Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mr. Hazmat Handles Deadly Plutonium-238 Humidifier Bacteriostatic Fluid!

me with lab goggles
Okay, I was blogging last week about how I received my annual shipment of new stuff for my humidifier, 'cause it's getting to be humidifier season again. Some new filters, a new bottle of bacteriostatic fluid.

And said bottle of bacteriostatic fluid had on it the most dire warnings about not getting a drop of this stuff on you, nohow, no way:
Do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing. Wear protective eyewear (goggles or face shield), protective clothing, and rubber gloves... Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum, or using tobacco. Remove contaminated clothing and wash before reuse.
Yeah, right, Plutonium City...

Anyhow. First time I filled the humidifier, and tried to measure out the bacteriostatic fluid using the bottlecap (as per the instructions), I discovered that said bottlecap is one of those "childproof" caps— y'know, the type that nobody but a child can get off? You gotta press down on it, then twist. Said childproof bottlecap is constructed with two layers, sort of like two bottlecaps, one right inside the other.

This means that you cannot possibly use the bottlecap for measuring, without getting copious amounts of the deadly bacteriostatic fluid in between the inner and outer layers of the bottlecap.

So that when you put the bottlecap back on the deadly bottle, there is no way José that you can avoid having said deadly fluid come pouring out from in between the layers of the bottlecap and all over the place.

I'm sorry, but if the lawyers at the humidifier company, writing their bogus dire anti-lawsuit warnings, want to joke us by making us believe that we are somehow actually intended to suit up in a full-body environmental suit before handling their deadly fluid— and I quote, right off the label, "Wear protective eyewear (goggles or face shield), protective clothing, and rubber gloves"— well, then you'd think they would at least provide a bottlecap for the bottle which did not render the exercise of measuring with the bottlecap (as also mandated in the instructions) a nigh-impossible exercise in hazardous-materials futility.

(Does that paragraph-length sentence parse, or not? I honestly don't know. I don't care. By now I'm just mad.)

So. I got out from beneath the kitchen sink the old bottle of bacteriostatic fluid, almost empty, same ingredients, same percentages, from the same company. Only a little older, and without any stupid dire warnings on the label, and mostly with a much more functional bottlecap. As I know from using, and almost using up, said bottle over the past year or two.

I got out the older bottle. And I poured the contents of the newer bottle right into it.

Gasp! Deadly! Plutonium 238!!! "Wear protective eyewear (goggles or face shield), protective clothing, and rubber gloves"! Well, as you will see from the photo above, I did indeed wear genuine lab goggles, à la chemistry class. And the deadly fluid did not run riot and splash up into my face, or anything.

Since I was remiss in not wearing "protective clothing, and rubber gloves", I did get a drop or two of the lethal fluid on one fingertip. Which is still less than I would've gotten on myself every day, with that damn childproof cap on the new bottle! I declined to wash my hands with water for 15 minutes and then seek medical help, as mandated on the bogus warning label in case you get any of this liquid plutonium on your skin. No, I just washed my hands thoroughly and carefully with water and soap.

Which is the way we used to do things back in the old days. Back in the old days, y'know, before common sense up and died?!

I repeat, I did not call 911 afterwards, and sob about the drop of deadly humidifier fluid that I got on my finger, and then wait for federal agents to swoop in with black helicopters, busting my front door down, coming running in, wearing hazmat outfits and carrying laser-sight rifles, barking out orders, stapling plastic sheeting over all interior surfaces, and quarantining my house before they hustle me away to an undisclosed location, like a scene straight out of The X-Files.

Oh well. If my finger turns black and falls off, the humidifier company lawyers can no doubt worm out of my ensuing lawsuit by pointing to the photographic evidence, right here on this blog, that I was clearly only wearing lab goggles, and not "protective clothing and rubber gloves" as well, when I handled their hellish radioactive plutonium concoction.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Of Church Keys, Bottle Openers, and Change on an Everyday Level

Dean Esmay has an interesting post dealing, among other things, with church keys and pop tabs. Yes, I remember, back when I was a kid, pop cans and beer cans that required an opener. Later I remember detachable pop tabs on beer cans, well into my college years. I remember people making long chains of pop tabs; though, no, I was never inclined to drop the tab into the can. Especially not before I took a drink from it.

Somehow I've never gotten the hang of twist-off bottle caps. To this day, I always use a bottle opener on bottle caps. Though the bottle opener I use is rather ancient, translucent red tip, "Chicago 10, Illinois."

(The other opener in the picture reads, "People's Brewing Co., Oshkosh, Wis.")

Seems to me that changes like these make much more of an impact on people's lives on an everyday level, than the technological changes which are undeniably there, but often more evident to the geek or number cruncher than on any human level.

I grew up with TV. When I was a little kid, television as a medium was scarcely older than today's World Wide Web. And here's the thing: I grew up with a black & white TV in the house. When I was in college, I bought a small 12-inch black & white portable, which for many years was the only TV I had. I never owned a color TV in my life until 7 years ago— yes, not until October 1999. And I can tell you, whatever neat features my new color TV had— on-screen menu, remote control— none of it was as impressive, on a human scale, as the mere fact that the TV was color instead of B&W.

For that matter, my folks grew up in a world without TV. I suspect no changes in TV over the years are anywhere near as radical as the difference between a world with TV, and a world without TV. Yet 50 and 60 years on, we become inured to this difference, and mesmerized instead by those technical differences which can be quantified and measured— differences which pale, on any human scale, in comparison with the difference between color and black & white, or between TV and no TV.

My parents grew up with radio. But my grandparents grew up in a world without radio. I grew up in a world where radios were commonplace, and AM radio was still the "workhorse" of radio broadcasting. I remember back before AM had become primarily the domain of talk radio and sports radio. I remember big-city radio stations which provided just about every kind of radio programming you can imagine, from news to music to sports to radio programs.

In 1963 or 1964 I remember my aunt got a small table radio which had both AM and FM on it. This was the first time I had ever seen a radio which received FM. I was 7 or 8 years old. Yes, FM had been around for some time by then. But it had not yet gained preeminence. Much of the music was still on AM. I remember in the late 60s— and by this time I myself had a radio with FM on it— a lot of the rock music I listened to, I listened to on AM stations. WLS 890 out of Chicago was tremendously popular with some of my classmates, as a rock station.

Today I have radios with all sorts of high-tech features on them, digital tuning, keypad to punch in frequencies, memory chips which will store hundreds of radio frequencies. But on a human scale, the difference between then and now is much more aptly summed up in the changing ratio between AM and FM then, and AM and FM now.

