Tuesday, July 31, 2012

For LL: Cisco Kid

Commenter LL couldn't take my previous post, a song penned by the L.A. band War. I know he likes things South of the Border, so there's always this instead:

Indians Sweat And Seethe Over Power Failure

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fathoming Good and Evil

Photo negative of a pool taken underwater by my father ca. 1975
We humans look bilaterally symmetric, but inside we are not. Our hearts and stomachs are not symmetrically balanced, nor is our digestive tract. Bilateral (and higher) symmetry is common in nature and also appears unseen in right and left-handed versions of the same molecules.* We even speak of left and right in politics.

Then there is the symmetry of matter and anti-matter. And the symmetry of good and bad. This is something different altogether. Though the symmetry of matter and anti-matter is as symmetric as a number line, with plus and minus arrayed symmetrically about zero, only one side prevails in the world we know.  I asked a while back:

Who can fathom why matter prevails while the equal and opposite realm of anti-matter remains all but unrealized? 
*Right and left handed versions of the same molecules are chiral, a word which stems from a Greek word meaning handedness.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Madonna's Woes and Tramping Abroad

Madonna got into a bit of trouble overseas in France. link  I'm mostly bored with the details and won't go into them. The crowd's reaction reminded me of a Patti Smith concert I saw in Florence, Italy, back in 1979.  Smith really riled the crowd and retired from performing afterwards.

My mother salvaged an old diary I kept on that trip and returned it to me last month. Here's what I said about that concert then.
Martedì 10 settembre [1979]
Rome, Villa Borghese 
Wow what a night last night. I went to the Patti Smith concert at the stadium in Florence. The stadium looked like a huge bathtub. I couldn't believe it when I arrived. It was as if Led Zeppelin were playing. There were people all over 5 hours before the concert began. We waited away from the noisy mob collecting near the gates. I caught some sleep. Then there was a shout--the gates were opening. We made for the nearest gate.
After waiting in the hot noisy crowd (like so many grains of sand all trying to get through the neck of an hourglass) we broke through to the inside and picked ourselves some good seats.
Below it was like pigs to a feeding trough, pushing shoving, shouting, etc. I remember laughing as we watched people scaling the fence around the field track. At the top there was 3 wires of barbwire and some people would get their shirts or pants caught.
Well after some length of time the music began. First it was tapes. Lynyrd Skynyrd "Street Survivors" and then Dire Straits--"Down By The Waterfront."
When the equipment was tested, I thought at first it was just the roadies tuning up stuff, but then they played songs, rock like "You Really Got Me" and then quit--the tapes continued. But when the real band began I realized it was the same musicians.
Patti Smith had a hard time with the audience. First of all she barely knew a word of Italian, only "ti capisc" which she pronounced like "ti capeach."  Secondly the audience couldn't understand a word of English.
She had a problem with people climbing up on the stage--the crowd was absolutely unruly.
"Hey man, you wanna climb the stage, get your own stage, man."
The last song they played was "My Generation."  Before this though the guitarist played the first few notes of the Star Spangled Banner (like Hendrix at Woodstock) and a big American flag came up behind them. Then all the Italians gave it the finger. Then the Who song--then a finale and then chaos; people surged up onto the stage like the pressure of being pushed forward reached a breaking point.
Then "Hey man, get the fuck off the stage" but there was nothing that could be done.
Patti tried to talk with them. "Hey you know" she said to one, "you light up my life." She tried to get him to sit down at the piano "fucking sit down, asshole....how do you say sit down in Italian" she said through 80,000 pairs of ears--but to no avail.
The chaos ended when the road crew swept the undesirables off the stage and then, like a giant bathtub, the moment came when the plug was pulled and it started to drain, not without leaving a residue of paper, cans, and bottles though. So went the concert in Italy.
My own recollection of the same concert, written a year and a half ago from memory is here.
It's interesting for me to compare the two accounts--one fresh and the other filtered by 30 years of  experience and memory.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: A Ghost Of Britons Past

Separated at birth?  Kenneth Branagh channels Isambard Kingdom Brunel:

Kenneth Branagh at the 2012 London Olympics

Isambard Kingdom Brunel
The likeness was intentional. More on Brunel here

Friday, July 27, 2012

I Can't Be Counted On At All

I saw the Meat Puppets a couple times back in the 80's and then again at Red Rocks when they kinda sort made it. Nirvana actually did more for their sales than they did themselves when Kurt Cobain covered their song "Lake of Fire." My wife used to have a huge crush on the guitar player. Good thing he got older and heavier. Wicked good guitar riffing starting at 3m 10s.

