Category: Humor

Uber Alley – Camouflage

Foreword:  I am fully aware of the stereotypical reputation of posts about cats.  So, I promise not to post anything like this again for at least a year. 😉 Posted: 6/27/2020

Some pet owners attribute human-like characteristics to their animal friends. But, some alleged domesticated cats have unique dog-like traits and other qualities that defy description.  Locally, there is this dingy-gray cat named Pepper (but referred to as the Princess, for her attitude) who is the same color as some spots on the concrete driveway.  She frequently likes to play “chicken” with the multi-ton Ford Explorer I am backing out of the garage (as I set off to drive for Uber – that’s the connection, you see).  In the pre-dawn darkness, as imaged by the back-up camera, she appears as just another spot (albeit a moving one) on the driveway.  I take great care to not let her become a literal spot on the driveway.  This is the same cat who will jump into open cabinets despite the dishes there found and climb into empty boxes (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Pepper in a box

Unlike most sane cats, she loves to get in the car and we have to tell contractors and movers in the area to double check their trucks before they leave.  She would sit outside the neighbor’s window and torture the poor dogs in the house.  She hopped in the Ford while I was unloading from a One, Two, Three, Etc. road trip and I found her as I took the car to turn it around.  So I drove her around the block instead.  Far from cowering on the floorboards, this one. See figure 2 below  

Figure 2: Not cowering on the floor

This feline is watched over by a woman who calls the cat “Princess” while referring to herself as “Abuelita” (Grandmother).  Abuelita makes every effort to comfort the Princess – even to the point of providing her with a special chair, covered with the cat’s own blanket and a pillow included.  Please see figure 3, below.

Figure 3: Luxurious repose prepared for Pepper

The Princess, however, rejects the throne and prefers to spend her time in a more rustic location.  Please see figure 4, below.

Figure 4: This is where she really wants to be.

So, this is the lunacy that (to some degree) makes the rest of life bearable.  😉

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Albuquerque

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Time Runs Out     October 17, 2016   (Reprinted from WordPress – Sept 2,  2019)

You may recall the explanation of the Federal regulations on truck driving that I explained partially in The Unforgiving Clock.  There is yet another onerous burden placed on the driver’s time called the 70 Hour or Eight Day Clock.  That says that I cannot accumulate more than 70 hours of “on duty” time in any eight day period.  That includes not only driving, but also the vehicle inspections, time at shipper or receiver and fueling times.  All of those are watched over by a department back in Purgatory (NTSR) called “Compliance”.  That  organization is exactly as forgiving as its name implies.;-).

If drive times are moderate and on-duty-not-driving is limited, one can expect to spread 70 hours over days one through eight and then gain the hours of the ninth day back.  That would let you continue to earn a pittance for all your time away from home.  If, however, there are some long distance assignments that leave not much spare time,  the day comes that your Eight Day Clock is down to five hours or so and you still have two hour’s worth of driving (and mucking about at the receiver) for the day and exactly zero hours to be regained tomorrow.  Restoring the “fresh 70 hours” is a matter of abstaining from driving for 34 hours.  The result of which is a forced “weekend” of poverty in a place you don’t want to be, when you would rather be earning a living,.  Thanks a bundle, Federal Department of Transportation!

And that is why this post is originating in Albuquerque.

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Above:  The Flying J Truck Stop parking at Albuquerque – whose lights are seen in the distance.

I am once again “Marooned” as in Thirty Four Hours in Ripon  or again in Mostly Wisconsin.  I know from those experiences and others that it is advisable to find some meaningful activity, thus to avoid being dragged down into the swirling maelstrom of desperate depression.  Thus, this narrative becomes Queequeg’s Coffin to my Ishmael.  If that metaphor escapes you, I am afraid you will have to read “Moby Dick” by Hermann Melville.  You will learn more about whales than you ever wanted to know.  The novel will also explain to you the origin of the name of a well-known chain of over-priced coffee houses.

I was obligated to read this in college.  It was a burden at the time, as are most college assignments, but I re-read that same book I had bought for the course years later and actually found it fascinating and interesting.  That was the exact same paperback edition that can be seen (on a shelf as Chekov discovers the “Botany Bay” belt buckle) in Star Trek II – the Wrath of Khan, which was heavily laced with Moby Dick references. The plot involved more than one “Marooning” as well, making it doubly appropriate.  Ricardo Montalban played what I consider to be his greatest role ever.

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Above:  Moby Dick Edition in a library of literary references in Star Trek  II

If you don’t have time to read a bulky classic of literature, you can “cheat” and see the 1956 movie of the same name.  It starred Gregory Peck, who thought himself too young for the “old man” role of Captain Ahab and Richard Basehart who (older than Peck) was too old for the role of “young man” Ishmael.  There was also a well-played supporting role by Orson Wells as Father Maple.  If you view the trailer, Queequeg is the shirtless gent with the elaborate body and facial tattoos.  While I was researching how exactly to spell “Queequeg”, I discovered a restaurant by that name.  While naming establishments after characters in Moby Dick has proven wildly successful in at least one case, I feel I must point out that Queequeg was a cannibal – albeit a fictional one.

Breaking the Seal

When delivering a cargo, it is typical that the Receiver tells the Driver to break the seal, open the trailer doors and back into a warehouse cargo door.  Usually the seals are plastic bands that can be broken with bare hands.  Coca-Cola, however, has seen fit to make their seals with stainless steel cables.  Not with a crow bar and hacksaw could I manage to sever the cable and trucks with impatient drivers were accumulating behind me while I struggled with it.  The yard tractor -atypically – at least twice passed me as I struggled, without stopping. One driver loaned me a pair of wire cutters that made short work of it all.  Her motives were entirely selfless since I was not blocking her rig. I returned the cutters with thanks and resolved to buy a pair before the next load.

The truck stop sells a line of tools and I found a pair of tin snips – the only candidate that might do the job.  I tried them out on the remains of the Coke seal.  You see the results.  Not to worry, I was able to gnaw away at the cable with the pretend-tool until it finally surrendered – in a minute or two. The second photo shows what I knew that I would find on the label.

Above:  It is a shame that the Company has to pay for such substandard tools.

Watch Out for That Next Wave

I reckon all of you receive unsolicited ads and promotions.  I got one from LinkedIn that makes me a bit paranoid.  A jackass who wants to replace truck drivers with robots.

Someone at LinkedIn figures that a 61 year-old man who took up truck driving when he was forced out of a professional position to be replaced by thirty-somethings would be interested in this neophyte who wants to drive him out of that occupation as well?

Let me think…NoThankYouVeryMuch!

The Answer is 42

My life has become my job.

Like most sweeping, unqualified statements, that one is full of unexplained circumstances and unexamined definitions of the very words that make up the sentence.

I reckon I had better start with the thoughts in my head when I first typed the words.

I spend all of my physical presence in or around this vehicle.  I sleep in it, eat meals in it and I am mostly never more than a few hours away from it.

When you think about it, that – in itself – is not much more than saying that it is my home.  I don’t own it, but most people do not own their own homes – at least not outright.  This particular home is unusual  in that it moves around the country, which is why its owners let me live in it.  The “rent” I pay is by guiding it around and hauling big trailers (also theirs) that carry stuff to different places for profit.  There is enough value in that pastime that they also pay me a commission based on how far I make this home travel.

My family live in other homes which circumstances allow that I visit occasionally.  Most recently I visited my younger son in Dallas at his home on the University Campus there.   It is unfortunate that there are few opportunities to visit Houston where my wife and older son live in the place I previously could claim was my home.  We own that one!  I will make it home – that particular home – around Thanksgiving for five days.

So, you see that whatever interaction I have now with my family is just something I work into the small gaps in my job.  I can speak to them most any time.  Using Skype or other such facility, we could actually see each other.  I have not done that yet and I am not sure why.

