Saturday, August 27, 2011

Endless Summer

The end of summer 2011 is in sight, so an appropriate story is in order:

High School classmate Bob Halstead and I trekked into downtown Boston one evening in 1966 to view the summer surfing classic, The Endless Summer at the artsy Exeter Street Theatre.

Director Bruce Brown follows two surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, on a surf trip around the world. Despite the balmy climate of their native California, cold ocean currents make local beaches inhospitable during the winter. They travel to the coasts of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii in a quest for new surf spots and to introduce locals to the sport. And in doing so they made a film that would resonate among spirited outdoor-loving youth for at least the next 100 years. Setting out, the goals weren’t quite so lofty for the film itself. Brown had created surfing films before, but The Endless Summer had the right timing, superb film quality, great scenery, great musical score, all wrapped in a semi-amateurish but disarmingly interesting acting style.

The narrative presentation eases from the stiff and formal documentary of the 1950s and early 1960s to a more casual and fun-loving personal style filled with sly humor. The surf-rock soundtrack to the film was provided by The Sandals. The "Theme to the Endless Summer" was written by Gaston Georis and John Blakeley of the Sandals. It has become one of the best known film themes in the surf movie genre. I still have the original LP and in my freshman year of college had an original full-size wall poster. Wish I still had that sucker.

As far as the Exeter Street Theatre itself, it was housed in the First Spiritual Temple at the corner of trendy Exeter Street and Newbury Street in Boston. The theater opened on May 4, 1914, with 1,376 seats and was known world-wide to serious movie-goers who referred to it as the Grand Dame of Boston theatres. The movie theatre was notable both for its ambiance ("You felt like you were in some kind of Tudor manor or English country church") and programming ("It was a theater where people did not call to see what movie was playing, but called only to determine if the movie had changed)."

The theatre closed its doors in 1984, becoming a two-story Waterstone’s bookstore which was badly damaged by fire in 1995. The building reopened in fall of 2005 as a Montessori school.

Muppets - The Green Album

The Muppet Show was TV classic that ran from 1976 to 1981 and help feed our hunger for Muppet movies.  Now the songs associated with both the TV series and the movies have bee recorded by current artists (The Fray and others) into The Green Album. Green as in Kermit green, not environmental green.

Watch a clip OK Go and the Muppet Theme Song from the album.  Listen to all the audio tracks on NPR.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cape Cod Sounds

I posted a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Cape Cod National Seashore a few weeks ago.  My oldest daughter sent me a link to a couple of radio interviews on the anniversary as well so I pass on that link here.

 One interviewee was Steve Wilkes, a professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.  Wilkes has a project taping audio clips on Cape Cod.  Follow the "Hear Cape Cod" link to his web page and click on "Map Index" in the right hand column that takes you to his satellitee map of all of Cape Cod . If you zoom in and click on either of two location markers that represent sites on the outer (Atlantic) beach in Wellfleet and Truro, you can hear the surf that I described in my original post.  The Truro recording is especially good for this - melodic.  You're getting sleepy, sleepy.....

South Wellfleet - map marker labeled "Marconi Station" (this is just down the beach from Le Count Hollow where I took both dune & shore photos on that first post).

North Truro - map marker across from Pilgrim Lake labeled "Truro/High Head - Surf."


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake Weather

This morning a newsperson on NH Public Radio spoke of Hurricane Irene headed toward the U.S. and of a small tornado that touched down in northern NH yesterday.  Then he said something like "And in other weather stories, parts of the East Coast are cleaning up after yesterday's earthquake."  I heard him repeat those lines again later in the morning. I can only hope that this fellow, who is well spoken and seems bright, was reading copy written for him by another and not thinking much about the words. Please tell me he doesn't think a geological event was "weather."

It did remind me of the terrible 2004 earthquake and tsunami off Sumatra, Indonesia. As my wife and I watched the story unfold on TV news, the thought popped in my head, "I wonder how long it will take for some nutty environmental group to blame this on global warming."  Well, I didn't have to wait 24 hours for the opportunists to come out of the ecocloset and pronounce just that. Although when other groups convinced them they were wacky, the claim was quickly dropped and the media let it die.