The Vortex is a Downwards Death Spiral

More than 50 years before Rutherford's proof of the positively charged nucleus in 1909 (published in 1911), a physicist named Rankine had notions which today sound downright prescient. He described in 1850:
Each atom of matter consists of a nucleus, or central point, enveloped by an elastic atmosphere which is retained in its position by attractive forces, and that the elasticity due to heat arises from the centrifugal force of these atmospheres, revolving or oscillating about their nuclei or central points. link
There were no plus and minus charges in Rankine's so-called Vortex Theory.  There were no protons and electrons--there was no polarity. Things were held together presumably by gravity.  But the notion of a hard kernel having squishy orbiting clouds is intriguing in retrospect. It's reminiscent of what came later.  Or something.

Then there was Nagaota whose 1904 planetary model for the atom was in part correct.  Just as the planets circled the sun with gravity and momentum in balance...so it was at the atomic level with electrostatic forces and momentum: a tiny negative electron revolved around a positive nucleus. What gravity writ large, electrostatics writ small: electrostatic attraction countered an electron's momentum, keeping things in balance. This had the added appeal of offering a certain symmetry for the outwardly large and the inwardly small: everything was just whirling masses in motion. Turtles all the way down and up. A few remaining fundamental differences between atoms and planets remained, such as the way that electrons always circled in discrete orbits while planets did not (or did they?), but these problems were sure to be solved.  And as wrong as the model proved to be, it stuck with us:

Engraven Images

If you were a kid of a certain age who collected coins, you might recall that one unattainable possession: the 1909-s V.D.B Lincoln Cent.

The "S" stands for San Francisco where it was minted; the V.D.B. stands for the sculptor's name, Victor David Brenner. When the coin first appeared in 1909 to mark the centennial of Lincoln's birth, it was the first coin to bear the likeness of a real person.  Previously, all U.S. coins had carried the likenesses of stylized subjects like Lady Liberty, Indians, and so forth. Also, previous coin designs had had artist's initials, but VDB's were deemed too ostentatious--or too something--and were moved to the front of coin, just under Lincoln's shoulder, where they still reside. Pull out a penny and have look.

Friday, I'm In Love

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Proof Was In The Pudding

[continued in part from here]

After Thomson discovered and defined the negative portion of the atom, his attention turned to the positive portion which was ill-defined. One problem was that there was no simple tool to probe inside atoms. Electrons could be fired at matter, but so what?  They just softly scattered off (it turns out that organized matter diffracts them but that came later).

The alpha particle was Rutherford's baby: he had named it and had shown that is was a helium atom stripped of electrons, i.e., He2+.  By 1909, Rutherford and his students were firing alpha particles at everything in sight, looking for any new and unusual effects, but also testing theories about the positive part of Thomson's Plum Pudding Model.

Rutherford had earlier noted the thickness of sheets of materials needed to stop alpha particles. But why did they? There was nothing about JJ Thomson's atom that should get in the way. If the positively charged portion of each atom were a uniformly thin gruel, alpha particles should sail right through.  But they noticed deflection--eppur si muove.

Eventually, they began measuring how much thin sheets of gold foil deflected beams of alpha particles. The experimental set-up involved aiming a beam of alpha particles at a gold foil and putting a detector on the other side to measure deflection angles of the "filtered" particles. In a sense, Rutherford was trying to quantify the density of the positive pudding portion. The more closely they looked, the more deflection they observed. Almost as an aside, Rutherford suggested putting the detector in front of the gold foil. When they did so, and to everyone's utter surprise, a detectable amount of alpha particles appeared to bounce off the gold foil rather than pass through it. It took Rutherford two years to digest, confirm, reconfirm and then to announce what this all meant. In Rutherford's words:
It was quite the most incredible event that has ever happened to me in my life. It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you. On consideration, I realized that this scattering backward must be the result of a single collision, and when I made calculations I saw that it was impossible to get anything of that order of magnitude unless you took a system in which the greater part of the mass of the atom was concentrated in a minute nucleus. It was then that I had the idea of an atom with a minute massive center, carrying a charge.
[Continued in part here]

