Archive for November, 2010

Did you hear that?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Senses forge into memory over years. No matter your age, some experiential impressions last for a lifetime. When it comes to the older set — of which I am a proud member — such reminiscences are just that. Memories. Their sources are rare at best, and more often absent from modern life.

More often than not, sights and smells rule when it comes to memory, giving sounds short shrift. Yet, for me — and many of you — sounds are as important to our childhood and young adult years as the other sense that are imbedded in our brains.

The first of November renewed my love for a particular sound. As I walked into a local paint store accompanied by my Newfoundland dog, I paused for a moment and basked in the plaintive whistle of a passing train.

From the 40s to the 60s, train whistles were a part of daily life in this county. Since the “big four” cut diagonally across the landscape going from Cincinnati to Chicago, my generation witnessed countless trains on the gleaming tracks. Those we didn’t glimpse we heard.

Often, you could recognize an engineer by his whistle. Some engineers whistled once at a crossing, while others seem to have fashioned their own little codes. I recall hearing one short and two long, three long, and two shorts. Undoubtedly, there were many others, but those stick in my mind and I can close my eyes and hear them easily as a mental traveler.

Other unique sounds also come to mind… a screen door as it hit the doorframe… a hand pump at the kitchen sink… the ice block sliding from the truck to be caught up in black iron tongs… the click of the old-fashioned ice box (I seldom use the term refrigerator.)….

What sounds bring back memories for you? Shifting gears in the family car or truck? The slap of wipers racing to reach the metal strip that divided the windshield? The whoosh of coal as it slid down into the basement? The clink of glass bottles as the milkman made his rounds? The whirring of the neighborhood grocery meat grinder as a butcher ground beef?

While those days may have lacked a lot in terms of convenience, they offered volumes in terms of endearment. How many of you know the meat department personnel by first name? Still call in a grocery list for delivery or pick up later in the day? I doubt it.

I, for one, can still hear Fred Heckman’s voice on flagship station WIBC in Indianapolis. A legend in his field, he imparted much more than news. His little feature, “My Town Indy” fueled our imaginations and inspired us to explore our state capital with zest.

As you go about your day, take a moment to notice the sounds of today? The chime of a computer as it comes to life at the touch of a key… the beep of a vehicle as a remote key locks the doors… the music of a cell phone with an incoming call… the beep as your Mac or PC alerts you to a new email….

And so it goes… what was commonplace for us is novel to younger folks. Some day, when a magazine article is unearthed by a future generation, I wonder if they will know that deeming something “cool” has nothing to do with temperature? Time will tell. In the meantime, take heart in memory. Musing about the past is not only be instructive, but also comforting. Think about it.

A single day? Never!

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

We stop our daily grinds a bit to divert to family and lots of good food to commemorate the gathering of the Pilgrims as they partook of a meal after a devastating existence in a strange land.

Our daily problems pale in comparison to what the Pilgrims faced, yet we all sit down to a table laden with food and peppered with friendship and love to take a moment to give thanks.

There are too many things for which we are truly thankful, but we take most of them for granted. We live freedom, yet we don’t cherish it as we would have had we lived under a political system that deprived people of freedom.

We enjoy so many things in the course of a day that it is embarrassing to think that we would not take a moment — now and then — to remember that we are a unique people with varied backgrounds, talents, and motivations. Nonetheless, we operate as a well-oiled machine, depending on the equanimity of our basic freedoms and relying on the expertise of our fellows when we are ill or in danger.

Those who work on Thanksgiving Day labor in many areas. Hospitals still hum along on the holiday. Firehouses and police stations echo with laughter and camaraderie of uniformed “brothers” who willingly take their time to protect us all. Squad cars patrol our cities and state policemen take to the roads in anticipation of increased traffic — and they take it in stride.

Today, as you sit down with family or friends to enjoy the bounty of harvest and celebrate the Pilgrims conquest of a new land, vow to take your freedom less for granted. Don’t assume that freedom will always abound. It is fragile and easily dislodged when leaders seek power for power’s sake and forget that they, too, are servants of the people. Don’t allow Thanksgiving to be relegated to a single day.

Thank God for the United States of America. God bless us all.

46 Weather or not…

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

We take a great deal for granted when we flip on the radio, turn on the television or boot up a computer or cell phone to check the weather. It wasn’t always that easy. In fact, when you research it a bit, you find that the history of weather reporting is deep, but the handy resources only date back to the inventions cited above.
Samuel Morse gave us our first taste of modern communication with his telegraph in 1832. In the nearly two hundred years since, our means of weather reporting has increased exponentially.
As with most public notification systems, weather forecasts were encouraged and sponsored at the federal level. What is surprising is the genesis of such programs. According to the NOAA website, The National Weather Service had its beginnings in the early history of the United States. Weather has always been important to the citizenry of this country, and this was especially true during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The beginning of the National Weather Service we know today started on February 9th, 1870, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing the Secretary of War to establish a national weather service. This resolution required the Secretary of War.

