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Archive for the ‘Miscellanea’ Category

Sins and Virtues

In olden times, all religions had a seriously Old Testament mindset, and the masses were lectured vigorously about the basics: behaviors to avoid and behaviors to emulate.

To codify the message for easier consumption, two handy lists evolved: the “Seven Deadly Sins” and their mirror image, the “Seven Heavenly Virtues.”

Neither list is mentioned in the Bible, but over the centuries, they nonetheless became well known and influential, and they remain so today, dear to the hearts of religious conservatives.

To refresh your memory, the Seven Deadly Sins are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

The Seven Heavenly Virtues are humility, charity, patience, kindness, chastity, temperance, and diligence.

I certainly agree that greed, gluttony, and all that are negative behaviors, and that humility, kindness, etc. are solidly positive. I do not, however, find it necessary to sit people down and explain it to them. Everyone understands basic morality perfectly well by the time they are five.

On the other hand, if folks are not gathered in a group, you can’t pass the collection plate.

The Seven Deadly Sins,” attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1500.

Aerodynamics

The game of golf as we know it originated in Scotland in the 1500s. It probably evolved from either the Roman game of paganica or the Chinese game of chuiwan, both of which involved using a stick to knock a ball into a hole in the ground.

When the Scottish version arose, golf balls were fashioned by hand of beech wood. They were more or less round, but often were off-balance, making them maddeningly unpredictable in flight.

Sometime in the 1600s, a slight design improvement appeared: a leather ball stuffed with feathers. This version was better balanced and thus less erratic. But a dry ball did not behave like a wet one. Plus, the feathers had to be boiled and softened prior to stuffing, making the process labor-intensive and costly. And still, the balls were round in only a general sense.

In 1848, a Scottish clergyman discovered that the rubbery sap of the sapodilla tree could be heated, placed in a round mold, and allowed to harden into a sphere. With this “gutta percha” ball (translation: Sumatran latex), the mass manufacturing of cheap, reasonably aerodynamic golf balls finally was made possible.

Fifty years later, the sap was replaced by a core of tightly-wrapped rubber thread. Further, someone discovered that adding dimples to the ball improved control of the ball’s trajectory.

Fast forward to the present. The governing bodies of the game closely control the specifications and manufacturing of all golf equipment. Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 billion golf balls are manufactured each year.

Annually, in the US alone, some 300 million golf balls are lost.

Keep Calm

Keep Calm and Carry On is the perfect slogan to be corrupted into memes. I mean, it practically begs to be parodied.

Keep Calm and Carry. Keep Calm and Carry On My Wayward Son. Keep Calm and Carry Hand Sanitizer, Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake. Freak Out and Run.

The slogan originated in 1939 on a motivational poster created by the British Ministry of Information to boost public morale as World War II approached. The idea was to call upon the British self-image of remaining calm and resolute when facing adversity.

Actually, the government designed three posters and was poised to distribute millions of copies if a German attack came. Each poster featured the Tudor crown, a symbol of the state.

Immediately, the government was criticized for wasting money and patronizing the public. Very few of the posters were distributed, and the program soon was canceled. According to one historian, the effort was a “resounding failure” by clueless bureaucrats.

The posters essentially were forgotten until 2000, when copies were discovered in an English bookshop. Only a few original prints were know to have survived until Antiques Roadshow turned up a batch of 15 prints in 2012.

I think the criticism of the project was misplaced. Patronizing? Baloney. To me, the posters seem perfectly “stiff-upper-lip” British. Straight out of a Churchill speech.

The critics should have just, you know, kept calm.

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Tama the Station Master

In January 2007, the manager at the railway station in Kinokawa, Japan, gave the title of Station Master to his cat Tama, with the primary duty of greeting passengers.

At the time, ridership was down. The station was operating with reduced staff, and Wakayama Railway had considered closing the operation. But after Tama was appointed, ridership increased. The company joyfully stepped in, creating a gold name tag for Tama’s collar and designing a special station master’s hat for her.

Thereafter, Tama appeared in the news regularly, usually when she received a promotion or award. Tourists flocked to see her. A ticket booth in the station was converted into her office.

In 2010, Tama’s mother Miiko and sister Chibi were named Assistant Station Masters. In 2012, a deputy named Nitama (“Second Tama”), was appointed.