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Plum Pudding

The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.
- Albert. A. Michelson, speech at the dedication of Ryerson Physics Lab, U. of Chicago 1894

The following year, Roentgen discovered X-rays; a year later, in 1896, Becquerel discovered radioactivity; and J.J. Thomson electrified physics in 1897 when he announced that cathode "rays" were really beams of electrons or what he called "corpuscles."

Thomson knew as much as anyone about electricity and its conduction--that electricity could flow here and there like invisible water and it could even be tamed and put to use. The electron, named after the Greek word for amber, had even been proposed before but had remained safely ensconced in matter. Thomson disclosed it. Disrobed it. What the electron lost in privacy, it gained in primacy and notoriety. Alone and naked for the first time, the electron succumbed to further scrutiny--first its mass-to-charge ratio was measured by Thomson. Soon after, it was actually weighed by Millikan (ironically at the University of Chicago--see quote above). But the real shocker at the time was that atoms were divisible--they were not a-tomos. This destroyed a comfortable notion of integrity.

JJ Thomson. Note the photograph (second from right) which is an early X-ray of the hand of Frau Roentgen
Knowing that he could strip off little negative bits, but not having a working notion of the countervailing positive portion which was surely left behind, Thomson theorized that electrons were uniformly sprinkled in a positively-charged, amorphous medium. The model was dubbed Plum Pudding. And why not? Thompson went with what he knew.  He would have overreached any data to have proposed anything else. And so, for the interregnum roughly corresponding to the Edwardian erauntil Ernest Rutherford undid itthe atomic model looked like this:
Suggested reading: history of the electron

This story continues here: link

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Was It Better Before Before They Voted For What's-His Name?

Exene Cervenka chooses not to endorse Obama: link

Remember when her band X dissed Reagan?:

I always got the impression that guitarist Billy Zoom was a closet Republican.
Important update: Billy Zoom appears in the comments to set the record straight:

I'm not in the closet. Reagan was a great president.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Compare & Contrast

Here's another old song by Led Zeppelin, from their 4th (1971) LP called "The Battle of Evermore":

The Queen of Light took her Bow and then she turned to go
The Prince of Peace embraced the Gloom and walked the Night alone
Oh, dance in the dark of Night, sing to the morning Light
The Dark Lord rides in force tonight, and Time will tell us all
Oh, throw down your Plow and Hoe, rest not to lock your Home
Side by side we await the Might, of the darkest of them All 
I hear the horses' Thunder down in the Valley below
I'm waiting for the Angels of Avalon, waiting for the eastern Glow
The Apples of the Valley hold the Seeds of Happiness
The Ground is rich from tender Care, repay do not forget, no, no
Dance in the dark of Night, sing to the morning Light
The Apples turn to brown and black, the Tyrant's Face is red
Oh, War is the common Cry, pick up your Swords and fly
The Sky is filled with good and bad, Mortals never know 
Oh well, the Night is long, the Beads of Time pass slow
Tired Eyes on the Sunrise, waiting for the eastern Glow
The Pain of War cannot exceed the Woe of Aftermath
The Drums will shake the castle Wall, the Ring Wraiths ride in black (ride on)
Sing as you raise your Bow, (ride on) shoot straighter than before
No Comfort has the Fire at Night that lights the Face so cold
Oh, dance in the dark of Night, sing to the morning Light
The magic Runes are writ in Gold to bring the Balance back, bring it back...

At last the Sun is shining, the Clouds of blue roll by
With Flames from the Dragon of Darkness, the Sunlight blinds his Eyes

Oh, bring it back, bring it back, bring it back, bring it back, bring it back...
The story reminds me of the older (1940) animation sequence created by Walt Disney and set to music in his masterpiece, Fantasia:

Of course the original story is much older than either work of art.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Compare & Contrast

Guys used to write this sort of lyrics:
It is the springtime of my loving-the second season I am to know
You are the sunlight in my growing - so little warmth I've felt before.
It isn't hard to feel me glowing - I watched the fire that grew so low.

