Category Archives: General

WWVB

I’ve been reading this morning about WWVB, the NIST time signal broadcast from Boulder, Colorado.

The data format is…curious: simple BCD encoding, low bit rate – each packet takes a full minute to transmit – and no error detection. I imagine it was very high-tech, sixty years ago; now it seems a bit musty.

My alarm clock relies on the WWVB signal, which means I don’t have to set the time after a power failure; but the clock will accept a garbled signal just as readily as an intact one, and set the time & date to inaccurate (or nonsensical) values.

The other day, I was reading a bit before bedtime, and fell asleep. When I woke up, after what felt like just a few minutes, the clock said 1:58am.

That didn’t feel like a two-hour nap, thought I; but the clock insisted: 1:58am. My other bedside electronics, when queried, claimed 11:58pm, which made more sense. After a while, the alarm clock rectified itself, and all my gizmos agreed once more.

Relying on the WWVB signal to get me out of bed in the morning is a bit reckless. If a run of bad packets should come in just before getting-up time, the alarm might never go off. Or, it could go off at any time during the day or night.

I’ve had this clock for a long time – ten years? fifteen? – and neither of these improbabilities has ever happened. Even so, I worry, and contemplate a more reliable replacement.

Firsts

A few firsts today:

For two hours this afternoon, the temperature reached 80°. Normally, that marks the boundary between comfortable and too hot, but it was actually quite pleasant.

We mowed the lawn, too. Sam helped: his first time.

We skipped the traditional mower tune-up this year. The local Sears, our source for replacement parts, closed last year (and the building was demolished earlier this year); there are no stores left in the county selling Craftsman parts.

I have…issues with off-brand mower blades. If it involves a sharp-edged piece of metal, spinning at a few hundred rpm inches from my feet, phrases like “compatible with” and “replacement for” aren’t as persuasive as the manufacturers might wish.

I suppose I’ll buy from the web site.

The Hat

My mother was the middle child of three. (So is Jennifer. Funny old world.)

My mother’s younger brother, Keith, was born in 1948; their birthdays were only three days apart. This must have resulted in certain complications of gift & party logistics for their parents, Vina & Herschel, but family history is – alas – silent on the matter.

I have a hard time thinking of my parents as children.

Keith joined the US Navy in November of 1965, when he was only seventeen. That seems a bit young for military service. I asked my mother about it, once: “Why do you suppose he enlisted so young? And why did Vina give permission?”

“Why do you think?” she replied.

Various possibilities come to mind, but…nil nisi bonum & all that.

On one visit home, Keith brought presents for his nephews (i.e., Mike and me): genuine US Navy caps, round, heavy white canvas with the brim that could fold up or down. They’re known as ‘Dixie Cup’ hats, also seen on Cracker Jack boxes and Gilligan’s Island.

The Dixie Cup was phased out in 1973, but returned to service shortly thereafter: sailors just didn’t look like sailors without it.

I loved that hat & wore it constantly. I can still remember, forty years later, the feel of the canvas, the smell of it, the way it muffled sounds with the brim down over my ears.

…and then one day in East Gary – I must have been about Sam’s age – I wore it to the local park for an afternoon’s play & came home without it. I never saw it again.

Keith died in 1967. The hat was one of the few mementos of him that we had, and I lost it through carelessness. I still feel bad about that.

Intelligence

A few weeks ago, we were in Chicago for an archery tournament at Roberto Clemente Community Academy (i.e., high school); Grandpa came down from Arlington Heights to help us cheer on Jake, and a pleasant time was had by all (at least, nobody threw up in the parking lot this time).

The gym (Field house? Big building full of archers?) where the tournament took place had a colorful & interesting mural painted on its west wall. I took a few pictures, but somehow never got around to posting any of them. (My bad. Sorry!)

The mural included a sentence:

There in Egypt all the sages were convinced that gender is not of essence in matters of intelligence.

I understood the artist’s point, but also I wondered: What is intelligence? Is there only one kind of intelligence, exactly the same in everyone, with the only variable being how much one has of it?

That strikes me as far too restrictive a definition.

The mind’s agility can’t be usefully described by a single number, or even by a set of numbers. That’s just a temptation to people who need to feel superior to others. Getting hung up on who’s superior to whom is a sign – not of intelligence, of its absence.

Intelligence is: clarity, creativity, eloquence, empathy, memory, perceptiveness, precision…and probably a dozen other things. (Does athletic ability count as intelligence? Perhaps it should.)

It seems foolish to expect all of these to manifest equally in all people; and foolish to take offense at the possibility that they do not. Would civilization really collapse if it turned out that intelligence operated differently in men and women?