Tama died in 2015 and was succeeded by Nitama, who remains in office today.

According to a study, Tama generated about one billion yen for the local economy. A newspaper pointed out that she was the only female in a managerial position at Wakayama Railway.

The White Bridge

In 1926 in my adopted town of Jefferson, Georgia, a concrete arch bridge was built across Curry Creek, replacing an old wooden covered bridge. At the time, reinforced concrete was the latest thing in bridges — practical, cheap, and versatile.

Curry Creek Bridge is its official name, but, as I learned when I moved to Jefferson in 2006, the locals call it the White Bridge. I had to accept that description on faith, because the bridge needed a serious cleaning. Like most aging concrete bridges, it was an unsightly, moldy gray. It was, like, the Ugly Bridge.

Finally, late last year, the Highway Department gave the bridge some attention. Structural repairs were made, and the entire thing was sandblasted and stripped of accumulated grime.

When the project was completed and the tarps removed, I drove downtown to see the White Bridge restored to its former glory.

Alas, nine decades of exposure to the elements had taken a toll. Yes, the bridge looks much better, but it isn’t what you’d call white. It’s more the color of a banana (the fruit, not the peel). Or eggnog. Or mayonnaise.

I guess the Mayonnaise Bridge is better than the Ugly Bridge.

Seven Wonders

The ancient Greeks were big on the number seven. To them, seven somehow represented perfection and held the promise of personal enrichment (lucky seven). Hence, when some Greek deep thinkers decided to make a list of the wonders of the world, the list was bound to be seven wonders long.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are/were the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and the statue of Zeus at Olympia.

All seven are located in the Mediterranean region, the back yard of the Greeks. The rest of the world? Meh.

The list isn’t official or binding in any way, of course, and over the centuries, it has been modified regularly. Frequent additions were the Roman Colosseum, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, etc.

In 1997, in an interesting twist, CNN listed the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Named were the Aurora Borealis (northern lights), Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, Victoria Falls, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Harbor, and the Paricutin volcano in Mexico.

Regarding the last two: the harbor at Rio de Janeiro is the world’s largest natural harbor. It has 130 islands and is ringed by mountains. Paricutin volcano erupted unexpectedly in 1943 in a farmer’s field, grew to 1,400 feet tall, and went dormant in 1952, leaving a cinder cone that is now a popular tourist attraction.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

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Hot Potato

The House of Windsor, the reigning royal family of the UK and the Commonwealth, dates back to 1901, when the son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became King Edward VII, and the reign of the House of Hanover came to an end.

At the time, no “House of Windsor” existed. Albert and Edward were of the “House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,” a German family (or clan, or tribe, or whatever best describes it).

Anyway, starting in 1901, the British royal family was the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. In 1917, due to the understandable anti-German sentiment resulting from WWI, the royal family dropped the House of S-C & G name like a hot potato and renamed itself the House of Windsor.

The name Windsor was chosen because of family ties to the City of Windsor and, of course, to Windsor Castle, the royal residence.

Plus, Windsor is easier to remember and spell than Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.


Coat of Arms of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Problem, Solution

Last year, my little town of Jefferson declared that we have a speeding problem in school zones. Consequently, speed cameras were installed to catch the culprits.

The new automatic system is impressive. It calculates a vehicle’s speed, snaps a photo of the license plate if the vehicle is speeding, looks up the owner, and mails out a ticket.

I was skeptical, frankly, that the speeding problem is real, inasmuch as a speed camera company, Blue Line Solutions, sold the idea to the City Council. (Jefferson has a history of getting involved in hare-brained schemes in hopes of making money.) Blue Line built and operates the system, collects the money, and splits the take 50-50 with the city. A sweet deal, right?

To be fair, the system is quite generous. It won’t ticket you unless your speed is 10 MPH above the posted limit.

For example, in the school zone in front of the high school, which is a mere six blocks from the town square, the speed limit is 45 MPH. You’d have to be rocketing along at 55 MPH to get fined. People don’t drive that fast in town, right?

Au contraire, mes amis. Blue Line is ticketing some 200 speeders a day — 85 percent of them in front of the high school.

