Saturday, June 30, 2007

Yay! Lions Fourth of July Event!

I was in town this afternoon, helping to set up for our big Lions Fourth of July Family Fun Fest on July 3 and 4. We opened up the two food stands, and took things that were in storage and set them outside so the Fire Department can come and hose the stands down. Then we stood around afterwards drinking Busch Light. More setup to come these next few days.

Our local Lions Club sponsors the event, and the entire community pitches in. I've been saying we draw 10,000 people to a town of just over 200, but the chairman of the food committee was telling us this afternoon that he thought last year the crowd was closer to 15,000.

Coming up on the Third and Fourth: NTPA sanctioned tractor pull. Beer tent. Food stands with plenty of good food. Softball tournament. Demolition derbies. Volleyball. Flea market. Fourth of July parade. Bands performing. Raffle, with an Arctic Cat Prowler XT ATV for first prize. And more! Plus of course a big fireworks show after dark on the Fourth.

This is the Fourth of July here in the American heartland. It's a lot of work. But it's also a lot of fun.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Bits and Pieces

Well, the intolerable heat has broken around here the past day or so. Day after day with a high humidity and a high around 90°, and now yesterday I had the windows open in the house most of the day. This morning it's in the lower 60s.

Sounds like the Oven Mitt is in deep doo-doo over his "strapping the family dog to the car roof" adventure. (h/t: Deb)

First, I got a new board for Shogi, alias Japanese Chess. Now I'm zeroing in on possibilities for the game of Go. I'd love to purchase a Go board, slate and shell Go stones, wooden bowls to hold the stones.

But first, before I dare place an order online, my Internet Service Provider,, will have to clear up its latest weeks-long slowdown, DSL running slower than dialup, the simplest webpages taking a minute and more to load, frequent errors, " could not be found."

Penguin Caffeinated Mints.

Friday. Must remember to water the plants in my study. Friday is plant-watering day. Except for the cactus, which I water only once a month.

If you're a PayPal user... does it ever bother you how, when you log in and frequently thereafter, they keep bugging you to give them your bank account number? Or how they have a rep for freezing your entire bank account, sometimes for months on end, in event of a dispute? So far, I have not given them my bank account number. Nor am I likely to, any time this century.

Now listening online to ambient music— what I call vacuum cleaner music— on StillStream.

Time for another cup of coffee.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Caveat Repertor

"The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you."

  —Carl Jung

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney...

oven mitt romney
I declare, in the past several months I've heard so many Mitt Romney radio commercials here in Iowa, that every time one comes on, all I can envision is a sea of waving oven mitts...

Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney... Mitt Romney...

Because It Feels So Good When I Stop

Last night our local Lions Club had its big June dinner meeting at the Community Center. Prime rib and all! And, after a year's term as President of our Lions Club, I got to pass on the mantle.

And here I sit this morning, realizing that I am no longer President of our Lions Club...

Talk about a feeling of relief. Sort of like the fellow in the joke who was asked why he was hitting himself in the head with a hammer, and he replied, "Because it feels so good when I stop!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"These Five New States, So Bonny and Fair"

Last night I had a dream that there were five new states in the Northeast, and it was announced on the news. And the states were named North London, New Turnicoat, New Oilcloth, Sou'wester, and New Lobsterpot. And these states had been formed to grant the Democrats even more representation in Congress, since their Congressmen and Senators would be awarded to the Democrats in every election; though it was considered poor form to state this openly, and anyone who did so would be razzed and ridiculed for daring to state the obvious.

And some ingrates objected that these states could not be found or located on any map— when it was necessary to depict them, these five new states were shown under the symbol of five black and white keys on a piano keyboard. And it was objected that nobody you knew had ever known anyone from any of these five states, and no highways ran to or through them. And the stock reply to any of these objections, bleated in an accusatory and condescending tone, was, "Oh! Who would wish to deprive the Union of these five new states, so bonny and fair?"

And the New York Times ran editorials in favor of these five new states. And Ted Kennedy was very much in favor of these states, saying, "I look forward to greeting, on the same side of the aisle, my new colleague the junior senator from the state of New Turnicoat."

And part of the dream had to do with the design of a new American flag with five more stars. And it was said, "Oh! Who would wish to deprive the flag of these five new stars, so bonny and fair?"

And it was said that from now on, any time the Democrats needed more votes in Congress, they could mint new states as needed, nongeographical states symbolized by piano keys. Only it was considered poor form to state this openly, and anyone who did so would be met with a reply, bleated in an accusatory and condescending tone, of "Oh! They would never do any such thing!"

Then in the next breath it was said, "Oh! Who would wish to deprive the Union of these five new states, so bonny and fair?"


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Area 51

So, this morning I am a year older... Fifty-one years old.

Everything's still working. So far. Knock on wood!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Checkers and Checkerboard

I ran across this checkerboard and this set of checkers at an antique shop down in Marquette on Monday. Another find for my game collection!

The checkerboard is made of lithographed cardboard, with a solid wood frame around the edge. Made by J. Pressman & Co., Inc. I thought it looked like 1930s, and sure enough, googling around I find people dating this board to the 30s.

Checkers, unrelated to the board, Built-Rite Checkers. Very solid handsome interlocking checkers, black and light tan. Looking around online, I can date these checkers to 1943. Hard to figure just what they're made of. Bakelite? Could be.

chinese checkers
On the back is a board for Chinese checkers. "Hop Ching Checkers." Marbles not included.


Friday, June 22, 2007

June 22, 1974

Odd how memory works. I can remember exactly what I was doing 33 years ago today, June 22, 1974. I had just graduated from high school, and I was about to turn 18. I spent the day working out on the back porch on a homemade mah jongg set. Then I stayed up late into the night, and watched some Charlie Chan movie on TV into the wee hours of the morning. Finally, getting on toward dawn, I wandered out to the other end of town, up by the school, up along the highway, where semi trucks barrelled by down Highway 51 in the gathering light of sunrise. Then home and, after 24 hours awake, I collapsed into bed.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Human Spontaneous Invisibility

"In the summer of 1994, I became aware of a very strange phenomenon, human spontaneous involuntary invisibility, which was apparently happening to people in the U.S." Well, land sakes! It seems all sorts of folks are just turning invisible!


Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Over the years I've acquired a modest collection of scars. Not that many, I suppose, but each one has a story behind it.

Right knee.  When I was three years old I saw a circus show on TV. So I went out and was playing circus on the swing set. Somehow I got my knee jammed up beneath a sharp metal edge. Result: a big broad scar which is quite obvious to this day.

Right bicep.  At age six I got the chicken pox, and it left a chicken pox scar on my right bicep. My brother caught the chicken pox from me, and he got a chicken pox scar above one eyebrow.