I remember when I was about 10— we're talking 1966 here— we first got to use magic markers in art class. Magic markers in those days had an overpowering odor to them, and they dried out quickly if they weren't kept capped. You weren't supposed to smell of them, something about getting high and brain damage, that may have been an urban legend, I don't know. But they sure did smell. And they were also a big change compared to Crayola crayons.

Then, within a couple of years, when I was in junior high, the first felt-tipped pens came out. Sort of like a magic marker, but a lot thinner. I remember the problem with those early felt-tipped pens was that the point would go all mushy and out of shape after a while. It was several years before that problem was solved, and you had points that would hold their shape. Rollerball pens, of course, were still many years away.

Things like these make a tremendous difference in everyday life, from any human perspective. Yet I suspect the difference made by magic markers and felt tipped pens might slide clear by someone who only was looking at change from a purely quantitative, measurable, number-crunching-oriented angle.

slide rule
Another huge change, which this time might register on the quantitatively-tunnel-visioned, since it has to do with numbers and mathematics: when I was in high school, in the early 70s, we still learned in math how to use a slide rule. I got three slide rules when I was in high school, still have two of them today. When I was about a junior in high school, I also got one of the earliest calculators which could be had for less than $100. Six digits, no decimal point, no memories. Of course, within just a couple of years, calculators had put the slide rule manufacturers out of business.

My brother relates that when he was in high school, mid to late 70s, they were still teaching how to use slide rules. Odd, as by that time slide rules were no longer being made.

Calculators have had a tremendous impact on how people do arithmetic, or rather on how people are no longer able to do arithmetic without punching away at those buttons. It's a tremendously different process from math with a slide rule, or math with pencil and paper. I still have a slide rule sitting on my desk, and I often use it in preference to a calculator. The slide rule, like the light saber, is "an elegant weapon from a more civilized time." Which makes me the last of the Jedi.

Phones. When I was very young, the phone in our house didn't even have a dial on it. You picked it up, and told the operator which number you wanted to call. Then, the rest of the years I was growing up, we had a rotary-dial phone. I forget when phones went to touch tone— doesn't seem I had one, at least, until the late 80s. None of which made as big a difference as the advent of cell phones. In this case, there is a positive correlation between technological change and change on a human scale.

But not always. Sometimes it's the lesser technological changes that make a bigger human difference. And even with phones, I wonder whether any change over the years really compares with the difference between phones and no phones. I've heard anecdotes about businessmen, as late as 1930, who categorically refused to take business calls— let some flunky deal with it instead!— because they'd never used telephones, when they first started out in business back in the days of gaslights and President Benjamin Harrison.

Sort of like the way some people feel today about computers.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Daylight Confusion Time

Okay, my head is feeling like molasses about this, but I think I've finally got it figured out: when I change my clocks tonight, I should turn them back one hour, right?

Back one hour, not ahead one hour. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Seems there's this slogan, "Spring forward, fall back." Or is that "Fall forward, spring back"? There's also some British form of the slogan, inscrutable as British English usually is, which runs, "Leap ahead, autumn spring behind," or somesuch.

I've already caused enough confusion on this point locally. I have a calendar hanging on my kitchen wall, professionally printed, which actually gives the wrong date for the end of Daylight Savings Time. Yes, this calendar, for which I paid good money, says that on October 22, "Daylight Savings Time ends."

As president of our local Lions Club, I included this on the list of dates to give to the editor of our Lions newsletter. Then at the Lions board meeting we caught the mistake. Only I forgot to change it on the slip of paper which I gave to the editor, and he forgot that we had caught it, so when he put out the newsletter the following week, it said, under Dates to Remember: "October 22, Daylight Savings Time Ends."

I had to pay a fine at our Lions dinner meeting, and I found one member of the club had actually believed the newsletter, and set all his clocks back last weekend. Oh well. Just remember— somehow the clock changes this weekend, this weekend and not last, and if you're not confused already, you're doing better than I am.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Skeetchee flew through the morning sky beneath the suns of Too'keetch, and Skeetchee wheeled and turned on outstretched wings as it soared over the valley. Skeetchee had thousands of wings, and Skeetchee looked down upon the land with thousands of pairs of eyes. It was late in the fresh blue-green season, and berries were beginning to ripen on trees.

Skeetchee was looking for its morning meal, and thousands of Skeetchee's stomachs were aching with hunger.

The suns overhead shone, and each tree below cast two or three shadows. Lesser Sun was bright yellow-orange, and warm on the backs of any creature at rest. Greater Sun was ruby-red, larger in the sky, but not as blinding, and not as warm its light on the backs. Tiny Sun also shone in the northern sky, wan pale white, scarce as large as a Skizzz-bug. Tiny Sun lit up a patch of northsky even at night, this time of year.

Now Skeetchee flew up the valley beneath the suns, and a few of Skeetchee flew on ahead to scout out the way, look for any trees with ripening berries. A few of Skeetchee were now well on ahead, around a curve in the valley, and they saw trees down below, blue-green leaves the color that they get when the fruit is ripening.

But a troop of Kerrooo was already there, eating among those trees. What a few of Skeetchee saw with their eyes, all of Skeetchee perceived at a distance; and so Skeetchee wheeled and turned up a side valley instead as the scouts caught up and rejoined.

Others of Skeetchee flew on ahead to scout out this side valley. Skeetchee was thinking to one another how once there had been Rose Sun in the sky, small and pale bright rose. It was centuries since Rose Sun had retreated for an aeon to its skyly nest. No eyes of Skeetchee now looking out on Too'keetch had ever seen Rose Sun, but visual memories of Rose Sun had been passed down over the centuries, and Skeetchee could still remember how Rose Sun looked in its day. Skeetchee would always remember, until the day long ages hence when Rose Sun was due to reappear in its course.

Berries! Some of Skeetchee scouting on ahead had sighted berry-laden trees, and all of Skeetchee saw through the scouting eyes those purple berries. With thousands of wings a-beating, Skeetchee settled down out of the sky and alighted on branches of trees, feasting on berries with thousands of beaks.

Some of Skeetchee hopped about on the ground, and drank water from puddles and ponds. These of Skeetchee were heedless in their drinking, but at the same time all-seeing; for what any of Skeetchee saw or heard or tasted or felt, all of Skeetchee saw or heard or tasted or felt. Berries on one tree were not yet ripe; after a few of Skeetchee tried them, the rest of Skeetchee didn't bother with that tree any more.

