open-minded, Lewis was a bit of a chauvinist when he argued that a base's precious electrons helped "complete the octet" of an acid when they coupled.

Consider the coupling of a simple base, ammonia, with a simple Lewis acid, borane. If you're a jaded chemist who has "seen it all" you might consider just skipping to this link dealing with borane and ammonia making borazane as a hydrogen fuel energy source.

We already "know" what ammonia looks like here--but what about borane?  I wrote a bit about boron the element back here.  Turns out that the word "boron" is etymologically linked to the Arabic tongue as well, via the word borax.

Borane, BH3, is a natural fit for ammonia's lone pair.  Consider its structure:

BH3 looks a bit like NH3 but completely lacks a lone pair.  BH3 has only six surrounding electrons instead of eight and so is electronically unfulfilled. In a sense, it has a big hole in its middle. In the absence of an available lone pair, BH3 readily dimerizes in a head-to-tail fashion with another sister BH3 molecule to form B2H6. Here's an illustration of two BH3's getting it on together:

When NH3 and BH3 prepare to bond, a natural question is where should NH3 put its lone pair?  BH3 has what's called a "virtual orbital" (there's nothing virtuous about it).  A virtual orbital is just an empty electron orbital. Another name is a LUMO. Empty orbitals have metes and bounds, despite there being nothing there there. Here's a lurid depiction of borane's virtual orbital:

It's a bit hard to see in the depiction above but all three of borane's tripodal hydrogen limbs are squished flat into a planar configuration between the two swollen globes. The red and blue empty lobes are equivalent in the eyes of ammonia's incoming lone pair: Borane's empty orbital can be approached from above or below.  As the ammonia approaches one side of borane, one empty lobe enlarges to accept the lone pair while the other shrinks. Also, borane's little hydrogen limbs fold back away from the incoming lone pair to accommodate the fit.  The final coupling product looks like this:

BH3, with the help of ammonia's lone pair, now has an octet of electrons. 

What Do Electrons Look Like?

I've begun to wonder what naked electrons might look like in my advanced middle age. They certainly have shapes and symmetrical features. But are they really invisible? X-rays and other electrons can partially locate them and give us complex maps of their densities.  Here's an unusual depiction of benzene, a six-sided ring of carbon atoms with six hydrogen appendices:

Electron density map of benzene

If pondering what electrons in molecular orbitals look like is weird, consider empty electron orbitals, i.e., virtual orbitals.  Something really bothers me about virtual orbitals: they're not there there. It really is like something that's invisible--like the invisible monster in this Jonny Quest link.

The Basics Of How Chemistry Is Like Sex

Anyone who has cleaned with Windex has whiffed ammonia, a substance with a rich and interesting history that includes its very name: link.  Note that ammonia was once called animal alkali. Muslims-in-science scholars should take note of the origin of the word alkali, but should take care not to get the concept of alkaline bases etymologically confused with that other Arabic word meaning base.

Ammonia gas easily condenses into a liquid when compressed (Albert Einstein and his erstwhile student Leó Szilárd once patented a refrigerator with no moving parts that used ammonia instead of freon). If Szilárd's idea had gone anywhere, he may not have bothered to have conceived the atomic bomb.

Ammonia has been variously depicted as NH3 or better as :NH3 or better still with its electron "lone pair" on full display, as:

The lobe-like appendage sticking up is called a "lone pair" because there are two electrons in the orbital and because they're not associated with any atom except nitrogen.  Some depictions of ammonia omit the lone pair but here I prefer the "fig leaf is off" depiction.

Ammonia is perpetually in search of an acid to quench its baser instincts. Given a proton like H+, ammonia and the proton instantly couple to make ammonium NH4+ in which all four H's become equivalent. In a real sense, the incoming acid polarizes the other three H's, sucking electrons away from them, making them all more acidic.

Acerbic Wet

The Danes and the Brits pioneered graphic depictions of simple chemical reactivity. Brønsted and Lowry independently shocked early 20th century chemists with their notions of spontaneous self-ionization of water:

Brønsted-Lowry theory explains how even the purest distilled water conducts electricity (which requires something charged). In their scheme, one water acts like a base by accepting a proton, while the other one acts like an acid, donating a proton. The slight but measurable extent of such H-swapping is real enough--a normal glass of water has a measurable concentration of H3O+ of about 10-7 units or a pH of 7 (pH is like a Richter scale). An equal & countervailing amount of hydroxide, OH- neutralizes the acid.

Now consider adding anything to that glass of water which increases the amount of H3O+ (but not OH-).  Such a thing which donates an H+ to a neutral water molecule is called an acid in English.  The Germans call them Säure, which is related to our word sour. Svante Arrhenius (the august savant who also thought up AGW), came up with the idea first.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Red Baron (2010)

What great drama, The Red Baron is.

See it!


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cash Cab Fridays

The fall school semester started yesterday and I resumed what we call Cash Cab Friday today.  I drive my two kids to the local middle school along with a neighbor kid in the mornings.  The drive is short--10 minutes tops-- but just long enough to pick their little brains. 

I ask them questions as a group and they have to formulate the answer together just like on the TV show.  Each correct answer is worth a quarter which I pay out in cash. Last year I tried to formulate themes for the inquisitions like math, history, geography, but usually tilted towards things that I think they should know.  I also try to challenge them too with unusual practical things that strike me as interesting.  Believe me, I learn a lot too just formulating the questions in a straight forward way.