I have noticed that the trip from shipper to receiver is the most pleasant and satisfying part of my life as it has become.  The beginning and end of the trip are fraught with confusion and misspent energy.  The third part is these interludes wherein I am neither loading, unloading nor traveling and that segment is the hardest to endure.  It is made less onerous when I write, so you may expect more of that activity.

I have discovered that I keep writing because it hurts when I don’t.

Deep Thought (see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

A destination is just an excuse for a journey.  It is the journey that gives meaning to existence.  If you doubt me, then:

Will you accept the metaphor that life is a journey?

If so, then what is the destination?

No matter what your answer to that last question, are you in a hurry to get there?

Over The Road,

Steve

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Too Briefly, Home

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Another Masterpiece from the WordPress site


August 16-21, 2016

Baltimore Washington International Airport

Chicago O’Hare Airport

Home in Houston

In addition to a Driver Manager, I have a “Counselor” who is supposed to represent me in matters of family considerations, personal leave and financial matters.  I will admit that I doubted the effectiveness of this set-up from the start.  It may be that I am too cynical on these matters.  But I insist that I have good reason to be cynical by default.

Nevertheless,  I called and told my tale to my Counselor and she did what someone should have done before they jerked my chain around like they did.  She found a place for me to store the truck and bought me an air ticket home.  So, while I cannot forgive the despicable way they were treating me, I can say (somewhat grudgingly) that they ultimately did the right thing. Since I am managing to get these loads delivered on time and safely (and at bargain prices, I might add), I have every right to expect the right thing.

So let’s move on.    The place where I left the truck is the other Peterbilt shop in Maryland, this one in Baltimore.  I made sure to tell them about my ten-day visit to their sister “Pete Store” in Landover where I was so long a fixture in their shop that they joked about me being put “on the payroll”.

I am in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport  (BWI) with an hour and a half to burn.  If it were anywhere but an airport, I would have a beer.  I vaguely  remember beer. But the fact that the menus don’t mention prices and that this is the Eastern Seaboard North of Virginia tells me that these prices are out of my league.  Besides, I’ve waited over a month and it won’t hurt me to wait until I can have beer at merely retail prices.  On the other hand, I don’t do this often.  These days I almost don’t drink beer at all.  Maybe just one.  In the spirit of investigation, you see. (That wasn’t hard to get over, now was it?).

Well, beer at BWI is seven dollars for a draft pint.  I can’t call it reasonable.  Indeed I  can still call it excessive, but with the understanding that the airport will set the rents for these places knowing that they can charge these excessive amounts and so that is what has to happen for them to meet that rent.  So, I pay the seven bucks for a Samuel Adams draft and tip a Dollar – once.

You may remember that this all came about because they wanted me to go back to Illinois.  In a weird twist of fate, I had a layover in Chicago before the final flight to Houston.  In Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD), the investigative urge comes upon me again and I find that the price of beer went is now in double digits – for the same Samuel Adams draft.    I am an old man of limited means and so I appreciate very much that the bartender selling this expensive brew contributed his tip to the price of my beer.

So, now I am home at that same kitchen table where you saw my “before and after” photos.  I have been to the gym this morning to swim 15 laps and already I have some muscle tone in my upper body that has been so sadly lacking in the last few months.  I also weighed myself to find out that I am still 70 pounds lighter than the end of  last year.  That is a really good thing, since my health was beginning to notice the extra stress!

I have “taken care of business” – most importantly to get my youngest son to college at UT Dallas.  It is a great campus for a University that is gaining a good reputation for Computer Science.   Among their corporate sponsors is Texas Instruments, a company that invented a little thing called the “integrated circuit”.

I dutifully spoke the required phrases that all Fathers must recite.

Like:

“Why when I was in college, we had roommates and a bathroom down the hall with a gang shower.  Not these single bedrooms and private baths. ”

“ We had to lug around big piles of hardcover books, not your fancy-pants ipads.’

“We walked to classes in the snow, uphill – both ways”.

The elder son is now a Chef and I have counseled him to become a restauranteur extraordinaire and create a gastronomic empire on the model of Pappas family – now famously successful in Houston and all of Texas.

http://www.pappas.com/about/pappas-history/

I figure that while I am dreaming, I should dream BIG.

I also was able to make room in the overstuffed garage for the second of four automobiles that will live here with the two resident humans for the near future.  It is perhaps ominous that cats now outnumber human occupants in my remote and fondly remembered home.

And my lovely wife is also busy with her many interests – not least of which is her travel agency where she creates “Dream Vacations”,  arranging cruises and tours worldwide.  I am happy that in my absence, my loved ones are industrious and well-occupied.

Me? I am also well-occupied, back in my truck in North Carolina and bound for Orlando.  This is not what I imagined I would be doing at my age, but it has been challenging and interesting.  I will continue to ply the highways and tell my tales.  I of course appreciate your interest, Dear Readers.

Stay tuned!

P.S., I know you like when I include photos. I don’t have any that relate directly to the text. But, the photos below are from the time in Maryland when I visited the Air and Space Museum.  And, I did mention Maryland.

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The Leonids? Are They in Town Again?

trimmed_beard_stevecuMarch 12, 2019  (I was rummaging around on some thumb drives and found this from 2001.  The Alert Reader will point out that USB drives were not around then.  True.  This was in a folder called “Floppy_Recovery”.  I actually bought a 3 ½ inch floppy disk drive and copied a pile of floppies into this particular USB some years back.  I added some “file photos” that would never have fit on a floppy, anyway).                Homepage

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The Leonids are neither a sixties group, nor a box of stronger breath mints, nor followers of a religion devoted to a deity named Leon ,  as you may have thought by the name but rather an event that takes place once a year around November 18th, when meteors rain down from the general direction of a point in the sky near the constellation Leo.  Well, perhaps “rain” is a misleading choice of words since the normal Leonid meteor “shower” consists of one meteor every few minutes and I personally have sat out in the November damp chill and not seen a meteor for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time.  Only the most demented Astronomy Nerds (A.N.’s) would put up with the amount of inconvenience involved to see what, for the non-Astronomy Nerd is less interesting than counting the number of cars with one headlight at four in the morning on a dark stretch of country road.

It is especially taxing for the urban A.N. because it involves a trip out of town of at least an hour to an isolated dark spot.  You might think that there are plenty of dark spots out there, but I dare you to find one!  About anywhere you can drive to in an hour around here (here is Houston) is lit either by passing cars or billboard lights or gleaming florescent signs.  In Texas, more than a few of the people who like to hang out in the country also like to mount a half dozen searchlights on their vehicles.   The one hope is to find a State Park and even then the non-Astronomy Nerds will wander around all night with flashlights that could illuminate the Grand Canyon.   They mean no harm, you understand, but these folks have never heard of the concept of night vision and routinely put their beam of light directly on your face as a sort of a greeting. and say “Hi! Whacha’ doin’?”

There is one exception, a state park that actually has made an effort to keep illumination off the sky and provided areas down twisting footpaths away from the roads where one can find uninterrupted darkness.  It’s Brazos Bend State Park and there is a nice dark place get a wide angle view of the sky or to set up telescopes. If you go there, please keep the flashlight use to a minimum and never illuminate anyone’s face. I didn’t manage to reserve a campsite early enough because all the other Astronomy Nerds thought four months ahead as opposed to my three.   I did find a spot in Stephen F. Austin State Historical Park.  It’s located near San Felipe which was the capital of newly declared independent Texas before it was burned to prevent it from falling to the advancing Mexican Army, who wanted Texas to be dependent again.  There are some reconstructed buildings (one’s a museum), statues and historical markers near the park entrance.  (Trivia question:  What does the F. in Stephen F. Austin stand for?)