Skeetchee had flown and eaten and nested in this corner of Too'keetch for countless millennia; it could remember many comings and goings of Rose Sun over the aeons, and Skeetchee even had dim, blurred memories of a time when this valley was filled with snow in the cold seasons. Dim, blurred memories of animals that were no longer to be seen. Memories passed down in Skeetchee became soft and vague after thousands and tens of thousands of years.

Many of Skeetchee ate the berries. Some of Skeetchee drank. Some of Skeetchee hopped about and ate worms, or flew about amidst the trees and ate bugs in the air. Those who ate berries tasted cool water even as they tasted sweet berries, and those who drank water tasted sweet berries even as they drank cool water.

Greater Sun and Lesser Sun were still far from zenith; the morning was yet young. Some of Skeetchee sang: "Skeet'CHEE! Skeet'CHEE! Chitkaw! Chitkaw! Tooee! Tooee! Tooee! Tooee!" It was mostly the younger of Skeetchee who sang like this; such song could even serve for rudimentary speech, but Skeetchee found it far more effective to think to one another. The older of Skeetchee seldom sang, though there were dim, distant memories of a time, tens of thousands of years ago, when all of Skeetchee sang more freely like the younger of Skeetchee at present.

A few of Skeetchee flew further up the valley in search of more ripe berries, and were eating at trees ten or fifteen seconds' flight away when it happened: a lone Kerrooo crept through the underbrush, and sprang upon the few of isolated Skeetchee. Fear! Pain! All of Skeetchee felt it immediately, and came winging to the rescue.

By the time the rest of Skeetchee got there, the Kerrooo was chewing on one of Skeetchee. Skeetchee descended upon the Kerrooo in an angry flock, "ChitKAW! ChitKAW!", thousands of beating wings and thousands of pecking beaks. The Kerrooo howled in terror, its arms flailing, as it stumbled blindly away, bleeding from a hundred wounds. This Kerrooo might not survive; a single one of Skeetchee was only little larger than a Kerrooo's paw, but a single Kerrooo was no match for all of Skeetchee enraged at once.

Skeetchee gathered around the one of Skeetchee which had been seized by the Kerrooo. Skeetchee thought of carrying the one, wounded, back to the nests, but viewing the one from all sides with hundreds of eyes at once, and feeling what the one felt, it became evident to Skeetchee that the one was too badly wounded to survive.

The one of Skeetchee lay there on the ground, breathing hard and fast, and it thought at the others of Skeetchee. It thought its thoughts and memories at them, over and over, and the others of Skeetchee sat silently at attention and heard the thoughts and learned them. The thoughts and memories of this one of Skeetchee were little different from the thoughts and memories of any of Skeetchee, but in shaded flickerings and margins of mind there were subtle holographic differences, and it was important that these be learned and remembered by Skeetchee.

Then Skeetchee dove by the dozens at the wounded one of Skeetchee— pecking, pecking, pecking!— and all felt the pain which flared up briefly before it went out. Skeetchee continued to swarm upon the wounded one and devour it until only the bones and a few stray feathers remained: it would not do for a wandering Kerrooo to find the body, and acquire a taste for Skeetchee-flesh.

When Skeetchee was finished, it took the bones in its beaks and claws and dropped them in the swift brook. Some of the younger of Skeetchee went, "Skeet-CHEE! Skeet-CHEE! Skeet-CHEE!"

After Skeetchee had gotten its fill of berries and worms and water, it set about gathering things to take back to the nests. Many of Skeetchee caught worms to take back for the hatchlings of Skeetchee. Some of Skeetchee took berries in their beaks to take back for the mothers of Skeetchee, who were watching over the nestlings. Some of Skeetchee gathered grass and twigs and mud to take back for building and repair.

Greater Sun and Lesser Sun were now higher in the sky, as Skeetchee flew with thousands of wings back down the valley toward the cliff and its nests. On the way, Skeetchee saw many of Kit'teeet winging along over the other side of the valley. Skeetchee and Kit'teeet thought greetings at one another from afar, but Skeetchee kept its distance from Kit'teeet: at other times of the year Skeetchee might exchange a few of Skeetchee for a few of Kit'teeet, but with the young hatching and hungry there would be no time now, at the blue-green season, for the painstaking thought-work which would go into assimilating a few of Kit'teeet into Skeetchee.

Up along the bluff Skeetchee flew, to the sheer cliff wall where the hundreds of nests of Skeetchee were built into clefts in the sheer rock wall. Suns-hardened mud nests, grass and twigs interwoven in mud baked pottery-hard over the course of hundreds of dry seasons. Nests linked together in clusters up and down deep rock clefts.

Some of Skeetchee took the food they had brought back, and fed the hatchlings of Skeetchee, and the mothers of Skeetchee who had stayed here to watch over the young. They also fed the elders of Skeetchee, who were too old and infirm to go flying forth any more, elders who now stayed in the nests thinking, thinking deeply to the young and to all of Skeetchee, pondering ancient memories and doing important thought-work; for what one of Skeetchee thought and remembered, was remembered and thought by all of Skeetchee.

Some of Skeetchee inspected the seeds in the baked-mud granaries, to see that the seeds were safe and dry. Some of Skeetchee inspected the small rock pools and cisterns amidst the clefts, where rain water might collect and be stored against the dry season. Some of Skeetchee inspected the herbs which grew on a rock landing half way up the cliff, herbs planted and carefully tended by Skeetchee to aid the sick and ailing of Skeetchee.

Now clouds covered first Lesser Sun, then Greater Sun. As for Tiny Sun, to the north, it too had vanished behind clouds. Rain would fall on the face of Too'keetch before noon. Off to the west, lightning was already flickering. Distant thunder came rumbling from up the valley. Skeetchee retreated into the hundreds of rock-hard baked-mud nests, crawling into nest entrances beneath shiny black pieces of obsidian set into the mud above each nest entrance as skyly decoration. Something about a thunderstorm cast a vague confusion of mind over Skeetchee, and made it harder for Skeetchee to think to one another. Better to huddle together in the nests, and wait it out.

Up and down the cliff, from nest to nest, what one of Skeetchee saw and heard and thought and felt, all of Skeetchee saw and heard and thought and felt, now with a soft edge of blurred confusion brought on by electricity and crackling static of nearing thunderstorm. Thousands of beaks tucked into thousands of feathered breasts, and all felt it. Settling down. Thousands of pairs of eyes drifting lazily shut. Thousands of little minds, holographic fragments of one vast mind, like thousands of glimmering facets of one great jewel, all gathering together into one shared dreaming-time.

