Saturday, December 31, 2011

Boys, Architecture and Reading

I’m not sure what is the attraction between boys and: fire stations, trains, trucks, fill in the blanks.  Over the years I’ve maintained my interest in gasoline stations and railroad stations among other things.  For those two I think part of the link for me is to the unique architecture of those structures (in my teen years I briefly considered architecture as a career). Those structures can be totally functional, yet quite distinctive in design. You know them when you see them.  Not more than 20 miles from me is a small town wooden train station converted to a private home. That one is easy to spot as the owners purposely kept some features of the building intact – it looks like the train tracks were taken up just recently when in fact that spur line was abandoned many decades ago – a common story in New England. Other former stations and railroad outbuildings can be a little difficult to spot, but not if you train yourself (really, no pun was intended) to look for that distinctive railroad architecture.

Gasoline stations are the same way.  Roadside wooden buildings with an extended roof in the front held up by two pillars?  Probably a combo 1920s gas station and small store, especially if you’re in the South.  A compact art deco stucco building with a steeply slanted roof situated on an urban corner – now a ratty used car lot? Likely a candidate for a once spiffy 1930’s “fillin station.” Maybe ESSO or Sinclair.  I, for one, find it fun to spot and photograph these repurposed buildings.

I have a couple of kids’ picture books on the topic of gasoline stations, all vintage 50s readers, picked up at yard sales and used book stores. Aside from the architecture they display, the storylines make for interesting reading.

This boy doesn't know how to dress when visiting a greasy garage.  He looks like he's headed to a prom.  Must be a rich kid. 

 The Filling Station informs us: "The attendant is the man at the filling station. He puts gas and oil into the cars. He takes the money for the gas and oil. He keeps the money in a safe." Greedy capitalist! Where are the Occupiers when you need them?

Were there no child labor laws in the 1950s??

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Classic First Editions, Going Once...

I guess I did find a list of "Tops for 2011" that interested me. is a website for those selling used and rare books. An for that type of thing.  Here are their top 3 most expensive sales in the modern fiction, first edition category.  Interesting literary cross section, wouldn't you say?

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - $25,000
First edition of Lee’s first and only, Pulitzer Prize-winning, novel; signed “with best wishes Harper Lee.”

2. The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien - $20,447
First edition, first impression of Tolkien’s classic with a complete dust jacket featuring the requisite ink correction to the "e" of "Dodgeson" on the rear flap. Published in 1937, this first edition is highly valued because only 1,500 copies were printed.

3. Dr. No by Ian Fleming - $14,500
Published in 1958 by Jonathan Cape, this first edition of the first 007 novel was signed by Fleming.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Santa's Carbon Footprint

Holy Rudolph, did you know the gigantic size of Santa Claus’ carbon footprint? I forgot that you would need to take into account all those lumps of coal going to bad girls and boys (coal is almost pure carbon of course).  And then there’s the baking of those cookies and processing and transporting all that milk that each household leaves out for the old red man to munch on.  Whew!  But thankfully a thoughtful enviro-NGO has made the required calculations and now Santa Nation can sign on to the Kyoto protocols with a clear conscience.

Actually, I applaud the exercise by this NGO.  We need to lighten up a bit, especially during the holidays.  And the carbon footprint hijinx reminds me of silly grad student days sitting around converting random measurements to furlongs-per-fortnight with my fellow punch-drunk-from-studying scientists-in-training.

But it also reminded me that a respected ecological researcher published a straight-forward article in a very respected science journal calculating how many monsters Loch Ness could support knowing what we know (a lot) about the fishery productivity there and making some assumptions about the size and weight of a Loch Ness monster.  I think I recall that by his calculation the famous Loch could only support a monster and a half – not enough for a sustainable population of course. But the most interesting thing was the backlash from a few in the scientific community who thought it improper for a scientific journal to waste its space encouraging such nonsense and wrote scathing letters to the journal editor on this topic.  Of course we irreverent grad students thought this was all great stuff.  Prominent science bigwigs fighting in public.  Science shouldn’t be serious all the time, especially when you realize it is just a means and mechanism for describing this world we all inhabit.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day

I get bored by the barrage of Best of the Year stories and features that print and digital media trot out every year between Christmas and New Years.  I guess it could be considered the equivalent of the Christmas Newsletter sent by some friends, family members and former college roommates.  Interesting, but only in moderation.

So I have no Top 10 favorite/earth-shattering/soul-ratting/did-you-miss-this-one? lists of 2011 newsie items to offer.  Just three humble observations on this Boxing Day.

1) Do Americans realize that Santa Claus is a Canadian citizen? (check out his place of residency).   We don’t want to follow the Canadian system of socialized medicine, so why do we reorient all of U.S. society, including 100% of our buying habits, between mid November and December 25th to be lined up with this foreign celebrity and his cultish elves?

2) One of the Back To The Future stainless steel Deloreans just sold for $541,200.  Seems like a bargain since a rebuilt flux capacitor alone goes for that much or more.

