Tuesday, May 29, 2012

That's What Matter Does

Blogger EBL linked a striking photograph yesterday in honor of Memorial Day.  I'm putting it here to make another point. Notice how all the gravestones line up in a regular array:

Now focus on just the gravestones and mentally factor out the trees and the slight unevenness of the land. Pretend it's perfectly flat and that you are at eye level with the gravestones. Depending on which way you look, you can see through the array--even all the way through. This is what matter does too (atoms and molecules) when it crystallizes. Order ensues as the one becomes a greater whole. The individuals buried at Arlington are united in a common whole. But unlike the men and women buried in each grave, each atom in a crystal is essentially the same, and we can get insight into the structure of the one by shining light on the whole.

Where Have All The Good Actors Gone?

Lionel Barrymore is best remembered for his Henry Potter role in It's A Wonderful Life. He also played Ebenezer Scrooge on stage and would have done so on screen if his arthritis hadn't gotten to him. Here he plays the other side of the coin in another Capra movie, You Can't Take It With You (1938):

Barrymore played this role on crutches because of the pain of walking. Skip to the part where he explodes into a tirade at 4 min 42 s.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Last month my wife and I took the kids on a crazy road trip adventure to retrace the history of water conservation in the Great American Southwest. The trip was inspired by our reading Colossus, which retells the story of taming the Colorado River and building the Hoover Dam.

First stop was the Salton Sea which is only 100 years old and was created by accident when an irrigation canal went awry in 1906. I traced down the exact spot where the accident happened which was right outside of Yuma, Arizona. There wasn't much to see. We drove on a levee alongside the old Colorado River bed, following an old 1906 map and Google Earth. Two Border Patrol agents' trucks were parked nose-to-nose on the levee as we peered into Mexico. We drove the Chevy to the levee but the levee was bone dry. The Border Patrol guys gave us such mean looks that I was afraid to even take a photo.

We stayed overnight in Yuma which is a very old and dusty town bisected by what's left of the Colorado River. I took some high-res ("artsy") photos of an old hotel there which I'll post separately. Heading further upriver, we reached the Hoover Dam:

Hoover Dam taken from Tillman Bridge

The last time I was at Hoover Dam was pre-9/11. In the old days, the main route between Phoenix and Vegas still passed over the dam. We did that journey then with one kid and one in the oven while driving our glorious 1963 Thunderbird (that car deserves more that passing mention so I won't mention it further). There was something new this time that wasn't there in 1999--the new Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge:*

Tillman Bridge taken from Hoover Dam
The bridge is stunningly gorgeous and just opened a year or so ago. It's part of the main road now between Vegas and Phoenix, but you can park and walk it too for no charge. I felt a little acrophobic as I took that photo of the dam from the bridge.
*I dedicate this blog post to Corporal Patrick Daniel "Pat" Tillman (November 6, 1976 – April 22, 2004).

Added:  A 1930's artist captured the same view of Hoover Dam from an imaginary bridge:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ur Analysis

So this friend of mine whom I've never told anyone about invented this at home kit people can use to check whether they have any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. It's basically just a urine analysis kit that monitors your excreted levels of things like calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc.  If you're getting enough, and it's coming through, you should cut back on your supplements because it's wasted or could even be harmful.

The simple analytes are easy--things like calcium, magnesium.  He's working on the organics now. He calls it "Ur Analysis"  Get it?

Technical Difficulties

Technetium was discovered relatively late. Actually it wasn't discovered--it was made.  I suppose it was "discovered" that every isotope was radioactive and unstable. And even though some isotopes are relatively mild alpha and beta emitters (not gamma)--special handling precautions are required. So those are two good reasons why technetium chemistry is relatively unexplored. I'm curious about what's still unknown. Look where Tc sits in the Periodic Table: link It sits on the middle leftern edge of the noble metals, many of which are catalytically active. Even manganese lying above and rhenium lying below are catalysts--used mainly for hydrocarbon oxidations. I have some hunches about what technetium could do but I'm keeping them to myself for now.

I'm not saying that technetium's chemistry has been completely ignored--it hasn't. But generations of routine, curiosity-driven experiments have still not been done. Technetium has not been thoroughly interrogated. That is my interest. I do happen to know some rhenium and some osmium chemistries--rhenium is technetium's heavier family member and technetium and osmium are related by what's called a diagonal relation. Of course, any new undiscovered uses for technetium would probably lack commercial utility--who wants to use something touched by a radioactive catalyst?  Radioactivity carries enormous stigma--especially for organic life forms. But the world is changing. We are creating artificial life and intelligence in our own image.