If Blue Line were fudging the numbers, people would be in an uproar, furiously protesting their innocence and suing the city. That hasn’t happened. The perps just pay the fines.

I am skeptical no longer.

The Bodélé Depression

Nothing is simple.

The Bodélé Depression in Chad is a bone-dry region on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, created over the last several thousand years as Lake Chad has slowly dried up. The depression consists of silt and sand that, about 100 days per year, is carried aloft and blown west across the continent in massive dust storms.

Because of the dust, the infant mortality rate in West Africa is especially high. In 2020, a study concluded that a 25 percent decrease in the dust would lower the infant mortality rate by 18 percent. Specifically, if irrigation were used to dampen the dust (as is done to Owens Lake in California), Africa would have 37,000 fewer infant deaths annually.

But there’s a catch. Over the eons, Lake Chad teemed with all kinds of plant and animal life — algae, diatoms, fish, and whatnot — and the Bodélé is rich in their remains. The dust that causes such harm in Africa also blows across the Atlantic Ocean, where it is a major source of nutrients for the Amazon rain forest.

Nothing is simple.

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Checking the Mail

When I ask my dog Jake, “Wanna go check the mail?” he is delirious with joy. Jake has access to the back yard via the dog door, but being in the front yard is special: while I proceed to the mailbox, Jake can look for cats.

The neighborhood cats — we seem to have eight or 10 — are aware that Jake is constrained by the back yard fence. But when he is loose in the front yard, it’s every cat for itself. Jake has surprised many a cat in the open or flushed it from hiding, and the ensuing chases are epic.

Inevitably, after a few moments of pandemonium, the cat is treed. Jake parks himself at the base of the tree, looking pleased with himself, and remains on guard until we go back inside.

Because of all this, a new ritual has evolved. While I check the mail, Jake makes a circuit of the front yard, systematically checking every spot where he has seen or smelled a cat in the past.

Following the same route every time, he stops to look behind certain hedges and shrubs. He peers inside the drainpipe that runs under the driveway. He peeks under vehicles and behind the trash cans. He scans the treetops.

Jake takes the matter of cats very seriously.

Saint Isidore

Isidore of Seville (560-636), the Archbishop of Seville, Spain, dedicated most of his adult life to preserving the knowledge handed down by the Greeks, Romans, and other early civilizations. Had he not done this, most of what we know from antiquity likely would have been lost.

Born into a rich and influential family, Isidore undertook the project of compiling a massive “encyclopedia of knowledge” that compiled virtually everything of consequence known at the time. It was called the Etymologiae, and it was decades in the making. The work consisted of 20 volumes and 448 chapters. For centuries thereafter, it was a staple of medieval libraries.

Isidore had underlings to do the tedious work, of course, but he is known to have been deeply involved is the project. Along the way, he also is credited with inventing the period, the comma, and the colon, which is pretty cool.

In 1997, as the internet was becoming an important thing in the world, Pope John Paul II recognized Isidore’s devotion to knowledge by naming him the patron saint of the internet.

Wedding Day

For years before I retired, I spent nearly every Saturday or Sunday, sometimes both, hiking and kayaking in the mountains of North Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. That was my thing.

From where I lived, the most direct route north was US 441, which, for much of the way, is a divided four-lane highway. I would start out on 441 and peel off on other routes depending on the destination.

US 441 passes through Demorest, Georgia, which is notable for the picturesque campus of Piedmont College in the center of town. Driving through Demorest is always pleasant.

I recall one weekend that was especially memorable. Driving home from a hike somewhere, I passed through Demorest and saw that a wedding was in progress in a city park adjacent to the campus.

This, I said to myself, is worth a stop. I parked and walked back to a spot overlooking the site of the wedding, a small gazebo in the park. I sat down on a bench and watched the remainder of the ceremony.

The afternoon was sunny and warm. Fifty or so guests were in attendance. The bride was radiant, the groom was handsome.

The scene was moving, and I became rather emotional. Never mind that I had no idea who those people were.

The gazebo in Demorest.

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Fit for a King

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, built in the late 1800s by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, is a real-life fairytale/fairyland castle. No surprise, it was the inspiration for the royal castle in the Disney film Sleeping Beauty, as well as for the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland.