All of Skeetchee dreamed together in the nests, dreaming one vast common dream which was both like and unlike Too'keetch. In the dream-world there was skyly Blue Wheel Sun, blue with spokes of white, like never had been seen in the sky of Too'keetch. And the big gentle black and russet leaf-eaters, like hadn't been seen in the valleys of Too'keetch in tens of thousands of years. And Skeetchee sang to one another in the dreaming-time, "Skeet'CHEE! Skeet'CHEE! Chitkaw! Chitkaw! Tooee! Tooee! Tooee! Tooee!"


Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Website Expiration That Wasn't

Well. My personal website is still here this morning. Despite daily warnings these past few weeks from the outfit with which I formerly had my domain name— paulburgess.org— registered.

Let's see if I can untangle the history of all this. My ISP provides its users with I think it's 5 megabytes of free webspace. So back in August 2001 I cobbled together a personal website and put it online. (Believe me, it was a retro site design even back then!) My site rapidly outgrew its 5 megs— soon I was paying my ISP to host my site— and by late October 2001 I had gone and dug up an outfit out there through which I registered the domain name paulburgess.org for my site.

My site continued to grow, until I suspect it was by far the largest and most complicated site my small, local mom-and-pop ISP was hosting. So in May of 2006, my ISP contacted me and offered to shuffle me off onto a company which would handle everything for me— webhosting, domain name, and all— offering me something like 40 times the webspace, and 50 times the bandwidth, for half the monthly fee I'd been paying to my ISP. The flip side of this is that my ISP had obviously been ripping me off for years, but since the new arrangement was a good deal, I took it, and extended my domain name registration for another year (to 2007) while I was at it.

This summer I started receiving periodic emails from the old outfit through which I'd formerly had paulburgess.org registered, darkly warning me that my domain name would expire at 0239 UTC on 26 October 2006, and that I'd better renew it through them or else! These past few weeks, said admonitory emails have become a daily affair, including now the daily warning that each daily email was my last chance to renew, before paulburgess.org turned into a pumpkin and stopped functioning.

How each email, every day for two or three weeks running, can be my "last chance," I'll never know.

I must admit, in the past few days I've been doing a WHOIS search through InterNIC every once in a while, anxiously verifying that indeed things are not due to expire until October 2007. And when I got up this morning, I was a little nervous that I'd go to paulburgess.org and find... nothing. Blank. A dead channel.

However, no such trouble. My personal website is still there this morning, safe and sound, same as ever. So much for one more predatory commercial attempt to scare me back into toeing the line through a daily dose of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Colder Weather Approaches... and "Don't Lawsuit Us!"

Colder weather as we head deeper into the fall season... new record lows the other day, yesterday hardly up to 40°, and this morning it's hovering just above the freezing mark.

Yesterday I was down in Waukon, and I stopped by the hardware store to pick up a new furnace filter. Also, Mr. UPS Man dropped off a box, new filters and a bottle of bacteriostatic treatment for my humidifier. Yes, humidifier season will soon be upon us.

I was fascinated to see that the bottle of bacteriostatic whatsis has on it some warnings which are almost certainly rooted in lawyer-induced fantasy. That is to say, these warnings are not at all true to life, and they bear no resemblance to any actual state of affairs experienced by, or expected of, any real-life user of the product.

To wit, and I quote off the side of the bottle:
Do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing. Wear protective eyewear (goggles or face shield), protective clothing, and rubber gloves... Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum, or using tobacco. Remove contaminated clothing and wash before reuse.
Oh really? Are you sure that's not "Remove contaminated clothing and dispose of in a federally quarantined hazardous materials landfill as certified under Federal regulations DHOT3.141.v1547"?

I mean, really! Protective eyewear? Goggles or face shield?? Protective clothing??! Rubber gloves???!!!! What am I supposed to do, handle this stuff only while wearing a full-body environmental suit? I mean, yeah, granted, I want to avoid swallowing this stuff or getting it in my eyes, I wash my hands after use, etc. But this is fricking anti-bacterial stuff that you add a few capfuls of into your humidifier after filling it up with water! It's not plutonium 238!!!

I've still got an older, almost empty bottle of this stuff under my kitchen sink. Same identical ingredients, and it has just the usual common-sense warnings, "don't get it in your eyes," etc. Nothing about wearing goggles and a lead-lined smock while using it.

Do you suppose anyone in all the history of the human race has ever actually dressed up, as recommended in the precautions on the bottle, before pouring a capful of this stuff into their humidifier? Do you suppose the company lawyers who are no doubt responsible for this pseudo-precautionary verbiage ever envisioned anyone actually doing so? Or is it just more bilge and bullroar, self-protective anti-lawsuit mantra, "Don't lawsuit us if you didn't access our product via robotic arms from behind a three-foot thick lead shield!"


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Firefox 2.0

Firefox 2.0 final was scheduled to come out today. But in fact they put it up some time yesterday, and word leaked out on Slashdot. So I downloaded it from Mozilla and installed it, and was experimenting with it some last night.

(Caveat: the Mozilla people say it still won't be officially released until this afternoon.)

Firefox is a wonderful browser. If you don't have it already, you may want to consider getting it. If you do have it, you'll certainly want to upgrade to this latest version.

Must confess though that, wonderful as Firefox is, I myself am a longtime user of the Opera browser. Opera is a mindwarp when you first encounter it, but it's quite cool once you get used to it.

Anyhow. There are plenty of great browsers out there. Firefox 2.0 is worthy of your attention. This has been a public service announcement.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Expecto Patronum!

I've got all sorts of cool imaginative props around here. One of my favorites is my magic wand— not exactly like Harry Potter's, though I think it's even cooler. Look at this thing close up, it's simply beautiful, turned from a single piece of hard maple with a black walnut finish— redolent of fine 18th-century European furniture. I can almost imagine Mozart wielding this wand in a magical duel with Salieri...

This particular style of magic wand is called the Poetrell. You can find it, and many other amazing styles, at Whirlwood Magic Wands, where Mr. Gary Hall handcrafts these wands one at a time. Some of them are not cheap, but they're worth it, top quality. I see the latest new line is wands with magic cores— you know, phoenix feather, dragon heartstring, or whatever.

I've also got a wizard staff, picked it up at an antique shop down in Marquette, Iowa. I suspect it was originally intended there as a cane. But it is simply too cool to be anything other than a wizard staff, with those antique brass knobs on top, and the swirly grooves running down the body of the staff.

So far I've resisted the temptation to buy me a light saber from Parks Sabers. Mr. Jeffrey Parks hand machines these from aluminum— to me it's a toss-up between the Arc-Wave and the Shadow. Alas, I can't bring myself to part with the $275 or so that it would cost to get one of these.