How to assess what technetium might be good at?

Fabled Sable Island

Wrecks of Sable Island. Click to enlarge.
I recalled Sable Island while reading of the Titanic saga. Sable Island is a crescent-shaped sandbar located way off the coast of Nova Scotia. The island got there as a terminal moraine from ancient glaciation and took its name from the French word for sand.

Long considered a navigational hazard to North Atlantic trade, Sable Island is littered with the buried remains of hundreds of shipwrecks. Already by 1912, Sable Island had two lighthouses and a Marconi wireless station. The first wireless distress calls from the Titanic were heard and relayed by the Sable Island station. I'd love to visit there.

Titanic Centennial: My Last Word On The Titanic

Yeah, I know the centennial of the sinking came and went but the aftermath--the investigations--were just happening 100 years ago.

I mentioned the book The Last Log Of The Titanic by David G. Brown back here, but didn't have much to say then because I hadn't read it yet.

The book is the best book I've ever read about the Titanic.

Brown does two things I admire: first, he lays out the book's plot in a chronological format--just as if log entries had been made and kept. I love chronologies and use date tags for many blog posts here (I have added year tags to every song in my iTunes library so that I can sort them by year--it's obviously an obsession). There was a chronology problem onboard Titanic and with the surrounding ships: the ship and its time frame were moving east to west longitudinally and thus time was changing much like onboard an airplane but more slowly. Each night, Titanic's clocks would be reset by a varying amount depending on how far she had travelled during the day and her reckoned position.  Passengers and crew set their watches accordingly and some were off--thus there was a 20 minute uncertainty of events. This complicated testimony during inquiries when witnesses were questioned. Brown sorts it out.

Secondly, Brown relies upon written testimony for his narrative. Not just those recorded by the official US and British inquiries into the disaster, but also eyewitness testimony from survivors not called to testify. Brown is always sure to state who and what he is relying upon. Brown also points out where the testimony conflicts with fact, as for example the ship's breaking in two which was denied under oath by several officers.  When I first read parts of the Senate Testimony, I too was struck by intimations of witness coaching.

Some other factoids and observations:

There is a paper trail showing that J. Bruce Ismay had planned a phony arrival date for Titanic in order to score a publicity coup against rival Cunard Line. The man was absolutely obsessed with the timing of her arrival. He also had de facto power over Captain Smith, some of whose actions were otherwise inexplicable. But these things we already knew or suspected and are just underscored with more clear and convincing evidence.

The coal bunker fire (mentioned here) really may have played a role insofar as its steel bulkhead--possibly heat damaged--failed to hold back water when the adjacent forward compartment filled--this was the proverbial straw on the camel's back. Thomas Andrews, the ship builder and who also died on the maiden voyage, told witnesses that if this bulkhead failed she would founder.

The ship actually ran over an underwater spar on the iceberg--doing damage to her double hull. Brown does an outstanding job describing the S-shaped maneuver Titanic executed--First Officer Murdoch didn't simply veer left--he "ported around" the berg and ended up heading northwards. Because of the direction of turning screw propellors, Titanic could turn left faster. Brown's description of Titanic "skidding" on ice is masterful and reminded me of advice I used to get for driving on ice--turning into the skid. This is all supported by eyewitness testimony from the Californian.

An aborted attempt to head north towards Halifax may have exacerbated the rate of sinking. This is the most damning (and controversial) theory put forth by Brown, and it is well supported by testimony. That the engineers restarted the Titanic's engines was attested to by several passengers--but was denied by the officers under oath.

The book is an indictment and is constructed like a brief in a lawsuit that was never litigated. If the White Star Line (J.P. Morgan ultimately) ever had to construct a response, it's missing. They may very well have faced this possibility in 1914 but they settled out of court.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fairies Wear Boots (1970)

Guitarist Tony Iommi spends most of the time hiding behind Ozzie Osbourne in this vintage video. Beginning at the 3m 54s mark, you get a brief glimpse of his famous finger prostheses; Iommi lost some fingertips on his right hand while working in a sheet metal shop at age 17. Despite the injuries, and inspired by Django Reinhardt, Iommi went on to commercial success with Black Sabbath. He was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. I'm going to read his autobiography, Iron Man.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Astronomy (1974)

First band to use umlauts:

Very nice guitar solo starting at 4:15.

