Thursday, September 30, 2010

50 Years In Amateur Radio

I don’t remember if it was before or after I was running my illegal radio station out of my parents’ cellar, but it was a great time for me and radio in general.

You see, the radio station was flea-power and probably never got out very far. At least, the feds never came knocking on my door and my parents never knew it was agin’ the law. Or if they did, it mattered not. Mom used to flash a light (button in the kitchen, light over my console) if she wanted to hear music on the radio upstairs.

I was a dedicated shortwave listener and was deeply involved in knowing what was happening in countries all over the world. And I listened to radio stations nationwide.

Then I got my Amateur Radio license, Sept 29, 1960. This time, I could actually talk to people all over the place: locally, nationwide and worldwide. The amount of power I could run with a beginner’s license was small, but if I chose the right spot on the amateur bands, I could operate without much interference. I ran about a lightbulb’s worth of juice.

The hot issue in later years was “Incentive Licensing,” bigger than the Red Scare. Simply, half the Amateur frequencies were taken away and given to the amateurs who upgraded their licenses. Many people complained; I upgraded to the top and it was a lot of work going through the next two license classes.

My current license expires in 2017. Don’t let your license expire before you do.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

She Wasn't Really On The Titanic

Gloria Stuart, the 1930s Hollywood beauty who gave up acting for 30 years and later became the oldest Academy Award acting nominee as the spunky survivor in "Titanic," has died. She was 100.

In her youth, Stuart was a blond beauty who starred in "The Invisible Man," "Gold Diggers of 1935" and two Shirley Temple movies.

She resumed acting in the 1970s, but Stuart's later career would have remained largely a footnote if James Cameron had not chosen her for his 1997 epic about the doomed luxury liner that struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.

Stuart co-starred as Rose Calvert, the 101-year-old survivor played by Kate Winslet as a young woman. Both earned Oscar nominations. It was the first time in Oscar history that two performers were nominated for playing the same character in the same film, and it made the 87-year-old Stuart the oldest acting nominee in history.

Cameron wanted an actress who was "still viable, not alcoholic, rheumatic or falling down," Stuart once said. Then in her mid-80s, Stuart endured hours in the makeup chair so she could look 15 years older.

She said she quit the business because she was tired of playing "girl detective, girl reporter and Shirley Temple's friend." []

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Take Me To Your Leader

Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist, is set to co-ordinate our response if and when extraterrestrials make contact. Aliens who land on earth and ask: “Take me to your leader” would be directed to Mrs Othman. The proposal has been prompted by the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars.

Mrs Othman is currently head of the UN’s little known Office for Outer Space Affairs. [No joke; I checked it out and it’s known as UNOOSA.]

She said, “The continued search sustains the hope that some day human kind will received signals from extraterrestrials. When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject.”

Professor Richard Crowther, an expert in space law, said: “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take me to your leader’ person”. Opinion is divided about how future extraterrestrial visitors should be greeted. UN members agreed to protect Earth against contamination by alien species by “sterilising” them.

Mrs Othman is understood to support a more tolerant approach. But Professor Stephen Hawking has warned that alien interlopers should be treated with caution. He said: “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. The outcome for us would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” London Telegraph

Monday, September 27, 2010

Our Security Did CPR This Morning

Seems as how some older fellow slumped over the steering wheel in front of a college building. Our security guards used the defibrillator in their vehicle and then initiated CPR until the ambulance arrived. I assume the fellow made it, but that remains to be seen; when I learn his name, I can check the “checked out” page in the paper.

Been there, done that. Friend of mine fell over one fine day many years ago. I happened to be right nearby and someone called for me. I dashed into his room and sort of slid into first base, which is what it looked like, started compressions (5+2 – five compressions and two breaths) and continued until the ambulance came.

Continued it all the way down the elevator and out to the ambulance where the pro’s took over. They had their hands full with gear and needed someone for compressions. He didn’t make it, unfortunately, but we did our best. That’s pretty much life: you do your best and what happens, happens.

I almost had to do the back smash or the Heimlich maneuver on the ship this last time out. A lady at my table started making odd movements with her hand and I realized she was choking. Before I got around the table and behind her, she coughed it up. I don’t think I’ve had to do it before, but it almost happened late last year here.