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Those unfamiliar with astronomical events always assume that you will be looking at a meteor shower with a telescope.  As an exercise to prove how silly that is, extend your arm at the sky with your thumb up.  That tiny piece of sky covered by your thumb is many times the field of view of an average telescope.   You could see more of the sky by looking through a two-foot-long pipe than through a telescope!  Meteors happen all over the sky, during a shower or otherwise.  Why on earth would you limit your view to a tiny patch of sky?

It is obvious that hardly anyone bothers to look at the sky anymore.  I’ve had people swear to me that they’ve seen the space station hovering overhead (turned out to be Jupiter).   Others expect to see Venus always near the moon.  A few are not even aware that the moon can be seen in the daytime. But, shoot, is there any real reason for your average person to look at the sky these days?  Especially urban dwellers for whom the night sky is a brown haze, illuminated from below, at the best of times?

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Stephen F. Austin

I go out to see these things because I find it fascinating but I am aware that some do not share my enthusiasm.  Nevertheless, I dragged my wife and children along on this last expedition.  When I make the journey with other A.N.’s   we throw lawn chairs in the trunk and leave at midnight.  Provisions such as beef jerky and Shiner Bock beer (with appropriate designated driver, of course) are to be found in fueling depots along the way.  Stay up most of the night, doze off in the chairs and drive back with stiff necks in the morning.  This will not do for a family outing, however.  Especially with small children…who will only stay awake at night when you desperately want them to sleep.

It becomes a regular camping trip, then, complete with tent, sleeping bags, flashlights, blankets, pillow, portable propane stove and an ice chest with the entire contents of the kitchen refrigerator (as opposed to the garage refrigerator).  Might as well take along the telescope (for looking at planets and stars, not meteors, you understand) and the bicycles because we’ll have some daylight hours to kill.  Appropriate stuffed animals and annoying hand held electronic games to keep the offspring occupied.   The target for leaving had been ten o’clock.  It was eleven thirty when we left.

SFA_Park              The first thing we found out at the campsite is that we have forgotten what to do on camp-outs.  We rode bicycles, walked around for a while and played twenty questions.  It was still only four o’clock in the afternoon and we were sitting around looking at each other. So we did what any bored campers would do, we went into town.  Not really into town, but that peninsula of fast-food and big-box retail that grew up around the interstate.  There we bought charcoal, which we’d forgotten.  I’m not sure how we were planning to cook the hotdogs for dinner unless we boiled them on the propane stove…in a pot, which we also forgot.  And while it might be possible to roast marshmallows over a propane flame, I doubt it would be much fun.  Of course, any cooking would require matches, which we had also forgotten.

“So,” you are perhaps thinking, “Just when is he going to get to the part about the meteor shower?”

Meteor showers are best after midnight ’cause that’s when the Earth (the part of Earth where it’s after midnight, that is) is plowing “head-on” into this cloud of dust that makes meteors.  The cloud itself has been spewed out along the orbit of a comet that crosses the Earth’s orbit.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  It’s the same question reporters ask astronomers (in an urgent voice) every time the subject of comets and or near Earth asteroids comes up.

You’re thinking “Crosses the Earth’s orbit!  But what if it hit the Earth?”

Relax, you are far more likely to be struck by lightning, hit by a bus and bitten by a shark, all simultaneously.  The orbits don’t actually cross but just come close enough to where the Earth will run into that scattered dust cloud.  And, even if they did cross exactly, then a collision would require that they both arrive at the same point in their orbits at the same time, which almost never happens neither.

So, there are times when there is a particularly thick cloud of dust that we happen upon.   Not really thick, but just relatively thick, it’s still a dead ringer for absolute emptiness.   That’s what’s called a meteor storm.  Or the shower is said “to storm”.

Like this:  “I understand that some predictions say the Leonids are going to storm this year”

This is a particularly cool thing to say around Astronomy Nerds because somebody is always predicting a “storm” and so you would sound like you actually know what you’re talking about.  Of course you would be saying this to impress a bunch of people who hang out in the dark all night, staring up at the sky, so I’m not sure how useful this advice is.

The Leonids were supposed to storm last year, too – and the year before.  I made the trip back then with the largest of my two sons and we saw a few good meteors.  I always thought it would be cool if I could call them “My Three Sons” like the early sixties sitcom but I only have the two.  I suppose I could say “three” if I count the cat who is indeed a male albeit a “repaired” one. (Fixed?  Heck, I didn’t even know he was broken!) .

Yes, I know, you’d like to hear about the meteor shower.  Well, I arose after a fitful few hours of sleep to look at the sky and was extremely disappointed to see a complete cloud cover. I wasn’t surprised because this sort of thing happens all the time with meteor showers ’round here.  I sat down in my lawn chair to be miserable about it for a while.

While we are sitting here being miserable, let us discuss the difference between meteors, meteorites and meteoroids.  Way out in space is the particle of dust or bit of rock or chunk of stone that is cruising along, unaware that it is about to run into a planet.  That is a meteoroid.  Anything that ends with “oid” is out in space and usually relatively small.  I say relatively because a “planetoid” or “asteroid” can be the size of, say, North Dakota and still be small when compared to a planet or an asteroid like Ceres, which is bigger than Texas.  When this unsuspecting meteoroid actually passes through the atmosphere it makes a streak of light that can be seen by all the Astronomy Nerds and anyone else foolish enough to be out in the cold, damp night, assuming its not completely clouded over like now.  That is a meteor.  Most of these streak-makers – the vast majority – burn up completely, but a meteorite is a chunk of rock that you can pick up off the ground that once was a meteoroid and made a meteoric flash of light before its arrival.

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Meteorite                                                   Meteoroid                                      Meteor

I used to say wait till it cools off before you pick it up, but a meteorite, (I find out) by the time it hits the ground, has slowed to mere “falling rock” speed and has cooled off considerably.  I suppose it might still be warm, but it won’t be red hot.  Small comfort to anyone who happens to be in its path.  Relax!  As far as I know, there is only one documented case of a meteorite hitting a person.  Those who minds retain such useless information (yo!) remember seeing a black and white picture of a huge ugly bruise on the unfortunate lady’s abdomen.  She recovered.  These days meteors bring in big bucks from collectors so it might be worth the pain if it did happen.  But it’s actually far more likely that you’ll win the state lottery so hope for that instead.

I sat there for a while thinking what a bummer it was that I had planned this for months and here I was going to miss the whole thing.  I could have driven out to West Texas, maybe, where the climate tends to be drier.  I noticed a small hole in the clouds with a few stars visible and decided that maybe a few meteors would pass across it.  This is what is metaphorically called “grasping at straws”.

Over the next hour, to my great astonishment, the sky cleared off completely.  I saw a meteor, then another, then more.  It was about two A.M. with a peak expected around four.  I’d seen enough to wake up the family.  You have to be careful about waking up your family at two A.M. It is absolutely essential that you have something impressive to show them or the next time you try this silliness you’ll be out there alone.   Nobody was disappointed.   This was a major meteor storm to be sure.  At first I’d counted for a minute and found about six firm meteors.  That is to say, I’m sure they weren’t fireflies. That’s an hourly count of 360 – impressive enough.   I don’t want you to think that I did this in any scientific way.  In fact, I didn’t have my watch on.  I counted, one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two.    And since I can’t walk and chew gum, I kept a tally of meteors on my fingers.  I belong to that group that prefers the one-thousand-one method to the more popular one-mississippi method.

Storm

Around three or three thirty or so (I didn’t have my watch, remember?) I counted 12 in a minute.  Then, sometime after four there were 22 in a minute.  I had my shoes off, you see, to count toes and used eyelids and was lucky that there weren’t more than 22, or I’d never have seen ’em.