Left ring finger.  When I was eight I noticed a broken glass jar lying in the gutter at the curb. I picked it up and cut my finger on it, leading to a scar on the side of the middle joint of my left ring finger. (Yes, I'm left-handed.)

Right knee again.  When I was a junior in high school I was running in a cross-country meet, and part way through I slipped and fell, banging my right knee on a rock. I didn't think anything of it until I was coming up toward the finish line and a friend called out, "Hey Paul, what happened to your leg?" Once I got across the finish I looked down and saw my right shin covered in blood. Another big broad scar for my right knee.

Scalp.  Age 36, I got dragooned into helping carry metal clothing racks in a department store and put them in storage in a room beneath a stairwell. (Long story.) The racks were stacked up two high, which was not a very stable arrangement, and all of a sudden someone yelled, "Look out!" Too fast for me to react, one of the racks on the top level teetered over, like "Timber!" Right into my skull, 50 pounds of metal falling from three or four feet. Right side of my scalp, toward the back, was bleeding all over the place. It took seven stitches. I can feel the furrow in my scalp back there to this day. Only wonder is, I wasn't injured any worse.

A Star System of My Own

A quick index of my posts on an entire star system I made up:

1. Hinkson's Tourmaline, Hinkson's Garnet, and Their Planets

2. The Double Planet of Catseye and Eclipse a/k/a Hinkson Tourmaline IV

3. The Native Life Forms of Hinkson Tourmaline IV

4. The Calendar of Hinkson Tourmaline IV

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Star System of My Own, Part 4

Continued from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

calendar cards
William S. Burroughs once compared Time magazine to the Mayan calendar, which told people which days were fortunate or inauspicious, which days to feel happy or sad. The calendar in use on Hinkson Tourmaline IV was likewise densely interwoven with the rhythm of everyday life, though in a mode quite different from any calendar ever dreamt of on Earth.

Settlers on Hinkson Tourmaline IV were spread out across the face of the planet, most of them in the habitable/arable zones near oceans or other bodies of water, and many of them around the Third Ocean on the Catseyeward side of the planet. Here they could never forget why the official name of Hinkson Tourmaline IV in the planetary register was the planet Eclipse; for overhead the planet Catseye loomed huge, stretching across a sixth of the sky. The star Hinkson's Tourmaline was eclipsed by Catseye every day, so that the daily cycle consisted of morning, afternoon, night, and also midnight noon whose darkness clove and divided morning from afternoon.

Catseye overhead by day, a huge crescent waning and waxing, reduced to darkness in the dark sky during the hour of midday totality. A dark sphere with lightning and auroral displays raging across its face in the dark overhead. Then at night, after Hinkson's Tourmaline had set and the sky grown dark, Catseye above waxed to full, lighting up the night like a hundred full moons, and across the face of Catseye moved the round shadow of Hinkson Tourmaline IV, like the black pupil moving across a rolling eye. And again, with lightning raging in the pupil of the eye, in the night sky overhead...

Burroughs was right. Night and day and sky determine the calendar, and then calendar and environment determine the rhythm and feel of day-to-day. Day and Year and Week and Month...

Day:  Hinkson Tourmaline IV, which always keeps the same side toward its primary, the large terrestrial planet Catseye, both rotates around Catseye and revolves on its axis once every 13.738 hours. Thus the Day is reckoned as a period of 13.738 hours.

On the primaryward side, the primary eclipses Hinkson's Tourmaline daily. Transition to or from totality takes only about a minute, and totality lasts about 62 minutes at the equator. Eclipse is slightly shorter at higher latitudes.

In most settlements on Hinkson Tourmaline IV, day is held to begin at local sunrise. But in some settlements on the Catseyeward side of the planet, the new day begins at the end of the morning, at the first moment of total eclipse at the onset of "midnight noon." Local calendar variations like this arose in the early days of colonization, when various human settlements on the planet were widely dispersed and struggling, and often not in regular communication with one another. These differences have never been ironed out, due in part to the peculiar role the day plays in the calendar of Hinkson Tourmaline IV (see Week below).

Year:  The Catseye/Eclipse double planetary system revolves in its orbit around Hinkson's Tourmaline once every 528.67 Earth days. Thus a year on Hinkson Tourmaline IV lasts 923.57 local days.

Accordingly, the calendar year is 924 local days long. Three years out of seven are "short years," only 923 days long. A "short year" drops its last day. A year is a short year if, when divided by 7, the remainder is odd (1, 3, or 5).

The Hinkson's Year era (years HY) begins with 1 HY, which is dated from the first planetfall of the H.H. Hinkson expedition on Hinkson Tourmaline IV in AD 2172.

Week:  Catseye turns on its axis precisely twice every three local days, so every three days Catseye presents the same aspect in the sky overhead at the same time of the day. This leads to a three-day rhythm in the week: Foreday, Middleday, and Hinterday. Four such three-day periods constitute one week of twelve local days:
  1. Green Foreday
  2. Yellow Middleday
  3. Red Hinterday
  4. White Foreday
  5. Green Middleday
  6. Yellow Hinterday
  7. Red Foreday
  8. White Middleday
  9. Green Hinterday
  10. Yellow Foreday
  11. Red Middleday
  12. White Hinterday
The four-day rhythm of Green, Yellow, Red, White, leading to a twelve-day week, was a concession to the fact that the local day is little more than half the length of an Earth day. A few of the colonists actually held a waking and sleeping cycle of one local day of 13.738 hours; but most colonists fit their waking and sleeping, their cycle of "daily" activities, some into a period of two local days (27.476 hours), some into a period of three local days (41.214 hours). And some even held to a "day" of four local days (54.952 hours).

A twelve-day week accommodates all of these "daily" cycles. Which length of cycle one followed was to a large degree a family-by-family choice, though it was also to some degree a matter of locale, cycles of a given length being more popular in one settlement than in another. And sometimes a particular cycle was common to a guild or trade.

This led to a culture in which one's daily schedule faded into and out of sync with one's friends and neighbors. Today, your schedule and mine might come into alignment so that we might meet for lunch at what was for both of us midday; a few days later, and my workday might coincide with the middle of your night. Not exactly a lazy schedule of "mañana," but a schedule in which phases come and go, fade in and out, in ever drifting evanescence. Half the world is sleeping while I am awake; and not always the same half, either.

And even if we both keep to a cycle of the same duration, I might wake and work during Foreday and Middleday, and sleep during Hinterday; while you might be up Middleday and Hinterday, and asleep Foreday.

Nor did sky in its light and darkness mark the bounds strongly: the nighttime was lit up by the light of Catseye overhhead, and every midday was plunged into an hour of deep darkness. No matter what the length of your "day," you could not escape a cycle in which both light and darkness featured in both your waking and your sleep time.

Think for a moment what it would be like to live in a world where day and night, waking and sleeping, light and dark, and most of all my schedule and yours, shifted and slid in the fleeting and evanescence of such a hall of mirrors.

