Thursday, March 26, 2015

Buckminster Fuller and Pi

Came across a super-nifty quote by renowned, eccentric-in-a-good-way master scientist Buckminster Fuller while struggling through his book Synergetics 2:

"My contemporaries and I were taught that in order to design a complete and exact sphere and have no materials left over, we must employ the constant known as pi, which I was also taught was a 'transcendentally irrational number,' meaning that it could never be resolved.  I was also informed that a singly existent bubble was a sphere; and I asked, To how many places does nature carry out pi when she makes each successive bubble in the white-cresting surf of each successive wave before nature finds out that pi can never be resolved?  And at what moment in the making of each separate bubble in the universe does nature decide to terminate her eternally frustrated calculating and instead turn out a fake sphere? ... "

- 986.088


This - this! - is what passionately intrigues me about mathematics, stuff that I may not be able to enunciate or even understand, but stuff that demands a response from me.

More of this please!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Argh!!! Technical Difficulties!!!

My trusty PC is fighting what seems to be a losing war against a worm.  Can't seem to rid Old Faithful of it.  Antivirus software doesn't seem to be working.  Booting up in safe mood, nope.  System Restore, nada.

Hope I don't have to scrap her.  Bought her a couple of weeks before Little One was born ... and Little  One just celebrated her half-birthday.  Halfway between ten and eleven.  OK.  Maybe things'll have to change soon around here.

I have been blogging, though.  Just unable to post.  Maybe I can figure out how to do it all on the iPad here.  Hate that, though, cuz to me it's like writing longhand.

Oh well.  Once more into the breach!

Monday, March 23, 2015

John Carter of Mars

A week or two ago I was in B&N looking to buy a replacement for a library book Patch barfed on.  Yes, you read that correctly.  We call this poor unfortunate library book the “Barf Book.”  They didn’t have a new version of this old book, so I had to place an order for it.  Fortunately, I had a coupon from one of their Kids Club emails we get, so the Barf Book only set me back a buck or two.

Anyway, heading out I spotted a bunch of those B&N custom-made compendiums on one of the tables  near the front door.  You know, one of those three- or four-hundred page books with the faux-antique cover which might hold all the collected works of Jane Austin or Edgar Allan Poe, Abraham Lincoln or H.P. Lovecraft.  My eyes instantly alit upon a thick volume of Edgar Rice Burroughs pulpy “John Carter of Mars” series.  I picked it up and examined it as a jeweler inspects a rare, unexpected gem.

The Burroughs Omnibus (as I immediately and pompously decided to refer to it) contained five novels:

A Princess of Mars
The Gods of Mars
The Warlord of Mars
Thuvia, Maid of Mars
The Chessmen of Mars

The price tag was $20.  Hmm.  A little too pricey for my taste.  I shuffled out the door, hopped into the Pilot, drove onto the highway to head home.

But – but – but – … I knew I had to have it.

Five books!  That’s four bucks a book.  Plus, I have my 10% member iscount.  And – wait! – I have a coupon on my desk at home for an additional 20% off!  I get them a couple times a year from B&N. 

The justifications began.  $20, less 30%, is $14.  Divide that by five, and you get $2.80 a novel.  Not bad.  What I usually score for a used paperback, and this is brand spanking new. 

Now, I’m not the hugest Edgar Rice Burroughs fan.  In fact, as an adult, I only read one: A Princess of Mars, and I read that sometime in the early 90s.  I remember not being too impressed with it, but that may be because I was in a one of life’s particularly rough patches (girlfriend breakup, full-time school as well as full-time work, shortage of band buds to hang with).  But as a kid, I devoured them.  Don’t remember names or plots or anything else, but I remember reading them a lot and enjoying them a lot.  Under the bleachers at the football games my dad would coach.  In fourth grade when we were supposed to be doing classwork.  In the backseat of the Pinto wagon as my family drove here and there.  In our semi-finished basement.  So there could very well possibly be a huge nostalgia payout, one I may have overlooked during that initial re-read more than two decades ago.

Saturday I went to B&N with my coupon and picked it up.  Along with the Barf Book.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Birds

Serious question: am I a bad father for watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds with my daughters, ages ten and six, on a snowy afternoon off from school and work?

My answer: No.

My wife’s answer: You are a good and loving father to our children, but the movies you select to watch with them can merit a visit from Child Protective Services.

Now, Little One, my oldest daughter, is remarkable for her age.  Either that, or she is completely unremarkable.  What I mean by this zen phrase is that she is very much unlike me when I was her age in our reactions to intense science fiction and horror movies.  We both eat them up, and some of our best times together are laying on the floor in the living room watching these oldies on the big flatscreen TV.  But my reaction watching these as a kid – often alone, mostly on small, black-and-white TV sets, mostly at night sneak-watching them without my parents being aware – are a complete one-eighty to what she experiences.  Movies that terrified me as a kid, such as The Thing From Another World, which we watched a few weeks back, she chuckles about.

I’m sure a lot of this has to do with her cutting her teeth on CGI.  The special effects of today are light-years ahead of those I watched as a youngling.  We just saw 1953’s The War of the Worlds the other day, and the fact that she could see the strings holding up the Martian war machines so distracted her it kept her out of the plot and atmosphere the film famously delivers on.  And she’s pretty intelligent for her age, too, so I don’t necessarily hold that against her.

