Monday, February 07, 2005

Blogging Hiatus

I'm going to take a break from blogging for a while. Maybe for several days, maybe for Lent (Ash Wednesday is almost upon us), maybe indefinitely. We'll have to see, I'm just going to play it by ear.

For a good two years I was a regular commenter in the blogosphere, but steadfastly resisted becoming a blogger myself. Then in November I just sort of fell into it, completely by accident. I've enjoyed blogging these past going-on-three months. Though since I fell into it accidentally, I suspect I look at blogging differently from those who took it up deliberately. I've enjoyed blogging, but unlike some bloggers, I don't feel driven to blog.

I'll just say that, despite the misgivings I expressed in my very first post back in November, this has not been coming over me gradually; it struck me today suddenly and unwelcomely, like a bolt of lightning. I need to take a breather.

To paraphrase General MacArthur, "I may return."

The Guernsey Dale School Bell

Guernsey Dale school bell
This bell has some family history behind it. It's from the one-room country schoolhouse where my mother went to school back in the Thirties and early Forties. The Guernsey Dale School, out in the countryside over in central Wisconsin. In fact my mom didn't have far to go to get to school, since the schoolhouse was located right next to the farm where she grew up.

A little white country schoolhouse, all the grades together in one room. And this was the bell that the teacher would ring, to call the kids in from recess.

Some years later, the Guernsey Dale School closed, and seeing as it was right next to their farm, my grandparents bought the schoolhouse. (Later my cousin bought the schoolhouse from them, nice for a weekend getaway from Milwaukee, deer hunting, et cetera.) At some point my grandmother gave this bell from the Guernsey Dale School to my mom, and Christmas before last, my mom gave it to me. And now it sits on the end table in my living room, an interesting piece of Wisconsin history and family history.

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Joe Gandelman

Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice has moved to new digs. Update your blogroll! And kudos to Chris Lansdown of Powerblogs for a job very nicely done.

Also, over on Dean's World, where Joe is weekend co-blogger, Joe has an interesting piece on his misadventures with laptop computers. I dunno, I myself have had only good experiences with IBM ThinkPads...

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Trapped in a Bookcase

Once several years ago I had this dream, as is recorded in my Book of Dreams:

One night last week I had a dream that I came into this room and these fellows there started ridiculing me, then one of them retreated back behind a pillar or something but I could still see him, and so I used my psionic powers to levitate him, at high velocity, right up head first into the ceiling.

And then they were coming at me, I was shoving them back roughly with levitation, then they were firing on me with machine guns and I was psionically deflecting the bullets. And then, when they kept closing in on me, I used my levitational powers to make their heads explode, one after another.

Then I left, and in another room outside (it was in the library) were some Internet terminals which I could use to look things up, only most of the people in there were Leftists from Costa Rica or something, so they would be displeased at most of the topics I would be looking up.

And then I went out of the library, into a long hallway with a large, glass fronted wooden bookcase down at the far end. And this guy standing there had long sharp scissors which he was going to use to stab someone, and so I took the scissors away from him, and then he ran down the hallway and vanished right into the glass front of the bookcase, just like Alice through the looking glass.

And there were all sorts of wooden office chairs cluttering the hallway, and so I levitated a chair, fast as cannon shot, right down the hallway and into the front of the bookcase. And the chair vanished right through the glass into the bookcase, like through the looking glass.

And so I did this with one wooden chair after another, hoping to hit the fellow where he was hiding, inside the bookcase, but with each chair it was the same thing, it would pass right through the glass and vanish into the bookcase. And then one time, I didn't levitate a chair with enough force, and so it got hung up halfway through, parts of the chair just hanging there, suspended, sticking out through the glass. And so then I levitated a big wooden table at high speed, to knock the chair the rest of the way in, and the table also flew right in through the glass front and vanished.

And so then I walked up to the bookcase, and I pressed my fingers against the glass and my fingers went right in through the surface of the glass and came back out again, like dipping your fingertips into the water of a glassy calm pool. And so I decided to walk right through the glass front of the bookcase myself, like Alice through the looking glass, and confront this fellow inside the bookcase. And I walked right through the glass into the world inside the bookcase.

And it was indeed an entire world inside, much bigger on the inside than out, and there were vast dank stone walls, vaulted arches, vast and silent like a deserted cathedral. And it was almost completely dark, just a touch of dim bluish green light from somewhere above, like the last light filtering down into the depths of the ocean.

And I turned around to walk back out, a small foyer with the glass front of the bookcase opaque from the inside, only I found that I couldn't get back out again, the glass was now solid and wouldn't allow anything back out. And with a pang of horror I feared that I was trapped in the world inside the bookcase.

And then, in one corner of the foyer, I saw the guardian of this world within: a long, tall, thin pillar, fluted, like Greek or something, and atop the pillar a small head, glaring at me with lampbright glowing red eyes. And I felt like screaming.

And I woke up, screaming into the night: "Who's there? Who's there?"