Months:  Catseye and Hinkson Tourmaline IV share two small moons which orbit their common center of gravity: the Lion, visible in the sky as a small yellow disk, with a period of 21.38 days; and the Tiger, visible as a brilliant orange star, with a period of 43.89 days. These suggest two mensal periods of 21 days (called a "leo") and 44 days (called a "tigger").

Coincidentally, the product of 21 and 44 is 924— the number of local days in a year! Moreover, 21 and 44 are relatively prime. Thus if these two cycles run concurrently, each will fill out a long (924-day) year evenly, and each of the 21 "days of the leo" will coincide with each of the 44 "days of the tigger" once and only once during the year. A year will be made up of:
  • 77 weeks of 12 days each
  • 44 leos of 21 days each
  • 21 tiggers of 44 days each
So a day of the year can be uniquely identified as, for example, "5 Lion 37 Tiger"— meaning that it is the 5th day of the current leo, and the 37th day of the current tigger. The day after 5 Lion 37 Tiger would be 6 Lion 38 Tiger, and the day after that would be 7 Lion 39 Tiger. And the day after 12 Lion 44 Tiger would be 13 Lion 1 Tiger.

calendar cards
Combining days of the leo and tigger with the days of the week yields the complete way calendar days were specified on Hinkson Tourmaline IV. For instance, today might be Red Middleday 5 Lion 37 Tiger. And then tomorrow would be White Hinterday 6 Lion 38 Tiger, and the day after tomorrow would be Green Foreday 7 Lion 39 Tiger. (This does sound vaguely like the Mayan calendar, doesn't it?) There were calendar cards in common use, 21 for the days of the leo and 44 for the days of the tigger. They were usually displayed in two piles set up on a rack. Every day, the top card on each stack would be moved to the back of its pile.

calendar wheel
The question "Which leo and which tigger of the year is it?" can be answered by aligning the yellow 5 and orange 37 on a common device known as the calendar wheel, which also usually includes a track for days of the week. This device, if adjusted once every tigger, can also serve as a sort of perpetual monthly calendar.

In a short year of 923 days, the last day of the year (21 Lion 44 Tiger) is omitted, but the twelve-day week continues without interruption, so that if the last day of the old year was Yellow Foreday 20 Lion 43 Tiger, the first day of the new year would be Red Middleday 1 Lion 1 Tiger. Under this system, the weekdays shift by one day in the year following a short year, but remain the same from one year to the next in the year following a regular (924-day) year.

Note how the calendar of Hinkson Tourmaline IV, with its two intertwining mensal periods of Lions and Tigers, is better adapted to answering the question, "Where am I in the superimposed rhythm of various cycles?", than to answering the question, "Where am I in the year considered 'in the large'?" Such a calendar is better adapted to a world where numerous cycles predominate, and the seasons of the year are not so strongly marked. Catseye and Hinkson Tourmaline IV both have essentially zero axial inclination toward the plane of their revolution around each other, and this plane is inclined at only about 9° toward the ecliptic. Thus there are seasons on Hinkson Tourmaline IV, though they are much less strongly marked than on Earth with its 23° axial tilt. And the seasons were even further moderated for most of the settlers, living as they did near one of the oceans.

And there you have it, a star system of my own! I have tons of items like this stored away in all those zillions of boxes of old papers I've got stored away. Goes along, I think, with my overall radioactive core meltdown of the imagination.


Monday, June 18, 2007

A Star System of My Own, Part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

vertebrates of hinkson tourmaline iv
The vertebrate life forms native to Hinkson Tourmaline IV are divided into two broad categories, four-limbed and six-limbed. Quadrupeds and hexapods developed in separated oceans and diverged prior to the emergence of the first vertebrate fish. Two modern oceans contain only quadruped marine life and four-finned fish; the third ocean contains only hexapod marine life and six-finned fish.

quadruped mammals
Most major terrestrial phyla have close approximations among the quadruped mammals of Hinkson Tourmaline IV. Note, there are no true hoofed species.

Salamandrid species are closely related to the mammals. They are adapted to life in geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles, where they can endure near boiling temperatures.

Alluvians are warm-blooded animals with amphibian book lungs and a frond-like bodily covering. A wide variety of alluvian species, such as the giant bunyip, the alluvial duckbill, and the skeeter, inhabit the large and active coastal tidal plains around the oceans and other bodies of water. Tides of up to 100 feet not being unusual, these tidal plains are often several miles wide. Alluvians are only distantly related to other land life.

The birds of Hinkson Tourmaline IV are divided into toothed birds and toothless birds.

The quadruped reptiles include land-based lizards and turtles. They also include airborne lizard species, and a wide variety of saurians, including pleseiosaurids and other marine saurians, land saurians, ankylosaurids, and horned saurians.

hexapod mammals
The hexapod mammals of Hinkson Tourmaline IV are generally more specialized than the quadrupeds. The hexapods tend to occupy narrower ecological niches, but they usually predominate strongly in those niches.

Hexapod mammals include various mesopod species, where the middle pair of limbs is either for specialized use or else vestigial. They also include a variety of true hexapods, where all six limbs are used for locomotion. And they include various species of chironidae, where the forelimbs are specialized; most non-carnivorous hexapods belong to this class, which also includes some of the most intelligent animal species.

The ornithids include a variety of airborne hexapod species, with some mammalian and some avian characteristics. The ornithids are divided into hexapterae, with all six limbs more or less winglike; and tetrapterae, with four limbs winglike and the rear two limbs specialized or footlike.

There are also marine hexapods, including some large saurians and some hexapod porpoiselike species; as well as a few vestigial land-based cold-blooded hexapod life forms.

Tomorrow: The calendar of Hinkson Tourmaline IV.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Star System of My Own, Part 2

Continued from Part 1 yesterday

double planetary system
As detailed previously, Hinkson's Tourmaline is a yellow-white class F7 star, part of a binary star system 41 light years from Earth. The fourth planetary orbit around Hinkson's Tourmaline is occupied by a double planetary system consisting of the two planets Catseye and Eclipse. The two planets, separated by a mean distance of 35000 miles, rotate about their common center of mass every 13.738 hours. The smaller planet, Eclipse, is relatively earthlike, and habitable for human settlers.

Catseye/Eclipse.  Distance from primary: 119,000,000 miles. Period of revolution: 528.67 days. Orbital eccentricity: 0.0016. Number of satellites: 2.

The planets Catseye and Eclipse share two small moons, called the Lion and the Tiger, which orbit further out around their common center of mass.

Catseye.  Diameter: 17500 miles. Sidereal period of rotation: 20.607 hours. Volume (Earth = 1): 10.76. Mass (Earth = 1): 6.46. Density (g/cc): 3.3. Surface gravity (Earth = 1): 1.32. Albedo: 0.41. Mean subsolar surface temperature: 255° K. (0° F.)