Ludwig built several spiffy castles during his reign and, to his credit, paid for them with his personal fortune, not public funds. But he overreached with Neuschwanstein, and the costs soon had him in serious debt.

After borrowing heavily from relatives and every financial institution that would listen, Ludwig finally asked the Bavarian government to bail him out. His cabinet said no.

Serious rancor ensued. The situation escalated. Eventually, Ludwig was declared mentally ill and unfit to serve. He tried to flee the country, but was caught and detained at a remote estate near Munich.

A few days later, he and one of the doctors who declared him a mental case went for a walk along the shore of a mountain lake. The next morning, both men were found dead in waist-deep water. The doctor’s body showed unexplained signs of head and neck injuries.

The coroner declared Ludwig’s death a suicide by drowning. He said the doctor’s cause of death could not be determined due to lack of evidence. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Neuschwanstein Castle was completed a short time later and was opened to the public. It remains a popular tourist attraction today.

The Holiday Tree

Years ago, when my dad retired, Mom announced her retirement, too — from cooking. At the time, Mom was reassessing her life and making changes she felt were in order. Ergo, for Mom and Dad, a new era of pizza deliveries and eating out began.

Another of her changes concerned the Christmas tree. Mom said she was tired of the annual hassle of spending time decorating it, then, a few weeks later, reversing the process and hauling everything back to the attic. So she decided to leave the tree up permanently.

Thereafter, the Christmas tree became the Holiday Tree. Mom changed the decorations to reflect the seasons and holidays as appropriate.

After Christmas, it became the New Year Tree. Then the Winter Tree. Then the Easter Tree. Then the Springtime Tree. You get the idea.

The tree — artificial, of course — stood in one corner of a large rec room (formerly the carport, which the previous owner had enclosed), so having a six-foot tree in the house was never a problem.

In truth, Mom invested more time and energy in the Holiday Tree than she ever had in ordinary Christmas trees, but she and Dad thoroughly enjoyed it. They especially had fun collecting decorations.

I thought about doing the same thing myself, but decided against it. The hassle factor, you know.

Me at Mom and Dad’s house, Christmas 1998.

Unconventional

In the late 1920s, William M. Marston (1893-1947), a Harvard-educated psychologist, invented a device that measured blood pressure. His wife Elizabeth observed that when she got mad or excited, her blood pressure inevitably increased.

A light bulb came on over William’s head, and he contacted the inventor of the polygraph (lie detector). Result: The blood pressure device became an integral part of the polygraph.

The Marstons were, shall we say, an unconventional couple. Both were dedicated feminists, and, quietly, fans of BDSM. Eventually, the couple invited a like-minded friend, Olive Byrne, to live with them.

William had two children by each woman. Elizabeth pursued her career as an attorney and psychologist while Olive cared for the trio’s four children.

William had dabbled in writing since his college days and had published a series of self-help books. The itch to write later led him to a job at DC Comics as an educational consultant and occasional writer.

In 1941, his affinity for feminism, writing, and the bondage thing led him to create the character Wonder Woman, the first female superhero.

You may be aware that ropes (e.g., the Lasso of Truth) and being tied up are suspiciously regular Wonder Woman themes.

William wrote Wonder Woman stories until his death in 1947. Elizabeth and Olive continued living together until Olive died in 1990 at age 86. Elizabeth died in 1993, age 100.

Stranger than fiction.

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Thoughts du Jour

Unpalatable

To understand why the episode was so unsettling, you have to know that I prefer dry red wine. To me, the concept of sweet wine is simply wrong. In fact, I’m not a sweets person. I rarely eat or drink anything sweet.

Years ago, to lose weight, I switched from beer to wine. I began with Cabernet Sauvignon, then decided Merlot was more to my liking, then found Pinot Noir to be more subtle. Pinot Noir became my beverage of choice.

One evening a few weeks ago, I retrieved a bottle of Pinot Noir from the wine cellar (okay, the garage), popped the cork, poured a glass, and retired to my recliner to reflect upon the events of the day, with thoughts of bonding with Jake over some Combos or peanuts.

I raised the glass of Pinot Noir, took a sip — and recoiled in distress. It wasn’t Pinot Noir at all! It was sweet — alarmingly and cloyingly sweet!