It is the summer of my smiles - flee from me Keepers of the Gloom.
Speak to me only with your eyes. It is to you I give this tune.
Ain't so hard to recognize - These things are clear to all from time to time.

Talk Talk Talk Talk - I've felt the coldness of my winter
I never thought it would ever go. I cursed the gloom that set upon us...
But I know that I love you so

These are the seasons of emotion and like the winds they rise and fall

This is the wonder of devotion - I seek the torch we all must hold.
This is the mystery of the quotient - Upon us all, upon us all a little rain must fall...It's just a little rain...
Two decades later (1992), pop lyrics were met with this unrelated song:

What happened? Where did all that rage come from? What harshed the mellow? It couldn't have been Bush II. I blame bad parenting. Have I pointed out how Tom Morello and Barack Obama had nearly the same pedigree?

Quantum of Solstice

The sun tracks lower across the sky each day now...have you noticed?  I do because I tend to wake up everyday at sunrise. Summer's worst heat hasn't even hit and the sun, always a leading indicator of the seasons, is already ebbing. Heat is a lagging indicator. Out here, the best summer days are in the fall when the ocean has finally warmed and the sun sets earlier allowing spectacular seaside sunset bonfires: link  And there are far fewer tourists in September and October. I just hacked up a stack of wooden pallets to use as bonfire fodder this fall.
solstice Look up solstice at Dictionary.com
mid-13c., from O.Fr. solstice, from L. solstitium "point at which the sun seems to stand still," from sol "sun" (see sol) + pp. stem of sistere "to come to a stop, make stand still" (see assist).  
The etymology of solstice captures a 13th century optical illusion, when people still thought that the sun moved across the sky by day. It traced a bit higher each day in the summer until the end of June when it appeared to stop and reverse course to a lower arc each day until the end of December when it again stood still and then headed back up. The process appeared discontinuous or "quantized" because each day the motion started in a slightly different place than it began. Of course the whole coupled motion is a continuous process, but imagine being the first to figure how things all really worked: eppur si muove.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

More Aqua Velvets

From their website:
A fascinating blend of spaghetti western, shimmering psychedelia, pristine surf, latin rhythms, mysterious faraway places, and a tongue-in-cheek dash of lounge. link
Here's a link to my all-time favorite Aqua Velvets song, Summer At Dreampoint

Guitar Noir

A favorite song from a favorite band I never saw, the Aqua Velvets:

I always thought those guys should write scores for movies.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Conversations with Henry

Henry: I give you a C+ for that last effort.

Me: On ruthenium?

Henry: Yes. Don't you read anymore? I'm sorely disappointed in you this time. How could you leave out Allen and Senoff? And my stuff?  And worse, you forgot to mention ruthenium's starring role in artificial photosynthesis.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Рутений Made It Possible

Ruthenium, or Рутений in Russian, was named for Russia. We should call the element russium--that would at least be more historically descriptive--but ruthenium it is.* The first detectable amounts came from platinum ores in the Ural mountains--first discovered in the 1820's. The element is exceedingly rare--and thus expensive--and yet it too has its unique chemical niche. 

Ruthenium is the first element in the series 1 to 44 which can be fully stripped of 8 electrons to give a stable oxidation state of VIII.** Step just one atomic number backwards, to technetium, and there aren't 8 valence electrons to lose--only 7; step one element to the right, to rhodium, and the nucleus is already too electronegative to give up more than 6 electrons.  This makes ruthenium special--its willingness to fully yield to rapacious oxygen.

Ruthenium isn't really famous for much. It enjoyed brief fame in 1952 when ruthenocene was prepared by analogy to ferrocene, but it always seemed a little under-represented in catalysis until a chemist named Robert Grubbs (originally from Possum Trot holler in Kentucky), put ruthenium on the map with his Nobel-prize winning work centered around olefin metathesis.

"Olefin metathesis" has interesting history as a term--taken apart, "olefin" comes from oléfiant which means oil-forming and which ultimately comes from the roots oleum + facere. Olefin is an old word as chemistry words go--not so old to be practically archaic like oleum or vitriol, but still old. The modern term for olefin is alkene--organic hydrocarbons having one or more unsaturated double bond. The terms "polyunsaturated fat" and "trans fat" refer to olefins, FWIW.