Catseye is a very large terran planet, with a diameter of 17,500 miles. It is relatively poor in heavy elements; much even of its molten core consists of silicon and aluminum rather than iron-nickel compounds. The planet has active plate tectonics, and much vulcanism.

As a result of tidal braking between Catseye and Eclipse, Catseye turns on its axis twice for every three revolutions of its secondary companion.

The atmosphere, with a density of 3.75 Earth atmospheres (2850 mm Hg), is a reducing atmosphere containing nitrogen, methane, ammonia, free oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ozone. Most of the surface is covered with ice and glaciers. Were the surface water in liquid form, most of Catseye would be covered with ocean. however, only near the equator do temperatures sometimes rise above freezing, and there is no place on the planet's surface (except for some volcanic vents and hot springs) that does not experience freezing.

Interaction with the strong magnetic field of Eclipse causes a continuous zone of auroras and electrical/lightning activity sweeping around the equatorial zone of Catseye. Thus there are organic compounds in abundance. However, Catseye itself has only a weak magnetic field. Due to lack of protection from radiation and charged particles, undependable availability of liquid water, and scarcity of heavier elements, the life forms native to Catseye are extremely primitive, rather like those of Earth during its Pre-Cambrian period.

Eukaryotic life forms include mostly algae, lichens, and one-celled animal life. The most advanced form of life resembles the earthly euglena colonies. Multi-celled life forms evidently have evolved relatively recently in planetary history. Many anaerobic prokaryotic life forms survive in equatorial regions. And even primitive self-replicating clay structures continue to exist near hot springs and fumaroles, where, apparently, life on Catseye first emerged.

A matter for concern is the careless introduction of terran micro-organisms into the ecology of Catseye by early expeditions to the system. Even such a simple organism as the intestinal bacterium E. coli has few competitors, and is vastly more efficient than the native organisms.

Eclipse.  Diameter: 7100 miles. Sidereal period of rotation: 13.738 hours. Volume (Earth = 1): 0.72. Mass (Earth = 1): 0.79. Density (g/cc): 6.0. Surface gravity (Earth = 1): 0.977. Albedo: 0.26. Mean subsolar surface temperature: 284° K. (52° F.)

The planet Eclipse is an earthlike planet which is in close orbit with its larger neighbor, the planet Catseye. The two planets are separated by a distance of only 35,000 miles, not much greater than their Roche limit. The planet Eclipse rotates on its axis once every 13.738 hours, always keeping the same face turned toward Catseye, which looms huge in the sky overhead on the Catseyeward side of Eclipse.

There is a complex system of interactions between the two planets, which is even yet not well understood. Catseye has a weak magnetic field, but Eclipse has a much stronger magnetic field which interacts with and distorts the field of its larger companion. The magnetic field of Eclipse also causes auroral and electrical phenomena where it intersects with the atmosphere of Catseye, and these phenomena are readily visible to the human settlers on Eclipse. Moreover there is an ion flux tube of several million amps between the two planets; and a significant gas torus fills the orbital path of Eclipse. Beyond that, the magnetic field of Eclipse also evidently exerts an influence on electric currents, magnetic field generation, etc. within the mantle and core of Catseye. It is hypothesized that this entire complex system contributes toward maintaining the two planets in orbital homeostasis around each other.

Eclipse's orbit around Catseye is of extremely low eccentricity, departing from the circular by only a few hundred yards. Catseye raises huge tides in the oceans and even the lakes on Eclipse. Tides of 100 feet are not uncommon along the seashores, giving rise to broad coastal tidal plains several miles wide which are flooded regularly.

On Eclipse the atmosphere is very similar in content and density to Earth. The oceans are of much lesser extent, covering less than half the surface of the planet. In fact there are three large disconnected oceans, in addition to a number of smaller lakes and salt lakes. Much of the most habitable land is located within several hundred miles of the oceans, its precise extent depending on geography, rainfall patterns, and local climate. There are also smaller habitable zones around lakes, and in remote oases. Land far removed from any body of water is known as "the Outback," desert at tropical or temperate latitudes, and dry tundra at arctic and subarctic latitudes.

The planet Eclipse was first visited and extensively explored by the Hinkson expedition in 2172. Human colonization began with the arrival of a Solar Federation starship about 100 years later. Most of the human colonists settled in the more habitable and arable zones near large bodies of water, and many of these settled around the ocean on the Catseyeward side of the planet.

To the colonists, the official name "Eclipse" is a "book" name for their adopted homeworld. One rarely hears the human inhabitants of the planet refer to their world as anything other than Hinkson Tourmaline IV. Note, without the possessive: it is Hinkson's Tourmaline, but Hinkson Tourmaline IV.

So there you have my science-fictional world of Hinkson Tourmaline IV. Looking back at my calculations, I suspect the two planets are too close together for comfort: I was very aware of the issue of the Roche limit, which I first discovered at age six in a story in DC's Mystery in Space comics— you know, the one with the classic cover showing Adam Strange flying up into space between the planets Earth and Rann, which are about to collide— but, as I've already said, I'm not going to revisit those pages and pages of equations and calculations after 20 years. Let's just say a double planet system is cool.

Monday: The native life forms of Hinkson Tourmaline IV.


Friday, June 15, 2007

A Star System of My Own, Part 1

hinkson's star
Back in the 70s, in my junior high and high school and early college years, I wrote a thick sheaf of science fiction stories, all set in the same fictional future history. The names of certain worlds kept popping up in these stories again and again, among them a human-colonized planet called Hinkson Tourmaline IV.

Some years later, around age 30, I began fleshing out this world in detail. Hinkson Tourmaline IV, the entire Hinkson's Star system. I was armed with my old college physics textbook, and a college-level astronomy textbook. I consulted with a friend who had been a Ph.D. candidate in physics. I filled up a thick file folder, page after page covered with equations and calculations. By the time I was finished, I had created a star system of my own.

Hinkson's Star is located 41.07 light years from Earth. Declination: 36° 28' 3.7". Right ascension: 14h. 47 m. 12.1 s. It was first catalogued in 1908, as BD+36°7891, in the Bonner Durchmusterung.

Hinkson's Star is a physical binary. Its two components are BD+36°7891A, "Hinkson's Tourmaline," a whitish-yellow main sequence star; and BD+36°7891B, "Hinkson's Garnet," a red subgiant. The mean separation of the two stars is 5.5X10^9 mi. (59 AU); eccentricity of orbit, 0.24; period of revolution, 909.6 Earth years. The visual magnitude of Hinkson's Garnet as seen from Hinkson's Tourmaline at mean separation is -15.0, which is 8.3 times as bright as a full moon on Earth; visual magnitude at periastron, -15.6.