So it was with some trepidation on my part that I selected The Birds yesterday.  She wanted desperately to see it, a combination of me and the wife talking it up, and me and the wife forbidding it until she reaches her teen years.  Would the dated 1963 special effects make her overlook the cinematic masterpiece that is the film?  And how could I negotiate it so six-year-old Patch could watch it without being scarred for life every time she spots a sparrow in the back yard?

Well … both children were entertained.  I kept Patch at my side to cover her eyes when scenes got too intense (such as when Tippi Hedren is attacked by birds in the attic towards the end of the film).  Besides, she grew bored with the flick every now and then and would wander into different rooms to play with her toys.  Little One was riveted and absolutely loved it, giving it an A+, and jumped at least three or four times, the most physical fear-twitch being a great example of what makes Hitchcock a rarely imitated master:

Tippi Hedren is sitting on a bench outside a small, one-room school overlooking the ocean.  The bird attacks have started, and being random and inexplicable, have everyone in town on edge and unsure of what’s happening.  Behind her is a playground.  A crow alights onto one of the monkey bars.  Then, another.  Ms. Hendron turns nervously to glance at them.  We watch her fumble for a cigarette.  Back to the wide angle, and we see there are now five or six crows on the bars.  Close-up to her face, exhaling smoke, wondering if she’s going insane.  Then wide angle – and now there are a hundred crows, crowding out the monkey bars, on power lines, on distant roofs –

And Little One instantaneously jolts next to me.

Ah, Hitchcock.  We may need to watch your entire oeuvre this spring and summer.

But no Psycho until High School!  Promise!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Club of Exclusionary Über-Nerdness

Similar to that fine line between Genius and Stupidity, the exists an even more rarefied and nebulous border betwixt the Nerdy and the Cool.  Normally, I pride myself on circumscribing and delimiting this boundary, exploring its every nook and cranny, feets planted safely on the side of Cool despite such fearlessly-abandoned flirting with the Nerdy that the most stony heart of the the most snarky of Millennials would shatter like it was basted in liquid Nitrogen. 

That being said, I now am firmly convinced I reside within an exclusive club the paradoxically is increasingly unfashionable the more exclusionary it becomes.  And I may have crossed the border.
Imagine a Venn diagram.  You know, that’s the two big circles that intersect, forming three groups which then have shared and unshared traits. 

Only this Venn diagram features one humongous circle.  A tiny dwarf circle sits adjoins it.  If the first circle is the radius of the solar system, the second would be, oh, say the area of New Jersey.  The space of intersection, the portion where the solar system and New Jersey share the same turf, is about the size of the diameter of a Hydrogen atom.

Got that?  Good.  There will be a surprise quiz on it sometime next week.

What do these circles represent?  What is this intersection, this Club of Exclusionary Über-Nerdness?

 The big circle represents fathers with two daughters.  Maybe there are, conservatively speaking, 1.5 million of us here in the United States.

The second circle represents people who know the lyrics of “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” as performed by Leonard Nimoy.  There are, perhaps, a thousand of us here in the country.

Where they intersect is known as the Region of Fathers Who Have Taught Their Daughters to Sing “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” as Performed by Leonard Nimoy.  There are six of us on the planet. 

For the life of me I can’t figure out whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.  All I know is, the girls have fun singing it, though they know it is a thing which should be capital-F Forbidden outside the walls of my home.  If they ever want a social life, that is.

Your homework assignment is to google the above stated lyrics, if you are made of truly metal mettle.  Join the second circle!  And if you have daughters, teach them the ballad and become the seventh member of the Club of Exclusionary Über-Nerdness!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Ray of Hope

“Without resistance, you can do nothing.”

 - Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), French writer, playwright, artist and filmmaker

At this current rate of resistance, both internal and external, expect to be voting for Hopper for President and CEO of the World in 2016.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Intellects Vast, Cool, and Unsympathetic

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.  With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter.  It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same.  No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable.  It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days.  At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise.  Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.  And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

 - The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells, Book One: The Coming of the Martians, Chapter One: The Eve of War, opening lines

No one would have believed in the early years of the twenty-first century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.  With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of our empire over this world.  Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us.

- The War of the Worlds, opening lines of the 2005 movie directed by Steven Spielberg

Apart from removing all references to “Mars,” the movie version summarizes nicely what Wells was trying to do setting up the great conflict between mankind and the Martians.  For what it’s worth I prefer the original, but anything narrated by Morgan Freeman has the impact equivalent to at least a dozen Victorian science fiction wordsmiths. 

I’d have to give it some thought, but some well-developed intuition tell me this paragraph belongs in the Top Ten Greatest Openings of Science Fiction Literature.  In fact, listening to the audio CD commuting in my car to work today, I recalled most of the sentences, not word-by-word, but phrase-by-phrase, and I probably haven’t heard them since seeing the Spielberg movie in the theaters a decade ago, nor read the Wells novel more than twice that ago.

Give me a few days to fill out the other nine on that Top Ten list

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick’s Prayer:

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort me and restore me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in the hearts of all that love me,
Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger.