3) The menu of a new Asian restaurant in our area offers this tempting umbrella drink: “Virgin Pine Colada.”  I didn’t try it but it sounds tempting.  Better than the old Pine Coladas that had no sap or pitch aroma at all.  Maybe I’ll treat all my friends to one on New Years Eve.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Educational Support for Sudanese Children

Life for Sudan is a 501(c)(3) formed in 2006 for the purpose of helping Sudanese refugees in this country and those trying to rebuild South Sudan after decades of war. Most of our organization’s focus is on one aspect of education or another.

As you might well suspect, facilities for pursuing secondary and higher education opportunities in South Sudan are still few and far between. Many Sudanese families and individual students seek their education in neighboring Uganda and Life for Sudan currently supports a number of children enrolled in schools there. Modest funds go a long way in that tuition (and in some cases board as well) can cost as little as $99.60 per semester (less than $300 a year) for secondary school.  For this modest fee we can help a child obtain the critical education that will make a lasting difference in her or his life and the lives of their family members.  Again as you might expect, we have many more requests from families than we can fill. For instance, here are three children from Magal Village in the Bor area of South Sudan in need of educational support:

Alier Ngang Chuei: 5th grade boy who lost one of his parents
Athiei Magot Riak: 6th grade girl, orphaned
Ayom Nur: 5th grade boy, orphaned

If you would like to help support our efforts, you can read more about our Christmas-time appeal on our website or go directly to the charitable site Network for Good to make a secure credit card donation.

We appreciate your support.  Life for Sudan has no paid staff members which allows us to maximize the benefit of the funds that friends and supporters donate to us.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Half-Priced Lawyers

Judging by the lower sign, I guess this business in North Las Vegas wasn't a good idea - even at half off.

Name It

Not sure what to say...  Maybe it's called a "chool" or possibly a "stair."

Bruce, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Say it ain’t so! Universal theme parks announced it will retire its Jaws adventure ride starring that oh-so-popular mechanical shark, “Bruce.” (Bruce was the name of director Stephen Spielberg’s lawyer and affectionately attached to the trio of troublesome mechanical sharks used to film the original Jaws movie in 1975 – see my September post).

The verdict according to the news article: "Jaws" really was a relic. We've got CGI sharks now, and CGI-based movie rides like "The Simpsons Ride" and "Shrek 4-D." The next attraction to open in Florida? A "Despicable Me" 3D movie.

Really, you think the Simpson’s or Despicable Me could replace Bruce the eating machine? Get serious.

But maybe the real story here is that reality was first replaced with a robot and now that robot is losing its job to a bunch of digits – zeros and ones and some fly-by-night 3D. Nothing is safe. Nothing sure. It’s unnerving. If it’s Bruce today, which one of us tomorrow?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Atheists Go to Church “For the Kids”

A new study conducted by Rice University in Texas reports that 17 percent -- about one out of five scientists who describe themselves as either atheists or agnostics -- actually go to church, although not too often, and not because they feel a spiritual yearning to join the faithful. They go “for the kids.” I haven't read the full Rice report yet but you can read the ABC news account here.

I guess I can see the stated explanation – the atheist parent wants to let their children make up their own mind. But the article doesn’t even hint at another possible reason. Perhaps the atheist parents aren’t 100% convinced that they have it all figured out and attend church services either for some spiritual insurance of sorts (“hey, it can’t really hurt, can it?”), or maybe to check the whole “God thing” out to see if they just might hear a persuasive argument or two along the way. You never really know what those wacky scientist might be thinking, now do you?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Save Us From The Vortex

If I could banish a word from the English language it might be “transform” or “transformation.” Why so, you ask? Scientists and engineers use this term all the time. Are you anti-science Mr. SpongeHead? No, and also no, I’m not reacting adversely to the transformer action figures in comics and films, even though I just don’t get them (hey, I raised two daughters, ask me about My Little Pony, I used to be able to name them all).

Basically, I have little patience with metaphysical movements and secular-spiritual programs that are out to transform me. I usually don’t have any problems ignoring such stuff, it is around us daily afterall, but when you combine it with geology, watch out man, now you’re treading on a turf you shouldn’t be on! A turf worth fighting over as a matter of fact.

On a recent vacation trip to the Southwest my wife and I spent a night and the better part of two days in Sedona, Arizona – red rock country. Great locale, great town. We loved our stay. And, yes, I was well aware of Sedona’s reputation as a “spiritual place” before traveling there. I was prepared for it to have an atmosphere not unlike a Boulder, San Francisco, Ann Arbor, even Burlington, VT – or most of Southern California. But I wasn’t prepared for subterfuge on the part of the local government. At the town’s Visitor’s Center, nice, mature, normally-dressed workers help you with directions, recommend accommodations and restaurants, and hand out helpful maps. It was one of these grandmotherly attendants who was helpfully pointing out sites of interest and suggesting day trips to us on a copy of the area map she was about to give us who stopped me in my tracks. This municipal version of a Wal-Mart greeter then pointed to a number of swirly designs at various positions on the map stretched before us and pronounced, “And you may want to visit some of our Vortex sites – you know, where the Earth’s energy is concentrated.” I pretty much make it a point not to cuss at grandmotherly greeters to begin with, but I was a bit too dumbfounded to do so even if I had really desired. I do know I looked like the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights as I just stared, my brain thinking, “Hoo Boy.” And I stared some more. I’m not sure how exactly, but I thanked Grandma and seemed to have gotten out of the Visitor’s Center without either swearing, or laughing.