Today's questions included:

What are a skunk's two natural means of defense?

Correct answer is of course the odor gland but also the distinct white stripe: no other mammal has this and baby skunks have them at birth.  The stripe is a visual defense cue "hey, leave me alone I'm a skunk." A challenge question was "what is the skunk's natural predator? " The answer is large birds of prey that  mostly lack a sense of smell.

Another question was: "what's the last day of summer called?"  Fall equinox. "What is the significance of the fall equinox?" The answer I was looking for of course was the day on which day and night are equal.  They missed that one. That cued me into a little mini lesson of equinoxes, and solstices. 

Another question was: "name three common household appliances that heat water".  Water heater, stove, microwave were all accepted as answers. Dishwasher was not because it uses household hot water and heats inside to dry.

"Name three common household appliances which heat air." Answers accepted were clothes dryer, dishwasher, hairdryer.

I'm also trying to get them to distinguish between appliances that use electricity and those which use natural gas.

It turns out that I have two budding math geniuses along for the ride.  The neighbor boy, in 7th grade, is skipping 7th grade math and going to 8th grade math. My daughter, just starting 6th grade, pegged the standardized math test last year and so we're hoping she continues her interest.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Essence of Distillation

Distillation is an ancient art, bequeathed to the Western world by medieval alchemy. If someone were serious about Muslim contributions to science, I suggest starting with the alchemists.

I once wrote the blogger vbspurs a mini-lesson on coffee making using a stovetop espresso maker:
Yes. BTW, the different aesthetic designs of those things actually hide the true inner beauty: upwards steam extraction of oils and essences, a short retort, and then a gentle collection cup, shielded from direct heat. We've own[ed] several designs, but they're really all the same. link
Many substances won't distill and the technique is really only useful for liquids in a chemistry lab or at an oil refinery. I found a totally cool description of how petroleum distillation works here.

The essence of an idea can be distilled from crude thought too. All it takes is a little focused energy--just enough to set it free from context--and a little care in gathering and enjoying it.

Letters Home: "I just got off K.P. What a day for it, on my birthday."

My father quickly settled into the new barracks in Germany. On his birthday he wrote home asking for news. He also described sending gifts home, an adventure, a surprise meeting of an old acquaintance, and a little souvenir that I now have.

August 25, 1952
Nellingen Casern

Dear Mom and Dad and all,

I just got off K.P. What a day for it, on my birthday.

NELLINGEN CASERN is the name of the camp. It's 12 1/2 miles to Stuttgart. Yvonne N. is the girl I got a letter from, Ilene W's cousin. 
What model Ford did R. get? Is the Merc. still running? What did Jr. do with the old '36 Ford pickup? Did R. junk the 'Hot Rod'?

Last Thur. and Fri. about 50 of us drove 2 1/2 ton trucks to another camp near Nurnberg. It's 122 miles from here and it took 2 days to make two trips. One kid wrecked his so they won't let him drive anymore. I think we make another trip tomorrow. 
The second day I was over here I met Marvin W. in the mess hall. He sure was surprised to see me. He's on a track team and has been traveling all over Europe. He said he was going to Finland in Sept. to run. [1]
We saw some pretty country. I've been to town once so far. You can buy anything you want awful cheap. The only catch is it costs a lot to send anything to the States.  It cost one guy $4.80 to send a music box home by airmail. That's more than the music box cost. I bought a stein (or you could call it a beer mug) with a music box in the bottom that plays the 3rd man theme. [2] It's made out of china so it will be hard to send. It looks something like this. [3]

click to enlarge
Payday I will send you a head scarf.  It's got a map of Germany on it hand painted but won't wash out.
I got a letter from M. today too. [4] It took her letter 7 days by 3¢ and yours came in 4 days. How long does it take mine to get there?  You should have gotten two letters from me. One I mailed from France.  I'll send more pictures next letter. 
I can't think of much to say as we don't do too much of anything. 
Send my drivers license over. I will have to have them to get Eucom License's. So far all I got is a permit to drive.   
I might buy a motorcycle in March if I can save $200 from what I don't send home. I should get $50.00 the first. 
This is all for now.
[1] The 1952 Summer Olympics were in Helsinki.

[2] The theme song from the film The Third Man (1949): link  And here's the Beatles doing the same: linkThe Third Man has the famous scene where Orson Welles says:
You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
I lived in Switzerland for two years and I love Italy so I can relate to that.

[3]  I have that beer stein now.  It looks like this:

It still plays the The Third Man theme. There's a wind-up mechanism with a little lever underneath that turns it on and off when you pick it up and put it down. My mother gave it to me after my father passed away.  There's a little handwritten post-it note inside that my brother discovered the other day when he was visiting and admiring it. The note says "Bruce's". Though it appears to be in my mother's handwriting, I felt like my dad left it in there for me to find after all these years. 

[4] M. is his older sister, who is still living. Two younger sisters and his youngest brother are still alive too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Deconstructing Karleton Armstrong

Badger Ordnance, target of antiwar aerial bombers in 1969

In the film River's Edge, a former student radical-turned-middle-school-teacher bullies from his pulpit: "We stopped a war, man".   I've been rethinking a nostalgic post I wrote back here last spring about the Sterling Hall bombing in Madison. Not rethinking in the sense of changing my opinion, but rather deepening and wishing to augment what I wrote then. This was prompted by my reading up on the Kent State shootings.