It’s nice to know how to do these things; you never know when there will be a time they are needed. Just keep a clear head and occasionally practice in your mind.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It Definitely Felt Cooler Today

I went out to church this morning and there was no doubt summer was over. The calendar told me that a few days ago, but today I noticed it in a most significant way: it was cool outside. The last few mornings had been a bit on the cool side, but nothing which would alert us of the proverbial sea change*.

*(Sea Change: Best viewed when you live right near the ocean and the tide is dead low. As it shifts from falling to rising, at dead low, there are four or five very small waves that head toward the shore. This is the sea changing to an incoming tide. The water has to be smooth and you have to be looking to see this bit of action.)

There are two kinds of morning coolness: one holds the sure promise of a warm day, while the other says, “This is about all you’re going to get, bud.”

This morning was the sea change. Sure, there will be warm days, but they’ve pretty much gone by and we can’t depend on sunning ourselves out on the back patio. Those days are gone until the later spring. The chairs will come in a few weeks from now, not that anyone’s used them lately, and eventually the geese will honk goodbye.

I haven’t seen the Old Farmer’s Almanac yet. Their seasonal forecasts are remarkably accurate (note I said “seasonal”) due to the better accuracy of long-range guesses. There is an art to doing that; they and the National Weather Service have pretty much figured it out. Close-in, it’s best not to go more than 3-5 days out.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Halls Of Ivy Look Great

Ah, those college or university days when we walked across the main quad, passed the dean’s residence all covered with ivy, the old chem building, likewise green with growth. The feeling of age and permanency; the warmth and ancientness of these great halls of learning. No modern steel designs here, but the brick and mortar of the ages.

Except for one thing: that ivy is ripping the mortar apart, digging into what is holding those bricks together. You don’t see any ivy on the old Roman buildings.

It could well be the ivy is what’s keeping the ancient halls standing. Rip it out at this point and all the bricks will stay in place without cement between them (thus, the Big Bad Wolf could easily huff and puff and blow the place into the middle of the next county), or the next time you slam the front door yuo have to climb over a pile of rubble.

We have a large, strong-looking tree down the street. The tree guy says it will last another bunch of years and I suppose it will; my strong point is radio broadcasting, not the care & feeding of trees. But it has a fine coat of ivy and I know that’s not a good thing for trees to be growing. Or have growing on it.

So we have this ivy stuff. Nice looking, but where do we put it and not have it do damage? Maybe wrap it around a brown-colored pole or a dead tree branch. Lay it through your rock garden. I really don’t know, offhand, because all I’ve seen are houses and trees, both of which end up being eaten by the green stuff.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Got Rid Of My First TV

I’m not sure what led me to get a tv set. We had cable in our apartment building, free to everyone, but I had never owned a tv before in my life; nor did I miss it. I guess you don’t miss what you never had. I’d done some tv before, but being in the control room is far different from actually watching it in your stocking feet.

Of course, being in the control room sometimes is a lot more fun, because there is a certain amount of excitement as things work or (often) fall apart.

But back to the tv set. I don’t know exactly when I got it, but I do know it was when I returned from taking some refresher courses at the University of Notre Dame. That was when I hit 51, I guess. Why it was a 13” Motorola came about because I saw one in a dumpy sandwich shop in Nome, Alaska.

The shop was not one of those “chain let’s make it look dumpy” places. This place really was a dump. The Food Network has a show, “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives.” This wasn’t good enough to be a dive. But it had this neat little tv and I thought it would look good in my room.

So, anyway, one of my friends who went to the school here dropped off her daughter to start her school career. But without a tv. Since I upgraded to a 20”, I asked if she would like to borrow mine and it’s in her dorm room right now. She’s got a tube and I have a little more room on the floor under my desk.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Yard Work Is For The Birds

I can tell a robin when I see one and crows are not that hard to spot; aside from that, the rest of them are just birds. Seen one, you’ve seen them all.

That having been said, I really would like to know what sort of feathered bipeds work the lawn at my place. They methodically go from side to another, together, contentedly picking up something worthwhile. Bugs, maybe; that’s all I can think of which accounts for their continued presence. They don’t do worms, as robins delight in.

They aren’t terribly afraid of me, although they do fly away if I get too close. I’d rather they just keep pecking away when I walk through the courtyard and maybe that might someday happen. When I go out, I walk slowly and often just stop and watch – which I am sure they are also doing.

There’s a rabbit near our parking lot which doesn’t seem to mind me very much. I meet Mr. or Mrs. Cottontail most every night, walk slowly and stay on a parallel track. We keep an eye on each other and I hope Rabbit and I will form a fairly lasting bond. It might happen if Mr. Hawk stops circling and goes away.