Hinkson's Tourmaline (BD+36°7891A): Spectral class, F7. Surface temperature, 7050° K. Absolute magnitude, 4.39. Mass (Sol = 1.0), 1.0. Luminosity (Sol = 1.0), 1.33. Diameter, 750,000 mi.

Hinkson's Garnet (BD+36°7891B): Spectral class, M3. Surface temperature, 3300° K. Absolute magnitude, 7.66. Mass (Sol = 1.0), 3.0. Luminosity (Sol = 1.0), 0.067. Diameter, 1,500,000 mi.

The Hinkson's Star system was first explored in 2172 by the H.H. Hinkson expedition. Their ship, the USS Skylark, was propelled by a Bussard fusion ramjet drive. The Hinkson expedition spent five years exploring the planetary system of Hinkson's Tourmaline; they made planetfall or orbital observation of most of the planets and moons, and much of their exploratory work has yet to be repeated or extended. Note, the Hinkson expedition, at a distance of over 40 light years, took place at a time when most human explored or colonized worlds were within 20 light years of Earth.

In 2208 the Alyson Leibold expedition executed a flyby stellar survey of the Hinkson's star system, aboard the EESS Alèxandre Humboldt, driven by a Bussard plenum-disruption ramjet. Their data was returned to Earth via maser beam; the Leibold expedition itself never returned to Earth, and must be presumed lost in the void of interstellar space.

Colonization of Hinkson Tourmaline IV began in 2270 with the arrival of a Solar Federation union expedition on the SFSS E. Grey Bigelow, equipped with a Dean plenum-disruption rotolinear drive and a Müller paralight-transition drive.

Hinkson's Tourmaline has nine planets in eight planetary orbits, as follows:

1. Fireplace.  Diameter: 2500 mi. Distance from primary: 28,000,000 miles. Period of revolution: 60.3 days. Sidereal period of rotation: 60.3 days. Orbital eccentricity: 0.045. Volume (Earth = 1): 0.03. Mass (Earth = 1): 0.04. Density (g/cc): 7.1. Surface gravity (Earth = 1): 0.41. Albedo: 0.15. Mean subsolar surface temperature: 1340° K. Number of satellites: 0.

This small planet orbits a mean distance of only 28 million miles from its primary, coming at periastron to within 26.74 million miles. Fireplace always keeps the same face turned toward Hinkson's Tourmaline, and temperatures on its sunward side reach upward of 1340° K. (2000° F.) With most of the lighter elements having long since been driven off by solar heat, Fireplace is extraordinarily dense— in fact, it possess a dense but shallow atmosphere, consisting of mercury vapors, and on the dayside, of lead vapors as well. This atmosphere is only about 300 meters deep— thus even steep hills project above the atmosphere. Atmospheric circulation is a simple Hadley cell, with a sharply marked thermocline between the hotter upper atmosphere which moves toward the night side, and the less hot returning lower atmosphere.

2. Fireside.  Diameter: 3800 mi. Distance from primary: 43,000,000 miles. Period of revolution: 114.8 days. Sidereal period of rotation: 114.8 days. Orbital eccentricity: 0.02. Volume (Earth = 1): 0.11. Mass (Earth = 1): 0.11. Density (g/cc): 5.4. Surface gravity (Earth = 1): 0.47. Albedo: 0.06. Mean subsolar surface temperature: 860° K. Number of satellites: 0.

An airless, cratered ball of rock which keeps the same face always turned toward its primary, Fireside resembles the "older" astronomical picture of the planet Mercury in many respects. The dayside approaches 860° K., while the nightside stays near absolute zero.

3. Leibold's Planet.  Diameter: 9100 mi. Distance from primary: 67,000,000 miles. Period of revolution: 223.3 days. Sidereal period of rotation: 8.27 days. Orbital eccentricity: 0.0038. Volume (Earth = 1): 1.51. Mass (Earth = 1): 1.35. Density (g/cc): 4.9. Surface gravity (Earth = 1): 1.02. Albedo: 0.35. Mean subsolar surface temperature: 400° K. Number of satellites: 0.

Somewhat larger than the Earth and rotating slowly due to tidal braking by Hinkson's Tourmaline, Leibold's Planet is named after the ill-fated second Earth expedition to the star system. However, its atmosphere, a thin reducing atmosphere (150 mm Hg. or 0.20 Earth atmospheres) of nitrogen, methane, ammonia, water vapor, and carbon dioxide, does not resemble that of Venus. The reason for this is that Leibold's Planet is large enough to sustain a molten core and plate tectonics, thus most of the free carbon became locked into surface minerals and carried through plate subduction to the asthenosphere or upper mantle of the planet.

4. Catseye/Eclipse  The fourth orbit around Hinkson's Tourmaline is occupied by a double planetary system consisting of two planets, Catseye (diameter 17500 miles) and Eclipse (diameter 7100 miles). The two planets, separated by a mean distance of 35000 miles, rotate about their common center of mass every 13.738 hours. The smaller planet, Eclipse, is relatively earthlike, and habitable for human settlers. More on this double planet system tomorrow.

5. The Shepherd.  Diameter: 4700 mi. Distance from primary: 238,000,000 miles. Period of revolution: 1495 days (4.09 years). Sidereal period of rotation: 23.0 hours. Orbital eccentricity: 0.0095. Volume (Earth = 1): 0.21. Mass (Earth = 1): 0.18. Density (g/cc): 4.6. Surface gravity (Earth = 1): 0.50. Albedo: 0.07. Mean subsolar surface temperature: 190° K. Number of satellites: 23.

As with our system, the system of Hinkson's Tourmaline has an asteroid belt inside the orbit of its first Jovian planet. However, the largest "asteroid" is in this case larger than our planet Mars, a colder version of which it in fact resembles. The planet, dubbed "the Shepherd," superintends the smaller bodies which are naturally enough termed "the Flock." The Shepherd has orbiting itself no less than twenty-three moons; there are also sizeable concentrations at each Trojan point. Moreover, the Shepherd has almost totally cleaned out the resonant gaps among the Flock which correspond to orbits whose period is a rational multiple of the Shepherd's period; the phenomenon is similar to the Kirkwood gaps in our own asteroid belt, but much more pronounced, so that, seen from several astronomical units above the ecliptic, the Flock looks rather like a giant version of the rings of Saturn, but even more striking.

6. Ice Queen.  Diameter: 42000 mi. Distance from primary: 437,000,000 miles. Period of revolution: 10.2 years. Sidereal period of rotation: 14.4 hours. Orbital eccentricity: 0.03. Volume (Earth = 1): 148.7. Mass (Earth = 1): 35.1. Density (g/cc): 1.3. Surface gravity (Earth = 1): 1.25. Albedo: 0.40. Mean subsolar surface temperature: 120° K. Number of satellites: 8.

