Welcome to Chris Johnson's Lost Pages.


The Attic

Being the place where everything goes after I think everyone has read it who might care. Dead storage. Fun to rummage around in every once in awhile.

From Rant-a-Rama

3/23/2010: The Wind in the Willows Uncensored

One of my family's favourite books is The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. It has illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard, who also illustrated the original Winnie the Pooh books. The Wind in the Willows (hereafter TWITW) was first published in 1908, with subsequent publication in 1933 and later.

Bob (my mother; my brother and I always called our parents by their first names) read it to Rusty and I when we were little, and that copy of the book, pretty badly dog-eared and battered, is now in Rusty's hands. I got hold of a later edition that actually belongs to Nephew Richard (I'll have to get it to him one of these days). It was published in 1960 as a Golden Anniversary issue, with the original illustrations plus some new color illustrations. These are also by Shepard, but are watercolors rather than pen-and-ink as were the originals.

Okay, enough background. What happened was this: Sabrina needed to do a book report, and didn't start it in a very timely manner, so we were under the gun to complete it in just a few days. We had already read TWITW and I know it pretty much by heart anyway, so she elected to report on it. The book report went fine. No rant required there. But while I was reviewing and rereading this 1960 edition, I thought one illustration might be missing.

The illustration belonged in the story "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn." Here it is, as scanned from Rusty's 1933 edition:

The Piper
Understand, I do not have the two books side-by-side, so maybe there were a few other pictures that are different or missing. But I don't think so. Makes me wonder why that one got left out. Or maybe I don't wonder so much. I've often seen references to The Piper on Wiccan/Pagan Websites and newsgroups, so latter-day Pagans at least like the illustration and accompanying story, and I guess the publisher was a bit shy of it because of its pagan associations.

For what my opinion is worth, I doubt Grahame or Shepard drew that connection at all. They both were well-educated Englishmen, and in their day no one could claim to be educated without a very thorough familiarity (and probably some sympathy) with Greek mythology. So I think Grahame just told a story that he felt good about and that made sense given that his characters were all animals, and probably not Church of England.

So, anyway, there's the Piper, and if you have a censored copy of TWITW, just print it out and paste it in. It belongs somewhere around the middle of Chapter 7.

From Rant-a-Rama

3/12/2010: Hooray! I'm Obsolete!

I got my ham radio license in the 70's, before cell phones or cable TV or even the Internet. Back then, 2-meter repeaters (the technological predecessor to cell phones) were a big deal, and the minimum Amateur license grade that could use them was the Technician class. The Tech license test consisted of a few dozen radio-related technical and regulatory questions, and a 5 word-per-minute Morse code test.

Morse code proficiency was a prerequisite for any class of ham license, as well as some classes of commercial FCC license. It was a big nuisance for me. I already knew the tech stuff and had no intention of ever using Morse code, or CW as it is called in ham circles. But there it was, a clear requirement, dictated by US Federal law and international convention. Learning Morse held up my licensing for a good long time, as I didn't seem to have any talent for it. But I muddled my way through and eventually passed the tech license. Later, I even got better at it and passed the General Class exam, which required 13 word-per-minute proficiency.

I made a few CW contacts, but stayed a VHF/HF-phone kind of guy for the most part. Then around 1990 other interests intervened and I more or less dropped ham radio as a hobby. I kept the equipment, turned it on once in awhile, and renewed my license when it came due every ten years, but I didn't really use it much or follow current events on the ham scene.

My license came up for renewal again recently. I did the paperwork and sent it in, and also ordered a copy of FCC Regulations Part 97, which covers ham radio. I figured I'd better have a look at it since I didn't want to break any new laws if I turned on the radio for some reason. I skimmed the book when it came. Glancing over the exam requirements, I noticed something was missing.

The Morse code test element was not there! The FCC dropped it while I wasn't looking. I found an old press release on the FCC Website  announcing the rules change, but it isn't dated so I'm not sure when it happened. According to the press release, "This change eliminates an unnecessary regulatory burden that may discourage current amateur radio operators from advancing their skills and participating more fully in the benefits of amateur radio."

I'm not so sure about that. Not meaning to sound too much like an old fart, I have to say that anyone who finds deciphering 5 WPM Morse enough to discourage them from doing something, probably didn't want to do the thing very badly in the first place. (That's the trouble with kids these days; they ain't got no grit... grouse, grumble, bitch.)

I think what the press release implied, but didn't say, is that CW is basically an outmoded form of communication. Modern communication is going digital, with computers translating the text, voice, video, or whatever into bits that get sent out at speeds thousands of times faster than the fastest ham fist. Slightly less modern communication uses FM or AM single-side-band, which carries less information per second but is fairly simple to build and use. So CW is obsolete.