Karleton Armstong, Sterling Hall bomber/ring-leader, has stated that the Kent State shootings were the catalyst which turned him violent later that summer: linkage Fellow bomber David Fine also stated:
Really, after Kent State [in May 1970], I think people's viewpoints really changed. They saw people shot and that sort of upped the ante, or so we thought. That was the real motivating factor.
I dissent from that opinion based on facts:  Kent State occurred in May of 1970, after Armstrong et al. had attempted to bomb Badger Ordnance from a Cessna aircraft on December 31, 1969.  It was that attempted bombing which gave the bunch their name, the New Year's Gang.

Can one argue that the attempted bombing of Badger Ordnance was somehow less violent-that accidental deaths would not have occurred?

It's reasonable that they were thinking that Badger would shut down that New Year's Eve and everybody would be home or out celebrating. But such a place was never empty-empty and someone like a night watchman could have died had their unexploded aerial bomb gone off.  Would Armstrong and Fine have reasoned that such a death was justified? Who knows.

Kent State was a horrific event which needlessly accelerated unrest. But but I'm still not buying Armstrong's motivational reasoning, based on chronological facts.

[added:  My brother reminded me the other day of a story my grandfather passed down through an uncle. My grandfather worked at Badger Ordnance in the 40s and 50s.  At the time there were strict no smoking rules defined according to area (they were handling mostly gunpowder).  Apparently, there was an explosion on site back in the early days, caused by a careless worker who had ignored the rules.  According to urban legend, all they ever found of him were his boots.]

Monday, August 23, 2010

Words about acids, bases, and polarizing forces

The words "acid" and "base" are functional terms, and not labels.  They describe what a substance does, rather than what it is.
~R. von Handler
The quote comes from an undergraduate chemistry textbook.  I assume that von Handler was a German physical chemist, but I've been unable to find anything else about him or his work. Schade.

Von Handler is saying that nominal concepts like acid and base are better understood as the functional concepts acidity and basicity. Some things are better understood by what they do rather than what they are. So to get at what von Handler was trying to say, we just have to think about what acids and bases do and that's easy: they attract opposite polarity and they repel like polarity.  In the natural world acids and bases polarize other molecules using attractive and repulsive forces to hasten change. Back here I wrote:
How nature really works (at a chemical level) is polarization followed by attack followed by depolarization.
Wish I could explain it better because it really is a simple concept.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wait Wait! Rewind to 1964 Again!

Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who is a wonderful "warts and all" style documentary that came out in 2007. So many "rockumentaries" just rehash the old but this one gives some wonderful insights that I didn't realize:

  • offshore pirate radio like Radio Caroline played a huge role in launching the The Who.  State-controlled media, the BBC, actually suppressed things back then (image that).
  • Pete Townshend had an epiphany while driving a car and hearing "I Can't Explain" on the radio: he realized: I have a sponsor...I have a patron...this is art!
  • By far the best treat was a rare 1964 film of the The Who at the Railway Hotel. Watch it here:

Roger Daltrey was the man!  The Detours/High Numbers were his band at that point in time.  They hadn't written any original material yet and Roger still called the shots more or less (just like Brian Jones did in the Stones at first).  Look at him in 1964.  As my wife remarked, he's the only one of them who could walk around dressed like that right now and still look cool: the sunglasses, the hair, his shirt & white jeans.

I completely agree with her.  The others look like dorks: Entwistle with his vertical striped Kingston Trio shirt; Moon with his horizontal striped shirt looks like a child; Townshend's shirt buttoned up so high it looks like he's ready for church or school.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Winston Churchill and "Fool's Overture"

While dwelling on 1965 memories, I thought it fitting to pay respects to Winston Churchill, who died in January of that year and whose funeral I recall watching as a kid on TV. Twelve years later, in 1977, the UK band Supertramp released a song  called Fool's Overture, which I always thought referred to Churchill (there is a recording of his voice in the song fer Chrisakes). I also thought this was common knowledge, but I recall discussing this topic one night over on the Althouse blog with someone convinced that the lyrics referred to Jesus.

You can hear the song here. (embedding was disabled for that video otherwise I'd put it here). Here are the lyrics for the song along with my specific reasons why it refers to Churchill:

History recalls how great the fall can be
While everybody's sleeping, the boats put out to sea [1]
Borne on the wings of time
It seemed the answers were so easy to find [2]
Too late, the prophets cry
The island's sinking, let's take to the sky [3]

Called the man a fool, stripped him of his pride
Everyone was laughing up until the day he died [4]
And though the wound went deep
Still he's calling us out of our sleep [5]
My friends, we're not alone
He waits in silence to lead us all home [6]

So you tell me that you find it hard to grow
Well I know, I know, I know
And you tell me that you've many seeds to sow
Well I know, I know, I know [7]

Can you hear what I'm saying?
Can you see the parts that I'm playing?
Holy man, rocker man, come-on queenie,
Joker man, spider man, blue-eyed meanie [8]

So you found your solution
What will be your last contribution?
Live it up, rip it up, why so lazy?
Give it out, dish it out, let's go crazy! [9]

[1] Refers to Francis Drake's night time attacks to fend off the Spanish Armada in 1588.
[2] Refers to the British Empire's subsequent historical momentum and a sense of entitlement.
[3] I've no idea who the "prophets" were of the time but their message was to abandon the ship of state.
[4] Refers to the replacement of Churchill by the Labour Party and the subsequent decades-long deconstruction of his legacy (note that this song was written in 1977, prior to the ascendency of Thatcher).
[5] & [6] Here is where the allusion to a force from beyond (ostensibly the memory of Churchill) may have caused that Althouse commenter to remark that he thought the song was about Jesus.
[7] Here the songwriter is answering the unspoken retort from British youth--that maturity is hard, that the legacy is too hard to live up to.
[8] Refers to the spectrum of people present in the 1970s Britain: religious, culture, celebrity, social, misfit--each one is a character.
[9] Refers to the state of anarchy amongst the mid 1970's youth in Britain.

