Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Cleve

Spent the weekend back in Cleveland. Some kid discipline drama, but the great weather and a trip to see the Tribe play Seattle almost made up for it. You can't beat a walkoff win in extra innings. Plus, I got to go to Mitchell's -- twice!

On the flight back when the flight attendant asked the exit row passengers whether they would be willing and able to help in an emergency, some loser bag of pudding actually said no and had to be reseated. She was reasonably young and fit, totally able to do the job, just didn't want to. In fact, she bounded out of the seat with remarkable agility when the flight attendant found her somewhere else to sit.

The fact that this woman was wearing a Yankees shirt probably had nothing to do with her selfish and petty attitude, but you never know.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What's in a name?

The places in this part of New York are nice enough, but they have a public relations problem. Too many of them have awful names. Sorry, but I would never live in Duanesburg, Rotterdam, Delmar or Colonie. The Indian names, like Schenectady and Niskayuna, grate on the ears. The Dutch names have too many V's. Van Vranken? Voorheesville? Sounds like the cast of a horror film. Now, I have nothing against the Dutch, but can you name a popular aspect of Dutch culture? Wooden shoes? How about a famous Dutchman? Rembrandt? Yeah, I was going to say Niels Bohr, but he was Danish.

These towns need trendy names. It's unusual for towns to change their names, but there have been precedents. As always, California is in the lead. When Irvington, Warm Springs, Mission San Jose, Centerville and Niles got tired of being five little jerkwater towns nobody cared about, they joined up and called themselves Fremont, and 30 years later got a Macintosh plant. And even the biggest companies have changed their names. Andersen Consulting caught some backsplash from the Enron scandal so it changed to Accenture. You've never heard of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, but you've heard of Exxon.

Spanish saint names like San Diego are very trendy. Instead of Albany, how about Santa Theodora? The local columnists can call it Saint Teddy for short. True, there were never any Spanish here, but the French weren't too far away. Maybe Sainte Genevieve would be more authentic. Round Rock, Texas is booming thanks to Dell, so geographic features work as names. So let's change Schenectady to Mohawk Bend. Schenectady is a place with a crime problem. Mohawk Bend is a place whose only problem is too many McMansions. And of course, Delmar would have to become Del Mar.

Now if we can only get West Virginia on board. Big Ugly and Bear Waller Holler are two place names near my dad's birthplace that are all too real. Google is never going to build a data center in a place called Big Ugly, no matter how low the taxes are.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Math Days

It's getting trendy to celebrate Pi Day on March 14 (3/14) of every year, and in a couple of years we'll even have a couple of extra digits: 3/14/15. Then a year after that we get the rounded version, 3/14/16.

Recently we had a Fibonacci Day: 5/8/13. The Fibonacci Sequence is the sequence of numbers starting 1,1 and then each following number is the sum of the previous two: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21... Given that the first number of an American-style date can't be greater than 12, there are only six Fibonacci Days each century: 1/1/02, 1/2/03, 2/3/05, 3/5/08, 5/8/13 and 8/13/21. So we get only one more this century. If you write dates European-style (DD/MM/YY), you don't get 8/13/21, because there's no 13th month, plus four of the other five fall on different days than if you do American-style dates. For example, the second Fibonacci Day would be February 1, '03 instead of January 2, '03.

Tomorrow could be called a Pythagoras Day, because it's 5/12/13 and the three numbers satisfy the Pythagorean Theorem, i.e. square and add the first two, and you get the square of the third. In other words, the three numbers are the side lengths of a right triangle. The other Pythagoras Days are...get ready...3/4/05, 8/15/17 and 7/24/25. That's it. If you write dates European-style, you only get 3/4/05 and 5/12/13, because the second number can't exceed 12.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Called home tonight and heard chaos in the background. There are several of my younger son's best friends at the house for a sleepover and they have reached critical mass.

Drove into Schenectady after work to check out their Little Italy. It's not bad considering Schenectady is a town of just 60,000. A Westlake friend who's a Schenectady native and a relative of one of the shopowners recommended I give several of the businesses a try- which I most definitely will.