(Since then, I have learned a new method of finger-counting, which I described in “On Zeno’s Swim Team”.  It’s good up to 99. )

I didn’t have a clear view of the whole sky by any means and there was a bit of haze, but it was still an experience of a lifetime.  A published “official” count in the newspaper the next day was 1250 for the peak.  These are from people who count for an entire hour with stopwatches and click-counters.  My 22 in a minute calculates out to 1320 per hour.  Not bad for fingers and toes and “one-thousand-one”!

I kind of hated to call my friend who is a fellow Astronomy Nerd who was unable to make the trip and tell him what he missed.  I already have a cousin who’s mad at me since I described the experience.  She knew about the shower but didn’t go see it because I didn’t call up and tell her how good it would be.  Truth is, I didn’t know how good it would be either.

Trivia answer:  Stephen Fuller Austin

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Thirty Four Hours in Ripon

stevetrucker2 Transferred from WordPressmariluslogoclickhere

September 16, 2016,  2 PM Loves Truck Stop in Ripon, CA

I was on my way to Walmart in Ceres, CA in the last post.  Jill had the address for Walmart, so I wasted no time getting there.  Only I somehow missed the whole Walmart.  Turns out it was on the corner, facing the cross street, so I turned (as directed) and drove off into oblivion.  I always get a sinking feeling when that happens because I could go for many miles before I find a place to turn around.  But, I found a big, empty parking lot in just half a mile.  I pressed Jill’s “re-route” button and she sends me back the way I came.  My speed is too low because I am scanning for that blue sign, when a Walmart truck passes me.  Now I can follow him home.

I came in the wrong driveway and, even using all the pavement, I still had to hop the curb with the trailer tires.  This might not have been the first time,  because there were yellow posts just back from the curb.  The critical problem is so far away that I can’t tell if a collision is near.  Also, I am seeing it in the fish-eye mirror that makes it look even further away.  Pivoting the big rectangular mirror out lets me see enough to ease the wheels up on the curb just inches from the posts and get through.  My mouth gets very dry when I am doing things like this.

While I am shopping, the parking lot began to fill.  A few items were forgotten, but best to exit before I get trapped by cars parking around the truck.  Sometimes it seems that people think the drivers can call up Scotty and have their trucks beamed out to the highway  Believe me, I have wished that many times myself.

The next stop is 18 miles away in Ripon.  There is a Flying J (FJ) Truck stop and a Loves at the exit and following Jill’s directions puts me in a lot where I can see both signs.  Of course, these signs are on sixty foot poles and can be seen from miles away.  It is not until I have committed an hour and a half to the 34 that will reset me that I notice I am in the Loves lot, not FJ.  I could “creep” the truck over without losing that break time, if I keep the speed low.  But  after the last software update,  Jill has been saying things like “Warning! If you  keep driving it may invalidate your break, which is not finished” when I move the truck while on break.

No worries, I can walk across the street to use the shower, and I did.  The truck is in the backlot and the FJ storefront is almost the same distance away as the Loves.  I should explain that flying J was bought out by Pilot – or the other way around. In any case, my Pilot shower credits are good there, as well.    A short walk before a nap reveals that there is a supermarket just ten minutes away, past a corner of an orchard –  almond trees, it turns out.  In the morning I might make a nice stroll to buy those items I forgot at Walmart.  This is not an activity for the afternoon, since the temperature is 101° F now that we have descended into the Central Valley of California.  It was 48° in the morning in  Arizona, but that was high up in a mountain pass.

I made the shower run and after a nap, I did my laundry, also at the FJ. There was time to sweep out the cab – a never ending task since the first time I step back in from the oily, greasy and litter strewn truck lot I negate any previous cleaning.  Morning was a good time for a walk (58°F) and I made it to the Supermarket for “remainder” shopping.  I found the bakery French loaf that Walmart did not have, milk and cookies and took pictures of the almond orchard.

almondorchardandinsetAbove:  Almond trees ain’t much to look at.  These are a frequent road-side sight along this stretch of CA 99. The almonds are seeds of a fruit that you see here (inset) dried and split open.  The light brown kernel is what you see if you ever buy almonds “in the shell”.

Later, I swept out the trailer, since I may get a produce load and they are nitpicky about cleanliness.  Some even insist on a washout, so my work might have been unnecessary.  However, while normally trailers come and go, this particular trailer (15820T) has been with me for nearly two weeks now. It was there for the Great Massachusetts Beef Journey, the Frozen Catfish Sojourn, the Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas and the Twenty Mules Frozen Chicken dash to California.  It was there at the Ad Hoc Truck Stop and the Tire Shop at Santa Rosa. It seems like part of the family now, so I reckon it should be clean.

To be available at Two AM tomorrow when my 34 is over, I need to sleep now.  I have partaken of the previously mentioned milk and cookies as I was writing this part and they are as effective a sleep aid as any I have purchased over-the-counter at a pharmacy.

Good Night.

I was just awakening from an afternoon nap when a pre-plan came over the satellite link.  I will be taking on a produce load in Salinas and delivering it to Denton, Texas.  The pick up date is the 19th, so I sent my acceptance with a comment that I will be fully rested and ready with 11 hours of drive time and 70 hours of eight day duty at 2 AM on the 18th.  It may be that I can get an early start on this load, but I have no idea if that will be possible.  Of course, it is Saturday evening and I reckon there won’t be anyone available to ask.

This is as good a place as any to end this post and pick up with the new load later.

Over The Road,

Steve

A Long Time Ago in Argentina

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[In 2002, I was back working in Houston, but I was still sent to  South America, occasionally.  But, this particular post has to do with a private trip we made first to Peru where my wife’s family lives.  It was a convenient place to let the the two young sons visit their aunt,  uncle and grandmother while the wife and I sneaked off to Argentina for a week. the prices I quote seem ridiculously cheap and not all of that is inflation from then to now – as explained in the text.  I was writing “Ten Things You Should Know When Visiting (Blank)” articles, in those  days and I just hit a big vein of them in a long-untouched directory copied faithfully from computer to  computer over the years.

I can’t find any pictures of this particular trip and I think we were in a video camera phase at that time.  We still have the videotapes somewhere, but we never look at them.  Someday we will transfer those to digital media and look at the young strangers who took that trip so long ago.  Meanwhile I have scarfed a couple of “file photos” just to break up the text.  I have put in a few modern remarks which are set off from the 16-year-ago prose with brackets [like this].

  Ten Thing You Should Know When Visiting Buenos  AiresBuenosAires9deJulio

  1. The streets and freeways are quite clean, which is unusual in this part of the world. As in many cities there are “recyclers” who comb the garbage for anything of residual value but, astoundingly, they clean up after themselves with brooms and extra garbage bags.  This is probably because the Argentinos like to think of themselves as displaced Europeans.  I myself have higher ambitions than to be a European. [With no offence to my European friends intended – this was before I met y’all 😉 ]. The hotel even has European bathroom fixtures, complete with bidet.  Do you know anyone who actually uses a bidet?…’cause I don’t.

 

  1. The streets are about a bus and two cabs wide and that’s what one usually finds in the width of the street. That is, except for Avenida Nueve de Julio [Ninth of July Avenue] which is the widest in the world, they say.*   The sidewalks are about three feet wide – barely enough room for two to pass without stepping into the street.  And ye had best not, if ye want keep yerself in one piece, ’cause the buses zoom by, with inches to spare, at ridiculous speeds.

*[That’s it in the picture above.  If you see 10 pictures of Buenos Aires at random, five of those have this street in them]

  1. The buses themselves are 80 cents (of a Peso) and the machines you drop your coins into actually make change. Best to get a seat if you can’t reach the grab bars, ’cause these vehicles spend most of their time in robust acceleration followed by vigorous braking. For variety there are sudden lurches to the left and right.  I never found a bus schedule but the hotel staff, store clerks and food servers are most helpful in this subject, as many of them probably depend on busses.  There is a Metro (a subway, I mean to say), but I didn’t manage to see any of it.