Springfield

We were in Springfield today, for an archery tournament; the weather being delightfully spring-like (appropriately so, the day after the equinox), we slipped in a few extra adventures.

Jennifer, Sam & I visited the Lincoln Tomb, an impressive pile of granite on a hilltop in Oak Ridge Cemetery. (Jake was on the team bus.) We walked around, took some pictures, even went inside. (It’s pretty dark in there.)

I noticed one peculiar thing: the engraved panel for Robert Todd Lincoln – who’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery, not in Springfield – reads:

Robert Todd Lincoln
1843 - 1926
Buried
National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia

…but the three seems to have had a four glued over it, for a long time. It’s gone now, but the outline is clearly visible.

What’s the story behind that? Was there some ambiguity or dispute over Robert Todd Lincoln’s date of birth? When was the four added? When was it removed?

I meant to ask one of the attendants, but a busload of middle-school kids showed up around then & I never got the chance.

After tomb-raiding, we met Jake at the state fairgrounds for some archery. (I’m told it went well. Jake’s team will soon need a larger trophy case.)

Our last stop of the day: dinner at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, where the food was tasty – but they got two out of four orders wrong, and charged us $60 for the experience. We might go back, sometime, but probably not any time soon.

Tidiness

Today’s project – diffidently begun, quickly abandoned – involved tidying up my home directory on the MacBook Pro.

There’s decades of junk lurking in there, incomplete reorganizations & format conversions piling up like geological strata. The earliest files are WordStar documents and BASIC source code, from 1985; I keep them mostly out of nostalgia, because I have nothing left that can read them.

The files I deleted this morning weren’t so old as that: MS Money export files, Quicken data files, iBank and iBank 5 data files. The apps that could read them are long gone – and MS Money was Windows only when it still existed – so why keep them?

I also merged two directories of online statements, receipts & paperwork, stuff going back ten years or more. (I’m tempted to throw it all into Evernote, but haven’t yet worked up the nerve for that.)

Next up: bringing order to the chaos of git and/or mercurial repositories I’ve created. I should move everything to git, then remove the (mercurial) originals; but I dither & procrastinate.

Most of these repositories haven’t been touched in years. I begin to wonder why I keep them.

Pastor Vajda

The only church I ever attended (regularly) was the Griffith Lutheran Church, 1000 N. Broad Street, Griffith, Indiana.

It was a long time ago: when we lived in Gary, in the trailer park on Ridge Road. The church is just a few miles away: west on Ridge Road, south on Broad Street, it’s on the right.

Going to church wasn’t my idea. I was only five; what five-year-old ever wanted to go to church? No, Mike & I went to church because our mother went to church. (Why did she go to church? I don’t know. I never thought to ask.)

I vaguely recall Sunday School, singing hymns, and shaking Pastor Vajda’s hand after the service. He towered over me, took my small hand in his enormous hand, and spoke a few words in a deep voice.

I had the notion this evening to look up Pastor Vajda, find out whatever became of him. I was sure he’d be easy to find; how many Lutheran pastors named Vajda could there be in northwest Indiana?

More than you might think – and spread out over at least three generations. One of them turns out to be a famous composer of hymns.

I think, but have no way to know for certain, that the Pastor Vajda I remember was Ludovit Vajda, who died sometime in the early 2000s. I must investigate further. (Perhaps a road trip to Gary is in order, once the weather improves.)

My researches – i.e., quality time with Google – turned up a rather disturbing newspaper excerpt from the Gary Post-Tribune for Saturday, January 14, 1989:

$115,000 JUDGMENT TO BE APPEALED BY AREA CHURCH

The Griffith Lutheran Church will appeal a $115,000 judgment stemming from incidents involving a former pastor who took sexually provocative pictures of two young girls, attorney Harry Jennings said Friday. A jury awarded damages Thursday against the church, retired Pastor Ludovit Vajda and Pastor William Steinke.

There’s more, but it’s behind a paywall.

The ambiguity is maddening. What happened? Who did what, to whom? Were the pastors accused of specific misbehavior, or were they named in the suit merely because they were in charge?

Critter

In August of 1978, the Rice family moved from Dyer, Indiana to Buffalo Grove, Illinois. More accurately, three of the Rices moved to Buffalo Grove: my mother, my brother & me. The fourth – a fella named Al – stayed in Indiana.

Al was my father, for eleven years; then he wasn’t. And that’s all I have to say about that.

The last time I spoke with Al was…1984? 1985? He’s remarried & living in a small town in southern Indiana, halfway between Bloomington and Louisville. He turned seventy-one last year, so I imagine he’s retired now.

I have his address. Perhaps this year I’ll send him a birthday card.

I digress.

The formerly-of-Indiana Rices made their new home in an apartment complex just behind the Plaza Verde shopping center, just down the street from Buffalo Grove High School: building #4, apartment #301.