I've heard of people somehow landing a genuine communicator from the original Star Trek series... <drool> But forget it, it'll never happen to me. Much less what I'd really like to have, which is a genuine original tricorder.

Yesterday afternoon I started Googling around to see if there are any lenses for sale. You know, a lens, as worn by the galaxy-patrolling lensmen in Doc Smith's classic old Lensman series, which I read and loved back in my high school days. Unfortunately I found only one for sale, for some reason made in Japan, and it was not too impressive. Give me a magnifying lens, a bund leather watch strap, and a metal mount to hold the lens, and I could probably cobble together something more impressive myself.

Ah, but over on Slashdot the other day, they were discussing an online article on how to make a Green Lantern ring! Now that would be cool...


Friday, October 20, 2006

Slightly Higher in the West and South

Originally posted 4/19/05

Okay, this is a bit vague in my head, because we're talking early sixties here— maybe about 1960 or 1961. Anyhow, I remember hearing a certain brand of bicycle advertised— I think it was Schwinn, and I think it was on one of my favorite TV shows at that time, namely Captain Kangaroo— and what I remember is, the price of the bicycle was "slightly higher in the West and South."

And I believe I also remember seeing this in an advertisement in comic books at that time: Schwinn bikes were priced "slightly higher in the West and South."

I also believe I saw or heard commercials for certain other items such as refrigerators, "slightly higher in the West and South." I can't verify it for the refrigerators and such, though for Schwinn I can find corroboration.

Anyhow, I remember this line made an impression on me. And it made perfectly good sense to me.

Because, back around five years of age, I was quite well aware that the center of gravity in the United States lay east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon Line. As witness the fact that, until the Brooklyn Dodgers jumped to Los Angeles, every single major league baseball team was located... north of the Mason-Dixon Line (well, we won't quibble about the Baltimore Orioles or the old Washington Senators) and no further west than the western banks of the Mississippi.

It was in this northeastern quadrant of the country that the lion's share of the nation's industrial might was situated. So naturally, if you lived down South or out West— and note the "northeastocentric" phrasing of that, down South or out West— you might well have to pay a premium to have certain manufactured goods shipped all those hundreds of miles to your locale— yes, to your locale, so distant and remote from the dynamos of industry.

In fact, growing up in south central Wisconsin, in a small town up north of Madison, I was acutely aware that, in some sense, I was living at the beginning of the end of civilization, geographically speaking. Because, as I well knew even at that age, it was the East coast that had been settled first, in colonial days; and then from there settlement spread westward, though even in my day (remember, we're talking 1960 or 1961) population still trailed off as you went West.

Oh, there were plenty of people down South; but that was more agricultural and less industrial, and besides, that was "conquered territory." (Bear in mind, at the time I was born the Civil War was only about as remote from me in time as World War I is from us today.) The center of gravity was in the northeastern quadrant of the country. One vast concentration of population and industry ran down the coast from Boston to Washington; another ran across the country from Pittsburgh to Chicago.

Even at age four or five, I could picture a fairly detailed map of the United States in my head. And I knew that the population started thinning out once you got West of the Mississippi. Oh, there were still a few "real" cities as you traveled across Iowa, through Cedar Rapids and Des Moines to Omaha; or from St. Louis across Missouri to Kansas City; but things were thinning out as you went, and by the time you reached the Great Plains, you were entering upon the Empty Quarter. From there on out, it was small cities (nothing, really, by the standards of back East), small towns, lots of open space, and tumbleweeds. Lots of wilderness, lots of wide open spaces.

Once things thinned out West of the Mississippi, it was (by the standards of those of us who lived back in that northeastern quadrant) mostly wilderness, until you got out to the West Coast. On the West Coast once again, there was population density and real cities, Seattle and San Francisco and Los Angeles and whatnot. I knew some of that dated back, but in my mind a lot of it was Johnny-come-lately boomtown growth starting after World War II: you know, people settling in pink stucco houses in a suburb of LA, so they could head out in their sports car to the drive-in for a hamburger and fries (eating in your car, tray attached to driver's side window), and generally tooling around in the perpetual shirtsleeve weather, listening to pocket-size transistor radios and wearing brightly colored loose-fitting shirts and living a casual life thousands of miles from the centers of civilization, only loosely tethered to the mores of the long-settled, generations-old dour masses back East of the Mississippi.

Oh, besides the West Coast, there were some "real" cities down in Texas, though they weren't much in those days compared to what they later became; and there was the odd phenomenon of the "real" city of Denver, up in the Rockies. But basically once you got West of the Mississippi, civilization was beginning to thin out. And likewise, as you headed north from my hometown of Poynette, Wisconsin, things were beginning— just beginning— to thin out.

Civilization lay almost entirely to the South and East of us. For that great megalopolis which stretched from Pittsburgh to Chicago spent its force by the time it reached Milwaukee, 90 miles to the east of us. And 25 miles to the south of us was the city of Madison. Now if you headed to the West and North of us, the only undeniable big city left in the world was the Twin Cities, in Minnesota; except for that, things were thinning out. Oh, north and east was Green Bay, and north and west was La Crosse; but head north from my hometown of Poynette on Highway 51, and all that remained was... what? The likes of Wausau and Rhinelander? And by that time you were already in the midst of the thickening pine forests, further north now to Upper Michigan, and then the vast waters of Lake Superior; and then more northerly yet, up through the howling wilderness of Ontario, up across Hudson Bay, icebound Ellesmere Island, polar ice cap, clear on up to the North Pole.

Yes, from my hometown in Wisconsin on northward, once you got rolling, you basically had a clear shot up through the wilderness, all the way to the North Pole.

I was acutely aware of this as a young kid: I lived on the marchland edges of civilization. I could not have felt this any more sharply, had I been a youngster back in the days of the Roman Empire, living in Britain just a day's journey south of Hadrian's Wall.

To the West of me, civilization thinning out into the sagebrush and the wide open spaces. To the North of me, civilization thinning out into pines and snow and ice. And if you wanted to order a Schwinn bicycle, and you lived far from the factories and steel forges of the civilized world... just remember, prices are "slightly higher in the West and South."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Unread Books That Deserve to Be Read

There are the classics, which richly deserve to be read and richly repay the reading.

And then there are the dross books, the dreck books that sell by the pile: they leave me scratching my head in puzzlement every time I wander through a bookstore.

And thirdly there are those wonderful but neglected books which deserve to be more widely read, though somehow they've slipped into obscurity. Here are just a few of my own obscure favorites:

A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay. Makes you feel the world of Tormance, where there are five primary colors, and the phaens (who are neither male nor female) are referred to by their own third-sex pronouns.