The first Jovian planet in the system, Ice Queen presents marked atmospheric bands, most colored white or faint grey. The planet possesses a faint ring, and eight known moons, named after the kings and queens of the classical card deck (David, Alexander, Charles, Caesar, Pallas, Argine, Judith, Rachel).

7. Ice Princess.  Diameter: 25000 mi. Distance from primary: 863,000,000 miles. Period of revolution: 28.3 years. Sidereal period of rotation: 18.7 hours. Orbital eccentricity: 0.035. Volume (Earth = 1): 31.4. Mass (Earth = 1): 7.99. Density (g/cc): 1.4. Surface gravity (Earth = 1): 0.80. Albedo: 0.40. Mean subsolar surface temperature: 85° K. Number of satellites: 4.

The small Jovian planet, Ice Princess, resembles its larger neighbor except that its atmospheric bands are less strongly marked. It too has a faint ring system, and four moons, named after the jacks of the card deck (Ogier, Judah Maccabee, La Hire, Hector).

8. Snowball.  Diameter: 1500 mi. Distance from primary: 1,263,000,000 miles. Period of revolution: 48.5 years. Sidereal period of rotation: unknown. Orbital eccentricity: 0.07. Volume (Earth = 1): 0.007. Mass (Earth = 1): 0.001. Density (g/cc): 1.0. Surface gravity (Earth = 1): 0.034. Albedo: 0.20. Mean subsolar surface temperature: 75° K. Number of satellites: 0.

The object named Snowball remains something of an enigma. It seems to be composed largely of ice, frozen methane, and dust and gravel. It would seem to be perhaps a piece of cometary matter, if not for its large size. It has not yet been subjected to individual investigation.

Hinkson's Garnet, at a mean distance of 5.5 billion miles from Hinkson's Tourmaline, is circled by an asteroid belt called the Coronet; and further out, a large, dark, rocky planet called King o' Clubs. These have not yet been examined close up.

There you go, a star system of my own! At one time I calculated this all out in gory detail, though please don't ask my aching skull to revisit those calculations 20 years down the road. You'll notice my star system is in some ways very broadly similar to our own solar system— I never dreamed at that time just how wild and different many of the extrasolar planetary systems we're discovering nowadays would be.

Tomorrow: More on the Catseye/Eclipse double planetary system.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Hungarian Playing Cards

A reader in Budapest, Hungary noticed the US-made Hungarian playing cards I featured in a previous post, and so he very kindly sent me some Hungarian card decks. Thank you very much, Tamás! It was very kind of you.

Here are some photos of the beautiful cards Tamás sent me, along with notes in which I draw on his explanation of these cards:

regular hungarian cards
Fig. 1  Regular Hungarian cards, a 32 card deck. Cards measure about 4"x2½". These cards are used for skat, bézique, klaberjass, and other Hungarian card games.

The suits are red (not "hearts"), green (not "leaves"), acorns, bells. If there is a rank among suits, red is the highest. Notice how many of the cards, including pip cards and aces, have pictures or scenery on them.

hungarian tarokk cards
Fig. 2a  Hungarian Tarokk cards, uses a 42 card deck in Hungary but 54 cards in Western Europe. Cards are quite large, measuring about 5"x3", and the cards have no indices in the corner. This deck contains 54 cards, from which 12 pip cards can be discarded to yield the 42 card deck. Tamás says that Tarokk is a very popular card game in Hungary; I find an account of the rules here, looks like an intricate and fascinating game, and quite unlike any other card game I'm acquainted with.

The 42 cards in the Hungarian game include five cards in each suit: in spades and clubs the cards rank king (high), queen, rider, jack, ten (low); in hearts and diamonds the cards rank king (high), queen, rider, jack, ace (low). The deck also includes 21 numbered cards with Roman numerals ranking from XXI (high) down to I or pagát (low), plus an unnumbered card called skíz which looks a little like a joker and is the highest card of all. The skíz, XXI, and pagát are known as honors.

hungarian tarokk cards
Fig. 2b  As you can see, the numbered cards have very curious designs on them. Tamás tells me these designs date back to Hungary and Austria in the early 19th century.

1860s reprint hungarian cards
Fig. 3  A reprint of Hungarian cards from the 1860s. 32 card deck, quite small, with the cards measuring about 3 5/8"x2 1/8". The box is labeled in Hungarian Tell Vilmos, or as we would say in English, William Tell. The original manufacturer is given as "Salamon Antal, Keczkemet": Tony Salamon, in Keczkemét, which is about 60 kilometers east of Budapest.

The designs on the cards are very delicate and old-fashioned looking. Tamás mentions an interesting point: the Red Lower (what we would call the Jack) wears a red rounded cap. In cards designed after the 1920s, this was changed to a green cap, since the red cap was called a "Jewish cap" at that time.

Three beautiful card decks from Hungary, and they make a wonderful addition to my playing card collection. Once again, thank you, Tamás! As I've remarked before here on my blog, one of the great things about the Internet is the way it brings together individuals from around the world.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Money in the Land with the Yankee Dollar Bill"

Yesterday I was shopping at Alco up in Caledonia. They've got a new policy: when I paid in cash at the cash register, the sales clerk asked for my zip code.

Why, pray tell? Why ask for my zip code? Why ask for my zip code when I'm paying in cash? Do they want to be able to track me down if the dollar bills bounce?

If that's the case, why don't they require personal identification from me, and then record the series and serial number of each bill? If all merchants did that, you know, they could exhaustively track every cash purchase in the country. They could even make it easier by printing bar codes on paper currency. Or embedding an RFID tag in every bill.

On a more serious note, what purpose is served by asking for my zip code when I pay in cash? I mean, it feels like just one more tiny step toward a comprehensive corporate/governmental surveillance state. Total information awareness!! The only other business I know that requests my zip code for a cash purchase is Radio Shack, and that's one of the reasons I avoid shopping at Radio Shack.

Oh, and remember... their cameras are tracking you out in the parking lot.


Monday, June 11, 2007

And the Name of This Supper Club Is...

The other day, I was driving by a place where I occasionally eat. And I noticed there were two signs on the building. One read, "So-and-So's Dugout." And the other one read, "So-and-So's Supper Club."

And I thought to myself, so which is it? Dugout or Supper Club?

Actually, this is a phenomenon of the small-town Midwest which I've noticed for years. Often a supper club, bar, tavern, restaurant will not have a single consistent name. You'll see various signs posted on or around the establishment, and often these signs won't carry the same name.

That supper club down on the highway by the edge of town, with two signs on it... one sign reads Doc "n" Jo's. The other sign says The Blue Pheasant.

Or, more puzzling yet, one sign says The Blue Pheasant, while the other reads The Golden Pheasant.

So which is it? Blue or Golden?

Or then there's the restaurant which is styled on one sign as the Dew Drop Inn, and on the other sign as The West Side Cafe.