I returned to the kitchen and checked the label on the bottle. Zinfandel. I had purchased a bottle of Zinfandel by mistake. Except for uttering an obscenity, I was speechless.

I took several more sips, but, ultimately, I emptied the rest into the sink. Still stinging, I returned to the wine cellar and retrieved a bottle of actual Pinot Noir.

Verify your purchases, people.

Zinfandel: full-bodied and fruity.

Pioneers

The first living things to go into space were fruit flies. In Feb. 1947, several of the little guys rode a V-2 rocket launched from White Sands Missile Range, the purpose being to study the effects of radiation at high altitudes. The fruit flies were recovered alive and well.

In June 1949, a rhesus monkey named Albert II was sent into space aboard a V-2, shortly after Albert I died when the rocket self-destructed on takeoff. Albert II reached space, but the V-2’s parachute failed, and Albert II died on re-entry.

In July 1951, the Soviet Union sent two dogs, Gypsy and Dezik, into space and returned them safely to earth.

In November 1957, the Soviets put a dog named Laika into orbit aboard Sputnik 2. Unfortunately for Laika, a mutt picked up from the streets of Moscow, it was a one-way trip; at the time, the technology didn’t exist to return a spacecraft from orbit. Laika died of hypothermia.

In October 1963, France sent a cat named Félicette on a suborbital flight aboard a Veronique rocket. Félicette was recovered safely after a 15-minute flight and a descent by parachute.

Thank you for your service.

Grooms and Valets

Friends, I am a relatively intelligent guy, and I consider myself attentive and curious. I am, in fact, an information junkie. I’m a major fan of the daily parade of facts and trivia you find online and in the media.

And I regularly pick up information that I’m genuinely surprised is new to me. How, I wonder, did I miss that?

I recently learned, for example, that for several centuries, every European monarch had a personal attendant in charge of overseeing the royal diet, attire, and toilet. Some of the courtiers in question also arranged for ladies to visit the king’s chambers.

Mainly, however, the attendant monitored the king’s meals, saw to his clothing and laundry, and, when the king went to the royal toilet, was available to make conversation and assist with hygiene as needed. In that regard, the degree of assistance provided is said to have varied from country to country and from king to king.

In France, the attendant was called the Valet de Chambre. In England, he was the Groom of the Stool. The positions were in existence from the early 1500s to about 1900.

Naturally, only noblemen and royal insiders were eligible for the job — which, despite certain unpleasant aspects, was highly coveted. Being in intimate contact with the monarchs, the attendants often gained the royal confidence, and many became highly influential at court.

How in the world did I miss that?

Sir William Compton (1482-1528), Groom of the Stool to Henry VIII.

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Thoughts du Jour

Random observations / recollections / stories…

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Ugly Remark

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, one of my regular hiking buddies was a graphic designer named Sue. She was an avid hiker like me, and a mutual friend hooked us up: a blind date to climb Stone Mountain. We soon fell into a regular thing of hiking in the mountains every few weekends.

Sue and I were very simpatico. I was 20 years her senior, and our relationship was comfortably platonic. She and I were friends for 10 years, and all was well.

At the time, Sue lived in Decatur. I usually met her at her place on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and we would drive north to hike a chosen trail. We spent the long drives and the hours on the trails chatting and laughing and telling stories. Those were fun times.

Of the numerous times Sue and I went hiking together, she got mad at me only once. And I deserved it. It happened one morning as we were leaving her neighborhood. We passed a billboard that read, “I Buy Ugly Houses” and listed a name and phone number.

Clever me, I said, “Hey, maybe you should give that guy a call.” Sue’s house was a couple of decades old, and it indeed qualified as homely.

Sue turned to me and said angrily, “Rocky, you CANNOT call my house ugly! It’s okay for ME to call it ugly, but YOU CAN’T!”

It was the first time I had seen her upset. Which she had every right to be. I apologized, and she calmed down, and normality returned.

Eventually, Sue moved the Asheville, and we lost touch after a year or so. Later, I saw on Facebook that she got married. I miss our hikes. Those were fun times. But that stupid remark still makes me wince.

Sue in 2001.

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Winning Formula

Nancy Drew, the fictional child prodigy and super-sleuth, came on the scene in 1930. She was the creation of publisher Edward Stratemeyer, who struck gold in 1927 when he introduced the Hardy Boys books. Coming up with a female counterpart was practically an obligation.