How about that Tribe? An 8-1 home stand. I am optimistic they won't suffer the late season swoons that have happened recently. I think those were a product of bad management. Manny Acta always seemed like a sharp guy in interviews but apparently he couldn't command the team's respect through the grind of a whole season.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Driving back from work today I passed a guy in an ancient Peugeot coasting slowly to a stop for no reason other than the engine had quit. Why would you drive one of those things? France is not the home of reliable automotive engineering. That's like drinking wine made in Detroit. Someone probably makes wine in Detroit, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to drink it. Peugeots remind me of one of the insults those French guys yelled from the castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: a "cheesy lot of second-hand electric donkey bottom biters."

I am enjoying Skyping my boys back in Ohio. Those videophones we've been reading about since 1962 are finally here. But how many Skypes does it take before an 8-year-old gets tired of mugging for the camera? Evidently more than three.

Coming off a streak of excellent weather that I haven't seen since last autumn. But it's supposed to be raining this time tomorrow.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


First day at new job. I got a 100%-time assignment to help develop a new technology that is vital in improving the efficiency of jet engines. Which is exactly why I changed jobs, right? Yes, but moving is hard. Correction, very hard. It takes me a long time to develop routines, and for me, every time a routine is upset, it's like a pinprick. Upset every routine and that adds up to a lot of pinpricks.

Trying to develop new routines that are a small stretch from the old ones. I am picky about groceries, and the last time I moved, I used Trader Joe's as a "bridge" because they were available in both the old and new location. So I'm doing it again here. Now I've gone to Trader Joe's in three different states. As far as I know, all Trader Joes have the same products, so the only thing non-routine is the store layout. The decor for each store follows a different theme, but for some reason I'm able to tune those differences out.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Temperature inversion = refraction

On Tuesday evening, we went to Cahoon Park in Bay Village and I swear I could see the Canadian shoreline across the lake. Turns out I might have been right. A local TV station reports that due to an unusual combination of cold water and warm air, you could see all the way across Lake Erie on Wednesday. I'd heard about this some years ago; apparently the same type of event made the skyline of downtown Cleveland visible from the Canadian side. I think someone even claimed to be able to see people and cars, and to hear traffic noise (the sound waves get bent as well as the light waves), but that seems unlikely.

Apparently there are a number of mirage-type phenomena caused by unusual refraction paths due to temperature inversions. They're called looming and fata morgana, in which one or more images over the horizon appear to float above the true horizon. What I saw did appear to be separated from the horizon by a gap of sky.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Voyage to a Blue Hole

I took advantage of this fine spring day to head west in search of a blue hole. Blue hole? It's a deep spring that bubbles up from a dissolved sinkhole in the underlying limestone. Because the water comes up from deep underground, it stays the same temperature year round. It has no oxygen, so the only things that can live in it are anaerobic bacteria. Blue holes have a blue appearance because of the clarity and depth of the water.

When I was a kid, we had to take Ohio history, and the textbooks always mentioned the Blue Hole of Castalia, or as I like to call it, the BHC. The BHC appeared on those maps showing local attractions - you know, the ones that show monuments, amusement parks, museums and so on. But around 1990, the BHC disappeared into the mists of history. What happened was that the land was sold to a private fishing club and was no longer open to the public. (Why would a fishing club want a body of water that cannot support fish? More on that later.)

Well, the closure of the Blue Hole of Castalia just made me want to see it more. A web search revealed that there are in fact several blue holes in and near Castalia, and one is publicly accessible! It's on the grounds of a state fish hatchery.

They certainly do not advertise this place. It's on a country road a ways out of town, and you'd never see it unless you were looking for it. Yet, they welcome the public and even post signs as part of a self-guided tour.

Entrance to the Castalia State Fish Hatchery

The hatchery uses the blue hole as a source of cold water - apparently fish are easier to raise in cold water. They have to aerate the water so the fish can get oxygen. The hatchery is essentially just a long channel emanating from the blue hole. The channel has various weirs and screens to manage the fish, and is covered by a very long shed for part of its length. When the fish are fully grown, they're taken to rivers in tank trucks.