I even know of one eating place on a winding, twisting road over in western Wisconsin, that has two names on the same sign. In big letters above, it says The Hawk's Nest. On a little placard hanging right underneath it reads Whipoorwill.

Don't look for a reason. Don't look for an explanation. This is simply one of the enigmas of life in a small town.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Never Too Old to Learn Something New

I learned today that a three or four foot length of Fun Noodle™ makes a great light saber. Two of them make for great dueling with light sabers.

They're even fairly effective at deflecting bolts from blasters a/k/a squirt guns.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Steampunk Computer

Check out the steampunk computer this guy made!

The screen in an antique brass frame on a marble base is cool enough, but that hyper-retro keyboard takes the prize. And I to XII for the function keys F1 to F12... that really was a stroke of inspiration.

If you're looking for a cool interface with your Babbage engine...

(h/t Steven)


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Campaign Bombardment in Iowa

Ah, yes, the joys of living here in Iowa while the presidential election is still purner a year and a half away! I'll tell you, we've been subjected to campaign bombardment here for so long at this point that we're all just sort of stumbling around shellshocked.

I've heard so many radio ads for Mitt Romney that, every time one comes on, my eyes glaze over and I have visions of a giant waving oven mitt. Honestly, Romney has outweighed the rest several times over in the radio ads department.

Then there was the campaign worker who phoned me and tried to get me to attend some dinner for Tommy Thompson in Dubuque or Mason City or some other place which was not real convenient for those of us who live better than a two hour drive away.

And last night the phone rang again. A legitimate call? Not. A telemarketer? Not. Or, well, not exactly. I'm on the national Do Not Call list, but do you think the politicians would've passed that law without leaving a loophole for themselves? Yes, the phone rang, and it was a recorded message from none other than John McCain. He was mouthing platitudes which were obviously meant to appeal to his campaign's perception of the Iowa voter, and which were just as obviously... well, ummmm, platitudes.

Sorry, John, you're wasting your time. (And mine, but that's another issue.) At the moment my hopes are pinned on Fred Thompson.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Yellow Nine



Light Bulb Joke

Q: How many radical feminists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: That's not funny!

GNOME Icon Themes

Last night I finally resolved one of the few remaining annoyances with my recent install of Mandriva Linux 2007. Namely, no matter which GNOME icon theme I chose, it would display a mixture of the chosen icon theme and the default GNOME icon theme. Some default icons, some icons from whichever other theme I'd chosen.

Not that I use the GNOME desktop, mind you. I use Fluxbox, with certain other elements borrowed from GNOME via the GNOME settings daemon.

And not that I have icons right on my desktop. My desktop has no icons on it— whaddaya think this is, Windows?! No, we're talking about icons in the Nautilus file manager. Nonspatial Nautilus, thank you.

Anyhow. Turns out the problem is, icon image files used to have names like gnome-mime-image-jpeg.svg. Well, now it's just image-jpeg.svg. And (par for the course) they didn't even tell anyone about it, just left us to dope it out for ourselves. Or stumble across it in this thread on

And now that I've clarified that...


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

So What's Up with My Blog Traffic?!

blog stats
Here's my blog traffic over the past year, from June 2006 through May 2007. You'll notice it teeters along, with minor ups and downs, at something over a thousand hits per month. Perhaps a very gradual upward trend. Until these past few months, when all of a sudden my blog traffic shoots up into the stratosphere. Over 6000 visitors for the month of May? Traffic quadrupled in just a few short months?!

Can somebody please tell me what's going on here?

Not much of the increase can be attributed to new visitors. I'm pretty well familiar from my blog stats with our regulars— a handful of regular commenters, and a handful of regular lurkers too. I have at least one regular lurker who's been there ever since this blog began back in 2004. And I've picked up a couple of new readers in the past few months. But nowhere near enough to account for this astronomical increase in blog traffic.

A closer look at my stats indicates that part of it comes from picking up a few persistent high-traffic links. But by far the greatest part of the increase seems to be due to an ever-swelling number of visitors arriving here by way of Google Image searches.

Google Images. The great majority of my traffic comes from Google Image searches, and these have ballooned beyond all proportion in recent months. Though again, can somebody please tell me what's going on here? Many of my newly popular images have been there for a long, long time. Russian chronograph, triceratops, Uma Thurman, Irish sport of hurling, school bell, kabbalistic tree, Shogi, Chess, playing cards, state quarters. So why have they begun drawing mass quantities of visitors only in these past few months?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Fight Scenes from Neon Genesis Evangelion

Okay, continuing from last time, today it's some fight scenes from my favorite Japanese anime series.

In this fight scene from episodes 1 and 2, the boy Shinji Ikari has never even seen a giant robot before, much less piloted one. But he's their last hope— the only person available who's capable of "synchronizing" with an Eva— so they just shove him in the entry plug of Eva Unit 01, and send him out, with no practice or experience, to fight Sachiel, the Third Angel.

From episode 18. Commander Ikari: "Reclassify Evangelion Unit 03 as the Thirteenth Angel! All units, the target must be destroyed!" —Shinji Ikari, piloting Eva Unit 01: "But father, there's a pilot in that Eva, a kid just like myself!" Shinji refuses to fight, so Commander Ikari seizes remote control of Unit 01 and makes it destroy Unit 03, as Shinji cries, "No, father! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!"

Only afterwards does Shinji learn that the pilot of Unit 03 was his friend Touji.

From episode 19. Asuka in Unit 02 and Rei in Unit 00 fail to stop the Fourteenth Angel, which is advancing on headquarters. Shinji had vowed never to pilot again, but he has a change of heart and returns in Unit 01 just in the nick of time. But then, in mid-fight, the power reserves in Unit 01 run out...

Like I say, NGE is not exactly Yogi Bear or Bugs Bunny, and it's not likely to turn up on network TV here in the US any time soon. Eh, slightly violent?! Though this is the kind of cartoon I would've just loved, back when I was a kid— say, circa 1968?


Friday, June 01, 2007

How the Silver Screen Inside My Skull Combusted in the Outer World

One of the gentle amusements of my middle age has been to see how much the popular culture around us is coming to resemble the phantasmagoria that used to whirl round and round inside my own skull 30 and 40 years ago. Back in those days, there was little or nothing in the culture at large that answered to the Roman-candle contents of my incandescent imagination. But something has happened since then. There has been an epochal shift. And now when I look around me, it seems in recent years more and more as though the shadow-show that flickered inside my youthful skull has emerged and combusted in the world around us.

I remember when I was a kid, I loved cartoons. Now, back in those days "cartoons" meant Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound and Bugs Bunny and whatnot. I loved those cartoons. I still do. But inside my ten-year-old head was a vision of cartoons where epic battles raged. Cosmic forces of evil. Mighty heroes. Strange powers. Energy blasts, explosions! The fate of the world hanging in the balance!