Stratemeyer truly understood his audience and knew what young readers wanted, and his organization delivered splendidly. Generations of boys and girls have grown up as enthusiastic fans.

Over the years, the Hardy Boys books were published under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon, but they were written by a succession of ghostwriters Stratemeyer kept on salary. The Nancy Drew stories also were written by in-house talent, published under the name Carolyn Keene.

Both the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew books are still in active publication today, 90 years later.

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Evolution of a Melody

Charles G. Dawes (1865-1951) was a Republican who served as Vice President to Calvin Coolidge from 1925 to 1929. Dawes also was co-winner of the 1925 Nobel Prize for America’s reparations plan after World War I.

Additionally, Dawes as a musician a self-taught pianist and a composer. In 1911, he wrote Melody in A Major, a pleasant tune for piano or violin that became a national hit. It remained popular for years and, while Dawes was VP, was played regularly at official functions.

In 1951, not long after Dawes died, songwriter Carl Sigman added lyrics to the song and called his version It’s All in the Game. Over the next few years, it was widely recorded by prominent artists of the time.

The best known and most popular recording came out in 1958: a livelier pop version by Tommy Edwards. In 2018, it placed number 47 on the Billboard “Hot 100” list of all-time top songs.

You can hear Melody in A Major here.

It’s All in the Game is here.

Dawes probably would approve.

Charles Dawes and Tommy Edwards.

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Thoughts du Jour

George

A few years before I retired (from the Advertising Department at Lithonia Lighting), the higher-ups hired a neurotic guy in his 40s I shall refer to here as George. He was brought in as an “account manager,” a sort of liaison to the other departments. George was useless, but the job was unnecessary anyway, so the only harm was the money wasted on his salary.

His eccentricities were many. He was nervous, twitchy, and socially awkward. He was a habitual fingernail biter and eventually began wearing false nails.

He also made strange noises. At random times, a sudden squeak, or sometimes a low moan, would erupt from him. He never acknowledged these peculiar sounds, and I’m not aware if anyone was ever bold enough to inquire.

On one occasion, George discovered a cellophane-wrapped Gaines-Burger® in a pocket of his sport jacket. He spent the next week fretting about it, mystified and confused. It never occurred to him that someone simply put it there as a joke. (The someone was Larry Flowers, the Art Director.)

One day, George emerged from his office in distress, complaining of chest pains. Someone called 911. Our department was deep inside the building, so we sat him in a swivel chair, and I rolled him to the nearest exit to meet the ambulance. He was okay and back at work a few days later.

I don’t remember when or under what circumstances George left the department. But I well remember the false nails, the Gaines-Burger®, the baffling noises, and that wild ride in the swivel chair.

Walking the Dog

One Saturday a while back, I took Jake to Jefferson Middle School for our morning walk. It’s one of the places he can go off-leash. At the south end of the parking lot were several teenagers shooting hoops, so I parked at the north end, and we set out in the opposite direction.

As is his habit, Jake executed a few energetic zoomies around the lawn, then settled down to plodding along, sniffing, and marking the bushes, trees, and poles.

Over the next 20 minutes, we walked the perimeter of the school property. Eventually, we came out from behind the school about 50 yards from the teens — who were, we observed, petting a Golden Retriever that also was off-leash.

Jake came to attention and stared intently at the Golden, thrilled as always to encounter another dog. I clipped the leash to his harness, and we approached the group.

The Golden was not alone. Inching along behind him was a man about my age behind the wheel of a silver Honda. The man was, in fact, walking the dog from the comfort of his car.

It was weird, yes, but reasonably safe. The parking lot is nowhere near traffic, and it was empty at the time, except as described. Also, the dog looked fairly old, probably not inclined to run off.

Jake and the Golden met, and both were super-excited. They inspected each other at length, tails wagging furiously. After I exchanged pleasantries with the humans, we walked on.

Walking your dog with a car. That concept never occurred to me.

On the Mend

Alas, our daily morning walks ended abruptly in late July when Jake somehow broke a toe and spent 10 weeks — 10 weeks! — in a cast and under treatment. I took him to the vet when he began limping and favoring a rear paw, and the x-rays showed a fracture.