Silver, Gold, & Lead

This news story about Mel Fisher's stolen gold this morning reminded me of two things:

(1) John Wayne, confronting and shooting a cattle rustler in the movie Chisum (1970):

Bandito: Did you bring any gold? 
John Wayne: Nope! 
Bandito: Did you bring any silver? 
John Wayne: Nope, just lead!

and (2)  My father, who met Mel Fisher:

A Satirical Song About A Satyrical Briton

For reasons still not completely clear, The Kinks were banned from touring the US as a band from about 1965 to 1969. It had something to do with fighting too much and a labor dispute.  Just imagine--4 years of not playing to sold out audiences in the US--all that unrealized concert revenue.  Regret much?

Kinks fans have used this enforced isolation to describe why the band turned inwards and wrote particularly scathing material about British society in the mid to late 1960s.  One of the songs, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, was allegedly penned with Brian Jones in mind, though others have claimed the inspirational role. London was in full bloom in 1966 and it really doesn't matter who Ray Davies' Leopold Bloom really was.

Brian Jones, founding member of the (Rollin') Stones and charter member of the 27 Club, R.I.P.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Meet the Father of Loud

Jim Marshall (b. 1923) played a key role in developing the amplified guitar sound of several mid-60's (and later) rock guitarists.  Legend has it that Eric Clapton started much of this when, hanging around Jim Marshall's music shop in London, he requested that Marshall make him an amplifier that would fit in the trunk (boot) of a car.  Marshall did so and Clapton immediately used the combination of the Marshall amplifier with the Gibson Les Paul guitar on the 1966 John Mayall & Bluesbreakers album.  You can hear the now familiar but then never-heard-of-before sound here on the song Hideaway:

BTW, that was John McVie (who later put the "Mac" in Fleetwood Mac) on bass guitar.

Hideaway was a blues number first recorded by Freddie King. Here is the original King version for comparison; note the sound of the guitar:

Legend also has it that Pete Townshend and John Entwistle pioneered the use of higher powered "Marshall Stacks", allegedly in order to hear themselves over Keith Moon's drumming. But it was Jimi Hendrix who really put the Marshall amplifier on the map.

There's a great story about the Marshall sound here.  Who knew that the secret behind Marshall's amps was harmonic overtones?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Beached Boys

I really haven't much to say about the Beach Boys.  I was ambivalent towards them as a kid when they were on the radio all the time (before the days of "Classic Rock").  The first song I remember really liking was Good Vibrations.  Of course the Beach Boys really were about Brian Wilson.  It's a shame that he lost control of himself (a bit like Elvis).  I wonder what he's up to now.  Seems like he could make a fortune selling memories. 

As a kid I remember being jealous of another family whose dad my dad worked with because they took a station wagon summer vacation to Southern California and went to Disneyland. That hurt. But going to Florida in 1968 made up for it (in part). I didn't visit California until 1988 and moved there about 7 years later.

Here's a Beach Boys song that features the Wrecking Crew and especially Carol Kaye on the electric bass:

The lyrics...
The first mate he got drunk
And broke in the Captain's trunk
The constable had to come and take him away
Sheriff John Stone
Why don't you leave me alone, yeah yeah
Well I feel so broke up I wanna go home
...remind me of a nursery rhyme my mother used to sing to me well before that song came out in 1966:
The monkey he got drunk
He climbed the elephant's trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees
And that was the end of the monk monk monk!
[ADDED] OK this is pretty cool:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

California's Shadow Economy

Last night I put the recycle bins out to the curb containing a couple sixpacs of empty beer cans and bottles that my brother and I had generated over the week.  Normally, the municipal crews come by at around 6:30 AM and pick these up along with plastic and paper recycles.  This morning I went out and added some more paper and plastic to the collection bins.  Sure enough, some enterprising individual had come through during the night and picked through, taking all the aluminum and glass before the City could get to them, leaving only the paper and plastic.

I don't know quite what to think of this.  On the one hand, the aluminum and glass are commercially more valuable-enough to support the effort of our shadow economy.  On the other hand, the municipality is stuck recycling the stuff of lesser value, missing out the stuff that would help the whole system pay for itself.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Wrecking Crew (2008)

Those boots were made for walkin'. Carol Kaye behind the scenes.
Imagine if every hit song of the late 50s, 60s, 70s, and even into the 80s was performed by one band. Ridiculous, huh? Well, guess what? It's closer to reality than you may think.
That quote was taken from a review for the film The Wrecking Crew (2008).  I haven't seen the movie yet but I'd like to--but Netflix doesn't carry it and I'm too cheap to buy it at Amazon.