There seems to be more than a few versions of this prayer, at least from what I’ve seen in my travels, but all seem to contain the above lines as the central, unifying idea.  Which I kinda like.  I used to think that this type of absolute immersion in Christ is something only for the saints, but the older I get (and particularly the more I deal with children and co-workers) the more I think it is an attainable goal for the majority of us regular joes here on planet earth, a.k.a. the Church Militant. 

Anyway – this holiday used to be an excuse for me to get drunk.  Still is for vast swaths of the population.  Nowadays, I’m calmer and wiser (at least, I hope), so I intend to have a little cupcake celebration with the little ones followed up with some good reading (C.S. Lewis, baseball, and the history of the Catholic Church).

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

St. Paul

… a little man with a big, bold head.  His legs were crooked, but his bearing was noble.  His eyebrows grew close together and he had a big nose.  A man who breathed friendliness.  He himself says that his appearance was unimpressive.  He was, he admits, no orator; not, in externals, a charismatic leader.  But the authentic letters which survive him radiate the inner charisma: they have the ineffaceable imprint of a massive personality, eager, adventurous, tireless, voluble, a man who struggles heroically for the truth and then delivers it in uncontrollable excitement, hurrying ahead of his powers of articulation.  Not a man easy to work with, or confute in argument, or rebuke into silence, or to advance a compromise: a dangerous, angular, unforgettable man, breathing friendliness, indeed, but creating monstrous difficulties and declining to resolve them by any sacrifice of the truth.

- from A Short History of Christianity, page 4, by Paul Johnson.

O to know such a man!  I’ve known my share of charismatic men, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who came a percentage-point close to that description.  What I would give to meet and work with someone like him …

The best I can come up with, it seems, is through the imagination.

Note: link above was written while listening to, and best results would be to be read while listening to, the first movement, “jig” – not “ostinato” – of St. Paul’s Suite by Gustav Holst.  Oh, why not.  Here it is:

(And yes, I know the piece is not specifically about St. Paul, but about a school named after the great above-described man.  Still, I’ve always conflated the two and have always been pleased with the result.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Walking Desensitized

Oh no!  That minor secondary character is trapped and going to get eaten by zombies!

Oh no!  Will one of the major characters trying to rescue him get eaten by zombies too?

A dozen zombie skulls are split, smashed, shot, chopped, whacked, hacked, thwacked, walloped, cleaved, sheared, severed, and bifurcated.

Oh no!  There goes the minor secondary character in a gruesome orgy of violence!

Oh no!  There goes one of the major characters in a similarly gruesome orgy of violence!

And yet I keep on watching …

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Wondrous π Day to All!

Two random related facts about the mankind’s favorite transcendental number:

If you calculated the circumference of the earth using π rounded to only the ninth decimal place, you would have an error of about a quarter of an inch.

If you calculated the circumference of the entire known universe using π rounded to only the thirty-ninth decimal place, you’d have an error no greater than the radius of a hydrogen atom.


As of late 2013, computer scientists have calculated the value of π out to 13.3 trillion decimal places.

When I blow out the π Day cake candles later tonight, truly will I be humbled in silent awe.

Friday, March 13, 2015


On a whim I borrowed two H. G. Wells novels on audio CD from the library: The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.  Got rather sick of listening to Talk Radio and bored of listening to classical music during the 50 minutes I’m in the car commuting each day.  Two days in I’m almost finished with the first (it only takes up 3 CDs), which I’ll probably wrap up on Monday.  The rest of the week will be devoted to the War of the Worlds (6 CDs).

I am enjoying it more than I thought I would.

Fourth grade, I believe, was the H. G. Wells year for me.  This memory could be entirely manufactured and divorced from reality, but somehow it makes sense to me.  I only actually remember reading War of the Worlds back then, but I must’ve read The Time Machine too.  And, of course, those ABC 4:30 movies during the weekdays.  I’m sure I saw the George Pal renditions of both movies during that school year (War from 1953, Time Machine from 1960). 

Sometime in the early-90s I re-read The War of the Worlds.  Found it tough going, but back then I was not as into the Victorian novel as I seem to be today.  Can’t wait to listen to the novel and compare this go-through to the memory of my previous experience.

Oh, and now I realized I’ve left out two major pieces of the little ones’ cinematic education.  Gotta borrow those Pal flicks from the library.

Before the tripods destroy it …

Thursday, March 12, 2015

2015 New York Mets

I am not by nature an avid sportsman.  In my teens and twenties I did a bit of solo stuff, like running, biking, and lifting weights.  But I was never a team player.  Despite this, I always enjoyed watching football and still do, to a certain extent, in my forties.  Also, my father was a huge baseball aficionado, and a Mets fan, and I was “forced” to suffer through the late-70s Mets on TV and a whole bunch of games at Shea.

It took a little over 30 years to get that out of my system.

Then, in 2013, finding football a little too stressful (hello Eli Manning / Tom Coughlin New York Giants), I wondered if a return to baseball might be a pleasant thing.

It was.

So I am looking forward to the 2015 MLB season, which starts in three-and-a-half weeks. 

Now, I am under no delusions of the quality of the New York Mets.  But check this out.  In 2013, they went 74-88.  Last year they finished 79-83, +5 compared to the previous season.