We're getting close now!
To hell with the office! Where's the blue hole?!

Had to walk the final couple hundred yards

Here it is. I have to say this was even more interesting than I thought it would be. Until you get right up on it, it just looks like a farm pond. But when you get close, you can see the blue sheen and the great depth. A pond has muddy banks that sort of slide off into the water. But the blue hole has nearly vertical sides made of solid rock. The Blue Hole of Castalia was said to be of unknown depth (attracts more tourists that way) but I could easily see the bottom of this blue hole. I'd say it was about 30 feet deep. I did notice a small frog jump into the water as I approached, and there was a lot of algae growing around the rim. The upper few feet of the water must have some oxygen.

A blue hole. The State of Ohio thoughtfully provided a little platform so you can get 20 feet or so out over the hole. You can barely make out the bluish cast in this photo.

Looking down into the water from the side of the platform. Don't tell me that ain't a blue hole! The green stuff is algae streaming down the side of the hole.

Outlet of the hole, conveying water to the hatchery channel

8000 gallons a minute!

This long shed covers much of the channel. A sign said this is to protect the fry from sunburn. Huh.

Sunburn protection for fish

And the payoff. I think these are trout, but I never was much of a fisherman.

So that's it. Not The Blue Hole, but a blue hole. I can see how Indians or early settlers would have been fascinated by these things, not knowing why they look so different from ordinary ponds. Probably there was some lost blue-hole-worshipping cult 5000 years ago.

After the excitement of the blue hole, I needed sustenance and ventured into downtown Castalia. Nice little quiet town. I had a fine turkey club and lemonade at the Cold Creek Cafe. The sign at the city limit advertised Castalia as the home of Cold Creek (emanates from one or more blue holes and can be seen meandering around town), which never freezes. But wouldn't you name a creek that never freezes Warm Creek?
Love the sign. Reminds me of the bumper from King of the Hill where they say a diner is "now serving sandwiches"

Castalia has a very Midwestern, flat feel that you can't find east of the Cuyahoga. In the cafe, I heard a cigarette-voiced woman on the phone to a relative, saying that mom's service would be tomorrow morning, but don't worry if you can't make it because you haven't seen her in years. Ouch! Outside, there was an electronic carillon that tinkled out an old-timey song I thought I recognized, but didn't. Heading out...what's this?

Geez, what an eyesore. Looks like the entrance to a derelict cemetery.
This is the old entrance to the original Blue Hole of Castalia, from when it was a tourist attraction. It's in pretty bad shape, and that KEEP OUT sign seems really unnecessary. It's bad enough the original Blue Hole is closed to the public, but at least the new owners could have kept the gate in decent shape.

I remark that if I'd taken a picture of everything interesting I saw on this trip, I wouldn't be home yet. But then I find a lot of stuff interesting that most people don't even notice. I did not stop to take a picture of the Slovene, Polish, Slovak and Puerto Rican clubs I saw in Lorain, or of the nun in full habit gassing up her Camry wagon in Avon, or of a number of other things.

On the way back I stopped in Berlin Heights. Here's another town, like Denville, New Jersey, that doesn't know its past. There was a historical society (not open, but they had a couple of display windows) that gave absolutely no indication that Berlin Heights was the setting of a famous essay by 19th-century humorist Artemus Ward.  Maybe they just don't want the publicity. Their neighbor a few miles south is Norwalk, home of the Norwalk virus. Not something you'd want to advertise.

Then I passed an abandoned greenhouse that has big trees growing clean through the roof. I wonder if the trees grew from seedlings that were left in the greenhouse?

Next stop: Lorain. Foolish Doings can't pass a beaten-up steel town without taking pictures. This one is beaten up, down and all around. The roads are beaten up, the houses are beaten up, the buildings are beaten up, and the people are beaten up.