Personally, I'm not really that sorry to see it go in spite of having to learn the damn code. I do believe, though, that obsolescence is not that convincing an argument for a several reasons; the primary one being that CW transmitters can be cobbled up from junk for almost zero money, in very little time -- an important consideration in the third world or in emergency situations. Besides, if you're going to talk about obsolescence, you might as well scrap ham radio altogether. Who needs it, when you can talk to anyone in the world with a cell phone? If you prefer text or video, a laptop with a wi-fi connection handles these modes much better than any HF or VHF ham setup. And if you are way out in the boonies you can hook up via sat phone.

But all of that stuff requires an infrastructure that might not be there in the event of a serious emergency. And emergency communications are the prime justification for ham radio's claim to its part of the radio spectrum. The reasoning goes, society needs ham operators to be on hand when the big one (whatever it may be) hits. Kids with cell phones and laptops won't be enough.

But following the same reasoning a bit further, advanced digital gear may not be that useful when the chips are down, either. It is possible that CW will be all there is in some cases. Bottom line: Okay, it is obsolete, but if I'm (for some outlandish reason) stuck in a desperate situation and all I have is a spark gap transmitter built from bailing wire and crashed airplane parts, I hope some other old fart still remembers his Morse.

From Rant-a-Rama

2/24/2010: Global warming: Yep, it still is.

Bill in snowI received the picture at left from my cousin Bill in New Jersey, who (like all the East-Coasters) has seen lots of snow this winter. In his email, he said: "Does anybody have Al Gore's email address? If you do send this to him and Let him know this is #3 snowfall for this season with #4 on the way."

Now, Cousin Bill is no dummy, and I am sure that he is just trying to have some fun while housebound. He understands that unusually cold weather does not a climate change disprove. But every time there is a cold snap somewhere some prominent conservative shouts "so what about global warming?" or words to that effect.

Understand, I'm no climatologist, but as a recreational sailor I make it my business to understand weather and climate. Also the difference between the two. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, weather is "the condition of the atmosphere at a given place and time with respect to heat or cold, presence or absence or rain, etc." while climate is the "condition of a region in relation to prevailing atmospheric phenomena, as temperature, precipitation, etc." So the key difference between weather and climate is scope in time and space: weather describes the here-and-now of atmospheric conditions, while climate describes atmospheric conditions over long periods of time and large geographic areas. Global warming refers to climate change. That is, the overall trend toward higher temperatures over a long period of time and a large region; i.e., the globe.

So it snowed like dickens all over the East Coast. What that means is that Cousin Bill has experienced lousy weather, not lousy climate, and I'm sure he understands that. But for those who still question global warming based on transitory weather patterns, let me explain:

Global warming refers to the evident trend toward higher temperatures worldwide as surveyed over recorded history. Within this increasing temperature trend there have been and will continue to be periods of below-average temperatures in any given area.

In fact, as I understand it, the average increase in global temperatures puts more energy in the atmosphere, which leads to heavier weather generally: more extreme temperatures (both hot and cold), more intense storms, less than average precipitation in many places, more precipitation in others. On average, the earth isn't getting any wetter or drier, but the distribution of water is changing. On average, the global temperature is not climbing very fast, but it is apparently climbing. The real questions are:
  1. Is this a real long-term trend, or just the result of a climate cycle we don't understand yet?
  2. Is global warming really a result of human activities?
I don't know. I'm not sure anyone else does, really. But here's the thing: what is the downside of assuming that global warming is happening and that we are causing it?

Suppose we just assume it is a real problem, and try to solve it. As spinoffs, we will use less fossil fuel and more renewable energy. We will have cleaner air. We will develop more efficient machines. We'll increase our support of new technologies. Maybe some older industries will suffer and some jobs may be lost, but old industries and obsolete jobs are lost all the time. That's the way the system works: you have an idea that's better than someone else's, you develop it, make money while the other person loses some and maybe goes out of business. Next year it may be your turn to lose so someone else makes more money. Or, you keep up with technology and adapt and survive. The global warming issue isn't really much different, except that it is up to all of us to adapt and survive.

So don't worry, Bill. Summer will be here before you know it, and I bet it will be a good hot one.

From Rant-A-Rama

2/3/2010: Stupid School

Many years ago, my friend Jinx observed that when a rank-and-file employee was promoted to management, the company (Jinx worked for AT&T at the time) sent the employee to management school, where he/she learned to be a prick. Jinx deduced that was the school's primary goal, because when the new manager came back to the job he acted like one (either prick or manager; the two terms were synonomous to Jinx's mind). So Jinx sometimes remarked that so-and-so got promoted and was sent to Prick School.