There is a fair bit about the Wrecking Crew over at Wiki.  Back in the day, big label record companies didn't trust all the members of a band to go into a recording studio without screwing things up.  Only the indispensable stars of a recording act would sit for a recording session. The rest of the musicians were professional session musicians like bassist Carol Kaye (above) at Capitol Records in L.A.

Detroit had its own "wrecking crew" and there's a film called Standing In The Shadows of Motown (2002) that tells their story.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Three Accidents That Enriched The Guitar Driven Sound Of Rock n Roll:

1961: Dick Dale and Leo Fender invent the reverb surf guitar sound:
Leo Fender kept giving Dale amps and Dale kept blowing them up! Till one night Leo and his right hand man Freddy T. went down to the Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa Peninsula in Balboa, California and stood in the middle of four thousand screaming dancing Dick Dale fans and said to Freddy, I now know what Dick Dale is trying to tell me. Back to the drawing board. A special 85 watt output transformer was made that peaked 100 watts when Dale would pump up the volume of his amp, this transformer would create the sounds along with Dale's style of playing, the kind of sounds that Dale dreamed of. BUT! they now needed a speaker that would handle the power and not burn up from the volume that would come from Dale's guitar.
Leo, Freddy and Dale went to the James B. Lansing speaker company, and they explained that they wanted a fifteen inch speaker built to their specifications. That speaker would soon be known as the 15'' JBL -D130 speaker. It made the complete package for Dale to play through and was named the Single Showman Amp. When Dale plugged his Fender Stratocaster guitar into the new Showman Amp and speaker cabinet, Dale became the first creature on earth to jump from the volume scale of a modest quiet guitar player on a scale of 4 to blasting up through the volume scale to TEN! That is when Dale became the 'Father of Heavy Metal' as quoted from Guitar Player Magazine. Dale broke through the electronic barrier limitations of that era!
1964: Dave Davies of The Kinks invents grunge sound while recording "You Really Got Me":
The influential distortion sound of the guitar track was created after guitarist Dave Davies sliced the speaker cone of his guitar amplifier with a razor blade and poked it with a pin. The amplifier was affectionately called "little green," after the name of the amplifier made by the Elpico company, and purchased in Davies' neighbourhood music shop, slaved into a Vox AC-30. link
1965: Roger McGuinn accidently invents the "jingle-jangle" guitar sound of The Byrds:
While 'tracking' The Byrds' first single, 'Mr. Tambourine Man', at Columbia studios, McGuinn discovered an important component of his style. 'The 'Rick' [Rickenbacker guitar] by itself is kind of thuddy,' he notes. 'It doesn't ring. But if you add a compressor, you get that long sustain. To be honest, I found this by accident. The engineer, Ray Gerhardt, would run compressors on everything to protect his precious equipment from loud rock and roll. He compressed the heck out of my 12-string, and it sounded so great we decided to use two tube compressors [likely Teletronix LA-2As] in series, and then go directly into the board. That's how I got my 'jingle-jangle' tone. It's really squashed down, but it jumps out from the radio. With compression, I found I could hold a note for three or four seconds, and sound more like a wind instrument. Later, this led me to emulate John Coltrane's saxophone on 'Eight Miles High". Without compression, I couldn't have sustained the riff's first note.' link.
[added, a fourth]:
1966: Eric Clapton combines the Gibson Les Paul and the Marshall Amplifier: link

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sometimes Being Cool Is Just Uncool

Back in 1977, Elvis came through Madison, Wisconsin on what turned out to be his last tour.  My mom and dad went and my dad asked me if I wanted to go too -- my brother was in the navy at the time -- but I declined because at age seventeen, I was just too cool to go see Elvis.

We openly mocked Elvis then. We were just too young to remember what he had done by fusing white hillbilly music with black rhythm and blues. We couldn't see past his bloated 1970's image.  Instead, we paid dearly to go see bands like Led Zeppelin play Whole Lotta Love, unknowingly helping them to pay off the settlement they made with Willie Dixon over plagiarism.  Still, our derision of Elvis never rose to the outright animus of Public Enemy's Chuck D in Fight The Power:
Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me you see, straight up racist that sucker was, simple and plain, mother fuck him and John Wayne.
Elvis never lost something, even in the months before his death: watch him flash that boyish smile at the 1 min 15 sec mark here in Unchained Melody. Then back it up and watch the whole thing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1965 Can't Get No Satisfaction

When I'm watchin' my TV
And a man comes on and tells me
How white my shirts can be
But he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke
The same cigarettes as me

This is getting tougher. Too many songs!  Keep in mind that I'm just trying to pick out my favorites from each year--I'm not trying to be all inclusive.  What I've had to do now is to carve out the Beatles and the Beach Boys and to divvy up what's left. I'll leave discussions of the Beatles to a professional like Ron.  I suppose I should eventually say what I think about the Beach Boys.  But not today.