I’ve been telling the wife, a dedicated Met-hater / Yankee fan, that I’d consider anything over .500 from this team a victorious season.  Judging by what I’ve read so far, I think they have a decent shot at it this year, though I will concede a lot of variables will have to fall their way.

81-81 would be a +2 improvement over the previous season.  If they continue with the current +5 trend, they’d finish 84-78, not quite good enough for a Wild Card berth but definitely respectable.  Last year there was some pre-season crowing about “90 wins” that ultimately bit them in the backside, and I, like 99 percent of the metropolitan population, believe that still remains a definitive example of too-wishful-thinking.

My very uninformed, totally amateur opinion – I’d like to see ’em finish at least 83-79, with the goal of keeping those losses under 80. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

So Many Lives

What do Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Jean Sibelius, Napoleon, Robespierre, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ernest Hemingway, Howard Stern, Aaron Burr, Abraham Lincoln, Father Damien of Molokai, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Thomas Merton, Julius Caesar, Ernest Shackleton, Ulysses S. Grant, G.H. Hardy, Paul Erdös, Srinivasa Ramanujan, H.P. Lovecraft, William Shakespeare, and Philip K. Dick have in common?

They are all men (and one remarkable woman) of whom, for better or worse, young Hopper has read their biographies.

What do Edgar Allan Poe, Albert Einstein, Father Walter Csizek, Saint Joan of Arc, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John Paul II have in common?

They are all men (and one remarkable woman) of whom, for worse it seems to me, young Hopper has not yet read their biographies, which are stacked up in the piles of books about him as he writes this.

So many lives, so many biographies, so little time!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Just overheard at the dining room table this evening –

PATCH (age 6):  I know what comes between 3 and 4!

ME:  What?

PATCH:  π!

ME:  Very good!

LITTLE ONE (age 10):  Hey Patch, guess what comes between 13 and 14?

PATCH:  I don’t know.

LITTLE ONE:  π-teen.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The DVD of Our Discontent

So Saturday the wife left me to go over her friend’s house, leaving me alone in the big mansion.  We put the little ones to sleep a little after eight, then, after giving her a passive aggressive guilt trip, I settled down to do what I really wanted to do:

Watch the early-80s BBC production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Richard III, on DVD.

Four years ago I went through a mini-Shakespeare phase where I found the perfect way to learn and enjoy the Bard: read the play, then re-read it while watching the BBC DVDs of it, most of which can be found at your local library.  I did a half-dozen plays this way, until I was forced to stop, having just started a new job that demanded a bit extra of my attention.

On a whim last week, looking for something fresh and poetic, I thumbed through an omnibus of Shakespeareana from the Great Books I have in the basement.  I landed on Richard III.  The next day I saw a battered paperback copy of that play for sale at a library so I took it for a sign from ye gods, purchased it, and immediately began reading it.

Which brings us to the BBC production of the play.  Suffice it to say, it is loooooooooooooooong.  I read that it is Shakespeare’s second- and third-longest play (depending on the source, I guess).  The DVD is 228 minutes long, which is almost Ben-Hur-ian in duration.  Following along in the paperback, I managed only the first act, a little over an hour invested, with a short cupcake break somewhere in the middle.

Like all the plays, it’s good.  Real good.  (“Good” – how’s that for an adjective, eh Shakespeare?)  Made those lines jump off the page, brought out new tensions I had not seen alone in the sentences of iambic pentameter.  Took a while for the actor who played Richard to meet my approval, as my brain image of the character was more fiendish, grotesque, and moustache-twisting.  But after fifteen minutes, this actor, Ron Cook, has now been firmly established to me as the evil, scheming, usurping would-be leader of England. 

Now – to seek out three more hours in which to finish it!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Once More Into the Breach

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man,
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage:
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let it pry through the portage of the head,
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide;
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English,
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought,
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.
Dishonour not your mothers: now attest,
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture: let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge,
Cry ‘God for Harry! England! and Saint George!’

- Henry V, Act III, scene I

Again, again, again – looking at yet another tough week (day / month / hour) at work.  Getting really done with this.  The job started off fun, really fun, three-and-a-half years ago.  Now, like in any job, I suppose, additional responsibilities and duties and tasks have been assigned to me, adding up over the weeks months years, while less and less support and backup and general assistance were offered.  2015 has been the year of the Crisis of the Month of the Week (or day, or hour).  Some not my fault yet my responsibility, other stuff having nothing to do with me but still somehow my responsibility to get ’em fixed.  Some things genuinely my faults as one who juggles so many items at once while putting out fires will inevitably drop one.  

I’ve only slept eight hours the entire weekend, and all I could think about during those enjoyable, relaxing, tender moments with my little girls was how the hourglass was tick tick ticking down to zero hour Monday morning.  Oh, and my shoulder is absolutely killing me.  Has to be a pinched nerve or something.  Been bugging me off and on since the week before Christmas, and now it’s just a continuous painful ache.

In addition to Hell Week part Eleven at work, we get our taxes done Tuesday (fingers crossed for a moderate refund) and I get my new glasses on Thursday.  Yay!  I’ll be able to see at night.  There’s also a night basketball game for Little One somewhere in there.