Rather than me try to explain Vortex sites, let me have two websites do the talking. The first is from the official Visit Sedona website, created and maintained by the Sedona Chamber of Commerce. I’m not making this up.

What is the definition of "vortex"? "A place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that surrounds it." In other words, a vortex is a site where the energy of an area is concentrated. Because Sedona as a whole is known to be a spiritual power spot, a vortex site in Sedona is a place where one can feel Sedona's spiritual energy most strongly. Page Bryant, a medium, came up with the term while investigating sacred locations in the area.

Are all vortexes the same? Opinions differ. Some people say that all vortexes are equal in their ability to amplify energies; others will tell you that there are different qualities at different sites. Pete Sanders identifies some sites as upflow vortexes (where energy rises out of the earth); others as inflow vortexes (where energy flows into the earth). Upflow vortexes, such as mountains, mesas and pyramidal-type typography, are useful when one wishes to view life from a higher plane, to develop a more universal perspective or to send a prayer or affirmation out into the world. According to Sanders, upflow vortex sites make people feel positive, exhilarated and rejuvenated. "They literally unwind you and help you tap that universal oneness and harmony," he says. Bell Rock is an example of an upflow vortex. Inflow vortexes, such as valleys, canyons and caves, are good for introspection and spiritual problem solving. "If you want to understand and/or heal something from your past or go inward for past-life memory, those skills will be enhanced in an inflow vortex," says Sanders. Boynton Canyon is an example of an inflow vortex. According to Sanders, most of Sedona (excluding cliffs and mesas) is a huge inflow area because it lies in a valley cut by Oak Creek.

How do I find the vortex spot when I get to the site? There is no "x" that marks the spot. The entire area is considered to be a vortex. This makes it much more accessible. A visitor can decide to linger at the base, take a gentle walk or climb to the apex. How will I experience a vortex? Each person will experience a vortex differently. Possibilities include new insights, intense feelings of joy or release, sense of wellbeing, a physical healing, new or heightened spiritual awareness. After working with nearly 5,000 people, Andres has observed that Sedona encourages all kinds of shifts and that vortexes are real. "But unless you trust your own ability to sense," says Andres, "it may be difficult to tell what, if anything, is really happening."

Why doesn't everyone feel the same effect? Everyone is different and so are their experiences. While one person might see colors or energetic swirls, another might simply feel more supported and uplifted.

The second site is the business website of two folks who are making a living off of Vortex sites. They used to work in Sedona but, by a strange quirk of luck and using their Sedona-learned skills, they found Vortexes both inside and outside of their home right in Santa Rosa in northern CA. No word as to whether they had to pay the Sedona Chamber of Commerce any royalty fees or anything.

Vortex, which means whirling energy, is a site on the earth's surface which emanates measurable high levels of electro-magnetic energy. Several well known vortex sites are located in the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, AZ, and many famous structures were built at vortex sites around the world, including Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramid in Egypt.

Each chakra in the human body also is a vortex site of heightened energy and stored information. Human vortex energy is affected by earth vortex energy, often through accelerated dreams, visions, past life memories, mental clarity, chakra cleansing and balancing, creativity and physical healing.

Since Spring Equinox 2001, 8 Earth Vortex sites and 2 Portals have been activated at The Crossroads, the small parcel of land where Jan and Marystella live.

Each of the vortices and portals, located at 9 sites at The Crossroads, has a specific gatekeeper, a clear purpose and multiple lessons. Living in these energies has been a long and amazing journey for Marystella and Jan. Their teachers include the Land and her Ancestors, the Spirit of the Redwood trees and the Mermaid Gatekeeper at the Water Vortex. They've been invited into the Akashic Records' Circle of Remembering, embraced by the Unconditional Love of the Goddess and heard the Song of the Sirens. The gifts Jan & Marystella have received from Land and Spirit are given back as guidance on your Journey.

Your yearning, by any name - more money, less stress, new relationship, peace on earth, creative outlet, spiritual connection, physical health - is a Call to Action. It's a call to Grow your Self, Vibrate your Essence, Live your Purpose.

If you're ready to cross the next threshold into a terrain beyond your old beliefs, to lift the veil of forgetting and embrace your deepest remembering, welcome to the Journey. Now is the time to transform the life you "think" you need to live, into Living the Intention of your Life.

By the way, after your Vortex Journey in Jan and Marystella’s backyard or laundry room, you can purchase Vortex Green Jewelry from them, “lovingly crafted and energized in accelerated Earth Vortex Energy.”

I’m thinking of whipping off an e-mail to the federal Department of Energy to see if they’ve caught wind of this Vortex energy source yet. With it we could put the final kibosh on that pesky proposed tar sands pipeline from Canada. We might need to drill an Accelerated Earth Vortex (AEV) well in Jan and Marystella’s laundry room though. I’m sure they won’t mind.