I thought yesterday's 5.8 magnitude East Coast event was thrilling, especially occurring so close to DC.  Not that I want to see anyone hurt or serious damage done to structures, I don't.  But it is a reminder to us that we live on a changeable, restless planet and not on some static stone.  The fact that our planet operates independent of we mortals is humbling and a reminder that we're not in control of everything. And many in DC could use that kind of reminder.  Unfortunately, those that need it most were off on recess or vacation and probably missed the message.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mad Scientists - II

Another scientist that Bill Bryson writes about in his A Short History of Nearly Everything was one of the fathers of geology as a science, 18th century Scotsman James Hutton, a physician, chemist, naturalist and farmer. Bryson: “It’s hard to imagine now, but geology excited the 19th century – positively gripped it – in a way that no science had before or would again.” And Hutton laid the groundwork for it all (pun).

By all accounts Hutton was a brilliant mind with the keenest of insights and a delight to talk to. Unfortunately, it was beyond him to set down his geological notions in a form that anyone could begin to understand. One of his biographers would charitably pen that Hutton was …”almost entirely innocent of rhetorical accomplishments.” Nearly every line he wrote was an invitation to slumber – and be totally confused.

In his 1795 masterpiece, A Theory of the Earth with Proofs and Illustrations, he stated:

"The world which we inhabit is composed of the materials, not of the earth which was the immediate predecessor of the present, but of the earth which, in ascending from the present, we consider as the third, and which had preceded the land that was above the surface of the sea, while our present land was yet beneath the waters of the ocean.”

Huh? That kind of writing would never have gotten me through an undergraduate, let alone a graduate degree.

Although as an undergrad I did take mineralogy from a professor who totally confused me and most of the class with his absentmindedness and his teaching style. He had two quirks that I remember humorously now, but was pained by every time they would happen in the class I was already finding to be a struggle. Professor S. would furiously write all sorts of equations on the blackboard along with elaborate diagrams of mineral crystal structures - all with complete confidence and authoritative assuredness. Then he would pivot from the blackboard rapidly like a courtroom prosecutor turning to drive home a point to the enraptured jury. Facing our class, Professor S. would scrunch up his face as he started to make some great pronouncement about the blackboard diagrams and then stop and pivot back to the board saying, “Wait, did I do that right??”

Herr Professor had a similar quirk when he would ask the class a question and one of us would volunteer an answer. His eyebrows would shoot way up on his head at the same time that a look would cross his face indicating “Of course you are correct my brilliant student!” But then his facial expression would change in an instant to one reflecting seriousness of deep thought, and he would spout, “You would think so, wouldn’t you?” meaning the answer offered was off target. To this day that phrase with all of its comical images from my long-ago mineralogy class,”You would think so, wouldn’t you?” often leaps to my brain when I ask someone a question and get a reply.

There’s a little James Hutton in every geologist.

Friday, August 19, 2011

So Many Flavors

"32 Flavors" is a song, written and performed by Ani DiFranco. Released in 1995, the song was later covered by Alana Davis. The title of the song is a play on Canton, Massachusetts-based ice cream store Baskin-Robbins and its well-known "31 flavors" slogan.

But Massachusetts was home to an earlier ice cream and restaurant empire, Howard Johnson’s started in the 1920s in Quincy. Howard Johnson also created the first franchise anywhere in the U.S. when an orange roof restaurant went up on Orleans on Cape Cod. Johnson created 28 flavors of ice cream for his fledgling restaurants, about the most he could imagine at the time.

Fast forward to the 2000s and the orange roofs have just about disappeared – from more than 800 at their peak to less than a dozen by 2005. The 28 ice cream varieties shrank down to 16 paralleling the chain’s decline.

Now, many independent ice cream establishments offer far more than 28 or 32 flavors. If you’re an ice cream lover you’d say we deserve it, and wouldn’t have it any other way! Cream ice cream is one of my personal favorites.

And I’ve sampled Moxie ice cream from the only establishment that makes the stuff – Kennebec Fruit Company store in Lisbon Falls, Maine. Horror writer Stephen King attended Lisbon Falls High School – but that has nothing to do with either Moxie or ice cream.