Jack of Eagles by James Blish. One pulp plot device is piled on top of another, in this gripping good read about an ordinary everyday man who is waking up, perhaps too late, to his own psi powers and their central role in an unseen battle of good versus evil. (Original title: Let the Finder Beware.)

Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture by John Carroll. "We live amidst the ruins of the great, five-hundred-year epoch of Humanism. Around us is that 'colossal wreck'. Our culture is a flat expanse of rubble... We are destitute in our plenty. We are homeless in our own homes." Ah, and with these opening words of his prologue, Carroll is only just warming up, in his gale-force critique of Western culture from the Renaissance to the present...

The Creation of Cloah Sark by Johnny Clougher. The autobiography of a destitute New Zealand ne'er-do-well who lived in a tin shed— and how he designed and built the oceangoing yacht of his dreams single-handed.

How about you? Which great though neglected books are among your favorites?


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Extremely Coffee

I was blogging not too long ago about coffee, and Lucy kindly sent me a gift certificate for The Coffee Fool. Well, I ordered some coffee from them— Brazilian Santos and Ethiopian Harrar— and lo and behold, the coffee arrived today! Am very much looking forward to coffee after breakfast tomorrow...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Privacy Lost

Interesting week-long series of articles over at MSNBC.com, entitled "Privacy Lost," on the erosion of personal privacy in our increasingly computerized age.

Yesterday's instalment: Privacy under attack, but does anybody care?

And this morning, the second instalment: On privacy, talk and actions are poles apart.

Get this: "Nearly 20 percent [of Americans surveyed] said they would have a tiny microchip implanted under their skin that could be used to identify them and access their medical histories."

I hate to say it, but the battle for privacy has probably already been lost. The juggernaut advances, often unnoticed, or noticed but unheeded. What today is experimental will tomorrow be optional; and the day after that, not-so-optional: if not outright mandated, then harder and harder to live without, unless you're willing to go off the grid altogether.

We're not too many years away from a state of "total information" surveillance like George Orwell couldn't have imagined in his worst nightmares. Nonetheless, I for one don't intend to go down without a fight. Some of it is simple, as simple as not accepting those damn discount cards at your local supermarket. (As Mr. Rogers would say: "Can you say 'data-mining'?") Some of it is not so simple: I've blogged before, in gory detail, about encrypted and anonymized websurfing.

As Neal Stephenson put it, "If you don't like having your choices made for you, you should start making your own."


Monday, October 16, 2006

Nine Questions

Originally posted 5/18/05:

Some people hear music in their head. Well, I do too, but sometimes I hear odd forms of words instead.

I often find these tuneless snatches burbling up out of the depths of my mind, like late-night voices swelling up out of the static between stations on the radio dial. Or like The Beatles' Revolution 9. Usually they slip back into the submnemonic depths from whence they came, forgotten almost as soon as they are formed. But once in a while, when my mind is still, I manage to snag a few and hang onto them...

What (if anything) any of this mental flotsam and jetsam may mean, I leave to you:

1. Q. How can it be that "is" is?
    A. "'Is' Is" Is.

2. Q. Is "is" is, or is "is" isn't?
    A. Definitely is.

3. Q. Do I have the whole pie?
    A. No, you haven't, but others may have: begrudge them that not.

4. Q. Can it all be said?
    A. Whereof one cannot blent, thereof one must be stegnant.

5. Q. Why is blue blue?
    A. Blue always comes sixth; better start with black, white, red, yellow, green.

6. Q. May I?
    A. If you need to ask, you dasn't.

7. Q. But what if I really, really want to?
    A. Already you're pretending that you're not angling for excuses.

8. Q. Why me?
    A. From half past ten till half past midnight, FIRE...

9. Q. Any question with no answer?
      Nine, nein, NINE.

Bonus geek points to the first person who can identify who my roving subconscious borrowed the answers to 4 and 8 from: no fair googling!

Friday, October 13, 2006


I've always been fascinated with colors, and with the feelings and characteristics which conglomerate themselves with colors. It seems to me almost like synaesthesia, perhaps because I've always known what color each day of the week is.

Colors, their shadows and their penumbras... Red with anger, red with shame. Yellow cowardice. Green with envy, or just a greenhorn. Pure as the white-driven snow, terror white as a sheet. A black mark against his name.

Purple and orange don't resonate so much, but I suspect that's because you don't run into these colors until you hit a language which has names for a good many colors. (Sapir and Whorf, take a bow.) Purple and orange are Johnny-come-latelies. Black and white and red, those you find in any language which names at least three colors. I forget which various colors may come fourth, but I do believe blue is always fifth. Seems I've read that somewhere, blue always comes fifth.

Blue is also the color that has by far the widest range of emotional and characteristical and linguistical conglomerations. Some years back, William Gass wrote a book entitled On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, which begins more or less as follows:
Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings... that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; the rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters, a withheld or imprisoned breath, the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean and the blazers which English athletes earn that gentlemen may wear; afflictions of the spirit— dumps, mopes, Mondays— all that's dismal— low-down gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?), and correspondingly the flag, Blue Peter, which is our signal for getting under way; a swift pitch... blue bottles... social registers, examination booklets, blue bloods, balls, and bonnets, beards, coats, collars, chips, and cheese...
More blue things and para-things than you can shake a stick at.

Alexander Theroux wrote a book entitled The Primary Colors; and another volume called The Secondary Colors, wherein orange and purple come into their own, at greater length than you might imagine possible.

Of course you know me, philosophical realist that I am: I still dare, in a nominalistic age, to think that beneath all this colorly conglomeration— in and with and under it, so to speak— there lurk deep truths and dark mysteries which a reductive and controlling technocratic age would rather that we neither name nor ponder. A person who is concerned to fathom the manifold mysteries of which blue is a natural sacramental, is a person who is just that much less easy to control and to trammel within the confines of good citizensheep. Or as Number 6 put it: "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered... I am not a number— I am a free man."

In his Theory of Colors, Goethe said, "Colors are the deeds and the sufferings of light." My favorite color is red. There's something exalted, and at the same time strong and comforting to me, about red. Once when I was six years old I had a dream that I got an infected tooth, and I died and went to heaven. Everything in heaven was red, a bright luminous red lit up from within. I cannot read paragraph 919 of Goethe's Theory of Colors without thinking of that dream:
When we see them bring forth green below and red above, it will be hard to resist the thought that the green is connected with the earthly creation of the Elohim, and the red with their heavenly creation.
My favorite color is red. Oddly enough, my favorite two-color combination is yellow and black. When I see something colored yellow and black, it often sends a tingle up my spine, particularly if it is something at all artistic or aesthetic. But my favorite color is red.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Snow Before the Middle of October

It's snowing out right now. There were a few random snow pellets coming down yesterday, but over the noon hour today it's been the real thing. It is snowing.