Only a toe was involved, but the cast covered half his leg.

“Doc,” I said to the vet, “That cast is huge. I broke a toe once, and they just told me to go home and take it easy. They said it would take care of itself.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but I can’t explain to Jake that he needs to take it easy.”

They sent Jake home wearing a cone of shame, but he paid no attention to the cast, so I got rid of the cone the first day.

Anyway, no daily walks, and the dog door was closed. I was supposed to keep him quiet and minimize the activity.

Fortunately, he adjusted well to the situation. He either walked on all fours, the cast making a clop-clop-clop sound on hard surfaces, or he trotted on three legs, holding the cast aloft like an aircraft with retracted landing gear.

On the other hand, if he saw a cat or a squirrel, he was off in vigorous pursuit (cloppity!-cloppity!-cloppity!).

But the fracture healed, and after seven weeks, the hard cast was replaced by a soft bandage. The vet also okayed our daily walks again. After 10 weeks, the bandage came off, and — knock on wood — all is well. On the final visit, they shaved his foot. It looks like a naked mole rat.

Odds are, he fractured the toe while going out the dog door. He exits the dog door like a speeding bullet if something worth chasing appears in the back yard.

When so doing, he lowers his head so his forehead hits the plastic flap, not his nose. Clever boy.

Well, clever except for fracturing a toe.

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Thoughts du Jour

Random observations / recollections / stories…

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Dopey, Sneezy et al

As you may know, the 1937 Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was Hollywood’s first full-length animated film. Based on an 1812 German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, the movie was a great success and won awards aplenty.

The movie focused more on the dwarves than did the original story, because Walt Disney wanted to take advantage of their potential for humor and emotional appeal. Although the dwarves in the original story were not individually identified, an obscure Broadway play in 1912 gave them names. Disney ignored that and chose new ones.

The Disney names were Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy, Happy, Sneezy, Dopey, and Doc. Except for Doc, their leader, the dwarves were named for a distinguishing characteristic.

The seven names were selected by a process of elimination from a list of about 50 candidates. Among the rejected names: Baldy, Gabby, Sniffy, Lazy, Tubby, Shorty, Wheezy, Burpy, Jaunty, and Awful.

Mr. Disney wisely decided not to name one of the Seven Dwarves Awful.

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Neighborhood Jerk

Through most of the 1980s, my family lived in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville. Our house was on a cul-de-sac, and our back yard was adjacent to four other back yards. This created a large, pleasant green space behind the houses consisting of lawns, shrubs, and trees.

Another nice touch was that the five back yards were mostly private; no house had a direct view of any other. You saw kids playing and people doing yard work, but no more.

I liked all the neighbors just fine, except for one. He was a jerk. Too many times, we would hear him in his back yard, sometimes drunk, yelling profanities at someone in the household. Most people avoided him, but he made no effort to fit in anyway.

One Saturday afternoon, while peering out our bedroom window, Deanna said, “Would you look at what that fool is doing.”

I looked. It was the jerk in question, in the process of setting fire to a large pile of dry brush in his back yard. To our dismay, the pile of brush was not in the open, but under a canopy of trees. We hurried out onto the back deck in alarm.

The brush caught fire quickly, and almost immediately, the flames climbed into a pine tree. We could hear the sizzling and crackling. Deanna ran to the phone and called the fire department. Mrs. Jerk probably did the same.

Minutes later, the firemen arrived. They waved aside the jerk, who was impotently using a garden hose on the inferno, and put it out.

He lost two pine trees and a small hardwood. His house easily could have gone up.

What a jerk.

The deck from which we watched the conflagration.

———

National Jerk

In 1796, the renowned American portraitist Gilbert Stuart was commissioned by the family of George Washington to create a painting of the former president, who then was 65. The painting turned out to be exceptional, but Stuart’s behavior in the matter revealed a clear lack of character.

Throwing the Washingtons a curveball, Stuart left the painting unfinished, which allowed him to retain legal possession. For years thereafter, he made and sold copies of the painting for $100 a pop.

Still, even unfinished, the painting was widely recognized as a masterpiece and probably Stuart’s best work.