But in counting up the flavor choices, my all-time favorite comes from the Shirelles. The Shirelles were an American girl group in the early 1960s, the first to have a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 and were the first major female vocal group of the rock and roll era, preceding Motown as a crossover phenomenon with white audiences. Their song, “31 Flavors” was highlighted in the comedy classic, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Mad Scientists

I’ve never really read much of Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods and a good bit else). But I picked up his 2003 A Short History of Nearly Everything at our town’s Swap Shop the other day and have read through the first few chapters with great interest. He does an excellent job at explaining science topics with a layman’s clarity – quite readable. Although he doesn’t worry much about highlighting oddities among accomplished scientists. Bryson seems to relish in these revelations.

I love his description of Sir Isaac Newton:

Newton was a decidedly off figure – brilliant beyond measure, but solitary, joyless, prickly to the point of paranoia, famously distracted (upon swinging his feet out of bed in the morning he would reportedly sometimes sit for hours, immobilized by the sudden rush of thoughts to his head), and capable of the most riveting strangeness. …For all his brilliance, real science accounted for only a part of his interests.  At least half his working life was given over to alchemy and wayward religious pursuits. These were not mere dabbling but wholehearted devotions.

In the 1970s, an analyst found mercury in a strand of Newton’s hair at forty times the natural level. The “Mad Hatters” disease could explain a lot.

Books as Bread Crumbs

At the Swap Shop at our town’s recycling center (I still refer to it as “The Dump” since it’s located on the site of the now closed town landfill) you can drop off unwanted items that are too good to throw in the trash. Gus the proprietor will sort through the stuff and most of it will get set out for purchase (“repurposed” I think is the current term). While I already have way too much stuff stored in the nooks and crannies of my house, I usually stop and peruse the merchandise, especially the small stuff like books, CDs and old LPs. Why, I have three “repurposed” hardback books on my nightstand right now.

On the weekends people will drop off boxes of odds and ends, either the result of cleaning out a basement or kid’s closet, or maybe items that didn’t see at their Saturday yard sale. Sometimes when I stop by the shop to scan the latest wares I see boxes of books freshly dropped off and not yet sorted and shelved by Gus. I take note when these full cardboard boxes reflect a particular type of reading or genre. Dozens of children’s books in decent shape, a box of those expensive oversized gardening and landscaping volumes, or maybe a box full of those romance paper backs – the ones with the manly hunks on the covers doing something heroic, or romantic, or heroic-romantic.

The other day I came across a box that reflected someone’s (apparently past) spiritual quest. The books ranged the gamut from Dr. Phil and Oprah to Buddhist philosophy, to homeopathic healing, to yoga meditation, to all types of inner soul-searching techniques to Native American spiritualism. I rummaged through the entire oversized box and didn’t come across a single volume related to Christianity, not even one by some of the current avant garde Emergent Church purveyors such as Rob Bell or Brian McLaren. Had the owner of these books been burnt by traditional Christianity in the past and was seeking alternatives? Had they never really been exposed to Christian beliefs and practices, but the culture’s negativism toward Christians shut that door for them at square one? It would be interesting to know the life story behind this cardboard box of searchings. Did the searcher ultimately find any spiritual rest? I’m thinking the odds are against it judging by the bread crumb trail they left behind.

Technology is Not Your Friend

Technology doesn’t like me – at least not this week. It started with PowerPoint on my work laptop acting up and closing whenever I tried to save a file, or sometimes just switching slide views. Our IT group was going to take a look at it on Monday and give me a loaner but I was too busy to take my laptop next door. Then on Tuesday they were swamped and too busy. All the time I’m still working on presentations and proposals and nursing “the machine” along. I spent most of the day Wednesday working on a proposal only to discover at the end of the workday that the manual “Save As” function wasn’t working on my PowerPoint and my last two hours of work was lost. I spent that much of my evening on my home computer trying to reconstruct from memory what was lost. All’s well that ends well and I got the proposal finished today.

But yesterday morning my lowly, low-tech coffee maker tried to do me in. First thing this morning before shaving I grabbed the glass pot and poured the last three-quarter cup of cold coffee left over from the day before. I don’t mind reheating day-old coffee in a microwave – I like the idea of not wasting it and many brands reheat quite well (some do not I’ve discovered). Now my sister has proudly adopted the “Life is too short to reheat coffee” stance. Fine for her, she’s a successful veterinarian with her own practice. I’m… well not a veterinarian and we’ll just leave it at that.