Snowing here in Iowa on the twelfth of October! I wish I could say there's not going to be any accumulation, but looking out the window I see tracings of white building amidst the grass and the fallen leaves.

I don't expect this snow will add up to much, and it probably won't last long— forecast is for an accumulation of "less than half an inch"— but still... Snow before the middle of October?!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bread Braids!

bread braid
One of the kids in our Youth Fellowship was selling these bread braids. I dunno, they're always selling something for Band, or for Spanish class, or whatever. So I got some bread braids. Which, if you've never had them, are nothing short of amazing.

Above you see the "before" and "after" shot. Before, the bread braid is smaller, and frozen. You leave it out overnight, and in the morning it's thawed out, and bigger. A lot bigger.

bread braid
Pop it in the oven at 325° for 25 or 30 minutes, and voilà! (Or, as they say in Band, viola!) Squizzle frosting all over it— I got cinnamon bread braids, of course— and scarf it down for breakfast. Confession: I ate half a loaf this morning...

More About That Radio

grundig stereo concert-boy transistor 4000 radio
Well, I've been tinkering with that radio— sort of a "1968 boombox"— that I picked up recently at an antique store. AM band works fine now, all it needed was for the band selector button to be worked a bit. Still have to figure out about calibrating the needles on the radio dials.

But my biggest advance is, I've made the radio even more boomboxlike. Namely, I'd been running it plugged in. But on opening it up, I discovered that it will take batteries. So I got seven D cells and put them in the battery holder inside the radio.

Closed radio, turned it on. Nothing. Then I saw a switch on the back, "BATT" or "MAINS". Switched it to "BATT". And voilà! I now have a gigantic oversized late 60's AM/FM/SW/LW radio which can play whilst being toted around by the carrying handle.

Them batteries gotta push the radio's weight up over 15 pounds.


Thank You, Lucy!!!

Well, Lucy is one of the kindest and most generous people you're ever going to meet in the blogosphere. After reading my post yesterday about coffee, she went and sent me a gift certificate for The Coffee Fool. I am presently perusing their site in wonderment.

Lucy, thank you so very much!

Snow Flurries

Believe it or not. The forecast is for snow flurries later on today...

It's just too dang early.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cup of the Dawn

As I sit here at my computer early in the morning, one item I always have sitting at my left elbow on the old oak desk is a cup of coffee. Starbucks coffee, strong, usually Sumatra but this morning it's Gold Coast Blend. In a big, oversized white cup, ceramic, narrowing toward the bottom, band of blue around the top, sitting atop a round leather coaster. Coffee. Give me my breakfast in the morning; but I must have my coffee.

I never drank coffee until I was into my early twenties. I got started on coffee in graduate school, UW-Madison math department, where I was a teaching assistant, and I somehow had the idea that a cup of coffee would help to settle my nerves after teaching a calculus discussion section. Up on the ninth floor of Van Vleck, the math building, someone maintained a large coffee maker, the kind you see in cafeterias. Membership in the Coffee Club was only $20 per semester, all the coffee you could drink. I was in. After class, or while working at some odd hour in my office, I would wander up to ninth floor and get a cup of coffee.

I don't know whether it calmed my nerves or not. I do know I've been drinking coffee ever since. I drink it black, though for several years there at first, I used to take it with sugar.

Memories are dim, but it seems that for breakfast at home in the morning I must have relied for some years on instant coffee, and water heated in a pan on the stove. Didn't get a coffee maker until I was going on 30, living in a river town in northwest Illinois. From then on, except in dire emergencies, I've always used ground coffee; and, until the past year or two, it was always Hills Brothers.

osama bin laden on hills brothers coffee can
I wonder if I'm the only person who's noticed that in recent years, they no longer have Osama bin Laden on the side of the Hills Brothers coffee can, as they always used to years back.

Coffee is intertwined with my after-breakfast memories down through the years. North Carolina, late 80s and early 90s, retiring to the living room with a cup of coffee after breakfast, sitting in that big overstuffed armchair, one leg slung over the arm as I sat there reading Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. North central Illinois, mid 90s, second floor apartment in what used to be a funeral home, tower on one corner of the building, sitting there with coffee in that same armchair inside the tower-alcove off the corner of my living room, listening to Don Wade and Roma on Talkradio 890 WLS from Chicago.

And now, sitting here at my desk in front of my computer in my study, with a cup of coffee at my left elbow on a leather coaster.

It was only within the past year or two that a parishioner of mine served me some coffee, wonderful coffee, which they'd picked up at a KwikStar of all places. Wonderful coffee, way better than Hills Brothers. I checked it out, and before I was done, I'd discovered those bags of ground coffee, Starbucks, at the supermarket. Well, why not? In these latter days I'm hardly impecunious; and my morning is hardly a morning without coffee.

In fact when my old coffee maker gave up the ghost not long ago, I went so far as to invest in a Bunn coffee maker. It really does make a difference, and it makes good coffee even better.

There are things I could do without, but coffee is hardly one of them.

Monday, October 09, 2006

In Thirteen Hundred Ninety-Two, Meng Ling-ch'u Sailed the Ocean Blue

I see today is Columbus Day. This reminds me of an alternate history, available over on my personal website, which I wrote a number of years back. In it America was discovered, not by Christopher Columbus, but rather by a voyaging explorer from China; and colonized, not by Europeans, but rather by the Chinese.

Meng Ling-ch'u, the "Chinese Columbus," was my own creation; yes, I'm quite aware of the real-life Chinese explorer Zheng He, but I wanted to have a free hand with that part of my alternate history. Most of the other characters in my narrative are actual historical figures, recontextualized in my alternate history, which I continued up through the late 20th century.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Gas in Freefall

Yesterday I was down in Waukon. Got gas. Paid $2.10 per gallon.

Little more than six weeks ago, I was over in Wisconsin, was paying over $3.00 per gallon.

Granted, gas taxes are higher in Wisconsin than here in Iowa. But still, that's quite a plummet from latter half of August to early October.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mmmmmmm, Pi!

So here's a dude over in Japan who went for a Guinness World Record by memorizing and reciting pi to 100,000 decimal places: "3.141592653589793..."

Hunh. Back when I was in high school, budding geek that I was, I had pi memorized to 120 decimal places, of which I can still regurgitate the first 30 or so today. I also had e memorized to a good many decimal places.