Only back in those days, there weren't such cartoons. "Cartoons" pretty much meant Yogi Bear stealing another picnic basket. Well, actually there was one cartoon on TV that tended in the direction of what I would've preferred: The Herculoids was a wondrously incorrect cartoon about these characters defending their planet against alien invaders. Wham! Zap! Kaboom! My favorite Herculoid was this critter like a ten-legged rhinoceros that fired exploding rocks out of its horn.

I wished they would've had a lot more cartoons like that on. Only they didn't. Back in those days I don't know who else besides myself would've watched the kind of cartoons I really wanted to see. The kind of cartoons that were whirling round and round inside of my skull.

eva unit 01
Because the kind of cartoons I was envisioning back then— the kind of cartoons that were precisely nowhere to be found in the world outside my own skull— were a lot more like today's Japanese anime. Believe me, when I was twelve I would've gone crazy over something like the Japanese anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

eva unit 01
Giant robots— the Evangelions— fighting creatures known as the Angels which are attacking Tokyo-3 in the year 2015. Fifteen years after a catastrophe known as the Second Impact, which wiped out half the human race. Only a few select youth are capable of synchronizing with the Evas and piloting "mankind's ultimate fighting machine" in the battle against the Angels.

eva unit 01
Commander Ikari: "Reclassify Evangelion Unit 03 as the Thirteenth Angel! All units, the target must be destroyed!" —Shinji Ikari, piloting Eva Unit 01: "But father, there's a pilot in that Eva, a kid just like myself!" Oh, you can't imagine how I would've loved watching Neon Genesis Evangelion back circa 1968, when I was 12 years old! If, that is, I'd ever dreamed outside of my own imagination that works like that might even exist!

And comic books. Comic books meant Donald Duck, or Archie and Jughead. Which, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed and still enjoy such comics. But I preferred superhero comics. Yeah, DC, that was okay: Superman and Batman; or my own DC favorites, Green Lantern and the Flash. But what I really loved were Marvel Comics. Spider-Man. The Incredible Hulk. The Avengers. Or my very favorite comic from Marvel was the Fantastic Four.

What I loved about the Fantastic Four was not only Jack Kirby's brilliant, free-flowing artwork, which made DC's artwork look like stodgy, crisp banknote-engraving by comparison. Not only the free, loose, wide-open "fate of the world hanging in the balance" stuff, Johnny Storm going up in a hopeless last-ditch battle against the cosmic might of Galactus: "All right, if this is going to be Earth's last stand, let's do it up right! FLAME ON!" No, what I also loved about the Fantastic Four was the maudlin soap opera side of it, super-heroes going all emotional and angst-ridden and squabbling like a dysfunctional family.

I suppose these comics must've been selling out there to someone besides myself. But I grew up in a world where really nobody but myself was into comics. Nobody but myself was into the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man. My own folks were cool with comics, but I knew a lot of adults whose attitude was, child, don't touch those eeeeevil publications, they'll rot your mind out like a four-color computer virus.

Little could I have imagined back then that in my adult years, by the 1980s and on into the 90s, I'd be seeing comic books like Nexus, or Matt Wagner's Mage, or Alan Moore's stunning Miracleman. Little would I have dreamed that what once cycled round and round in my own mind would one day combust in the theaters in the form of Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four movies. Movies with special effects like in those days were to be seen nowhere outside of my own skull.

Likewise science fiction. I used to read and love science fiction books. By the time I was in junior high and high school, I was already amassing my own library of science fiction paperbacks. Robert Heinlein. Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke. John Brunner. James Blish. Clifford Simak. "Doc" Smith. Alfred Bester. Larry Niven. Poul Anderson. Ray Bradbury. Ursula Le Guin. Jack Vance. Roger Zelazny. Frank Herbert. Theodore Sturgeon. Problem was, back in those days, 60s and early 70s, science fiction was even more of a marginalized, ghettoized, disreputable genre than comic books were. I mean, science fiction in those days was a disreputable "pulp" genre, rather like lurid true crime tabloids.

Never would I have dreamed back then that one day science fiction would enter the cultural mainstream. It started in the late 70s, with the appearance of the first Star Wars movie. Yet long before that, my mind would've been ready. I was already long writing my own science fiction stories with strangely Star-Wars-like elements in them. Yes, my stories included a handheld energy-arc-wielding device called a nimbic torch years before I ever heard of light sabers.

And from the time I first read Robert Heinlein's "They," my efflorescent mind was primed for the likes of The Matrix. Yes, The Matrix. Let's not get into an alien race called the Esloniki in my stories, who practiced a surreal martial art called the feng cra, leaping and pirouetting in slow-motion defiance of gravity, chopping effortlessly through wood and steel and concrete, walking through walls, stopping bullets, balancing on a sword's razor edge. It was all there in my head circa 1972.

Humor. I remember living in a world where humor meant Red Skelton or Carol Burnett or Jackie Gleason, and nothing more. I mean, talk about stiff! Talk about embalmed! Then I went away to college, and stumbled across Monty Python, which approximated the style of humor which had already been whirling around in my gourd without proximate outward analog. And we live today in a world in which Monty-Pythonesque humor has become mainstream.

Music. Well, I first came to an awareness of myself and the world around me in the late 60s. Here the driving beat of rock music got through to many of my friends as it got through to me. I was not so alone in my musical tastes as I was in so many other areas. But I remember a time when rock was truly subversive, truly countercultural, truly outside the "grown-up" mainstream of our culture. It belonged to my generation, and not to as many of us as you might imagine looking back. I remember when I first realized that rock was entering the mainstream: it was 1976, and they were playing rock music during halftime at a football game on TV— which, at the time, stunned me. Yes, we live in a world today where rock is part of the mainstream culture. Incredible as that would've seemed to me back in the late 60s.

So many of my younger interests were odd, obscure, hard to find anything on them back in those days. Shogi or Japanese chess. Postage stamp countries like Liechtenstein or Andorra. Synaesthesia. The likelihood of planets outside our solar system. Self-constructed languages, such as my own Hermetic language. Shortwave radio and radio DXing.

Something has happened in the culture at large in the years and decades since then. The old culture, the culture of Yogi Bear and Carol Burnett, got some of the starch knocked out of it. And a hundred flowers have opened up and bloomed, in living technicolor. More variety. More breadth and depth. Much richer detail available on almost any odd topic you care to name. On a cultural level, on the simple level of images that flit through the mind's eye, the doors of perception have been opened wide.

The Internet has facilitated this process, and enabled people of like interests to connect. But the blooming I've witnessed in my time was already under way, 15 and 20 years ago, back before Internet access became widespread.

And the odd thing is, those images, those hundred flowers, were already flitting through my mind's eye 30 and 40 years ago. The older I get, the more our popular culture approximates to the lifelong shadow-show within my own mind.

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