 

  1. As usual, no one is marching in the street, screaming anti-American threats. The anti-American mindset exists mostly in the imagination of the press (that includes the US media), some perpetual malcontents who manage to get a lot of face time on TV and a few asinine dictators who would be universally hated in their own country if they could not whip up an anti-American frenzy as a diversion. I won’t mention names but two of  them rhyme with Bastro and Busien.  If you’re still worried about it, pretend to be from New Zealand.  Most folks don’t even know where the heck that is.  If you meet an actual Kiwi, you may have some explaining to do.

 

  1. The best bet for changing money is the ATM’s with several networks. They’re called “multicajeros” (mool tea kah hair ose…accent on hair).  Look for the symbol of your particular network.   You get the latest exchange rate and they are to be found in banks with armed guards standing politely about, the better not to worry about muggers.  I never have any trouble with muggers, but I am six foot three and probably weigh twice  what you do.  There are lots of armed guards in Latin American countries and they are, generally speaking, polite because they have a strong sense of self-confidence.  It has to do with the Uzi and the flack jacket.  It pays to be just as polite to them.

 

  1. Prices are (by law, apparently) quoted in Pesos. The symbol for Pesos is “$”.  You might have thought that was for dollars.  Apparently it began with a really skinny “P” over a regular uppercase “S”.   When, rarely, prices are quoted in US Dollars, a “U” is added before the “$” and an extra “$” is appended.  Like this:  U$$   Prices are, to say the least, astounding just now (July 2002).  Some examples of ridiculously affordable purchases: Lunch for two in a rather pleasant sidewalk cafe consisting of steak and side dish with beer and dessert:  $20  (remember – that’s  U$$ 5.63).  High quality leather jacket: $400 (about U$$ 113).  Tango show, dinner and drinks for two in a really plush dinner theater:  $220  ( U$$ 62).  I got a hand-out for a burger joint that priced the bacon double cheesburger with fries and a drink at less than one US dollar.  I was too busy at really plush dinner theaters and rather pleasant sidewalk cafes to actually eat there.

 

  1. One thing you never make fun of in Argentina is the Tango. Don’t worry – I didn’t learn this by painful experience, but rather by simple observation. The Tango started about a hundred years ago as a saloon dance and has evolved into a refined art form that is most highly regarded.  There are “Tango Shows” in elegant theatres where the dancers on stage perform energetic, kick intensive maneuvers that would quickly start a fist-fight on any pubic dance floor.  Instead of the original one guy with a guitar, there is an orchestra with a string section, a piano and two accordions.

BA_FOuntain

[I remember this fountain, which we saw on a bus tour.  That must be the Capitol Dome behind it.  Another  bus tour took us to a Dude Ranch where Gauchos did horse-riding tricks and there was a period house with clothes and furniture of the Early 20th Century.  It was there I met the only black  man in Argentina (a tourist from Nigeria, it turns out).  He asked me to take a picture of him with one of the hats in the exhibit.  When he put it on, the “spittin’ image”  of Nat King Cole looked back at me.  It was quite a vivid impression, like having seen a ghost.  You  can tell, because I remember it to this day in 2018.  The picture below is the real Nat, of course.  That man could sing circles around most vocalists of today.  He was also an accomplished piano and banjo player.  If you can find it on Netflix or at the Redbox, watch the movie “Cat Ballou”]

NAT

  1. Another thing (or rather, person) you don’t make fun of is Eva Peron. A First Lady of renown in the fifties, she has achieved a status of near-sainthood. If you can get through a day in Buenos Aires and not see a picture of Evita, then either you were not paying attention and are in serious danger of being hit by the busses I mentioned, or you don’t know what Eva Peron looked like.

 

  1. There are several pedestrian streets referred to as peatonales (Pea at tone Al ess…accent on Al). These are of course lined with “retail opportunities”.  Evidently there is a long tradition of “barkers” (I don’t have a Spanish equivalent for that) who stand at strategic spots and talk up their establishment and hand out…well…hand-outs.  There are also people who want to “talk” to you for just a minute (I’m not sure what they’re up to and I don’t want to find out).  And, of  course, the depressingly common occurrence of street beggars.

 

  1. Don’t call home from the hotel, because they are not participating in the “ridiculously affordable” phenomenon – not on phone calls, anyway. There are telecom shops called “Locutorios” (Low coo tore ee ohs…accent on tore) where you are assigned a phone booth with a chair (they want you to be comfortable). Rates are usually posted on the front door and are reasonable.  You make all the calls you like, your accumulating charges appear on a digital readout and in the end you pay at the counter.

Buenos Aires is in the midst of a short window of opportunity for affordable travel. Argentina was well-known as an expensive place before and  I expect it will return to that status when the economy recovers.  I reckon I’ll check the news for the latest country to declare bankruptcy before I plan my next vacation.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Uranus: The Seventh Planet

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Uranus

(OK, Reader! Wipe that smile off your face and pay attention!)

This poor planet suffers that name that sounds like two words your Proctologist might put together when discussing your condition.  It is laughed at so often that it inspired an article by a man name DeCotis.  I cannot locate the original article but I emailed him the following message.  I hasten to point out that this text – once sent – has been augmented, improved, embellished and even illustrated over the years and especially just prior to the posting of this article.

Mr. DeCotis,

Heartiest congrats to Space Online, Billy Cox and yourself on a wonderful bit of writing about the planet Uranus. I myself have long considered the name of first trans-Saturnian planet to be a problem. This became a matter of importance when, in 1977, it was discovered that, like other Gas Giants, “Neptune-Minus-One” had rings. This was before Voyager 2 got to #7 and was accomplished by watching that planet pass in front of a star. This is called an “occultation”. Unexpectedly, the star dimmed several times before and after the planet covered it. Only rings could explain it since expecting that many satellites to be linecd up in that fashion was improbable in the extreme. 

Knowing me to be an Astronomy student, people would ask me, “Are there really rings around Uranus?”. I understood that as a very personal and offending question and I was tempted to demonstrate the (negative) answer visually, but I refrained.

 Actually, I explained to them about the occultation, just as in the first paragraph – being a thoroughgoing Astronomy nerd.

UranusLightCurveCrop
Figure 1:  The actual light curve
from the 1977 occultation that
detected Uranus’ rings.

There was a Science Fiction B-movie about Uranus which was euphemistically entitled “Journey  to the Seventh Planet” back in the sixties*. Even as a teenager (or especially as a teenager, I suppose) it didn’t take long to figure out what they were avoiding. There was a brief movement (no disgusting pun intended) to transfer the emphasis to the first syllable but you can see (well, hear) immediately that this is a non-starter (“Urine-us”). The name would still be in the bathroom humor department and would only prompt a new round of adolescent jokes.

    It was about then that I decided that “Joe” was a nice enough name. But in order to differentiate whether we were talking about Lewis, Dimaggio, Cool, College, Blow, Six Pack or the Planet, we’d need to specify “Joe the Planet” for every reference. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Joe the Planet, Neptune and Pluto. I’ll grant you it’s a bit awkward at first but it should put an end to the pubescent snickering in astronomy lectures and planetarium shows.
Sincerely,

Steve

 *I looked up “Journey to the Seventh Planet” on YouTube recently – it still stinks.

In college, I was assured by actual Astronomy Professors that this planet’s name is “your ah noose” (accent on “ah” and “noose” rhymes with moose).  The other pronunciations you may have heard are either erroneous or may be attributed to the aforementioned “bathroom humor”.