"Kick in their asses if you have to"

Jack Muller (1923-2005)
Kids are constantly telling me, for instance, how 'the pigs' caused the 1968 Democratic Convention fiasco in Chicago and the Conspiracy Eight trial which followed. No way. There were no doubt some sadistic policemen brutalizing the demonstrators. Cops are people, and we have our rotten apples. But the majority of us, like the majority of you, would like to come home each night feeling we've done a good job. Only we can't if we're ordered to do a bad job, to act like pigs. 
The 1968 Democratic Convention? Mayor Daley--not the kids--provoked us. It's that simple. Take it from someone on the inside. 
When the Yippies first started coming in and trying to get permits to sleep out in the park and demonstrate, it was our wise Mayor who went right on TV and orated to this effect:
No bunch of hippies and yippies are going to come into this town and take it over. Our police department knows how to handle people who get out of line! 
He made the same waves in private that he did in public. And every policeman, high and low, felt the backwash. 'Daley wants us to keep the Convention quiet at any cost,' one of my superiors told us. 'Kick in their asses if you have to.' 
Not that some of the kids weren't deliberately trying to provoke violence. Not that some of them weren't high on drugs. Not that a lot of them weren't kids at all, but forty-year-old guilt-ridden liberals looking for purpose and excitement. But if you really want to know where it all really started, who is really guilty for the 1968 Democratic Convention fiasco, don't put it on the pigs. 
Blame the farmer.
Excerpted from "I, Pig Or How The World's Most Famous Cop, Me, Is Fighting City Hall" by Jack Muller (with Paul Neimark) William Morrow & Co. New York, 1971.  The book is out of print but deserves to be republished. I first read it as a teen. I see that it is available used here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl? (1965)

Released as a single in 1965, and on album in 1966. I like this video version better but blogger won't let me embed it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

People Start Politics...People Can Stop It

Tony Cody, the actor in that famous commercial, claimed Cherokee heritage. In 1996, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported his Sicilian heritage, but Cody denied it. He lived all his adult life claiming he was American Indian and supported related causes.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Response To Macho

I once wrote about someone I admire, Helmut James von Moltke.  As an aside, I'm rather proud that one of my blog posts on him is my most visited one--it's the one that recounts his chilling encounter with evil incarnate. link

Now it so happened that von Moltke was raised in the Christian Science Church (FTR, I'm not a Christian Scientist). Anyways, von Moltke's parents first translated Mary Baker Eddy's work into German. According to ueber macho blogger Crack Emcee, who garners the apparent respect of numerous high profile bloggers, anyone associated with what he brands cult characteristics is forever tainted with the "cult characteristics" and is to be mocked and parodied.

Just the other day on Althouse, Crack was running down Mitt Romney again--in his eyes guilty of holding fast to tenets of the Mormon faith. That's just absurd--akin to holding Helmut James von Moltke hostage to every last jot and tittle of Christian Scientism.

I asked Crack the other day on Althouse what he thought of Mary Baker Eddy--here's what he said:
A nut job, responsible for the deaths of a lot of kids. Come on, you could've guessed that one, couldn't you? Would you deny your kid a blood transfusion based on her bullshit? link
My reading of Crack is that he believes strongly in guilt by association. Crack is a bigot in that regard. Show me the evidence that Mitt Romney colors his political thinking and potential future actions by the details of his faith.

I'm going to requote something written by von Moltke's widow, Freya, which I put back here:
However, questions of faith were also, or became, personally vital for almost all the members of the group.  Even if they were not churchgoing Christians, it was their faith in divine work, and, in fact, the faith rooted in Christian heritage, that gave them their foundation and their courage.  Their faith also imposed upon them the duty to act against the destruction of fundamental humanity (evolved from Christianity) by National Socialism and to risk their lives for this. However, for them it was not only a matter of great heritage, out of which our western treasures had grown, in spite of all atrocities committed by the church and by Christians throughout the centuries; rather, they also believed in the future of Christianity.  Christianity has a way--just when it appears bankrupt--of becoming alive again in a new and different manner. They believed that. Faith is tested by one's actions. People attach themselves to many gods and are always in danger of being led astray by false gods--as was the case then with the false gods of National Socialism.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Art Is A Rich Man's Game"

"The Spirit Of The Northwest" by Sidney Bedore, Green Bay, WI 
I found that quote in a story here about Sidney Bedore, a Wisconsin sculptor. Another statue of his (of Jean Nicolet) was supposed to grace the Capitol Building grounds at Madison but never made it. That story is buried here at the end.