Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What to do on a cold day?

There are a host of things one could do - I likely chose the wrong one!

At least I stayed in doors all day - except to run to the mailbox. Alas, nothing there worth getting. What I did decide to do was to rummage in my hard drive for something I put together early last year and to re-create it in a new format. Sort of like deciding to make a different shaped sausage, I guess.

The reasoning behind this madness emanated from a collision of two or three loosely related events. This time last year, I was embarking on my 'Bucket List Trip' - which was to include meeting a few people in Wales that I had conversed with on-line, on-the-phone, on-Skype, etc. I was to spend part of my trip in Wales on St David's Day - March 1st. This year, on St David's Day, I will be on this side of the pond - possibly conversing in one or more of those modes with one of the people who 'hosted' me last year - and the following day, will be 'lunching' with a group of people here who will gather for their annual St David's Day celebration at Dressel's Pub in the Central West End of St Louis. Some of those people are, like I, ex-pats from Wales; others are descendant's of emigrants from Wales. Many, I am sure, have heard of various parts of Wales, but may not know where those parts - I'll call them 'Pieces' - are (or were). So, that set me to thinking I should give them the chance to learn a little of their ancestral homeland.

Back to the 'Bucket List Trip' for a moment - one of the acquaintances I met while in Wales, happens to run a website - called World Wide Celtic Community * (I call it WWCC) - to which I make frequent written and photographic or video contributions. I recently inquired of him about posting PowerPoint materials to that site. He informed me of an alternate vehicle - though the simple fact is that I CAN upload PowerPoint files there (if less than 5 MB). Well, the 3rd-party that he suggested to me, has the potential for tossing my creativity to place it may not otherwise go. So, the allure of that got me into the mode of posting a few 'second-hand' PPS items there in the past few days - and having 'got the bit between my teeth', I decided it was time to combine all these aforementioned reasons and knuckle down to make that different sausage. The presentation I am about to unleash contains many 'hot link' urls - but I am not sure what happens if you click on one of those in the midst of watching the slideshow. If it kicks you out, just cut and paste them into your browser or clipboard for later viewing. You may also download the PPS file that I have uploaded to my Swansea Jack's Stuff blog on WWCC.* You can also open it there - complete with 'hot links' - see, I told you it this was about making sausages!      

* Updated mid June 2014 - the WWCC website may be 'going under' - if it does, then these two hot links will become as cold as a mackerel - at which time I will remove them, but that will not affect your ability to view the 'Pieces of Wales' link posted below.

If you haven't already fallen asleep, take a look at my latest endeavor - that should do the trick. Enjoy - or be bored:

Pieces of Wales

I am going to get a hot cup of coffee and sit by the fire!

Monday, February 24, 2014

One year later

On February 21st 2013, I was about to embark on my 'Bucket List Trip' - a trip lasting until early April, and recounted in several postings here. On this date (24th), I was over the jet lag of a 3,000 mile flight into London, and was sitting in Merry Olde England, preparing the next leg of my trip - by train - westward about 200 miles.

I arrived in the 'Land of My Fathers' (Wales - known as Cymru to Welsh speakers) on February 27th. I visited old friends, 'never-met-before-in-person' friends and visited places with similar affinities - including a few shown in this slideshow:

Land of My Fathers (author unknown)

Monday, February 10, 2014

G.O.D. knew best!

Expecting a sermon? No – notice I said ‘G.O.D.’ – not ‘GOD’ – though had I said the latter, that should bring no argument either. I refer to the ‘Grand Old Duke’ (of York).

The Grand Old Duke of York
He had 10,000 men
He marched up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up
And when they were down, they were down,
But when they were only half-way up
They were neither up nor down!

No matter what we may think of his (G.O.D.’s) regimental calisthenics, we do owe it to him that he was ‘prepositionally’ precise – all without the aid of ‘Sat-Nav’!

You see, this is all about conventions and whether one should say (of their journeys) that they ‘went up’ – or ‘went down’ to a certain place. Leaving aside the double-entendre associated with that randy pair – Christopher Robin (and Alice) and their Buckingham Palace escapade we can move on to the purely geographic, or cardinal points (sorry for the pun) of this discussion. 

My ‘directional references’ seem habitually at odds with those of my wife. She, living in (more or less) the center of Ireland, would say that she would go DOWN to Belfast, and UP to Cork. Now, I could understand that if her selections were out of disdain for the former and reverence for the latter – but, no; they seemed be founded in no such ‘logic’!  Mine, on the other hand, are totally ‘Spockian’ – and given her starting point, would be the opposite of hers. In fact, neither of those locations offers very many starting points from which HER directions could possible be correct. Let me expand the geographic setting for better comprehension of this.