Metathesis is a special word meaning rearrangement. There's a grammatical sense of the word which means transposition, and the chemical sense is just a metaphor. If we let the equal sign be a double bond, olefin metathesis refers to

a=b + c=d --> a=c + b=d.

See what happened there? Transposition.
*Ruthenia corresponded to a much smaller region of what is now in the Ukraine. The Ural region was unknown to the Romans.
**Wikipedia notes claims to the existence of Fe(VIII) as in FeO4 but the claim is tentative.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

No Reservations

Hüsker Dü, "No Reservations" from their epic 1987 LP "Warehouse: Songs & Stories":

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Keep Cool....

"Air Cooled"

...to the thrill of it all:

Friday, July 6, 2012

Frank Lloyd Wright's German Warehouse

Frank Lloyd Wright's monolithic German Warehouse stands forlornly on the corner of S. Church and E. Haseltine in Richland Center, WI. I've watched that building now for almost half a century. Highway 14 used to run right through town and the warehouse was on the left, exactly where we always turned right to get to my grandma's house when I was growing up.  I was back there recently and got another look. The old Warehouse is looking worse--it actually looks abandoned:

German Warehouse, northern facade and back

German Warehouse, eastern facade detail 

German Warehouse, rear portico

German Warehouse, rear portico
German Warehouse, service entrance

German Warehouse, loading dock 
German Warehouse, decay in 2012 
German Warehouse, decay in 2012 (detail)

I'd like to know who owns it and more about the problems associated with keeping it intact. I did not get a look inside--it's probably pretty awful--Wright's roofs were notoriously leaky and the German Warehouse had a flat one--a worst case scenario in Wisconsin winters.

Wright designed the building as a warehouse with some small retail space, but it never caught on. What could it be used for today? Not for its original purpose--storing stuff.  Practically anything Wright-related not nailed down is already owned and safely housed somewhere else so a new museum of his "stuff" would probably not fly. Richland Center is not exactly a tourist destination. And yet it could be something--it must be something...*

When I was in Richland Center, I drove my kids and my mom around town, letting her free associate about her past: who, what, where, & when. Wright was born in that town in 1867 and my mom can still point to the house which she knew growing up as "his," but she admits that it's always been controversial. Wright left Richland Center early on for Madison, only returning there after the First World War to build the Warehouse for a client named A.D. German. Things never went well. The people of Richland Center never fully embraced their native son. I still heard the echos growing up in the 1960s: "The Warehouse is different" ("different" is Wisconsin code for ugly); "he never paid his debts" or "he ran that coed school over in Spring Green"--that's code for scandalous.  But times change.

My mom also showed me a tiny cemetery outside of Richland Center where four of her sisters lie buried. They bracketed her in age but three died as young children and their graves lay hidden and forgotten for 70 years--much like their stories--until she finally bought them a decent tombstone this year. She showed me where. I know that there is a Wright somewhere back in my mom's genealogy and I noticed the name "Wright" on a nearby gravestone so I wonder if we're related--she didn't know but I'm tempted to find out.

If only the people who cared about Wright's legacy could unite around this particular building and help transform it. Perhaps people who care don't even know the problems that this building faces, and so I can spread that word at least--for now. I'd do much more if I had the means.

*...what after all are these buildings now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of Frank Lloyd Wright?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The First Quantum Mechanic

Max Planck was the first quantum mechanic.  He began as an "old school" mechanic, thoroughly steeped in Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell's electrodynamics; those laws conveniently sorted physics into the "corpuscular" and the "ethereal" domains, a dichotomy that corresponded to things having mass and things lacking mass, i.e., radiant light. Higgs had something to say about this later.

Isaac Newton had solved the age-old riddle of why apples fall, allowing astronomers to predict the motions of the heavens. Miracle, mystery and authority. Newton also dabbled in light, describing reflection and interference--along with his famous prism experiments--but the mathematical laws governing light propagating "through the ether" were first described by a Scotsman, James Clerk Maxwell. Newton's Laws of Gravitation governed masses while Maxwell's electrodynamics ruled the waves. Planck came along in 1900 and sort of melded the two theories at their interface.