Now that we have the nomenclature issue dealt with, let’s have a look at the planet itself.

Discovery:

Quoting a NASA planet resource website{1]:

“The first planet found with the aid of a telescope, Uranus was discovered in 1781 by astronomer William Herschel,although he originally thought it was either a comet or a star. It was two years later that the object was universally accepted as a new planet, in part because of observations by astronomer Johann Elert Bode.

William Herschel tried unsuccessfully to name his discovery Georgium Sidus after King George III. Instead the planet was named for Uranus, the Greek god of the sky, as suggested by Johann Bode.”

So, it’s “Bode’s ill” – so to speak.  Don’t blame poor Herschel for the double entendre.  Nor his sister Caroline who joined the musician turned astronomer and accomplished many discoveries of her own:

“Caroline assisted Herschel until his death.  She discovered eight comets. She also discovered several deep-sky objects and was the first woman to be given a paid scientific position…”

Early Observation

There was not much to see.  Even in the most powerful “backyard” telescopes – as late as the 1980’s Uranus was a small dim pale blueish green dot.  A “professional” telescope of that era would be required to resolve the largest satellite, Titania as a featureless point of light.  Even in those elaborate instruments, Uranus maintained its elusive nature.

“Even through large telescopes the planet often appears fuzzy and indistinct. Brightness variations are sometimes reported, the likely result of changes in the planet’s atmosphere.”  [2]

UranusTelescopeView

Figure 2:  Uranus through a large “backyard” telescope.

Below is that table of planetary statistics that readers may have seen before.

PlanetaryStatisticsTable 1: Statistics for the Planets

The seventh planet is 19 times the Earth’s distance from the Sun.

SimpleAUDiagram

Figure 3: Simple “Visual aid” to depict the distance of Uranus (big green dot) from the Sun (Yellow asterisk) as compared to that of the Earth (little blue dot).  Only the distances are to scale – not the sizes of the Sun and planets.

In size, it is 31, 763 miles in diameter (four and a half times that of Earth).  Like all the Giant Planets, it rotates quickly (once every 17 hours and 12 minutes) and it is much less dense than the “Rocky Planets” like Earth.

The atmosphere is hydrogen and helium with some methane.  Deeper down, there is a “mantle” of water, ammonia and methane ices above a rocky core.  You see in figure 3A that they have not labeled the thicknesses of these layers.  That is a sure sign that they don’t really have a clue what those numbers should be!

Internal-structure-of-UranusFigure 3A: Internal Structure of Uranus

A notable unique feature of Uranus is the orientation of its spin axis relative to the plane of its orbit (see “obliquity in orbit” in the table).  In the Uranian summer and winter the axis of rotation of the planet points almost directly at the Sun – resulting in one hemisphere in constant sunlight and the other in darkness.  This is thought to have been caused by Uranus’ collision with a large planetoid late in its formation.  The diagram below explains the situation.

UranusPhases

Figure 4:  Seasons of Uranus

Uranus was visited by a space probe only once.  It was the third stop on what was called at the time “The Grand Tour”.  As it happened, there was an alignment of the outer planets in the 70’s and 80’s such that it would be possible to use gravity assisted orbital adjustments (“the slingshot effect”) to make it possible for a space probe to visit Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in one long and carefully managed trajectory.  The Voyager 2 Spacecraft did exactly that and arrived in the area of Uranus in 1986.

The Voyager 2 Spacecraft        

The Voyager probes each had a main antenna that was capable of constant communications with the Earth.  This necessitated what is called a “scan platform” that held the instruments that need precise pointing and moved independently of the antenna.  The constant contact was needed because data storage was actually on a ½ inch, 8 track magnetic tape with a total capacity of about ½ Megabyte and a top baud rate of 56 kilobits per second (4).  That’s what I said – “Stone Knives and Bear Skins!” – so, real-time transmission was required for image data.”  Voyager was – despite my demeaning reference – quite advanced at the time and its imagery and other data are still quite impressive. They made the most of the technology at hand.

The image below depicts the identical Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 Spacecraft. (4) The dish antenna is 3.7 meters in diameter (12 feet, 2 inches) across.  The arm extending to the right contains the main experiments and the imaging “scan platform”.  The left arm holds the three radioisotope thermoelectric generators that provided the electric power out in the dark reaches where solar panels would be quite ineffective.  The gold disk on the “body” is the famous Record with messages and images of Earth for anyone “out there”.    Carl Sagan, whose enthusiasm for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) was well-known had thought to perhaps include a plaque with a message engraved upon it as had been done with the Pioneer space probes.  This Record (an actual grooved phonograph Long Playing (LP) disc – only metal, not vinyl) was the idea of Frank Drake.  SETI Nerds will recognize Drake as the inventor of the “Drake Equation” which is a formula to calculate how many extraterrestrial civilizations there might be.  That’s Frank in the inset, with his equation.  I put him there to give scale to the picture.

VoyagerDrake

Figure 5: The Voyager Spacecraft        NASA/NASA website

UranusBlandVoyagerPhoto

Figure 6: A Voyager view of Uranus in 1986. 

Even the dedicated planetary scientists had to admit they were disappointed with the rather very bland appearance of the planet.  In trying to describe the feelings of the Voyager team about the mediocrity of it all, Planetary Scientist Heidi Hammel had this to say,  “…poor Uranus…poor Uranus!”.[6]

There had been observations from Earth of clouds in this atmosphere, so what’s the deal?  You will see in the diagram in figure 4 that the solstice – that point in the orbit where one hemisphere is constantly roasting in sunlight – was in 1986.  Just when Voyager happened along.  Later observations were made with (much improved) telescopes in the years surrounding the Equinox of 2007 (see Figure 4) – when most of Uranus has 8 ½ hours sun and 8 ½  hours darkness – “barbeque” mode, as they say.  Those images showed Uranus in its more “flamboyant” mood. Figure 7.

UranusEquinox

Figure 7:  Uranus near Equinox.  Note the rings (R) – now markedly evident when they are seen edge-on.

It is probably worth noting that the Voyager camera and those of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) are almost certainly quite different in their ranges of wavelengths and sensitivities, so they are not directly comparable.  Nonetheless, we may expect more blandness from “poor Uranus” around the Summer Solstice in 2028.

I should mention that there is a lot more science involved than just the images recorded by Voyager and results from those found new and interesting features, as well. For example, the magnetic field detected is not centered on the planet core and its poles are near the rotational equator.  This was totally unexpected.

The Satellite that “Saved the Show”

One of the major aspects of interest in the Giant planets was the characteristics and history of their satellites.  With Jupiter and Saturn, the space probes entered and left the planetary systems obliquely across the orbits of the moons and could, with luck, come close to several of them for detailed examination.  In the case of Uranus, the moons’ orbits are like circles on the sky and are approached as if in target practice.  The “Grand Tour” scenario of hopping from one outer planet too the next required very specific trajectories past the planets along the way.  That, and the angle of the sun left only one chance of a close approach to a satellite and even that would see only the perpetually lit hemisphere of the smallest of the major moons – Miranda (Figure 7) It could not have been predicted that this would be by far the most interesting of all the moons and the feature we could all point to when asked by non-Nerds why all this expense and effort was spent to go look at a blue-green billiard ball – with no number on it.

Miranda

Figure 8:  Miranda

Miranda is the smallest (about 300 miles across) of the major satellites and the closest to the planet (roughly 81,000 miles).  It circles Uranus in 1.4 days and always shows the same face to the planet.  This is looking down at the South pole.  In the season when Voyager arrived, this was pretty much all that would have been illuminated.

And, it looks like it has been broken apart and then shoved back together!  Not surprisingly, that is one idea of how it came to look so.