Good news:  In preparing for tax day I cleaned off the writing desk.  Now I can actually write.  Also watched a couple of decent flicks this weekend, which I may blog about sometime this week.  Dunno.  I feel like I’m preparing to go a couple of rounds with Tyson, so if I’m still standing on my feet come Friday at 5 pm (my favorite part of the week, ’cuz I take the girls out for pizza), I’ll consider that a victory.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fifteen Years Past

the Swiss Patent Office:

Note the eyes.  I see a mixture of complete ease with himself coupled with a relaxed, controlled passion to patiently probe, challenge and break down the essential mysteries of Creation – his life’s work. 

Whatever I do over the next ten or fifteen years, I want a similar look to grace my features whenever I engage with a fellow journeyman.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Swiss Patent Office

As a young man Albert Einstein worked several years in the Swiss Patent Office, where his main duty was to examine patent applications for various mechanical devices.  Still struggling with his dissertations and finding a permanent teaching position, he was able to spend his work days deep in thought, pondering the profound questions from which he would revolutionize physics, science, philosophy, and the world. 

What a lucky man!

I had my Swiss Patent Office too as a young man and wasted my nights on the electric guitar and beer.

O for a second chance!

Second Swiss Patent Office, where are you?!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Snow Day

So, in keeping with our town’s hypersensitivity to falling frozen flakes, I got the automated phone call at 5:30 a.m.:  No school today.  I shambled out of bed to the window and was not surprised to see clear roads, clear sidewalks, and no precipitation in the hazy aura of the streetlight at the neighbor’s yard.  Oh well.

Unable to fall back asleep, I channel surfed for two hours.  One by one the little ones arose and plopped into bed with me.  Then, magically, just before making the call to work, I saw a snowstorm actualizing on the street scene out my window.

The wife is overnighting in Boston so I’m the children’s caretaker right now.  And now I must call in a personal day.  Despite the mounds of work, the pounds of pressure, the insecurity of continued employment, I actually needed this day off.  Don’t know how I’ll be tomorrow, but tomorrow’ll be Friday, so I think I’ll be able to manage.

We had breakfast, watched an episode of Star Trek (“Balance of Terror”).  I went to the basement and started working on our taxes while the girls watched some cartoons.  My boss did reach out to me to work on a major issue, so I logged in to my company email and did my best working from home.  At lunch we had sandwiches, took a couple of goofy online quizzes, and the girls went out in the backyard to play in the snow.  I dozed a bit then read some more Sheen and Lewis (sounds like an old vaudeville act).  We settled down with popcorn to watch Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, then I steeled myself to shovel us out around 6, once I saw that the storm had moved on.

All in all, though, we only got about four inches, despite a weather prediction of six to ten.  And it was fluffy powdery stuff, so I didn’t throw my back out or anything.

Not a great shot, but here’s a picture of the view out my front door just after the snow stopped falling:


So, back to the grind tomorrow.  And it’s grinding me down.  But then – there’s the weekend, there’s books to read, movies to watch, and my two little daughters to play with.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

In Search Of ... In Search Of

I lied!  I lied!

Here’s one more (final) piece on Leonard Nimoy: how I absolutely loved his late-70s show In Search Of.  So much so that I still watch episodes on youtube to this day.  Here are two nostalgic posts I did on the show, the first three years ago and the latter last summer:

* * * * *

Thinking about the self-inflicted demise of The History Channel (a Swamp People marathon tonight. Really? On the History Channel?), my mind wandered to that most awesomest of shows from my youth: In Search Of.

I’ve spoken about it often here at the Hopper. Next to the original Battlestar Galactica series, it was probably the only thing I regularly watched on night-time teevee at that age. True, when slightly younger, me and the family would watch Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Chico and the Man, and, of course, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, on Sunday nights. Around age eleven, I suddenly became too cool for such fare. But not for In Search Of.

In fact, In Search Of was downright creepy. Also, downright awesome, if you forgive the repetition. That opening synthesizer and wah-wah theme song; the psychedelic, moody, oppressive background music; Leonard Nimoy and everything about him – voice, moustache and/or goatee, those loud 70s suits and fat ties; and best of all, the topics. The paranormal, extranormal, abnormal, anti-normal. Strange sightings, cryptids, histories mysteries, edge-of-science-stuff, vanishings, legends true, false, and middling. Every week I looked forward with goosebumped anticipation. Thank God my dad was into this, too (at least, I guess; I don’t think I had the foresight to plan out these viewings).

Each 22-minute episode focused on a single, sole topic aimed directly at the imagination of eleven-year-old boys all across America. Occasionally the show veered into the hokey, to small degrees, but it always maintained a somewhat objective scientific mien. That, coupled with the dignity Spock brought and exuded with his superhuman vocal chords, gave the show a seriousness that you just couldn’t shake. Many episodes focused on respectable “mysteries” – mysteries of literature, historical events, people and peoples of ages past.

So, scanning my memories, I tasked myself to come up with a top-ten of greatest In Search Of episodes. Now, we all know memories are leaky things, quite malleable and often possessing agendae of their own. If I err somehow, well, take it in the spirit that it’s offered: Creepy Nimoy goodness!