Physics then had a big unsolved problem called "black body radiation." Heating kilns and ovens made the inside walls glow--first red, then yellow, and finally white hot. Glass makers and potters could even gauge an oven's temperature based on its color inside. Adding more heat to an oven made the walls give off progressively higher energy light but there was a limit: ovens would not begin to emit UV light. Light bulbs were another 19th century invention that used heat (electrical resistance) to produce light and Planck was motivated in part by practical concerns.

What Planck did can be summarized visually with a plot of light intensity versus wavelength:

Planck's theoretical curves (berechnet) agreed beautifully with experiment (beobachtet). Note that there are seven different non-overlapping curves corresponding to progressively higher temperatures. Prior attempts to predict the same phenomenon, based on classical electrodynamics, had failed. These attempts are neatly summarized in this graphic:

The green line corresponds to Planck's law and to reality; the red line, Rayleigh-Jeans Law, only worked at low frequencies (long wavelengths), while the blue line, Wien's Law, worked only at the high frequencies (short wavelengths).  As an aside, the red line's straight up ascent was later referred to as the "Ultraviolet Catastrophe" as a sort of metaphor for the failure of classical theory to account for the reality of Planck's Law. But Planck did more than meld two theories--he invented anew.

The newer science of thermodynamics and Maxwell Boltzmann in particular had shown that tiny invisible yet indivisible atoms could statistically sum to bulk properties. The details are grounded in probabilities rather than certainties, much like my Parable Of The Gas. What Planck did was to apply Boltzmann-like statistical mechanics to the problem of black body radiation.

Planck viewed a red-hot oven (black body radiator) as material in equilibrium with light--sort of a transubstantiation of the ethereal and corpuscular. He named the nexus--the unseen--"resonators" and counted them in a statistical way, describing their behavior mathematically. This was all well before anyone knew or even thought that atoms were held together by electrons--atoms were still thought to be amorphous blobs. That something as seemingly seamless as light should be treated like discrete masses when it interacted with matter was an assumption but it proved key to deriving the solution to the black body problem. There was no other way to explain the behavior. What Planck did was revolutionary, but he did not do it because he understood why--he did it because his theory fit experiment. Werner Heisenberg later stated Planck's insight most succinctly and in most certain terms:
Radiant heat is not a continuous flow and indefinitely divisible. It must be defined as a discontinuous mass made up of units all of which are similar to one another. 
Around the time of Planck's insight, another, younger German physicist appeared on stage. He was then a Swiss patent examiner and barely known, preoccupied with developing his own theories of relativity, but his elastic mind intuitively wrapped around what even Planck had trouble fully accepting and generalizing.  Einstein took Planck's teachings and explained the photoelectric effect--why blue light but not red light could make certain metals conduct electricity. It seemed counter intuitive that even the most intense red light could not do what the faintest of blue light could do. Einstein explained that only blue light was energetic enough to knock electrons free. There were energy thresholds and band gaps at the atomic level. Discontinuities and E=hv.

According to Thomas Kuhn, Planck needed the goading of Einstein and Paul Ehrenfast afterwards to fully realize what he had done. Certainly Planck's older contemporaries were doubters too. In Planck's words:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
Planck and Einstein remained close friends throughout the 1930's. Planck, conservative Christian, and Einstein, agnostic Jew, enjoyed making music together when not discussing physics in Wilhelmine and Weimar Berlin--while it lasted (maybe they did discuss the physics of music--frequencies, harmonics, metered beats). Planck tried in vain to intervene on his friend's behalf during the rise of the Nazi regime but he ultimately failed.

There was even greater sadness for Planck besides the exile of his great friend Einstein; there was the trial of his eldest son Erwin at the hands of Roland Freisler, whom I described back here. The Nazis executed Erwin Planck just a few heartbreaking months before the whole regime finally collapsed. The older Planck never recovered from the loss of Erwin and died just two years later in 1947. Here they are during happier times:

Max and son Erwin Planck
Erwin Planck on trial for his life before the People's Court, arrested and charged as part of the July conspiracy to assassinate Hitler:

Erwin Planck vor dem Gesezt in 1945
Erwin Planck, like so many others, was only involved in aftermath planning--helping to draft a post-Hitler German Constitution--and not the actual assassination plot.

