Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Whats the frequency, Kenneth?"

An incident on my 48 mile commute this morning stirred memories, like a bite of a madeline. I enjoy classical music, so I tuned the radio to the local NPR outlet, the only purveyor "public" or "commercial", of classical and jazz music in central Virginia. Early morning is news time, so I was not too disappointed when the signal got, for want of a better word, "static-y". This drives me nuts; I would rather not listen than to have crackles in the music. I do not know the physics of signal propagation,but thinking about frequency and signal strength made me remember when I was younger, 500 miles north of here, and the radio I heard then.

I came to enjoy radio when either because of a strong signal or repeating by a local outlet, I first heard Jean Shepherd on the airwaves. It would be late at night, perfect for long range dx'ing, and there was this storyteller, talking to me, telling tales of growing up in Hohman, Indiana. He sounded like he was next door on cold clear New England winter nights; less so in summer. Heady stuff for a working class lad, listening in the dark.

My father, who had a part-time antique firearm business, had an old Hallicrafter "boat anchor" that I am sure he had received as part of some deal in his gun room.My brother and I would go in, fire it up, wait for the tubes (tubes!) to warm up. Listening to that, with the crackle of atmospherics and signals fading and surging, was an introduction to a wider world than 111 Union St. There was a world of sound, of other ways at looking at things, other languages to hear.
Dad is Gone West,and the Hallicrafter sits in the garage loft, waiting on new tubes. There are still sources for vacuum tubes, brickfront and of course, on the web. When a MiG 25 pilot defected to Japan(it had previously been the Big New Thing to Fear), analysts saw the thing was full of tubes: the Russians had, I'm told, developed vacuum tubes to the highest possible level. But I digress.

Radio now is not so much fun. O once in a while I try a little AM radio DX'ing, and if the conditions are right at night I can pick up WBZ in Boston. I talked to Eddie Rickenbacker many years ago when he appeared on a talk show on WBZ. AM is just that now: talk, news, and religion. I have a wee Sangean "World Band Radio" which works pretty darn well, but shortwave has changed, of course, over the years. I still like to hear the crackle of atmospherics when I am listening to Deutsche Welle.

Now when we take a driving trip, we take SWMBO's Saturn Aura, really an Opel, with XM satellite radio. There is no fade there.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Happy Quatorze Juillet,France and America!

France is more tightly entwined with the US than many Americans would care to admit. I have always maintained the most important war was the series of wars on this continent we call the "French and Indian wars". Think on how different things would be if France had won those wars.Goodbye English "as she is spoke", 'alo Francais! Welcome Napoleonic Code (when the wee Corsican arrives on the world stage), au revoir Common Law, Magna Carta, and all that.

And for aiding us during the latter bits of our revolution, merci, France. She didn't act out of kindness, more as a thumb in England's eye than anything else, I imagine. Motivation regardless, we as a nation owe France our gratitude for her help.

"Blackjack" Pershing probably thought the debt was re-paid when his aide said,"Lafayette, we are here" in 1917. A more monstrous enemy arose in 1939, and in 1944 American troops were once again " over fed, over paid, and over there".

The relationship between France and the United States has sometimes been problematic post war. Americans seem to think our allies have to think exactly like us. Wrong answer, Bubba. As I wrote in a reply to the editor of the local weekly rag when they published an anti-French cartoon, France chose to sit out Iraq.2 for reasons of her own, after willingly jumping in for Iraq.1. All the blockheaded legislation to change "French fries" to "freedom fries" (they are Belgian anyways) and other absurdities will not change history. And, to you pinheads who call the French "cheese eating surrender monkeys", remember the words of The Old Guard when called upon to surrender at Waterloo:Merde!.
Vive la France!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

"Light fuse, get away"

A pre-prandial thunderstorm assuaged my burning-down-the-cul with fireworks fears last night. So yessss, the Annual Show was on. Young Master Matthew, Young Miss Amber,associated beloved in-laws, and the Missus got comfortable as I resumed the tradition of expending some snappy fireworks.

The trouble with pyro is they are made in China by schoolkids; very little QC on THAT line. This was proved again last night.

FIRST round from Young Master's newly acquired artillery shell pyro shattered its mortar tube in a thunderous explosion. It's feet do yo' stuff after lighting the fuse: once bit, twice shy so to speak. I was o, about 12 feet away. Instead of whooshing up 100 ft. or so, the round just exploded in the tube. It was not a cook-off;it was the first one in the tube. I have heard plenty of frags and seen flash bang grenades go off: this sucker was louder. My left ear still is not right.

"Field expedient methods, gentlemen" came to mind; I grabbed the trusty Black Cat tube;the thicker tube took the pressure swell.

When I stepped off the smoke-filled launch area of the cul an hour and a half later, my face black like Boelcke's after a successful freijagd, I left a tradition restored and strengthened for future generations.

The best pyro show I have seen, bar none, even better than our "mad minutes" in the tanks, was a performance of the "Royal Fireworks Musick" by the Boston Symphony, with computer controlled fireworks show. Natch, the bursts low and high were over Boston Harbor. That's the great thing about doing a show over water, there is the reflectance factor, like flares over snow. We sat near the USS Constitution. It was great sight and sound with the ghosts of tars swirling overhead in the night.

Background Reading Suggestions:

Fireworks, by George Plimpton.
"Lud Kissel and the Dago Bomb that Struck Back", by Jean Shepherd.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

American as apple pie.

originally uploaded by scp2695.
Snappy yellow, love a yellow hot rod yupyup. At any road, as some will see, the Willys genre of hot rods come from the coupe model of the Americar, an inexpensive salesman's car. Here's someone who deconstructed a Willys gasser into the stock version in 1/24 scale. He did an excellent job.