After Stuart died in 1828, the painting was moved to the Boston Athenaeum, a distinguished private library. Today, known as the Athenaeum Portrait, it is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

If the painting seems vaguely familiar, that’s probably because it was the model for Washington’s likeness on the one dollar bill.

Gilbert Stuart, world-class jerk.

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Random observations / recollections / stories…

———

Spidy

Banks Crossing is a commercial area that grew up around one of the I-85 exits in the nearby town of Commerce. Walmart and Home Depot are there, as are half the town’s restaurants.

The last time I was there, it was lunch time, and up ahead was a Chick-fil-a. Drive-throughs being especially popular right now, a long double line of cars was queued up. I almost went elsewhere, but a chicken sandwich sounded good, so I got in line.

The wait wasn’t bad. Half a dozen employees were scurrying around outside, taking orders and money. Even the manager was there, directing traffic.

When my turn came, I ordered a chicken sandwich, and the girl asked, “What’s the name for the order?”

Smitty,” I said and proceeded to the window.

Later, I noticed the receipt stapled to the bag.

Spidy

My son Britt says “Spidy” can be my new call sign.

———

Spooked

Before I retired and began a life of comfort and indolence, I worked in the Advertising Department of Lithonia Lighting, a large manufacturer. I was just an ordinary copy chief, trying to get by.

The department consisted of a few admin types, the copywriters, and a stable of graphic designers who reported to the Art Director, Larry Flowers.

One of the designers, Dan Rabun, had the personal quirk of being unusually jumpy. He was easily spooked if someone came up behind him and caught him by surprise. Which happened regularly.

Probably, Dan simply zoned out when he worked and was oblivious to his surroundings. But the designers sat at a drawing board, or in front of computer screen, with their backs toward you. Not a good situation for poor Dan.

The person who spooked Dan most often was his boss Larry. Larry roamed the office constantly, checking on projects, assigning work, telling fart jokes. Regularly, he walked up behind Dan and, without intending to, scared the heck out of him.

Dan wasn’t always caught by surprise, but he jumped in alarm often enough. Cries of AUGGH!” and “AAAHH!!” were common.

Eventually, Larry came up with a solution. It was simple and effective.

When Larry went to see Dan, but before he got too close, he would announce in a calm and measured tone, “Approaching… Approaching…”

Dan

———

Trouble With YCbCr

Late last year, my Blu-ray player began screwing up. At unexpected moments, the screen would go black, and simultaneously, the sound would mute itself. A second later, picture and sound would resume as normal.

It didn’t happen on every disk, but it happened a lot. Losing the picture was annoying enough, but following the dialogue when random words are missing, that can be a challenge.

When the problem first surfaced, I checked all the cables and connections and otherwise tried to noodle out the cause. No luck.

Once, when the issue made watching a movie impossible, I went online and ordered another DVD of the movie. It was fairly old, so I got the replacement disc for just a few bucks. The problem was still there.

So, finally, I coughed up $50 for a new Blu-ray player. And, wonder of wonders, the problem went away.

For a few months.

One recent Saturday evening, I popped a DVD into the player it turned out to be a mediocre gangster movie and the problem was back. At unpredictable intervals, the sound winked out and the screen went black for a second or so. Crap.

I watched the movie for a few more minutes, but finally, I hit the pause button. Fuming with righteous indignation, I went to my computer and typed, “On a Blu-ray disc player, what causes the picture to go black and the sound to stop and then resume?”

According to the Google, that subject is a hot topic online. It’s a common problem and a source of widespread exasperation.

But I found a fix that seemed worth trying:

The issue might be your video output mode. In the bluray player settings, try switching from YCbCr 4.4.4 to YCbCr 4.2.2. That resolved my problem!”

YCbCr, I learned, is the method the player uses to interpret color. Blu-ray works best with YCbCr 4.2.0, but 4.2.2 is acceptable. Blu-ray does not like 4.4.4 and shows its displeasure.

So, I searched around in the settings of the Blu-ray player (settings I didn’t even know were there) and, sure enough, my player was set for 4.4.4. I changed it to 4.2.2.

And that, indeed, solved the problem. The disc played flawlessly, without winking out or muting itself a single time.

I watched the rest of the mediocre gangster movie with peace and contentment in my heart.

YCbCr

 

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