Later that year, the first systematized, synchronous weather observations ever taken in the U.S. were made by “observing-sergeants” of the Army Signal Service at 22 stations and telegraphed to Washington. An agency was born which would affect the daily lives of most of the citizens of the United States through its forecasts and warnings.

For most of us who vividly remember the local weather since the 1950s, voices such as Fred Heckman on WIBC come to mind. Later, Mike Ahern of Channel 8 in Indianapolis was a familiar figure for the Indianapolis CBS affiliate station. Doppler Radar is so much a part of our vocabulary that we probably never give a thought to how it developed. Oddly enough, it heralds from the first inklings of what we know as the handy way of spotting objects out of our line of sight.

My sources confirm that some of this history is attributed to a European scientist. German Heinrich Hertz (1857 -1894) calculated that an electric current swinging very rapidly back and forth in a conducting wire would radiate electromagnetic waves into the surrounding space (a modern antenna). In 1886, Hertz created such a wire and detected such oscillations in his lab, using an electric spark, in which the current oscillates rapidly, explaining how lightning creates its characteristic crackling noise on the radio! Today we term these oscillations “radio waves”. Earlier, science dubbed them “Hertzian waves”. Today, in recognition of his work, the unit of frequency of a radio wave – one cycle per second – is named the hertz, measuring frequencies in Hertz (Hz), oscillations per second and megahertz (MHz) for radio frequencies.

Hertz built on the work of James Clerk Maxwell, who predicted the existence of radio waves. Hertz was the first to demonstrate experimentally the production and detection of Maxwell’s waves. This discovery led directly to radio.

According to official sources, six years later, another major development came from a British laboratory when determined Scottish physicist Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt (1892–1973) developed the radar locating of aircraft in England. In 1917, while at the British Meteorological Office, he designed devices to locate thunderstorms.

Watson-Watt was the man who coined the phrase “ionosphere” in 1926. Appointed as the director of radio research at the British National Physical Laboratory in 1935, he completed research to enable the military to locate aircraft. Watson-Watt’s other contributions include a cathode-ray direction finder used to study atmospheric phenomena, research in electromagnetic radiation, and inventions used for flight safety. While many may guess that radar is a fairly recent invention, the paperwork tells another story. Modern radar dates to a 1935 British patent.

The term “Doppler” is so familiar to children today that they don’t give it a second thought. Like the inventions when we were kids and unknown when our parents were young, Doppler positions itself as an integral part of current meteorology — but do you know its origin? Again, go to the sources!

Doppler RADAR dates to a man named Christian Andreas Doppler. In 1842, Doppler was an Austrian physicist who first described how the observed frequency of light and sound waves was affected by the relative motion of the source and the detector. This phenomenon became known as the Doppler effect.
Most often demonstrated by the change in the sound wave of a passing train, the train whistle’s sound becomes “higher” in pitch as it approaches and “lower” in pitch as it moves away.
Children are rarely treated to a first-hand experience of a passing train. More’s the pity. Our childhood memories reaffirm the plaintive, questing call of the chugging engine that fired our imaginations as we lay in bed and heard the engineer’s call as he passed county roads and city streets. The destination of those trains inspired us to travel beyond our neighborhoods or farms and see the country for ourselves.
As for the sounds of the whistle, scientists explain it this way. Frequency is the number of sound waves reaching the ear in a given amount of time and it determines the tone, or pitch, perceived. The tone remains the same as long as you are not moving.
As the train moves closer, the number of sound waves reaching your ear in a given amount of time increases — so the pitch increases. As the train moves away, the opposite happens. I wish more children experienced simple explanations of physics. That knowledge could open doors for them that could lead to tremendous inventions in the future.
Weather. It might be a daily concern, but the science within meteorology hints at a deeper theme. Change — not only in the weather itself, but also in the science of weather. Sonograms enable parents-to-be to see their unborn, but that would not have been possible without a man named Robert Rines. His interests might pique your interest as well, because he not only invented high definition radar and the sonogram, he was also a patent attorney, the founder of the Franklin Pierce Law Center and a chaser of the Loch Ness monster.
The next time you rush to the TV after hearing a major storm alert or tune in that car or truck radio for the latest update, remember those stalwart individuals who used their “gray matter” to come up with the inventions that so enhance our lives today. May science change as swiftly as the weather. If it does, we will all be better for it.

Not just another day…

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

We hear the term “blood and treasure” a lot these days. I’m not sure when I first heard it on a news broadcast, but it has been used so much that I fear the general public is numb to its meaning.