1965 was another big change year for rock 'n' roll. A couple of new favorite groups appeared on the scene: most notably The Byrds, The Who & The Yardbirds (all big guitar sounds). Here are my nominees with the emboldened winner:

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction ~ Rolling Stones
Like A Rolling Stone ~ Bob Dylan
My Generation  ~ The Who
Turn, Turn, Turn ~ The Byrds
The Sounds Of Silence~ Simon & Garfunkel
The Tracks Of My Tears ~ Smokey Robinsion & The Miracles
California Dreamin' ~ The Mamas & The Papas
Do You Believe In Magic ~ Lovin' Spoonful
I Got You (I Feel Good) ~ James Brown
I Fought The Law ~ Bobby Fuller Four
I Can't Help Myself ~ Four Tops
For Your Love ~ Yardbirds
Unchained Melody ~ Righteous Brothers
Hang On Sloopy ~ McCoys
Stop! In The Name Of Love ~ Supremes

Letters To Freya: The Trial of Helmuth James von Moltke

Helmuth James von Moltke on trial for his life in 1944

The passage below is excerpted from Letters To Freya and requires some background. I wrote briefly about Freya von Moltke here.  Her husband, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, was a German lawyer secretly active in anti-Nazi resistance. He managed to stay undetected until near the end but after the last attempt on Hitler's life he was betrayed and arrested. In this passage, written shortly before his execution, von Moltke describes the trial, a psychological battle between himself and Roland Freisler, the Nazi judge who tried and condemned him. Freisler was the same judge who had tried and convicted Sophie Scholl and the other members of the White Rose resistance group. There is actual archive film of Freisler presiding over trials here. Von Moltke wrote:
In one of his tirades Freisler said to me: 
Only in one respect are we and Christianity alike: we demand the whole man!   
I don't know if the others sitting there took it all in, for it was sort of a dialogue--a spiritual one between Freisler and myself, for I could not utter many words--in which we two got to know each other through and through. Of the whole gang Freisler was the only one who recognized me, and of the whole gang he is the only one who knows why he has to kill me. There was nothing about a 'complicated man' or 'complicated thoughts' or 'ideology', but 'the fig leaf is off'. But only for Herr Freisler.  We talked, as it were in a vacuum. He made not a single joke at my expense, as he had done with Delp and Eugen. No, this was grim earnest: 
From whom do you take your orders? From the Beyond or from Adolf Hitler? Who commands your loyalty and your faith?   
All rhetorical questions, of course.--Anyhow, Freisler is the first National Socialist who has grasped who I am, and the good Mueller* is a simpleton.
*Heinrich Müller, Gestapo chief, last seen in the bunker the day after Hitler committed suicide. Müller eluded capture and his whereabouts after the war were never positively determined.

I selected this particular passage because it reminds me of the psychological dynamics of The Grand Inquisitor within Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov with Freisler playing the role of the Grand Inquisitor and von Moltke the Christ-like figure. The difference of course is that Dostoevsky was writing 19th century fiction while von Moltke's trial really occurred 75 years ago.

I am connascent with Mad Men

There is a very brief close-up in Season 1, Episode 1 of Mad Men of a calendar dated March 1960 which is my birth month/year (linkage). I am connascent with the storyline of this TV show.  Connascent was my response to a word challenge posed by amba over here and is supposed to convey the notion of "being born at the same time" in a historical sense.

Most of the characters in Mad Men already have quite a few years on them in 1960.  That explains why I haven't found anyone to identify with yet. I mean, some of the characters remotely resemble some of the grownup people I recall from back then. But growing up in the backwater of Madison and semi-rural Wisconsin is a far cry from Manhattan. Maybe I should start looking at some of the kids (i.e., baby Gene) for self identity. Maybe I should give it up. My recollections of 1965 are being around lots and lots of other kids.  I'm not getting that feeling from Mad Men.

If you don't follow Twitter you should do it just to follow the Mad Men "live-tweeting" remarks on Sunday nights by @vbspurs and @kngfish.

How the Dutch tongue avoids the same-sex marriage controversy

The Netherlands were of course one of the first European countries to recognize same-sex marriage rights but to my knowledge, no one there has ever made a serious move towards corresponding same-sex marriage rites. Long before the Dutch government recognized same-sex marriages, they distinguished between marriages recognized by the state and marriages recognized by the church. Linguistically, it's kind of a rights vs rites distinction. The Dutch words are burgerlijk huwelijk for civil marriage and kerkelijk huwelijk for church marriage.

It's important to recognize that those terms predate the acceptance of same-sex marriage in that country by decades.  When the time came to broaden the meaning of burgerlijk huwelijk to include same-sex couples, there was no corresponding need to broaden the meaning of kerkelijk huwelijk.  I am unsure what religious freedom the Dutch people enjoy, but judging from the protections granted to Muslims I'd guess that they're pretty broad.

The linguistic situation in this country is more nuanced.  Claimants for the word "marriage" to cover same-sex unions are insensitive to other's rites while claimants to the word "marriage" to exclude same-sex unions are insensitive to other's rights. I'm not sure there is any easy way to resolve this.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Letters Home: "We got here at last...this country is Beautiful"

Nellingen Barracks as they looked in 1955. Photo used with permission. The original can be found here.)