10. The Dogon tribe

An African tribe that somehow knows of the existence of Sirius and its smaller stellar companion – invisible to the naked eye. Though I didn’t grasp the significance back then, I somehow have never forgotten this episode.

9. Jack the Ripper

My first encounter with this serial psycho from 1880s England. The sheer violence shocked me, truth be told, I, who loved swords and sorcery and science fiction mayhem at this point. I still can’t get interested in this historical mystery due to the gore factor.

8. The Shroud of Turin

Hey, I’m currently reading a book about this! Again, my first encounter with a historical mystery. Never completely escaped my mind. Well, it did for a few decades, but lately I’ve been thinking about it!

7. Michael Rockefeller

Okay, I don’t remember seeing this as a kid. Saw it in a rerun about ten years ago, and this truly never really left my mind. Youngling of the beyond-wealthy and uber-powerful clan, he seemingly chucked all that wealth and power … to study primitive cultures as an anthropologist. However, hubris must be passed along genetically, as he ran afoul of a particularly nasty tribe (allegedly) and – disappeared without a trace. What happened to him?

6. The Amityville Horror

Vaguely remember this, and rewatched it on youtube around Halloween (you can see most In Search Of episodes on youtube). Man, was I into this back around 78 or 79. Scary stuff. Drew me like a moth to flame.

5. The Oak Island Money Pit

Buried treasure. Just beyond your grasp. Many tried to dig it up. All failed. Some died. Every ten feet down, a sign. An elaborate trap? Otherworldly engineering? Who knows? Something I’d love to. Learn more. About.

4. Amelia Earhart

In a similar vibe with Michael Rockefeller, these types of mysterious vanishings toy with my obsession buttons. Many years later I skimmed through a book about her. Lots of alternate theories of what happened to her (captured by Japs, starved on a distant island, etc), but I think she and her co-pilot just plain veered off course and crashed into the ocean. I don’t want to think of what happened after that.

3. Ogo-Pogo

A sea serpent, or rather, a lake monster like the Loch Ness critter. I recall some footage from the episode. Interesting, intriguing. What caught me most, though, was the name of the dang monster. It’s gotta be of Indian derivation, but there’s a spookiness in a million-year-old modern brachiosaur named Ogo-Pogo.

2. Bigfoot!

As every eleven-year-old boy was in the late 70s, I was completely enamored by Bigfoot. Read tons of books on the cryptid, watched anything and everything I could on the subject. This episode held my first viewing of the Gimlin-Patterson film footage, of which I have never made up my mind. I think I’m of the opinion that there’s a fifty-percent chance the creature exists. Still, though, the possibilities are so intriguing I am completely amazed and dumbfounded a decent horror movie has never been made about the beast. Aside from The Legend of Boggy Creek, of course.

1. UFO abductees

This was before the whole abduction phenomenon began in the mid-80s. So I was treated to learned about Travis Walton primarily. Some other stuff, too, but I can’t quite remember what exactly. However, I do know that this was the very first episode of In Search Of that I ever watched! And I was hooked, baby, hooked!

* * * * *

One of my favorite childhood memories was watching the Leonard Nimoy-narrated In Search Of … Each week Mr. Nimoy would go in search of something cryptic, paranormal, historically mysterious, etc.  My favorite shows were on UFOs and giant hairy hominids, my favorite subjects as a ten-year-old.  I’ve written about the show elsewhere on the blog, most notably here.

The show ran from April of 1977 until March of 82, but for me it was the second and third seasons that I watched religiously.  A gap of thirty years followed and I rediscovered the shows on youtube.  (Yes, one of the cable channels played them in the early 2000s, and I watched a handful during a stretch of unemployment.)  Now, when I suffer insomnia or have to pay bills and balance the family checkbook, I often have Leonard’s soothingly sonorous and nicotinous narrations exploring the esoteric with me on the Dell flatscreen.

Anyway, a few days ago I was surfing the web on the iPad and came across the In Search Of page on the IMDB.  I like the IMDB for the bulletin boards – you can read up a lot of interesting facts and opinions on films and shows you really love, as well as a lot of garbage.  You have to be discriminating, as in all things Wide World Web.  So I scanned the bulletin boards for In Search Of and came across a great question: what would be some topics that the show should’ve done but didn’t?  “Lost” episodes, in other words.

A lot of people contributed interesting ideas.  Not all I’d agree with, but a good, thorough list that seemed to be pretty much comprehensive.  At least, I couldn’t think of anything to add to it off the top of my head.  So here are the “lost” episodes I found most interesting, and in my fanboy head I can even hear Leonard Nimoy already exploring the mysteries that are the


The Ark of the Covenant

Secret Societies

Spontaneous Human Combustion

The Chupacabra


The Jersey Devil

The Attempted Assassination of John Paul II

Custer’s Last Stand

The RFK Assassination

The Philadelphia Experiment

Ambrose Bierce

The Knights Templar

The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr

Billy the Kid

Fakirs from India

Pharaoh of the Exodus

The Great Chicago Fire

The Interrupted Journey of Betty and Barney Hill

The Black Plague


The Eruption of Mount Saint Helens

The Last Days of Elvis Presley

Spring-Heeled Jack

Nicola Tesla

Charles Fort

The Lost City of Z

The Disappearance of Judge Crater

The Kecksburg UFO Incident

The Flatwoods Monster

The Book of Revelation

Now some topics, such as the last one, could not be adequately explored in a 22-minute format.  Others, such as the penultimate one, might not be meaty enough to fill 22 minutes.  But, man, I would watch an In Search Of episode of each and every one.  If nothing else but for the eerie moog synthesizer soundtrack!