My parents belonged to what Brokaw termed “the greatest generation”. My father’s friends flew over Normandy. Unaccepted into aviation because he wore glasses, he went to work at a defense plant and won awards for his ideas that saved the company tens of thousands of dollars.

I remember no war stories. Those men and women didn’t talk about their experiences in Europe or the Pacific. They kept their feelings inside and only their spouses and closest family members heard the muffled sounds of horrific dreams.

At eleven o’clock on November 11th, Armistice was signed ending World War I. Dubbed the “war to end all wars”, it didn’t live up to its moniker. There would be another World War and the continent of Europe would never be the same. An entire generation of young, patriotic Frenchmen died. The culture began to fracture with no elders to instill it in the children.

As you, hopefully, pause to remember those who died to keep us free, I ask you to say a prayer for all those who fight yet today to secure freedom — ours and foreigners who have never set foot on American soil.

Serving one’s country is a high calling. It beckons the patriotic to put aside the fortunes of the private sector and forego jobs with high salaries to toil in bitter cold or blistering heat… to go weeks without a warm meal… to endure the harshest physical punishment… And for what? No, not for what — for whom! For you.

Many restaurants offer free meals to active and retired military personnel today. Yet, there is something equally important that any one of us can do. We can stop and thank them when we see them on the street… in an airport, train depot, or bus station… in a public venue…. It’s the least we can do, considering what they do for us every day. Think about it.

Happy Veterans’ Day to one and all. We owe all those who serve — to a man and woman — a debt that can never be repaid.

Says “who”? Say a lot of us!

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

The next time someone spouts off a remark that flies in the face of logic and reason, take a deep breath and walk away. It does no good at all to counter their position. These folks don’t listen. They rant away with no basis in fact, but with the enthusiasm of a cornered boxer.

Perhaps they are — cornered, that is. Today is Election Day and if you haven’t been to the polls yet, grab the car keys, jump on the scooter, pile on the bike or take the lawnmower if you will, but go.

This is a pivotal election. Oh, I know that pundits have over used the term, but in this case it applies — in spades. Trumps all else, that is.

I have had it with people who spend my grandchildren’s future as if it were Monopoly money. To a degree, it has been. It has been THEIR monopoly and it’s coming to a screeching halt. Today!

I had the privilege of a great mentor at Franklin College. A native of Mainland China, he fled with his parents when he was a child and eventually served at the Attorney General of Taiwan. He knew the value of freedom and taught Constitutional Law. To this day, nearly twenty years later I remain convinced that any student under his tutelage learned more with him with any other instructor.

Why? He’d seen the results of the rule of the few over the many. He knew what it meant to see his homeland decimated and taken over by those who sought only power and went to any ends to achieve it.

I once heard a political scientist explain the pitfalls of the large government we encounter today. Many of those within the inner circles of it consider any elected official “part time” help. Basically, the bureaucrats outlast any Congress and administration. Like germs, they outlive their adversaries.

I don’t know what it will take for us to return to the concept of a citizen legislature — men and women who leave their jobs to serve and then return to their private lives. We’ve lost that. The system envisioned by our founders is no more and we are not any better for the loss of it.
There are calls for term limits, but then when it comes down to “brass tacks”, nothing happens. It’s fine in the conceptual sense, but it gets no traction within the confines of the party leadership at the national level.

So, what’s new? Just when was the last time you noticed that movements within the upper echelons of government made sense? Do you spend more than you can afford? If you do, you file for bankruptcy, and that is — what I fear — may await the nation very soon.

This spending spree must stop. It cannot be attributed to one political party, either. In an effort to appease the other side and conciliate a mutual decision, the administration of the 43rd president bowed. Well, I use the “bowed” but, in truth, they just bent over — not a safe position.

Take the time to send a clear message to both parties. Democrats, your tax and spend days are over. Republicans, get with the program and quit trying to get along. You need to move along. Move along the track to restore the image of the United States in the world and stand for freedom first.

Encourage your congressional delegation to move the US back to a firm foundation. It’s very ironic that Richard Nixon not only opened the doors to China, but he also took us off the gold standard. That allowed the fed to print money at will — money not backed by gold. Bad decision.

Do we need to plan for the future? Unquestionably. However, we need to look to the past and correct the poor decisions and policies that fuel the mess in which we find ourselves mired today. I fume at the prospect of hard working Americans paying the mortgages for those who couldn’t manage their own money. It’s time for a major correction. Swing that pendulum, but make sure that once new officials are in place that they think about what will happen if they only pay lip service to what Americans demand. Hold their feet to the proverbial fire. Make them accountable.

Do it. Do it today. Vote. ‘Nuf said.