Tuesday Aug 11, 1952
Nellingen Caserne, West Germany
Dear Mom and Dad and all,
We got here at last. I thought maybe I would have a letter from you when I got here, but I haven’t yet. I had one letter from a girl in Milwaukee.
We landed in France the 6th and stayed overnight. It took us 3 days from there to Germany. After a day’s train ride we finally got here. Nellingen Caserne is the name of the camp. [1] The nearest town is Nürtingen. The nearest Big town is Stuttgart. We are below Frankfurt. A little over 200 miles from the Russian Border. [2] I took a picture of the White Cliffs of Dover. It looked nice, but this country is Beautiful.
This camp used to be a German Airbase. [3] You can see for miles. Everything is new. All the Buildings. It’s a small camp. I like it so far. The theater just opens up today. The P.X. hasn’t been open to long. We can buy most anything. Just like back in the States. We won’t get passes for two weeks yet.
We haven’t been paid for a mo. so I suppose my checks stopped coming.When we do get paid it will be in scripts, which can only be spent in camp. If we go to town we have to trade it for marks. 1 mark is 23.8 cents, or close to a quarter. Scripts are just paper from 5¢ to $20.00.  Marks are coins. I’ll send some next time. [4]
Let me know how long it takes for this to get there. I think about 6 days. We are supposed to be near Frankfurt, but the camp isn’t finished yet. We also will get Border patrol but not for a while yet. We got new tanks. [5]  I haven’t saw them yet but I will.
We got a new, big mess hall and is the food ever good. I’ll send pictures as soon as I can of this place and the towns around here. All the buildings are brick, with Brown tops. We saw quite a few places that are not rebuilt yet from World War II. We sure did a lot of building over here since the war. All Brick houses with Red roofs. I can look out the window and see a church. The Mueller boy is still with me. He got three letters from his wife. In some of the small towns around here, they have barnyards on mainstreet. I guess the water is unsafe to drink.
The 141 has already got its name up for being rough-a lot of the guys celebrated last night with fights and everything. They got a big Beer garden on post and the German beer is 16% alcohol. They can keep the stuff as far as I'm concerned. I can't see where it would do me any good. They told us you have to watch out for the girls in Stuttgart. They fight over GIs. Guess I'd better stay away from there. Ha! Ha!
My A.P.O. number changed, it's 46 now.
Bye for now. V.
P.S. write soon. I will
[1] The correct spelling is Nelligen Kaserne.
[2]  The "Russian Border" meant of course the Czech border.
[3] There's a fantastic website about the camp here.
[4] A 1-Mark note that he saved from his time overseas:

[5] He's referring to the new Patton class of tanks coming out of Detroit.  I discussed this briefly back here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1964 Got Kinda Kinky

The Beatles and the Beach Boys dominated the charts in 1964 and so everyone's favorite is likely to be one of their songs.  But notice other trends emerging in the list below including Motown & other British Invasion groups.  And there's Bob Dylan still caught up in his folk mode.  I voted Kinks for their enduring effect on the guitar-driven sound, but that may just be me.

You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling ~ The Righteous Brothers
My Girl ~ The Temptations
You Really Got Me ~ The Kinks
House Of The Rising Sun ~ The Animals
Where Did Our Love Go ~ Supremes
She's Not There ~ The Zombies
The Times They Are A'Changin' ~ Bob Dylan
Dancing In The Street ~ Martha & the Vandellas
Under The Boardwalk ~ The Drifters
Gloria ~ Them (Van Morrison)
Baby I Need Your Lovin' ~ Four Tops
Do Wah Diddy Diddy ~ Manfred Mann
Needles And Pins ~ The Searchers
Rag Doll ~ The Four Seasons
Baby Love ~ The Supremes
Chapel Of Love ~ Dixie Cups
Tell Her No ~ The Zombies
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) ~ Marvin Gaye
Leader Of The Pack ~ Shangri-Las
Come See About Me ~ Supremes
Time Is On My Side ~ Rolling Stones
The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena) ~ Jan & Dean
It's All Over Now ~ Rolling Stones
The "In" Crowd ~ Dobie Gray

Who Was Hot In 1952?

My Letters Home and 50 years of Mytunes series got me to thinking about popular music back in 1952. At the time, the music markets (like most everything else) were still racially segregated, targeting and selling to different markets. Two notable musical artists were at their peak in 1952: Muddy Waters and Hank Williams.

Muddy Waters charted two hit songs that year with She Moves Me and All Night Long, but would go on to greater heights and would inspire an entire generation of white blues artists. Hank Williams had seven successful singles in 1952: Jambalaya (On The Bayou), You Win Again, The Wild Side Of Live, Honky Tonk Blues, Settin' The Woods On Fire, Half As Much, and the eerily prescient I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive.  Hank Williams died the following year at the age of 29.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Chemistry But Were Afraid To Ask

Chemistry is all about electrons. Electrons used to go by old-fashioned names like corpuscles and were once even thought to move like fluids in an ether. So chemistry is really all about atoms and molecular bodies exchanging precious electrons.

Most garden variety chemistry is unimolecular or bimolecular. Unimolecular chemistry is dissociative, which on the one hand sounds asocial but on the other hand really just means to come undone. Bimolecular chemistry is more about two things coming together. Molecular threesomes do occur but they are rare (as one can imagine) and are technically called termolecular reactions. Concerted orgies of four or more molecular bodies are mostly just pure fantasy, unless there is some sort of prior bondage involved as sometimes occurs amongst biomolecules.  We'll save that for another day and focus on just the basics.

When two atoms or molecular bodies get together to react, there's always a donor and an acceptor (of the precious electrons).  Now besides the obvious connotations of donor and acceptor, it also turns out that the electron donor and acceptor parts of molecules have certain shapes. You may have also heard tell about HOMO's and LUMO's but that's getting a bit too technical.  We'll save that for elective or advanced classes. Suffice to say that some molecules can be both donors and acceptors depending on the shapes and energy levels of the coupling partner(s).