I think almost everyone (I dare not poll my wife on this) would, if they lived in the Northern Hemisphere, say they would go DOWN to Australia – or to ANY place in the Southern Hemisphere. Crocodile Dundee would just as likely, if sitting under a billabong tree, say he would be going UP to London to see the Queen (if invited, of course). While that all seems quite, well ‘OBVIOUS’, consider that our Aussie friend’s ‘matey’ in Glasgow would likely pack his best trews and sporran to go DOWN to London for the Royal meeting.

You see, it becomes a matter of the cardinal points – North and South. Well, how about those other two – East and West? Ah!  More difficult now – no longer a concept of going UP (for going Northward) and DOWN (for going Southward)  – but a sideways element to add to the confusion!  Have no fear: cartographers and those who dabble in such have a convention. Not one of those ‘conventions’ where people go on the pretext of doing or learning something, but instead just focus on revelry and debauchery; I mean they have that orderliness of thought; that kind of ‘convention’. Such a convention in the minds of these map-makers (‘cartographers’ are not people prone to hauling hay in a contraption drawn by a donkey) envisages that the ‘big-bang’, the Genesis, the Darwinism, the beginning (or origin) of directional science is at some place on the bottom left corner of page. In maps, that is the extreme south-west corner. That is why, when looking at co-ordinates on (most) maps, one sees ‘Eastings’ increasing in numerical value (and so, ‘UP' toward the east); similarly with ‘Northings’; the further north one goes, the greater (and so ‘UP’) the ‘Northing’. Back to the Irish dilemma for a moment: the ‘origin’ there would be someplace near Dingle Bay on the coast of Kerry and so almost everywhere in Ireland has to be ‘UP’ from that point – whether expressed in terms of going UP to the East, or going UP to the North.

The US has such a convention for its Interstate Highways. Those traversing (generally) north-south are odd numbered, and those primarily aligned east-west bear even numbers. Each increases in numeric value toward the north-east. For example Interstate 5 runs up the west coast of the US and Interstate 95 runs up the east coast. Interstate 10 lies near the Gulf of Mexico while Interstate 90 traverses the country almost in sight of Canada!  If you happen to be lost in the US, look out the window – if you see the junction of Interstates 44 and 55 – you are in St Louis; call me and stop by for a cuppa!  Clearly (see the ‘proviso’ below), if your Interstate number is increasing, you are going east and so ‘UP’, or north, and so ‘UP’ - to your destination. Of course, the corollary exist; as ‘your number’ decreases, you are going west – and ‘DOWN’; or going south – and ‘DOWN’.  

For example, start at Times Square in New York - and if you can get out of there un-mugged or assailed by a New York cabbie - head west towards Arizona; you will be going DOWN to it. I was there in the early ‘70s, and yes, was ‘standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.  OK – now the ‘proviso’: not everyone STARTS their journey at the SAME south-west corner. Even if you stood (as I did) on that corner in Winslow, Arizona – there are places that are further south and west of there; Yuma is one! You could even be lucky enough to meet up there with someone driving eastward in a flat-bed Ford UP from Yuma! You see, there are places that are south and west of YOUR point of origin. So, you have to view yourself (at YOUR point of origin, not in the bottom left corner of the page – but at the center (are we all a little ego-centric anyway?) of your page (your universe).

Conventions are not always straight forward (no pun intended – not directly, anyway!  LOL) because the world, from your point of origin, is not one of hemispheres that that lie simply on either side of north-south and east-west axes. Would it were that simple! Take the apparent conundrum of (well, me for instance): here I am in the center of my world (my point of origin) in St Louis. I plan to go (orange line) to, say, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Let’s, for folk in the UK, say you are in London – going (orange line) to Manchester.

Now clearly Minneapolis (and Manchester) is north of our point of origin, so we should be going ‘UP’ to that our destination. But wait! Minneapolis (and Manchester) is also westward of our point of origin – so shouldn’t that make the case (‘a la’ the westward trip from New York to Winslow) of going ‘DOWN’ to that place? Oh my! The solution is that the hemispheres we envisage are NOT about the north-south and the east-west axes stated above (and shown in black on the maps), but are on either side of an axis (green on the maps and aligned north-west to south-east) that bisect the ‘conundrum quadrants’ – the north-west and the south-east quadrants. So, in this case, Minneapolis (and Manchester) being in the 'dominant part' of that divided (here, the north-west) quadrant, dictates a journey (that orange line) that is ‘UP’.