I guess I was generally more fortunate in my employment. In my many years of working for high-tech firms I only came across a few pricks, and they certainly weren't all in management. Most of the people I worked for were pretty decent types, consistently trying to do the right thing. But time and again I saw these reasonably caring, concientious, and intelligent people make stupid decisions. They would look at a situation, evaluate it carefully, and then do something that most of the rank-and-file knew was absurd. As a production-line guy and a much younger man, I just assumed that their decisions were based on information not available to me and that things would all work out. But sometimes they didn't.

For example, one of my early employers made burglar alarm equipment. It was a small company, and operating somewhat hand-to-mouth, but had steady, if modest, sales and profits. Their bread-and-butter came from two solid product lines, with a third ripe for expansion. The company was approached by another to supply custom hardware for a large-scale project. My employer scaled back work on the existing products and sunk capital into the new project. I was leery of the customer: he resembled a couple of people I'd had contact with before in the alarm business, which, by the way, has its share of slick operators. I warned my boss of my misgivings. But they went ahead with the project anyway, and I assumed they knew the guy better than I did. Anyhow, about that time I accepted a job offer from another company and it stopped being my problem.

I got busy and lost touch with my former employers, but one afternoon I had occasion to drive by the old factory and found it closed up and empty. I called my old boss at home:

Me: "So did you guys move or what? The shop is locked up."
Him: "Oh. No, we closed the business. Our big new customer dried up and disappeared, and we didn't  have enough cash on hand to ramp up the old lines. Please don't say I told you so."

I didn't. But it shook my faith in the omniscience of management. My new employer (a Fortune 500 company) shook it again, making similar silly decisions, the biggest and worst being the pursuit of a high-profile R&D project that looked to me like a huge money-hole. Management peopled the place with engineering consultants while ignoring production-line talent. The consultants weren't idle, though: they drank lots of coffee while the division lost millions. The parent company closed the division not long after that.

That company also gave me the opportunity to watch people on the promotion path and observe their behavior on the way up. Something happened. I Couldn't tell exactly what, but they seemed to become increasingly out-of-touch with production-line and sales force information and wisdom, and made progressivly sillier decisions.

(Heck, I even climbed the promotion ladder a bit myself. But in my case I stayed on the manufacturing floor, and always hated meetings and memos, so missed most the management nonsense. I know I made some stupid decisions here and there. But I know they were due to basic mental shortcomings and were not in any way mysterious.)

Anyway, I wondered about how managers differed from other folks, and how they might have got that way. Maybe it was because --
  • Their goals changed from production-related to finance-related?
  • Accounting practices led them to emphasize short-term results rather than than long-term goals?
  • Upper-management financial expectations demanded attention to profits rather than product quality?
  • Insecurity led them to regard their promotion prospects to be more important than the company's future?
  • Promotion led them to believe they were intrinsically more knowledgable and capable than the rank-and-file?
  • They took their lead from incompetent (yet promoted) upper-managers?
Or, oh, I dunno. Maybe they all just went to Stupid School.

From Rant-A-Rama

2/1/2010: Confusing fame and heroism (edited for rant reduction)

A few days ago, I wrote:

"A 16-year-old girl, Abby Sunderland, just left Marina Del Rey on her way around the world in a 40 foot sailboat. She plans to make a nonstop, unassisted circumnavigation via Cape Horn, and expects to complete her trip in five or six months. The public respose has been mixed, but is mostly of the '"go, Abby!"' variety.

"My reaction is a little different: I'm not quite ready to accuse her father of child endangerment, but it is a near thing....  My problem with Abby's attempt is that she has no excuse for tackling the trip at age 16, except to break a record and get famous. She has a long life ahead of her (if stupidity or bad luck doesn't cut it short) and plenty of time for sailing. She should spend the next six months in school and with her friends and family, not alone at sea.... I am concerned about the backlash that may be directed toward the solo sailing community in the event of her failure."

Since then, Abby has had some technical difficulties relating to energy management and some equipment failures, and has decided to put in to Cabo San Lucas for repairs and modifications. This shows (at least) a healthy attitude regarding her desire to break a record vs. her desire to make a safe journey. I still think the whole thing is a foolish attempt at record-grabbing and she would be better off waiting a few years and making a more leisurely journey, but her willingness to change her plans shows maturity I wouldn't expect from the average 16-year-old. If every record-seeker showed that sensibility we would all be better off.

(By the way, another reason for the editing and rant-reduction is that I realize I was way too strident in that last post. Sorry about that.)

From Rant-A-Rama

1/15/2010: All about viola bows

Age eventually catches up with everything, even string instrument bows.

I discovered this when Sabrina's viola bow started losing hair. At first it was just a few, then they started to fall out faster, until she was down to about 20 hairs where there should have been 150 or so. I asked Peggy Whitson about this, and she explained that this was just something that happened, and that they often lost a lot of hair at once since it was all the same age and subject to the same wear. She also explained that they could be re-haired, although she couldn't recommend anyone local who could do it.