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Gear: Railroad Brakeman's Lantern

railroad brakeman's lantern
I've written before about my "gear," impractical little items that I pick up, often for a song— items generally of no real practical use. But items that are just plain cool. Hyacinths for the soul, if you will.

Another piece of "gear" I've got is my railroad brakeman's lantern. Big, sturdy metal thing. Handle is a big circular plastic-coated metal loop. Two light bulbs in a metal cage underneath, one of the bulbs recessed back in a sort of parabolic dealie to cast more focused light, the other to cast a more diffuse light— you can turn on one bulb or the other by sliding the switch to either side. And of course this lantern is powered, as a good lantern should be, by one of those big, heavy, blocky lantern batteries.

On top of the lantern it reads:

Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.
No 31-C

And in a circle around that: The Adams & Westlake Co., Chicago - Elkhart - New York.

The top also bears the warning: CAUTION - Remove Battery When Dead.

I keep my railroad brakeman's lantern underneath my nightstand, just in case I need light in the middle of the night. There is no flashlight half as cool (well, except maybe for a MagLite™, but that's a story for another time).

Ran across this piece of gear about ten years ago when I was living in north central Illinois. I'd gotten on a Jack Kerouac jag, was buying up and reading every one of his novels I could find. One of the many things in Kerouac that intrigued me was how his friend, Neal Cassady, had worked as a railroad brakeman for the Southern Pacific Railroad. So when I walked into this second-hand shop one day and found an actual working railroad brakeman's lantern sitting there...

In his short story "October in the Railroad Earth," Kerouac wrote of getting up and getting ready to go work on the railroad:
My little room at 6 in the comfy dawn (at 4:30) and before me all that time, that fresh-eyed time for a little coffee to boil water on my hot plate, throw some coffee in, stir it, French style, slowly carefully pour it in my white tin cup, throw sugar in... my breakfast ready at about 6:45 and as I eat already I'm dreaming to go piece by piece and by the time the last dish is washed in the little sink at the boiling hotwater tap and I'm taking my lastquick slug of coffee and quickly rinsing the cup in the hot water spout and rushing to dry it and plop it in its place by the hot plate and the brown carton in which all the groceries sit tightly wrapped in brown paper, I'm already picking up my brakeman's lantern from where it's been hanging on the door handle and my tattered timetable's long been in my backpocket folded and ready to go, everything tight, keys, timetable, lantern, knife, handkerchief, wallet, comb, railroad keys, change and myself. I put the light out on the sad dab mad grub little diving room and hustle out into the fog of the flow...
Yeah. That lantern's got any flashlight beat all hollow.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Steven Malcolm Anderson on Spectrums

Steven Malcolm Anderson is a true conservative and a true original, and a man of honor and deep integrity. For quite some time now he's been making tantalizing remarks around the blogosphere about his reading and thinking on "spectrumology" or the study of various illuminating ways of drawing up ideological spectrums— a topic which Steven has been been pursuing for many years. So I was intrigued to learn that he has begun writing up an introduction to spectrumology at his blog, Up With Beauty:
  1. Introduction

  2. The quiz

  3. The "MAD" spectrum

  4. But let's look deeper...

  5. And deeper still... some books from Lakoff to Laponce

Steven's thinking on spectra (I love that irregular plural!) reminds me in some ways of the American logician and philosopher of science Charles Sanders Peirce, and his notion of "diagrams." Peirce put a great deal of work into investigating ways of diagramming complex propositions, and then manipulating the diagram as a way of performing logical operations, and moreover gleaning insights which are not obvious on the face of things. A simple example would be algebraic equations. Peirce's more complex examples look like a cross between Venn diagrams, a wiring schematic, and the kabbalah. And Peirce even pondered (shades of Steven Malcolm Anderson!) the use of "tinctures" or colors in his diagrams (CP 4.553).

Anyhow, go check out Steven Malcolm Anderson on spectrums.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

February 30, 1712

As I was stumbling around the house this morning half-awake, changing all my calendars over to February, I recalled something odd I once read: in Sweden there once was a February 30.

Yes, in Sweden there once was a February 30. Not 28 days, as usual; not 29 days, as in a leap year; but a February with 30 days. Once upon a time, there actually was a February 30.

Seems the idea was to switch Sweden over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar one inch at a time, by omitting February 29 from each leap year until, 40 years down the road, the transition would be completed. So February 29 was omitted from the year 1700 in Sweden.

The problem was, Sweden was now out of sync with everybody-- one day off from those other countries which retained the Julian calendar, and still far from coming into line with the Gregorian calendar.

Somehow in 1704 and 1708, February 29 was not dropped out of the calendar in Sweden.

Finally they just decided, to hell with it! And so in 1712 two leap year days were added to the calendar in Sweden— February 29 and February 30.

Sweden eventually switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1753.

And meanwhile, imagine you were born in Sweden on February 30, 1712. I mean, like, you'd be perpetually birthdayless! Bummer!