Meanwhile, back at the kitchen… after pouring that three-quarters cup I washed out the empty glass pot and left it on the edge of the sink to drain. What I didn’t notice was my wife had pre-loaded the coffee maker the night before and set the timer to go off at some prescribed time in the morning. After heating my cup in the microwave I immediately went upstairs to shave. In my absence the timer went off and the coffee maker did what it was designed to do, only without a pot to collect all that resultant wonderful liquid. When I came back down into the kitchen my 10 cups of morning coffee, along with assorted grounds, had formed a nice puddle on my counter, running down the cabinet and forming a caffeine river along my floor. Oh man. While my laptop software causes me to mutter various dispersions against the Bill Gates Company, I wasn’t saying very nice things about Mr. Coffee either. Of course, the coffee flood was my own fault – I guess. But you know that “Auto” light on the coffee maker indicating the timer has been set is pretty darn small. Ultimately this incident must be the fault of some dang industrial engineer in Cincinnati, or Austin, or maybe Beijing. Yeah, probably Beijing.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Energy Is Here To Be Used

This two-part video was made by Allied Chemical way back in 1978.  Let's see, that was about 4 energy crises ago I think. I love the idea of singing through crises, or putting music of any sorts to political or science topics.  After Al Gore released his global warming book he should have followed it up with instructional music videos.

In the coming weeks I'll post some videos of physics songs and how to sing your way to food safety.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Geologist In Name Only (GINO)

Now see, my degrees are in geology, but I’m not a “typical” geologist. In college I had to take mineralogy but I somehow was able to avoid that dreaded structural geology course and heaven forbid, geology field camp – a summer trekking around dusty Wyoming in a 14 passenger van with a rock hammer and notebook in my hands stopping at every darn highway rock cut the prof could remember from HIS glory days. Did I mention that lowly geology students don’t always have the best personal hygiene and they talk about “Spodiunite” and other such topics all day and half the evening?

My concentration was environmental geochemistry, coastal processes, and watershed studies. So I chose schools accordingly and gravitated toward courses like “Estuarine Sedimentology” and “Clay Mineralogy” – courses which made my future in-laws look at me with puzzlement and ask, “Can you make a living at that??” – obviously deeply worried about what a ne’er-do-well their youngest daughter had latched onto.

So while I hold credentials as a certified professional geologist, I’m not exactly sure why I maintain them any more. There was a time when I used some geological skills in my work in groundwater studies, river and lake chemistry and interactions of pollutants, etc., but not for some time. Yet I still get the monthly magazines from the professional geology associations that I belong to.

I couldn’t resist posting this photo of these two Ph.D geologists, one winning an achievement award of some sort. Now I’m sure they are fine fellows, qualified in their research areas, and I would enjoy meeting them if the opportunity arose.  And heaven knows I’m not a fashion maven myself, as my family can wholeheartedly attest to, but on the other hand I’m not too anxious to be mistaken for a stand-in bass player for Jerry Garcia’s band. Even GINOs haven’t lost all of their pride.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"I Wanted More Kids"

Why don’t more women pursue careers in the sciences? A new study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, suggests a simple, if saddening, answer: Nearly half of women scientists say their career has caused them to have fewer children than they’d like. About a quarter of men also expressed similar disappointments–even though the male scientists polled seem to have about the same number of children as everyone else in the U.S. Read more.

I do recall a husband and wife team - both scientists - at my undergraduate college who made it pretty public that their careers came first and they were not intending to have children.  What surprised me most was the reaction of my Chem-Tech roommate, Mr. Sarcastic Analyst, who had the wife in one of his chemistry classes. He expressed his regret when upon learning of their position. Go figure. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Cyrkle

The third and final college group that I’ll profile.

The Cyrkle was a short-lived rock group from the mid-1960s. They avoided being forever more known as a one-hit wonder by being a two-hit wonder.