The REAL conundrum is in cases where the destination is precisely on that (green) axis – as may be if I were to travel to Des Moines, Iowa – or you to travel from your home in London, to Birmingham. Why would either of us be so daft?  In such cases, the direction of your journey is as much a ‘coin flip’ as G.O.D.’s mid-point stand-off – ‘. . . neither up nor down!’

To this point, we been talking in a two-dimensional arena and there are, or course – or there should be - some intuitive exceptions. Who could rightly assert that Mr. Haikiti of Tokyo would leave his sushi bar, with Nikon in hand, to go DOWN to Mt Everest to photograph its majesty – even thought that mount is clearly in a westerly ‘downstream’ direction, as well as (albeit marginally) ‘downstream’ in its relative latitude - from his point of origin. Damn; these Orientals are so much smarter than we and being in the east, clearly have the upper hand!   



Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Bell – maybe!

The Mr. Bell I speak of is Alexander Graham Bell. Never heard of him? Think ‘Ma Bell. Not heard of her? May I suggest ‘Google’?

OK – good. Now we are on the same page – as far as characters are concerned!

Just what prompted this posting will be revealed further down the page, but first let’s take a trip into time – 'sans Tardis'.

Mr. Bell bears ultimate responsibility for this, and similar devices:

In the USA (short for United States of America) we call it a ‘cell’ (short for ‘cellular’) ‘phone (short for ‘telephone’), whereas in the UK (short for ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) they call it a ‘mobile’ (short for ‘mobile’) phone.  

As you can see, this one of its forebears certainly would not have been able to make any sort of claim to mobility.

As you may have noticed, back in the dinosaur age (a period in which I made my first encounters with Mr. Bell’s creation), the means of entering the desired ‘phone number’ was not by poking a finger or thumb (or both) on to a screen (much less simply speaking to the device and commanding it to connect to the required number), but one had to insert said digit into a hole in a ‘dial’ and rotate that dial to its stopping point, let the dial spring back to its starting point – and then repeat the process for as many times as was required to complete the desired ‘phone number’. That is why the contraption was called a ‘rotary phone’:

Easy-peasy, eh?  Au contraire, Pierre!  Such was the case in the later stages of the dinosaur age. I grew up in at the dawning of that age. No! Not the Age of Aquarius; pay attention here!  I am talking of the age when probably fewer than 1 in 200 people had telephones. I was not one, but my brother was.

In the days when I was conferring with the people in the US (short for USA, short for . . . . ) to discuss their employment offer and immigration arrangements, it became necessary for me to undergo quite an involved process that would blow people’s minds today. First, I had to catch a bus from my house to downtown Swansea then catch another bus to a different part of Swansea (Townhill) where my brother lived. That 40 minute expedition was the rapid part of the process. Next, I had to pick up his phone, insert a finger (it wasn’t important which) into the hole marked ‘0’ and rotate it clockwise. That action brought a lady’s voice from the a series of tiny holes on one end of the handle-shaped device announcing, “This is the operator. May I help you?”  I then had to speak into the ‘spittoon’ on the other end of ‘the handle’ and say, “Yes, I want to place a reverse-charge * call to the United States”.

[* I think the Yanks called it a ‘collect call’]

After providing her with the 10-digit number, along with the number of my brother’s phone, she announced that she would ‘call me back when a line becomes available’. Like ‘the line’ was a plastic tube running from Swansea to the USA and only so much stuff could be put into the funnel at one time and I had to wait until it was empty before MY stuff could be put into the tube! It was usually an hour or so before the tube was unblocked and ready for me! The bell on my brother’s phone would ring, I’d pounce from my slumber to grab the handle and wait for the voice to say, “Go ahead now, sir. Your party in America is on the line.”  I had to repeat that ‘ordeal’ several times before I was to arrive on this side of the pond a few weeks later. 