I filched the mailbox tag, the day we moved out (and still have it, thirty-five years later); it reads

B. Rice
301

…because that’s what women did in 1978, so as not to advertise their woman living alone status. (It didn’t work, because men in 1978 used their full names.)

The east entrance to the apartment complex, facing Arlington Heights Road, passed between a pair of retention basins / flood-control ponds / excuses to add a lake-view surcharge to rents on that side of the building. Ducks swam there. Canada geese used to stop there. And, in the fall of 1978, a small animal of some kind – a muskrat? – dug a burrow into the bank of the north pond, and moved in.

In those days, I walked to school – we lived much too close to school to get bus service – and my preferred route took me past the north pond. I often saw the mystery creature, head just barely above water, swimming busily around.

I didn’t give it a name. Perhaps I should have.

The winter of 1978–79 stands as one of the worst on record, with eighty-nine inches of snow falling between November and March. I didn’t mind it much at the time – I walked everywhere, and didn’t have to shovel any snow myself – but, thinking back on it now I feel bad for my mother: she had to drive in it, to Northbrook and back, five days a week.

A few months in, there was so much snow on the ground that pushing it to the edge of the parking lots wasn’t working any more; somebody had the bright idea of dumping it in the retention basins.

Poor critter, it had nowhere left to swim. I assumed, through the rest of the winter, that it was hibernating, or digging tunnels through the snowpack, but – alas – it was not. When spring finally came and the glaciers receded, I found it, lying dead on the ground, flattened by the snow.

Creepy Randos

Wandering clicky-clicky about the internet, I encountered an article: How To Talk To Girls On Twitter Without Coming Off Like A Creepy Rando.

My first thought – aside from a wince at the word Girls in the headline – was: Can’t be done.

Anyone predisposed toward labeling people as creepy randos won’t be dissuaded by anything the randos might say or do. Really, it goes the other way: any attempt to demonstrate non-creepiness or non-rando-ness (if that’s a word) just digs the hole a little deeper.

The article lists a half-dozen examples of creepy-rando behavior, that aspiring nice guys absolutely must avoid. They’re all (inversions of) fairly obvious courtesies one should extend – not just to women on the internet; but also to men on the internet, and everybody out in the real world.

Things like:

  • Know your audience.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Mind your own business.

Too little attention is given on the internet to basic good manners – the rules we’re all supposed to learn, starting shortly after we finish toilet-training. That’s because framing the discussion as icky stuff men do that women have to put up with will get more page-views than something less confrontational or more inclusive, and the notion that women on the internet might lack courtesy, or might misbehave, is anathema.

(Myself, I am well beyond the target demographic for that article, much closer to harmless geezer than creepy rando, and not at all interested in using the internet as a free dating service. So the advice in that article isn’t terribly relevant or useful to me.)

Snow

We in Champaign caught the edge of a passing blizzard, last night & this morning: about four inches of snow fell, between midnight and noon.

Tuscola got seven inches; Springfield, just shy of twelve; so it could have been worse.

Our plans for the day had included lunch in Goodfield with Grandma & a few of the great-aunts, followed by an archery tournament in Peoria; all was canceled, due to the weather.

The tournament itself wasn’t canceled – Peoria didn’t get any snow, this time – but Unit 4 canceled the team bus, so most of the archers had no way to get there.

Once the snow stopped (around 11:00am), Jennifer & Sam bundled up and went out to shovel the driveway and sidewalks. I was out with them, trying to help but mostly just getting in the way. (That’s what I do.)

In the front yard, more or less on the property line, there’s a small green plastic dome: some sort of utility junction box. I’ve wondered for fifteen years what it’s for; now I know.

I was clearing the sidewalk on that side of the house, and noticed – just after chucking a shovelful of snow at it – that the mystery dome had come off. (When did that happen? I wondered.) This revealed some fairly thick wires, coming up out of the ground, their ends clamped into a metal plate.

When I reached down to brush off the snow I had just (inadvertently) dumped on the wires, I discovered they were live. Oh, yes, very live indeed, and in an ugly mood. I got a front-row seat for the sort of pyrotechnics that usually herald a dead squirrel and an afternoon’s power outage.

Jennifer – over by the front walk – was sure I had just electrocuted myself, but I was unharmed. A bit startled, perhaps, but unharmed.

Lights in the house flickered, but none of the computers lost power. (Uptime on the two Raspberry Pi machines is sixty-one days, and counting.)

I called the power company, and had a nice chat with a customer-service person; in theory, a crew will be dispatched presently to re-secure the mystery dome. Until then, neighborhood dogs – male ones, anyway – are at risk of a most painful demise.