The band was formed by guitarists and lead singers Don Dannemann and Tom Dawes (bass guitar), who met while studying at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. The other members were Earl Pickens on keyboards and Marty Fried on drums. They were originally a "frat rock" band called The Rhondells but were later discovered and managed by Brian Epstein, the manager of The Beatles. Reportedly, John Lennon provided the unique spelling of their new name.

Before the band could get into the studio however, inner tensions temporarily broke them apart, leaving bassist Tom Dawes free to tour with Simon And Garfunkel. While on the road, Paul Simon played a song for Dawes called "Red Rubber Ball", a tune he co-wrote with Bruce Woodley of the Seekers. When the tour ended, The Cyrkle reconvened and Brian Epstein chose them to open for the Beatles on their 1966 summer tour before crowds of 70,000, a sharp contrast to the usual house of 200 to which they played during their early days. One of the other acts to perform at that time was Barry and the Remains, the second group that I profiled in this series.

The Cyrkle is best known for their 1966 song "Red Rubber Ball," which went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. I once read that Paul Simon was a little miffed at the Cyrkle’s chart success and had wanted his version with Art Garfunkel to come out first. But that may just be rumor.

The band had one more Top 20 hit, "Turn-Down Day," later in 1966, then disbanded in late 1967. Both Dawes and Danneman became professional jingle writers. Dawes later wrote the famous "plop plop fizz fizz" jingle for Alka-Seltzer. Danneman wrote jingles for Continental Airlines and Swanson Foods. He penned the original 7Up Uncola song. So apparently there is life after rock stardom.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy Birthday CACO

"A man may stand there and put all America behind him." Henry David Thoreau

The Cape Cod National Seashore turns 50 years old on August 7th. That part of the outer Cape holds special memories (For non-New Englanders reading this, everyone refers to Cape Cod as “The Cape” – unless you’re from Hatteras I suppose). Each summer in the late 50s and early 60s my parents would vacation for a week or two at a rather rustic cottage in the Wellfleet area. My wife and I honeymooned there, and we returned to these same cottages with friends years later. The cottages are perched on the high sand dunes facing Europe, distant across the expanse of the cold North Atlantic. The water on that side of the Cape is in fact darn cold and rough – better swimming conditions are found on the south facing beaches or on Cape Cod Bay. But in these rustic cottages, cradled among roving sand dunes, you can hear the rhythm of the pounding surf through the open windows. It does wonders for the quality of your sleep.

The Cape Cod National Seashore stretches over 43,500 acres of dunes, ponds, and scruffy woods covering almost 40 miles of Atlantic shoreline. It is our nation’s first ocean-front park created in controversy in 1961 by the passage of Senate bill S857 and signed into law by Massachusetts’ own John F. Kennedy. Controversial because the park boundaries include land that was already in the hands of Cape towns and private individuals. A capsule summary of those issues can be found here, and for those interested in delving into the blow-by-blow insider’s story, I’ll direct you to The Birth of the Cape Cod National Seashore by Francis P. Burling (Leyden Press).

The National Park Service (NPS) itself has done an admirable job of balancing the park’s recreational, sight-seeing, and conservation needs and public demands. This is a multi-function park well worth visiting. But full disclosure: I’m doubly biased because in addition to enjoying this part of Cape Cod for five decades, I’ve done environmental management work for the NPS nationally, including at Cape Cod National Seashore.

Little bit of trivia: The NPS uses abbreviations for each of its 391 national park units (includes monuments, historic sites, seashores, etc.). If the park name is one word, like Acadia National Park, the abbreviation is the first four letters of the main name – in this case ACAD. If the park’s main name has two or more words, the first two letters of the first two words are used. So Cape Cod National Seashore is shortened to CACO.

Last note. In addition to being associated with writers like Thoreau, the Cape is associated with my favorite naturalist and writer, Henry Beston. Beston wrote about his year of solitary living on the Outer Cape in the 1920s in The Outermost House, a Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. "Nature is a part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery man ceases to be man."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

But the Sign Says...

AVI just posted on the topic of Highway Safety.  Since I can't post photos in his comment section, I'll reply here with my favorite highway/transportation photos.  I use one or more of these in training classes - especially stressing clear communications, or the last one, roles & responsibilities.