I understand this sort of thing is easier in Japanese, where the names of numbers can be formed into mnemonic plays on words which can then be strung together into a story.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The "Cure" for Poverty

Damn. This piece on The "Cure" for Poverty, by Jason Nemrow, just makes too much sense. One doesn't often see such acute thinking-outside-the-box, in this era of designer latte, McMansions, and political correctness.

In his "rant about just letting the poor be poor in America," Nemrow writes:
My name is Jay Nemrow and I am poor... I am not someone who plays at "being and acting poor" for a few weeks and comes back with all sorts of imagined insights. I am the real article, having spent most of my childhood and adulthood in the lower classes...

I think the current ideas on how to "solve the poverty problem" are just silly. I am not just talking about Republican ideas, but the years of Democratic programs are even worse. The essential problem has not been that poverty exists, it comes from how our society feels about and reacts to the poor...

[O]ur government's attitude has always been to work toward having either less poor people or less people who "look and act" poor in public. Republicans want to flog the poor until they get busy and make enough money to be middle-class. Democrats want to give the poor free houses, free food, and free services until they look middle-class. Both ideas are quite lacking and ignore the fact that we need a respectable, self-sufficient, low-wage working class...

I always knew I would be somewhat poor. I had no interest in the careers or lifestyle of the middle-class or rich. I wanted to spend my life serving others, which is a low-paying job. But, if I was going to be poor, I wanted to be smart about it. I wanted a life of freedom and happiness. I actually feel like I have done a pretty good job.

For societal reasons, there cannot be a "cure" to poverty: the system would not work without the poor. As I said before, the problem is not that poverty exists. The problem is that our society has made our system unworkable for poor people.
My immediate reaction is, "Hey, I resemble that!" Or at least, I did until recent years. Never held a long-term job in my life until age 43, you know. Perpetual grad student. Throughout my young adult years, I lived on a shoestring. Ascetic, spartan, monastic. I made do, or did without; and I simply did without many of the accoutrements the middle class takes for granted. At one time I slept on the floor on a rubber mat for a year because I neither had nor could afford a bed.

And I did pretty well, you know. I may have been poor by society's standards, but I did indeed have "a life of freedom and happiness."

As William James once put it, satisfaction equals achievements divided by expectations. Which means you can increase your satisfaction either (1) by increasing your achievement level, or (2) by decreasing your expectations. Sometimes the key to the good life is (2) to want less. It says a lot about our society today that, for many, the notion that some might prefer to follow route (2) is quite literally unthinkable.

BTW, need I add, Nemrow's piece is very "crunchy con"? I seem to be noticing that trait a lot lately in what I read.

One technical note, if you want to read Nemrow's essay, you'll need a browser (such as Firefox) which can access gopherspace, since Nemrow's site is located on a gopher server. Yes, I still bounce around in gopherspace from time to time. Or you could try accessing Nemrow's site— gopher://quix.us via the Floodgap gopher portal.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Grundig Stereo Concert-Boy Transistor 4000 Radio

grundig stereo concert-boy transistor 4000 radio
Well, here it is. My latest toy. As if I didn't have more than enough radios around the house already! Yes, that's a genuine Grundig Stereo Concert-Boy Transistor 4000 radio. I'd guess it dates from the late 60s or early 70s, and if they'd had boomboxes back then— which they didn't— this would've been it.

First ran across this radio a few weeks ago, up in La Crosse on my day off, bumming around, when what should I run across but a downtown antique mall I'd never noticed before?! Spent a long time browsing around therein, sighted this radio— ah, a Grundig! Noted for their legendary audio quality, you know. But I couldn't bring myself to impulse-buy it, even though it was going for dirt cheap.

Drove back home. Thought on it. Fretted. Paced around.

Given that I'm a compleat radio fanatic, you know how this is going to end: this week, on my day off, I drifted back up to La Crosse, and bought the radio. Big! Heavy to tote, I'd guess purner 15 pounds. 19" wide by 9" high by 4½" deep. Stereo speakers. AM band, FM band, two shortwave bands, and even a longwave band. (I have quite a thing about longwave radio.) I got it home. And it works like a dream.

Legendary Grundig audio quality indeed! In that department, this radio blows away anything I've got, except perhaps for my stereo system. Amazing sound. And loud: big, booming, driving sound, fills the room, makes your bones shake. Audio on FM like you wouldn't believe. Even shortwave sounds great, audiowise, on this radio.

grundig stereo concert-boy transistor 4000 radio dial closeup
Late 60s or early 70s, I'd guess, this radio. One website says 1968. It has that look and feel of radios from the days, back in my youth, when I was first getting into listening to distant and curious voices over the ether. At the same time I find it somehow vaguely reminiscent of the Zenith Trans-Oceanic, on which I was first exposed to shortwave lo, back in that magical 1968. Look close up at those knobs, at that dial plate! Signal strength meter. Glowing red "stereo" light. Separate dial and tuning knob for FM— and (clever touch) that second dial serves for bandspread fine-tuning when you're using the second shortwave band.

If I wasn't in love with this radio already, consider this: at night the dial plate lights up in the dark!!! Like a fireplace, like a classic radio of yore.

grundig stereo concert-boy transistor 4000 radio top view
The Grundig Stereo Concert-Boy Transistor 4000. FM booming out of the speakers with beautiful audio quality! The BBC, on shortwave, booming out of the speakers with beautiful audio quality! The only other radio I have which plays shortwave with such audio quality is my Grundig Satellit 700 (by no coincidence, also a Grundig), which I bought new in 1995.

There are a few minor items I ought to take care of, as with many an older radio. The AM band tends to cut out, unless you manually keep the AM band selector button pressed down. The needles on the radio dials could stand some alignment, they're off a bit. But overall the radio's in good shape for its age. And cheap!

grundig stereo concert-boy transistor 4000 radio in the dark
They just don't make radios like this any more.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Root River

root river
Near Hokah, Minnesota.

Bwahahahaha! Whoever gains access to this river, controls all the waterways of the Greater Mississippi Watershed!!!

mississippi@river $ su
Password: **********
su: incorrect password
mississippi@river $ su
Password: *********
su: incorrect password
mississippi@river $ su
Password: **********
root@river # _


Monday, October 02, 2006

Biercean Definition

Rationalism: An ideology under which the Will masquerades as Reason.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

"It's the Final Caountdowwwnnnnn..."

Oh no. Oh no. Just Oh no...

Do you suppose perhaps he could find a single key to sing in, and stick with it?! Aiiieeeeeeee!!!

(h/t Greg)