“Scientists disagree about what processes are responsible for Miranda’s features. One possibility is that the moon may have been smashed apart in some colossal collision, and the pieces then haphazardly reassembled. Another, perhaps more likely, scenario is that the coronae are sites of large rocky or metallic meteorite strikes which partially melted the icy subsurface and resulted in episodic periods of slushy water rising to Miranda’s surface and refreezing.”[8]

Uranus has four larger satellites.  The biggest is Titania which is still less than half the diameter of the Earth’s moon.  As mentioned earlier they were not well surveyed in the fly-by, but a map of Titania’s surface appears in figure 9.

TitaniaCasma.

Figure 9:  A Map of Titania’s surface.  Again, only about half the surface was illuminated and this is the least boring part of that.

The larger satellite also has some interesting surface features.  I am reminded of my own varicose veins.

Conclusions

  1. The seventh planet turns out to be rather dull and featureless, but only for the Southern Summer. The Spring Equinox brought considerable atmospheric activity after Voyager but now detectable from the improved cameras of the Hubble Space Telescope and other modern observatories.
  2. The satellites of all the Giant Planets all turned out to be far more complex than was first imagined by Earthbound observers. Uranus is no exception.
  3. Uranus still has that unfortunate name (despite my “Joe” recommendation) but we can overlook that because we are all adults, here. Right?…Right?
  4. Update: In all that discussion of the unfortunate moniker, I neglected to mention a sports cheer, popular around the time of the ring discovery.  It goes like this:  “Up Jupiter! Up Saturn!…”
    (So much for Adulthood 😉 )

Hasta Luego,

Steve

[1] NASA Photos:

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/uranus/#!

[2] William Herschel:

https://www.space.com/17432-william-herschel.html

[3] Uranus Telescope view:

http://www.nakedeyeplanets.com/uranus-telescope.htm

[4} Voyager details:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_2#

[5] Table of Planetary Statistics:   http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/planet_table_british.html

[6] The Farthest: Voyager in Space – Netflix

[7]  Uranus Planetary Factsheet:  https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/uraniansatfact.html

[8] Miranda in Depth – NASA:  https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/miranda/indepth

Santa Claus and Superman

 

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Think about it.

 santa_400x400SupermanCReeves

Two legendary figures. Both are instantly recognizable by their silly costumes. Both are infinitely helpful, benevolent and altruistic. Both can do amazing things that no human being could accomplish and are admired almost universally, especially among children. I’ve never seen them together, have you? What makes you think they aren’t the same guy? Who does he think he’s fooling with that phony looking beard?

Look at the similarities. Both prefer bright primary colors. Claus with his warm red suit and Superman with his stunning blue ensemble avec flashy red cape (and outside-jockey shorts) topped off by yellow highlights. Both show up unexpectedly then leave before you can thank them.

Wait just a minute! What about this Lone Ranger guy!

…Nah, he’s into earth tones and hangs out with Jay Silverheals.  Both Claus and Superman do their big work alone.

 Superman flies with no apparent help. Claus flies with the aid of reindeer, or is that just a ruse? They both exhibit an affinity for cold climates. Actually, both are commonly known to inhabit the Arctic reaches. Santa in his Workshop and Superman in the Fortress of Solitude. This you think is a coincidence?

Larry Niven pointed out that Superman had a pretty awful childhood – his folks dead, planet destroyed. He might be superhuman but just how much can any sentient life form put up with before he goes crackers? This guy’s schizophrenia is perhaps manifold. Santa might be an intermediate identity, half way between meek mild-mannered reporter and Super-hero.

Come to think of it he is already three people before you count Santa Claus.  His birth name is Kal-El (son of Jor-El of Krypton – a prosecuting attorney who looks like Marlin Brando – before the great “ballooning”).

Perhaps, orphaned and homeless himself as an infant, El/Kent/Superman engages in a forlorn form of bargaining-stage grief by dedicating one day a year to fulfilling the dreams of children…all of them. We know he wouldn’t have any trouble whipping out a few billion toys, but that might seriously cut into the time he spends catching bad guys or saving the structure of Space-Time itself.  But there is this trick he has of squeezing a lump of coal into a big, facet-cut diamond – so to provide funds to buy all the toys he might need,

I stumbled across another – and perhaps ultimate – explanation of this “Claus” persona.  There are these guys who are called “Mummers” you see.  Quoting Mummers.com:

“Mummers tradition dates back to 400 BC and the Roman Festival of Saturnalias where Latin laborers marched in masks throughout the day of satire and gift exchange.”

The tradition has survived the intervening 24 centuries to thrive until today. 

MummerExample

This is an example of a modern-day Mummer.  I picked an “average” costume from Mummers.com.  The Prize Winners are way “over-the-top” by comparison.  Something we cannot say about Santa – nor about Superman…Well, “over the top” actually may be appropriate there.

Perhaps the unwilling visitor from Krypton has adopted this ancient custom.  I believe this may be the explanation of El/Kent/Superman’s additional pseudonym (i.e., Claus). 

 Conclusions:

  • Our beloved legends are far more complicated individuals than we imagine.
  • They may be far fewer individuals that we believe,
  • This proves two long held popular “truisms”:
  1. “Go big or go home.” If you want to be different, then leave a vast gulf of space between yourself and the surrounding “different” individuals.
  2. “Crazy like a fox”. Success and insanity are by no means strangers.  The fact that Schizophrenia may be thrown in on top of it is not particularly surprising.

    So, what else is going on up there at the top of the world?

Praecepta Absurde,

Steve

On Zeno’s Swim Team

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When I was about 6 years old, my mother was a Water Safety Instructor (WSI).  And, since I had to go where she went most of the time, I learned to swim.  Not from her, you understand.  It is a well-known fact among aquatically inclined people that you cannot teach your own children to swim.  Your own children will cling to you like a second skin and refuse to let go.  They won’t do that to a total stranger – at least not until puberty.

So, Mom was teaching swimming to Intermediates which includes a child of the other WSI who is teaching Beginners – myself one.  It makes for a free child-care situation which was good because Mom had a way of spending money on things…actually many things…actually everything.

I remember once when I was being dragged out to a department store while Mom was shopping.  That happened a lot, you see.  Mom was using the ancestor of a credit card called a “Chargaplate”  – a thin metal plate with Dad’s name and a number embossed on it.  By this time, I knew that this was just an IOU and Dad would pay later.  Mom might have seen me eyeing the chargaplate and said to me, “Now, don’t tell your father I bought this.”

You might say I was a clever child, but this one seemed a no-brainer to me.  I knew darn well that Dad would be writing a check for this amount later in the month – and he wouldn’t be smiling.  One of my earliest memories was Dad cutting up credit cards with a pair of scissors (Chargaplates required tin snips).  Mom would then go back to the store and say she lost them and ask for new ones.  How do I know?  Didn’t I just tell you she dragged me along on shopping trips?  It all ended in Divorce not long after that.

We are trying to get back to swimming here and so, just to even out my criticism of my mother’s spendthriftery, I’ll relate a true story of her Water Safety credentials.  She and Dad were at a party down at the Galveston Yacht Basin where our doctor kept his boat.  Dad was an early adopter of “Bartering” – way before it became a hippie status symbol.  If you wonder why, re-read the paragraph above.

For example, Dad repaired our Doctor’s boat motor in return for the Doc sewing up the wound in my arm.  It took five stitches – I was swinging on a rope tied to a telephone pole.  The rope parted and I wound up hanging by my impaled right arm from a hurricane fence.  All the other kids who had encouraged the Big Guy to swing on that rotten old rope ran like thieves.  Mom came out and “plucked” me off the fence and took me to the Doc.

hurricanefence99

File photo detail of a hurricane fence.  These were universal around the houses in my neighborhood.  The “barbs” at the top were intentional to discourage climbing.  We climbed these pretty much on a daily basis in the summertime.  These days they install the fencing itself “upside-down” so there is just a blunt corner at the top – for obvious reasons.