* * * * *

Leonard Nimoy, R.I.P.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Making of Star Trek

As a final entry for my little tribute to Leonard Nimoy and Star Trek, here’s a sorta review I did about two years of the book The Making of Star Trek.  If you were a little kid in the 70s and you were a big Star Trek fan, well, then, when the bookmobile drove into town you did like me and picked up this famous picture-laden paperback:

* * * * *

© 1968 by Stephen E. Whitfiled and Gene Roddenberry

Way, way, back, when Star Trek was just beginning syndication and we had just wrapped up the moon landings, wee little Hopper stepped up into the Bookmobile visiting my school and bought Mr. Whitfield’s book. That (and a hot-off-the-presses Logan’s Run) was my first real book I bought, to the best of my knowledge, and I picked it up primarily for that picture of the Enterprise on the cover and the two sets of picture series within it. Over the course of a year or so it was a constant companion. I never read it through start to finish (it was probably a bit above my reading level at this point), but I studied those photos intensely and read just about every Gene Roddenberry memo reproduced within its pages.

Well, something like 35 years intervened and a gazillion people, events, experiences, interests, classes, jobs, books, movies, and a gazillion other miscellaneous came into and out of my life.

The Making of Star Trek was stored away in the deep part of one’s brain where long-term but never-retrieved memories are sentenced to life imprisonment in solitary confinement.

Until a few months ago when, surfing through my online used book store’s archives, it found me again and asked to be freed.

I bought it. Now I’m reading it.

Yes, it’s light, it’s fluff, it’s a lot of stuff I’ve read or heard in other places now that Shatner and Nimoy are firmly in their 80s. But you know what? I’ve been reading Ayn Rand for six weeks. Before that it was a few books on the Civil War, and before that it was a few on World War II. I deserve something light and fluffy, don’t I?

Now, I’m not a Trekkie. True, I’ve seen every episode and every movie of the original series. Later series, not so much. Maybe a quarter of the Next Generation, a dozen of Deep Space Nine, one of Voyager and none of that retro Trek show, forgot its name. But the original series was part of my youth, and it influenced me in many ways growing up. Heck, my first novel, unfinished at 80 pages and written at age 11, Star Rats, is fifty percent Star Wars and fifty percent Star Trek, only with cats and mice. Some episodes scared the living C-R-A-P out of me (“Devil in the Dark”), some filled me with wonder (“The City on the Edge of Forever”), some made me want to be a writer (cf, all the first and second season episodes and half the third). Some, with all them scantily-clad 1960s babes, well, you can imagine what that did to my pre-adolescent mind.

I’m also a useless trivia buff. The book is filled with lots of behind-the-scenes back-story stuff that satisfies that buff in me.

What were some names considered for Kirk before they settled on Kirk?

[January, Flagg, Drake, Christopher, Thorpe, Richard, Patrick, Raintree (!), Boone, Hudson, Timber (!), Hamilton, Hannibal, Neville, and North]

How many starships are there in Star Fleet? What were their names?

[12 – Enterprise, Essex, Excalibur, Lexington, Yorktown, Endeavor, Eagle, Constellation, Hornet, Wasp, Lafayette, Saratoga]

What common kitchen item became McCoy’s medical instruments?

[salt shakers]

What critter kept Shatner from filming the first episode – but third aired – for three full days?

[A wasp stung him on the eyelid on set]

What is the most interesting Vulcan name ever considered?

[Spxyx, in my humble opinion. Also, Spork]

And on and on and on.

Bottom line: half-way through it and the perfect antidote to the Randian angst I’ve been wallowing in – due to a pre-election promise to myself – since November 12. Ergo, I cast off any guilt or shame from immersing myself in this book!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Best of Star Trek

The best eleven episodes of the original series, in my humble opinion. Actually, I’m surprised I never blogged about this before. So in honor of Leonard Nimoy’s passing a few days ago, I figured I would spend a little bit of time on this.

When I was a kid, probably around nine, ten, eleven, I loved Star Trek. This was the era of its syndication, and I saw all the episodes in the mid-to-late Seventies. I remember watching it ritualistically on my Grandmother’s furniture-sized television set summer Sundays at 6, though it must have been on at other times for me to have seen them all back then. Now, I didn’t have the toys or the dolls, er, action figures, though two of my good friends did, and we played with them often. I had a couple of the novelizations, and stealthily read them at night in the dark with a flashlight in my top bunk bed. Watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the sweltering July heat on Cable TV was the highlight of my twelfth summer.

Aside from the movies, I didn’t really watch any Star Trek for the next ten or fifteen years. I got into the habit of watching The Next Generation on its Sunday late-night run for about a year; it had a good feel to end the weekend on, but I never took to it the way I did the original series. Ten years ago, when my wife was nursing Little One, she found an obscure channel that aired the old episodes at 3 am that made the feedings go by quickly, and we watched a bunch together. I also remember watching some episodes during my workouts while unemployed around the spring of 2001. But that really was it.