So I went Internet-searching and found that a typical re-hair cost about $30 plus shipping both ways. I looked at Sabrina's bow. It didn't look that complicated. I did some research and found a book that explained how to re-hair violin bows. It still didn't look that complicated. I should have smelled a rat right there, but instead thought "how hard can this be?" Famous last words -- but I at least bought a cheap backup bow for Sabrina to use while I messed with hers. It cost $30 on Ebay, shipping included.

The first thing I learned was that it is impossible to work on a bow unless you have a way to hold it down. They are funny-shaped things and normal clamps won't do it. I needed a re-hair jig; something that you don't get at the local music store or almost anywhere else. I had to make one. It took a couple of days. Luckily, I have a pretty well-equipped shop and only needed to buy a few tools (a router table for $50 and two bits for $25 each but I needed them anyway I told myself).

Then I had to get bow hair, which I found for a little less than $5 a hank. Also I needed cotten gloves to keep my dirty hands off the hair while I was working on it: about $5 for a pack of 50. Then I had to make a few small tools; basically re-shaping some old screwdrivers. Just a couple hours work and maybe $20 in screwdrivers that were worn out anyway. Then I was all ready to start on her bow.

(The accountants in the audience are already looking at my expenses, I know. I am basically a cheap person and in now way wealthy and I assure you I was looking at them too, but my justification was that this was the first of many re-hairs I would do and the cost in tooling would eventually be made up. Go ahead and laugh.)

To be on the safe side, I borrowed a ruined bow from the SLO Symphony and took it apart. It was a cello bow, and as I learned later, not that good a representation for what I was in for with a viola bow, but the experience was not too discouraging, so I decided to go ahead with Sabrina's bow.

Getting it apart: no problem. The little wooden wedges in the frog and tip broke on disassembly, but my reading had warned me that this would probably happen and that I'd have to make new ones. I knew basically how to do that, but sizing is difficult and woodworking something no bigger than a well-used pencil eraser is no joke. It took about three hours to make the frog wedges, with half a dozen failures.

So, anyway, the procedure is this: I tie a constrictor knot at the end of the new hair, dab on some hide glue, and let that set up. Then trim the hair off square at the knot and push it into the hole in the frog. Push down the new wedge and push the slide over it. Slide won't push. Trim the wedge. Slide still won't push, and the frog is starting to crack! Backed off the slide and looked at it, discovered it was backwards, then tried again and it went on that time. The spreader wedge (it goes under the hair) is relatively easy and just takes two tries, and the frog is done.

Now all the hair is hanging loose from the frog and I comb it out. No big problem there, except what you would expect combing two feet of horsehair. A very fine-tooth comb actually holds the hair well, so I don't need to make another clamp. Figuring the length is another matter. I am sure experienced luthiers just know how long the hank should be, but I have to eye it up and guess. So I make my best guess and tie it off, glue it, and wait a bit for it to set.

Now the tip wedge: It fits OK without the hair; is too big with the hair under it so I make another one and set the hair in place and wedge it and it won't stay in. Make another wedge a bit larger. Got that one right. Assemble the tip and let the glue dry, then reassemble the bow. (The frog has to be off the bow to fit the tip wedge.)

The hair is too long and won't tighten.

Pull out the tip wedge, as it is much easier to remove than the frog wedge, remove the hair and tie a new knot 1/2 inch behind the old one, reasoning that the frog has over 1/2 inch of travel so I should be about right. Reassemble the tip. Let the glue dry. Reassemble the bow. Now (did you guess?) the hair is too short and the tip wedge flies out when I try to get the frog back on.

If I did this for money and charged $30 per bow I'd be making about $1.50 an hour. Shar Music has student bows for $35. I am ordering one today.

From Thoughts for Today -- Valentine's Day, 2010

I wrote this about thiry years ago, back when I thought it was worth my time to try to understand women. My motivation and expectations have changed somewhat, but it is still my annual Valentine's day sentiment.

The Rules

Once every year there comes a time
In the month of February
That confectioners and florists love,
But many men find scary.

If we buy perfume she thinks it's strong,
If candy, it wrecks her diet.
Lingerie between *friends* is wrong.
Besides, she'll never wear it.

Cards and notes would be okay,
Except we don't know what to say.
If we're too sweet she'll think it's cheek
If we're to clever, then she'll never
Think we care so we don't dare
With her our feeling really share.

But Valentines would be so cool
If we men only understood
And could just find some simple rule
Or possibly, if women could

SAY what they want, or plainly show it.
There, I've said it loud and clear,
But their response will be, I fear,
"Well, as for what we want, my dear,
"We expect you to just know it!"

"Six demerits for you, bufoon!"
(Oh, well... St. Pat's Day is coming soon.)

This page last updated June 8, 2010. Copyright C. Johnson, 2010. All rights reserved. Please see Legal Notices.