This short-line railroad is still hauling coke and scrap in, and finished tube out
Here's the USS-Kobe steel mill. I count five Cowper stoves. A guy at the far end of the parking lot where I took this picture yelled something, but I couldn't tell if he was yelling at me to move on, or yelling to someone I couldn't see.

The red brick building is the office of the Republic Steel tube mill - it says "National Tube" on the arch. This plant must be over a century old. The Republic name used to be huge in Ohio, but was bought out by LTV, In fact, Republic Steel invented the triple-diamond "Steel" logo that appears on the helmets of the Pittsburgh Steelers (!) But the name is now back. I am not sure why Lorain is still such a dump. Supposedly, these tube mills are running gangbusters making pipe for the fracking boom.

This logo was gone for years

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dayton and the USAF Museum

OK, finally getting to the Dayton trip. We went to the Air Force Museum (now they want you to call it the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, but whatever.) Stopped by a rest area on I-71 on the way down and got a shot of a nice Blue Star Highway sign. These memorial highways are all over the country; the Wikipedia article doesn't list I-71.

Then to Dayton. The AF Museum is just a nice place to be. It's big, dark and clean. It smells like floor cleaner with a faint whiff of hydraulic fluid (you can never completely drain that stuff from the planes, and it doesn't evaporate like fuel does.) It has that Midwestern vibe.

Attraction number 1, and the main reason for the trip, was the spy satellites. Of course these are not flight articles (only bits of those were returned intact from space; I'll get to that later.) These are new to the museum since I last visited in 2011. They were classified Top Secret until last year, when they were unveiled at a big ceremony in Virginia marking the 50th anniversary of the National Reconnaissance Office, which built and operated them. Here's a KH-7 Gambit 1. 38 of these were launched between 1963 and 1967 to spy on the Russkies and other bad guys. They could shoot down our U-2s but they couldn't stop our eyes in space. That bulbous thing on the nose is the film return vehicle. The pictures were taken on physical film and sent back to Earth in an honest-to-God re-entry vehicle snagged by a C-119 aircraft as it parachuted down. (The museum has a C-119 as well, but interestingly, the descriptive sign still states it was used to recover "Discoverer XIV", which was the cover name given to some of the early spy satellites.)

Here's my son and me in a foggy picture of (part) of a KH-9 Hexagon. This baby is huge, about the length of a city bus.

It has four film return vehicles. The displayed article shows the vehicles in various states of disassembly so you can see the "guts". 

Oh, by the way, here's the Apollo 15 command module:

And here, in the R&D/Presidential gallery, is the only XB-70 you can see anywhere in the world. This triple-sonic, delta-winged, six-engined bomber was known informally as the "Jesus Christ" airplane, because that's what people said when they first saw it.

The R&D/Presidential galleries require verification of US Citizenship and a short bus ride. In there you'll also find the Boeing 707 (military designation VC-137C) used as Air Force One from 1962-1972. This was the plane that brought JFK to (and from) Dallas in 1963. It's the plane where that famous photo of LBJ taking the oath of office was taken. You can walk right through the plane and stand on the very spot of the event -- spooky!

At least you could. As of today (May 1), these galleries are closed to the public because, the AF tells us, of sequestration budget cuts. These kinds of inconveniences, which save virtually no money, are the doings of a rogue government lashing out at the taxpaying hand that feeds it. Anyway.

Here's the manufacturer's plate on the business end of the X-15's rocket engine. The plate says it was made in Denville, New Jersey. Today, not only is there no Reaction Motors Division of Thiokol Chemical Corp., the facility at Denville, New Jersey is an office park. The Denville Wikipedia page states proudly that the game of flag rugby was first played there, but says nothing about building the engine for the fastest airplane ever flown. But here is a good history of what went on there. I find it interesting that the company's first offices were in a bicycle shop. The Wrights would have approved.

And just for the hell of it, here's the Ryan X-13 Vertijet. Yep, it takes off like that - no runway needed. My son loved this one, but the Air Force didn't. Nothing like this airplane ever went into operation. The Ryan Aeronautical Company, founded in 1934 in San Diego, merged with Teledyne in 1969 and then Northrop Grumman in 1999.