Many of the concepts I've just introduced can be illustrated graphically. One of my personal favorites is the simple coupling of H2 with O2 to make water (or steam).  But it turns out that this simple reaction is "forbidden" and so unfit for the present discussion.  Meanwhile, here's a different diagram to wet your appetites:

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1963

US Birthrates (per thousand people) vs. Year
click on it to enlarge

Demographics are telling. Consider that the avant-boomers were just turning 18 in 1963 and that the real middle of the demographic bulge was yet to enter puberty. Holy producer-consumer symbiosis!  But I'm not saying anything new so I'll shut up.

Here are the contenders for best song of 1963.  Notice that I had to give the Beatles a poll of their own. Please vote early and vote often.

Anything by The Beatles in 1963 (see special poll below)
Anything by The Beach Boys off Surfin' USA
My Boyfriend's Back ~ The Angels
Louie Louie ~ The Kingsmen
Blowing in the Wind ~ Bob Dylan
Surf City  ~ Jan and Dean
Ring of Fire ~ Johnny Cash
Glad All Over ~ Dave Clark Five
Heat Wave ~ Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
On Broadway ~ Drifters
He's So Fine ~ The Chiffons
Puff the Magic Dragon ~ Peter Paul & Mary
Be My Baby ~ Ronettes
Walk Right In ~ Rooftop Singers
In Dreams ~ Roy Orbison
Surfin' Bird ~ Trashmen
Dominique ~ The Singing Nuns
Wipe Out ~ The Surfaris

Take my poll!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Letters Home: An 18-Day Transatlantic Cruise

Aug 2, 1952
sat nite
Dear Mom, Dad and All,
I suppose you were wondering if I was ever going to write. There was no mail coming or going off the ship so it didn’t do any good to write. We left camp Thursday July 24 by train and got to New Orleans the next day. When we got there we didn’t lose any time getting on the ship. At 4:00 Fri afternoon a navy band saw us off.
The water sure was blue in the Gulf of Mexico. It took us four days to go around Florida. The first night was too hot to sleep.  It’s a lot cooler now though. We went through the Keys of Florida at night, but I did get to see Miami. The only fish I saw were sharks and flying fish. Some of the guys saw two whales.
We have good eats. I haven’t done a lick of work since I been on this tub. 8 days.  We sleep about level with the water. It's crowded but I sleep good. If I’m not sleeping I’m eating. I saw two movies since I been on here. “The Thing” and “I was an American Spy”.
We get the news everyday and hear music over the loud speaker. There’s around 4,000 men and boys on this ship so you can just about guess how big it is. [1]
I sure was surprised when I met Jim P. on here. He’s going to France. He’s in the Air Force. 
There’s 3 tank Battalions and 2 air force Batt on here. The Air Force is getting off in France. I won’t get to mail this until we dock in France this Tuesday, Aug 5th. [2] I sure got a sun tan from laying on the deck.
Another thing I saw was 2 big black twisters sucking water in the sky. It looked something like this:
I took a picture of it. I also got pictures of some of the big ships that were in New Orleans going up and down the Mississippi. It rained twice, but no high waves yet. I haven’t felt a bit sick yet. I’ll write again as soon as I can when we get to Germany. I’ll be there by the time you get this.
P.S. We can’t have American money over there. We have to change it to scripts which can be exchanged for Marks. One mark is 25¢.

[An unsent postcard tucked inside the letter]:

[1] Wiki info on the  USS General A. W. Greely

[2]  The post card says La Pallice, France. La Pallice harbor hosted German submarine pens which still exist and were used in the filming of Das Boot.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"You Are My Medicine"

A week ago my wife and I saw Dick Dale play a show at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. I dropped a few emotional tweets about the show here, herehere and here, and even wrote a comment over on Sissy Willis' blog here. I can't add much more. Dick Dale has his own long history and I feel very fortunate to have seen this latest show. According to this reporter, rumors of his imminent retirement are exaggerated. I hope so.

Dick Dale is 73 years old now and has been performing locally since 1955. When he first came onstage he gave a long spiel about fighting cancer and about having to cancel a bunch of upcoming shows, including a tour of Japan. He told the audience "No way could I cancel this show--you are my medicine."
He said that he was running a fever of 102. My wife, who has cared for a lot of cancer patients, could read between the lines and knew exactly what he was going through treatment-wise.  His weakness forced him to sit the entire show but it didn't matter--he played as well as he ever had. We were seated at a table across from a gentleman who has followed Dick Dale since 1961 and he was clearly enjoying this one as much as ever. I'm sorry I don't have a better photo of Dale. I felt drawn to him, wanting to get closer to him more and more as the show unfolded. But the very front was occupied by close friends and family and there just wasn't any way to politely intrude on their space and so I didn't.

What got me emotionally was the obvious bond between father and son onstage. Jimmy Dale, who just turned 18, has been playing onstage with his dad since he was little.  There were times when both father and son would be playing in unison and Dick would take his hands off the guitar as if to say "look no hands" while Jimmy just kept the riff going.  That's amazing.  Such obvious affection between the two.

Dick Dale has a reputation for eschewing drugs and alcohol. He says that he went through the treatments without pain meds. After the show his last words were again "You are my medicine!"  When he stood up after the show, he visibly grimaced in pain and he was helped offstage by his son and another man. We never saw him again.

After the show, Jimmy was hanging around the fans, posing for pictures and signing the usual autographs. I thought of a photo but it was too dark and I didn't have a flash. My wife took Jimmy's hand and told him: "You tell your Dad that he's a great inspiration for cancer patients." He said "I will."

Photo used with permission of Ron