When Mom brought me home with my arm stitched up, the “backdoor” neighbor had hammered down all those barbs along all her fences – not just the common one.  She was a Catholic with about 8 children.

Anyway, Mom and Dad were – at the Doctor’s invitation – attending a Yacht Basin party.  There was a little boy  – maybe three years old – playing with a dog.  Actually, he was trying to push the poor animal over.  Doggy departed suddenly and the boy plunged into the water of an empty boat slip.  The water is quite deep there, as these were big boats.

My Mother immediately and instinctively jumped in, grabbed the kid and handed him up to Dad who was by that time prone on the deck and reaching down.  The party-goers were stunned and amazed.  The parents of the kid were very thankful.  Mom had her faults, but Dad and I both were very proud of her that day.

Swimming, we were talking about swimming, right?  I learned to swim at an early age and it became a habit.  I was good at it, unlike other sports and swimming does not require a lot of equipment.  Plastic goggles go for about $10 these days.  It is not hard on the ankles, dogs don’t chase you and instead of sweating through a 105° day in Houston-August I was in a pool full of water.

There was swimming in Charles F. Hartman Junior High School (grades 7, 8 and 9), but it came with a very weird requirement.  The excuse was that they did not want wet bathing suits in the lockers because they go all moldy and stink.  The requirement was that you had to swim nude…unclothed, in the buff, in your birthday suit.  So, I would have to strip down and “cavort” with a bunch of naked boys if I wanted to swim?  No thank you very much.  This was not “co-ed”, of course, or I would have reconsidered. That wasn’t the only weird thing about Junior High School, but we are trying desperately to get to the swimming story as the title suggests.

I still went swimming outside school, though – properly attired of course.  We had a membership for a pool club called the Tropicana.  I was actually on their swim team for a while.  Pool clubs were quite common in those days because few houses had anything resembling air-conditioning (Yes, that’s what I said) and summers were Murder in Houston.  The Summers still are, but everything that can hold a living human body inside has A/C now.

The Tropicana was a unique aquatics venue.  It was an indoor pool in a metal building.  If you looked closely, you would find that the building was supported by steel wheels on a railroad track.  When the weather was appropriate, the entire building rolled back and the Tropicana was now an outdoor facility.

There was another quite interesting pool in town, as well.  The part under the diving boards was actually about 15 or 20  feet deep.  That left room at the bottom for a clear plastic hemisphere about five feet in diameter.  This dome was held down by chains connected to the concrete below and air bubbled up from a hole in the bottom beneath the center of the dome.  By that time, I was an accomplished pool denizen and was quite comfortable descending to pop my head in the dome and watch the swimmers around me.   I would occasionally make forays out into the water when I saw coins tumbling down from the pockets of the diving board users.  As often as not, I could re-coup the admission fee and once I had enough left over for a hot dog.  It was best to get there early, because the dome usually filled up with other wannabe scuba divers and became uncomfortably claustrophobic.

PoolDomeThis is a “file photo” of something like that pool dome.

The pressure was considerable higher that deep and ears had to be “popped” by attempted exhalation while pinching the nose.   Ascending afterward also required re-adjustment of the ears and discharge of the expanding air in the lungs.  All this would, of course land the pool’s managers in Court with a cornucopia of lawsuits, these days.  I don’t remember the name or location of this place, but I am quite sure that the “diving bell” feature is no more.

I swam in Austin at the University of Texas in one of three pools there.  In my last semester, I was working in a metal shop and showed up at the dressing room in rusty old jeans, a dirty army-surplus jacket that I wore while welding and worn, old steel toed boots(I had them resoled and I wore them on the Walkabout).  I showered and dressed out for swimming and then afterward, I walked away to class in slacks, a Hawaiian shirt and boat shoes (my Clark Kent mode).

I am still swimming today.  Since we still have the gym membership until unemployment bankrupts me, I swim every day.  I have been building up in distance and I swam 63 laps only this morning – it’s some old guy’s age.  To be clear, a lap is two lengths of the pool (one northbound, one southbound) to arrive at the starting point.  The pool is 25 yards and the total distance is one and three-quarters of a mile.  It takes about two hours.  I am quite sure that the twenty-somethings swimming around me are utterly incapable of such effort.

As you might imagine, swimming laps is extremely boring.  The mind tends to wander and I used to lose count of the laps quite often.  I have a rule that when faced with uncertainty over whether it was 10 or 11 laps (e.g.), I always choose 10.  That way there can be no doubt of the final count as a minimum.  While this has the effect of maximizing the exercise, I found myself forgetting every few laps as my attention drifted.  The logical extension of this problem would have me swimming excessively with a dismally small count.

To remedy this, I have developed several strategies to force myself to remember the correct count.  Visualization:  The brain – or at least MY brain -seems to remember visual clues much better than mere numbers.  So I adopted the habit of counting laps on my fingers in front of my goggled eyes.

So, what do I do when I get to 10?  There is a really clever way to count – unambiguously – to 99 on two hands.  It is a system used by Korean schoolchildren and it is called, “Chisemba” if I remember correctly.

One moment please…

Okay, I don’t find it online, so I will explain it, myself.  Or, rather I will visualize it for you (see photo below)

Chis_1-9

So, we got to 9 on one hand.  Next is a “1” on the left hand to indicate 10 and so on up to 90.

Chis_10……………….Chis_90

You see that we can count all the laps we are likely to need  on two hands.  Only for a brief glance at the push-off, I don’t swim with my hands like that, in case you wondered.  It does make an amusing mental image though.

Now the problem is that sometimes, when distracted by neighboring swimmers (or talkers)  I forget to make the visual count.  So, another form of memory aid is needed to back this one up.  Say we have decided to swim 30 laps.  By the time we get to lap number 3, we have covered 1/10th of the total.  At 5, one 1/6th is done.  Then at lap 6, 1/5th  , at lap 7 ½, 1/4th  at lap 10, 1/3rd, at lap15, one half.  If you need something to fill the long gap between 10 and 15 laps, then 12 laps is 2/5ths.  I might forget the count but remember that I just passed the half mark, and so on.

There are also points along the  way that represent fractions of a mile  (9,18,27 and 36=1 mile).  I used to work in nautical miles so (10,20,30 and 40 =1 nm).  I can also “go metric” and come up with kilometers (11, 22=1k, 33, 44, etc).

In the higher lap counts, there are oddball combinations like ½ a mile and half a kilometer (29) and in case I really get bored (everyday!) there are integer squares (4,9,16,25…) and prime numbers (1,3,5,7,11,13,17…) and 42 (the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything according to The  Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

And at the end of the swim, we count down by fractions as well, when 2 laps shy of 30, there is 1/15th remaining,  1 lap is 1/30th, a half lap is 1/60, then 1/120, 1/240, 1/480…etc.  Each of these distances – while small – must take some finite time to accomplish, right?  So, I never finish and I am still in the pool right now reaching out with my index finger toward the side of the pool, trying to cover that infinite series of fractions, yes?

PoolReach

File photo* of a swimmer reaching to finish that infinite number of fractional laps

That is one of Zeno’s Paradoxes.  Zeno was an Ancient Greek who evidently got paid to think up goofy stuff like that.  Where do I sign up for that position?   I may be overqualified!

*Art Nerds among you will recognize Michelangelo’s God Creating Adam currently on permanent loan to the Sistine Chapel.  That is the image that popped into my head when I imagined the infinite series of fractions.  I would have used the Adam portion of the image, since Adam doesn’t have all those Cherubs around him – but Adam is doing the backstroke and is attired for the Charles F. Hartman pool, if you get my drift.

Praecepta Absurde,

Steve