Mr. Hawk hangs around in an updraft just a few yards north of our house. We have noticed a decrease in rabbit population around here since the arrival of our claw-footed friend. Every so often, I spot him up in the tall trees with a toothpick and a satisfied look on his beak. It doesn’t take a genius.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

She Peed, She Burped, She Flashed

A thunderstorm rolled through here this afternoon like a goat in heat. I mean, it didn’t even slow down long enough to say, “How do you do?” It blew a lot of rain at us for a few minutes, made loud noises and tossed some light displays around the area and then it was gone without so much as a fare-thee-well.

What I really like is a good thunderstorm (or set of them, as I think they hang out in cells) which lasts for hours. Some good cloud-cloud lightning, some excellent cloud-ground stuff you can see from the beach or a high building. Good, soul-satisfying thunderclaps. Of this is the stuff of tall tales made.

I like it now, but I didn’t like it then. There was a period of my life when lightning frightened me badly. Terrified me. I don’t know why, but one time I had to choose between checking out my best friend’s ham radio antenna and avoiding being out in a lightning storm. He really wanted me to go with him; I just couldn’t.

Then I noticed, one day, it didn’t make any difference. Well, it did when the bolts struck nearby and the thunder indicated it was less than a quarter mile. Quite possibly that would happen to anyone with an ounce of self-preservation. There is only so much bravery in any one of us; then it’s time to cut and run.

I was once inside the cone of thunder. Lightning hit the tower of a radio station I was at and the thunder started outside of where I was standing. Was. No more.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hand Sanitizers And The Universe

Here I am, contemplating the bubbles in a large bottle of hand sanitizer and imagining the universe. Ok, so it’s a big leap from CVS to God’s greatest creation.

Look in the green bottle (maybe it’s really blue; friends of mine tell me I’m slightly color blind) and you will see larger and smaller bubbles suspended in the sanitizer fluid. Look at a drawing of our solar system and you will see planets and moons suspended in mid-air (or whatever they call the space we occupy).

What keeps all these bubbles up? What keeps all the planets and moons up? While we’re here, I often wonder where “up” is in the universe and how all these objects can just stay where they are, spinning away for billions of years. I think our planet slows down a second every so many years, like that matters.

So I see these sanitizer bubbles and through them I see the universe, all hanging there as far out as we can see with our fancy opera glasses. I want to take one last spin around the universe on my way out of here (or maybe as a “welcome to heaven” gift after I’ve arrived there). I want to see the edges, where we are in relationship to everyone else.

Maybe I can someday figure out how the sun has enough gravitational force so as to keep the Kuiper Belt objects in its orbit, out far beyond our planetary system, The Oort Clouds, so desperately far away yet still circling our star they (if there is any “they”) can barely make out.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Unconnected Thoughts From Up North

There are people who have to win in life; it is an eternal struggle to be on top. That I can live with and can accept. There are others who have to win to overcome something way deep down inside them.

They say that a drunk tells no lies. There is also the saying that to know the real person, give them power. That sounds reasonable. However, I found that if you want to know a person, spend an evening with him playing cards or shooting pool. You can learn so much about someone like this, that it is almost awesome.

I am not a great pool player, but I am good enough to know that the game is won by the errors made by your opponent. He would be beat by his weakness.

We, our family, are beach people. The definition of these sandy salt-breezed folk would go like this: We, the beach people, are the ones you see walking the beach in light rain, in snow, on Thanksgiving Day afternoon. We gather shells, scale flat rocks, we take our shoes off and more than one of us has conceived an offspring down there, too.

We swim, versus the folks who come from away, buy the expensive homes along the beach, stick up Private Property signs, and sit there with a jug of sun tea, she with a trashy beach novel and he with the New York Times. We don’t read and don’t give a rat’s patootie for their Private Property signs.
(Random thoughts by Jim Carten)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Turned My Lamp On Early This Evening

Unusually early, I said to myself. The lamp is one of those little Christmas “candles” you put in your front window to decorate the house. Mine stays in the window all night, all year; if nothing else, it lets people passing by on the corner busy road know someone is here, there is an occupied house in the middle of the night.

Temperatures have been up and down during the summer. We’ve had our week-long heat waves, followed by milder temps; now it seems as if when the last hot period ended, they never went up again. It stayed cool and the weather map at shows little bits of mixed precip and even light snow over Montana and North Dakota.