Until I noticed, MeTV, a retro station we just got for switching to FIOS, had been running an episode every Saturday night. We DVR them and watch them every now and then. With Leonard’s death, I watched “Arena,” “The Squire of Gothos,” “The Return of the Archons,” and “Amok Time” this past weekend with the girls. Very bittersweet.

So … in a kinda Best-Of order, here are my favorites episodes from the original series:

“Devil in the Dark”

The Horta, a blob-like animal (natch), scared the living daylights off me as a kid. Don’t think I watched it past the teaser the first time around. Once I was courageous enough to watch the whole thing, I thoroughly enjoyed the unfolding mystery of the weird deaths on Janus IV.

“The Galileo Seven”

Mr. Spoke and six others marooned in a shuttle craft on a hostile planet – hostile because giant cavemen are picking them off one by one. My absolute favorite as a kid. For some reason I thought it was a planet of Sasquatches. Recently re-watched it as an adult and saw they were more like very tall, very portly, very angry Neanderthals.


Kirk hand-to-claw combat with the lizard Gorn! My second-favorite episode of all time. Seeing it recently made me appreciate all that much more that strong participatory imagination of the young child. Because now the Gorn looked so fake – and the combat scenes so cornball – I could hardly get into the story. Regardless, the story is, like most of the early episodes, well-written, suspenseful, and thought-provoking.

“Operation: Annihilate!”

Flying pizzas! These things weirded me out as a kid. And when one of them attaches itself to Spock, well, I don’t think I was able to finish watching it way back then. Did so, though, probably as a courageous ten or eleven-year-old. If I remember correctly, the noise those pancakes made my flesh crawl.

“Return of the Archons”

Creeeepy! The Lawgivers with their hoods and hollow tubes, what they do to Sulu, how they keep the population in weird drugged slo-mo happiness, followed quickly by the Red Hour … surprised it didn’t give little me nightmares. It certainly kept me up at nights.

“The Changeling”

Nomad! That robot-probe-whatever thingie simultaneously intrigued and repulsed me. Enjoyed the whole arc of the episode, with Kirk and crew figuring out what it was and then how to foil it. Haven’t seen it in decades, so would be very interested with a contemporary viewing. 

“The Apple”

Pre-tween me loved, loved, loved the Dragon Vaal – and once we saw those radio receivers that look suspiciously like nails driven into the native’s heads, right smack dab behind their ears, well, that just cinched it for me.

“Mirror, Mirror”

This one definitely freaked out little me. This is where a transporter malfunction deposits Kirk and his landing party into a parallel-universe Enterprise where good is evil and evil is good. Spock’s goatee particularly unnerved me, as did Chekhov’s torture scene.

“Spectre of the Gun”

This is the one where Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et. al., are forced to relive the gunfight at O.K. Corral. Like the weird surreality of it, particularly the sweaty Bones going through the Vulcan mind-meld. Need to see this one again as an adult.

“The Cloud Minders”

Liked the city in the clouds concept back then. Remember the worker’s death as he falls off the ledge (or maybe he’s thrown, dunno) and it takes a real long time for him to eventually hit the ground as he slowly shrinks in size. The whole gas-drives-the-workers violent thing was neat, too, if perhaps a bit simplistic to adult minds.

“The Immunity Syndrome”

Amoebas in space! Trying to eat the Enterprise! Fascinated me to no end as a kid – but I haven’t seen it in over 30 years. Waiting for MeTV to show it so I can see what effect it has on adult me.

The original series ran for 79 episodes from September 1966 until June 1969. Then, in syndication, forever. Though some episodes, particularly and notoriously third season episodes (“Spock’s Brain”, we’re talking about you!), are not, shall we say, as masterfully crafted as the better ones, for me there honestly isn’t such a thing as a bad ST:TOS show.

Though it’s quite fun to watch ’em with a bunch of drunken college buddies with the volume off, trying to be as off-color and scatological as humanly possible …

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Buttock 19

“Hey girls,” I say with zestful excitement as we’re pulling out of the dry cleaner’s parking lot, “did you hear they just discovered a new ice planet just outside Pluto’s orbit?”

“No!” Little One cries.  She loves Pluto and all things Plutonian.  She’s in the Not-a-Planet camp; I’m a firm Pluto-is-a-Planet man, so we frequently and playfully butt heads over the frozen world’s status.  “Really?”

“Yes, and do you know what they named it?”

“What!?  What?!”

I deviously pause to heighten the tension before the punchline:  “Buttock 19.”

They hesitate – but just for a brief instant before they realize it’s a bad Dad joke.  “It’s true!  It’s true!” I say, but perhaps my laughter at their grumpy, betrayed faces belies my protestations. 

“No it’s not!”

“Yeah.  It’s true.  Isn’t amazing that they decided to name a planet in our Solar System Buttock 19?”

They’re not buying it, but I’m giving myself a grand old time.

“But that’s not the most amazing thing of all,” I continue, trying again to lure them in.  “You know what is?”


Again the devious pause:

“There’s eighteen other objects in the Solar System named Buttock.”

Ah, I kill myself …