The elder Planck's life sort of tracked a shape: A half-century of slow triumph peaked in the 1930's and then precipitously declined, much like the shape of one of his triumphant black body radiation curves which conquered physics. Post-war Germany honored Planck by renaming the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (its premier scientific society) the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.

Got Wood Shop?

That's a pedestal table I made in a shop class I took in high school.  My mother still has it and I guess that I will have it again one day. We had an excellent shop teacher and we did everything: conceived an original design; drew scaled blue prints (orthographic and isometric projections); selected the wood (black walnut in my case). Then we machine cut, planed & jointed the lumber; we glued a square peg and turned the leg on a lathe; we mitered the angles and routed the edges; sanded & varnished. We all had different designs, but we all made a pedestal table; we competed in craftsmanship. We were judged and graded in the end.

Do high schools still teach that stuff?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Breaking Away

My mother found and saved an old diary I kept when I went to Italy in 1979 to meet an Italian exchange student I had known in high school. It's mostly the sort of stuff people write when they're 19, but I found two interesting entries. The first is the very first entry--written when I flew alone to Europe via on Icelandic Air to Luxembourg. I caught a train south to Milan and then another to Turin. Despite all my random punctuation and thoughts, I captured the moment when I first set off on my own. This was also my first time on a jet airliner.
21 luglio
Chicago O'Hare 
I'm looking at the jet, which turn- excuse, I had to get on it.*
I'm sitting in a window seat, just abreast of the starboard wing. I'm very excited. The seating is very comfortable. I'm alone in my seat--I've got 3 seats to myself and the armrests come up out of the way so that could actually stretch my legs out sideways or sit indian style.
We'll be served dinner in an hour. They just stepped on the gas and we're moving forward--I'm writing so fast I want to look out the window--Oh, I never thought this dream would come true. We're taxiing now, picking up speed now, there's no getting off now. Step on it! roller coaster! thunder rumble! bouncing on the ground then a firmness under me. I can see Chicago out there, a city of lights as far as I can see, lines and triangles of light, squares like luminous patchwork quilts, lots of red, orange, green. The pilot just banked the jet away from the city and we're off to Iceland.
Just had dinner--pretty good considering where I am. They served chicken breast in rice, a salad, a stuffed tuna tomato, and after dinner coffee and cognac. It's about 10:50 CST and I think I'll shut my light out. I'm really fortunate to have these seats to myself. 
An hour later, I noted the date change. Pretentious me also thought it cool to mark the calendar dates in Italian:
22 luglio 
It's about 12:54 CST and I still can't sleep I'm so excited. The sun no sooner vanished to the west when it rose in the east. It's getting light out now and looking out the window I can see a foamy sea of clouds, a bluish white blanket covering what must be the sea beneath. I tell you, from this point of view the earth verges on unreality.
The plane ride feels much in the way of a bus ride, except for the view out the window--the light of the sun is now on the plane.
I just set my watch ahead 5 hours; we're descending to Iceland for a stay of 45 minutes. We're going to drop through the thick of these clouds now--it's like fog--I can't see past the tip of the wing; my ears are popping like crazy it's getting rough now--the world below, the sea, just came into view. I can see Iceland, a lighthouse, the land looks barren, very rocky no trees, steam is rising from a point in the distance.
After a brief stopover at the Reykjavik Airport, the flight continued on to Luxembourg:
I believe I'm flying above the Scottish countryside. The clouds are dense but scattered. It's a patchwork of green and gold fields. I can see also winding rivers.
Upon taking off from Iceland (that wretched, barren wasteland), I was joined by a middle aged French couple who speak no English. Had lunch. I ate every calorie--I don't know when I'll eat next. 
The next entry is fragmentary but describes the landing:
like plunging into a gaseous sea and then the land reappearing. 
* "which turn- excuse, I had to get on it" makes no grammatical sense. I can't tell if a word is missing or  if I just meant to be cryptic. I was aware at the time of the inevitability, but I don't recall exactly what I was thinking 33 years ago. I had left behind a serious girlfriend who was upset that I was leaving for a month (which turned into 8 weeks).  I had no regrets at the time.