Remember that second picture above – the one with the wooden box?  That is petty much like the one that sat on the wall in my wife’s home in Ireland. Actually, it had a few more holes and wires alongside it. Her home served as the Post Office – and all phone calls into and out of that tiny village went through that box on the wall in her home. Long before I met her, she was one of those voices in the phone receiving and filling requests for phone calls ‘to America’. [Nobody ever said ‘the US’, ‘the USA’, or ‘the States’ – it was always, ‘America’ – as if everyone understood it to mean ‘that part of North America that is the USA, and not Canada or Mexico, which are also in North America, and certainly not anywhere in Central or South America. Her home village is called ‘Dowra’ – the first town on the River Shannon – and the Post Office (Offig an Phost in Gaelic) had the unique number: ‘DOWRA 1’. Oh what a fun number!

Soon (and for several years after) we arrived in the US, the ritual of my phone-treks to my brother’s house were relived – in reverse, but with an added twist!  To call ‘home’ (to her parents in Dowra) my wife had to first get an operator in the ‘Ma Bell’ system here in the US of A (not often do we hear that variant, eh?) and request ‘a line to Ireland’. That sometimes was available immediately, but NOT around Christmas time. At that time of year, the trans-Atlantic tube and funnel was full – from stuff going the other way! It often took a couple hours to get unblocked. The bigger problem was trying to convince the ‘Ma Bell’ voice that the entirety of the phone number wee wished to connect to was, in fact, ‘DOWRA 1’ – nothing more, and obviously, nothing less!  “But it can’t be. It HAS to have more numbers than that” the ‘Ma Bell’ know-it-all insisted. [Keep in mind, the entire town only had 6 or 7 telephones; there were only 80 people in the place for God’s sake! But, being Ireland, and by that same divine providence, the town had 8 pubs!]  My wife firmly (and with the grace and patience from a supply that had long been depleted before my turn in line came around) explained, “I lived there for 20+ years during which time I placed and received thousands of calls, to and from the United States, Canada, England, Australia and South Africa – all through that switchboard there. The number is DOWRA 1 (ONE)!”  Mercifully, at same stage – many years later, telephone number there acquired a string of numbers and the need for ‘Ma Bell ladies’ became obsolete. There was, as if by way of an ‘in-your-face’ satisfaction, a period (in the early ‘70s) when I was working in an equally tiny town in Utah; when my wife needed to phone me at the 8-room motel there, she would ask the ‘Ma Bell lady’ “I wish to be connected to Hanksville 12, please” – and I’m sure she grinned broadly at the irony of it. 

Fast forward to the modern era – people use their cell phones, mobiles, iPhones, Androids and ‘whatevers’ as much, if not more, for things other than making phone calls. That is a whole other topic.

In our house, we also have (what some call ‘land-lines’) – a sort of quasi ‘mobile’ phone system: a base station with a message center and 4 ‘satellite’ cradles into which cordless phones can sit to be recharged. Each unit will display an identity (name and number) of any (well, most) incoming caller; ‘caller ID’. That, Mr Bell, is a great means of ‘screening’ calls and selectively ignoring those incoming calls that may be unwanted. However, it used to require leaving whatever task one was engaged in, to look at the on-phone screen to see the ID. Our latest system has an audio announcement – so now we only have to listen to the ID being announced, and do not need to see the small on-phone screen. [I have frequently got one from ‘1-111-111-1111’ – that is hilarious listening to the automated system doing what sounds like a Mel Tillis impersonation!] Better yet, when watching TV, if the latter’s volume ‘drowns’ out the phone’s audio announcement, the ID appears on the TV screen too! Those, Mr. Bell (along with the ‘magic’ of cell-phone capabilities) have me in your gratitude and wishing that you may be enjoying haggis in heaven every day – not just on Hogmanay. 

I KNOW it is not Alexander Graham Bell’s fault, but there is one wee bit of thistle in me trews that I canna abide, mon! That is the robo-callers. Those feckers that have a computer dial my phone, but leave no message when I ignore the call, letting my answering machine announce “Please leave a message”. The bastards repeatedly do it – until their ‘controller-fiend’ concludes there is nobody at that number. NEVER pick up the receiver – most of the time there is nobody there, but that action lets ‘Mr Fiend’ know there IS a live (but stupid) body in that house; he WILL call back, then. I have received one such sequence 4 or 5 times in the past few days from 1-816-482-3222 with the caption (visible and audible) saying ‘IMPORTANT’. Duh!  So damned important they don’t leave a message?  Scam & Spam. It’s enough to make me want to tell them (and, you, Alex G Bell) just what Charles Krauthammer, in pages 61 – 63 of his new best-seller, ‘Things that Matter’ (ISNB 978-0-385-34917-8) so eloquently calls ‘the deuce’!