People I know who have been quiet about the summer’s heat are now making comments regarding how cool it’s been getting lately. I see fall jackets.

You hear talk of, “This is great sleeping weather,” which means cool nights for the benefit of people who can’t sleep anywhere, anytime, at any temps. I don’t have that problem: any night is good sleeping weather. I never knew what they were talking about; just lay down and fall asleep.

I haven’t seen any trees turning yet. Perhaps they haven’t heard the news. I do know the apples are coming in early, which presents certain problems for the farmers. The downtown Thursday Farmers’ Market runs until November 25 when Brace’s Orchard will pack up their wonderful apple cider for the season.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What Happens When We Run Out Of...

…hydrogen? Well, for one thing, we’d run out of water. You need two of those things, plus one of oxygen to make wet. We’re making vehicles to run on it, ‘sted of gasoline.

There would be no stars in the sky. Those hungry little monsters change hydrogen into helium at a ferocious rate and have been doing so for billions of years. Can you imagine how much hydrogen must be out there for this to happen? 300 billion galaxies with as many stars, all going through hydrogen. No “h” means no stars.

Suppose we ran out of moon? That’s not so wild an idea, because we are. When created, it was 17 times closer to us than now. Moonrise in those days was something indeed. The moon is moving away from us at the rate of 1.5” per year. Not much, as we measure things, but rather substantial, methinks, in astronomical terms.

We are an oil-based society and economy. In the Olde Days, everything was local and close by. No malls, no physician offices miles away, no asphalt highways, no airplanes. You didn’t take a bus to Boston to catch a cruise ship. When you are driving down the street, look at everything which depends on oil.

Or if we ran out of talents? We depend on people who can fix cars, grow food, make furniture, get our electronics to market, sew clothes, run the city and so many other things. Not everybody can do everything; we need the talents of so many people around us to make our planet work. Otherwise, we are naked eating plants.

Friday, September 17, 2010

That Which Has No Name

Everything has a name and I don’t know why. Even weeds, the various types of sand grains, each discovered star in the sky. Anything you can name has a name.

Suppose we discovered an object and deliberately did not give it a name? “Hey! Look what I found!” Then, “What should we call it?” Reply: “Let’s break with tradition and not give it a name.” So they have an object which has no name and does it really need one? Only to distinguish it from others – but they all have names.

I wonder what would happen if you had a child with no name. No first name, no middle name, no last name. I usually introduce myself as, “I’m Tom Carten”; that’s not really who am, but just name my parents chose for me and the family into which I happened to fall by destiny. Fate placed me here, choice gave me an identity.

At the start of The Daily Show, the host says, “My name is Jon Stewart.” That’s more obviously not who he is, but what he chose when he changed it from his original last name. For real-namers, it might be, “This is how you may refer to me.” It’s like a vocal name tag. “Hello. My name is Joe Isuzu.”

In the Catholic Church, we name our children after saints so they will be inspired by them. Nice theory. Actually, we name them after parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, tv and movie stars, and strange spellings of whoever is hot at the moment. Maybe that’s why kids so often grow up hating their parents. Better no name than that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Going Uphill In The Rain

Someone forwarded to someone who… well, you get the point. Eventually, my brother sent it to me and I was inspired enough, or remembered this:

It’s 19-fifty-something; you are driving in the rain and you see a steep hill ahead of you. Problem: (a) Do you want to go up the hill, or (b) Do you want to see through the windshield? You can’t do both; the days when wipers will be independent of the engine have not yet arrived. Hills and wipers are still mortal enemies.

You have to get up that hill and you must do it fast because your girlfriend is in the seat next to you and her father will be waiting under the front porch with an axe if she is a minute late. You have mounting the hill on your mind; he has mounting something else on his mind. And you can hear the grinding-wheel even at this distance.

The car starts up the hill and you increase the gas. The wipers slow down. You give it more gas and the wipers stop. So you take your foot off the accelerator for a moment to let the wipers make a sweep and the car slows down. Ram the gas pedal to the floor to keep the car rolling and the wipers stop again.

You can imagine your head on the chopping block like a turkey on the day before Thanksgiving so you let up on the gas for just a moment, enough to clear a little spot. Your girlfriend has her hand around you and, as you approach her house, you beg her to let go. Her father is there, his watch in hand. You made it.