Lstrblg

Grg Lstr's linkdump and thoughts on science, family and things in the ocean that would kill you if given the opportunity.

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What in Hickory is going on?

Allow me to start off by saying that I’m an all-around, card-carrying skeptic. Sagan is my bread and Randi is my butter. That said, I loves me some ghost stories. An interest in the paranormal and weirdness is what made me a skeptic, after all.

One of my favorite things to do is to listen to scary stories and one of my favorite sources for scary stories is the Anything Ghost podcast, which is charmingly straightforward.  Nine out of ten of the listener stories he recounts seem to be your classic sleep paralysis tales, but occasionally you get something a little more chilling (there was this a full on “get out of my room” story about a dead sister in the latest). It helps that I tend to listen before dawn while jogging or walking the dog.

This isn’t really about a ghost story, but on the second part of his annual Halloween program, he rebroadcast a story from another podcast about a haunting in Hickory, Pa., which is on the opposite side of the commonwealth from yours truly.

I’ve never heard of Hickory before, but it was described as a pre-Revolutionary town amid the mountains of the Alleghenies.  Since I always wanted to be a Lovecraftian protagonist, my antiquarian heart was all aflutter over the possibilities of casting eyes upon the relics of an ancient borough–so I popped it up on Google maps when I got back from my jog. Turns out, it is just a census designated place in the hills just south of Da Burgh.  Home to

What caught my eye was a lovely little anomaly–see it?

I cast Sacred Flame

Meanwhile, in Hickory

ENHANCE!

What Do on Dire?

Something weird is going on at the end of Dire Drive, a remote little cul-de-sac community that the Google car didn’t even bother to drive down.  Is it a cool satellite lens flare, a holy sign or, perhaps, Boba Fett entering the atmosphere? (C’mon, Slave 1, anyone?) Here’s a look from another map service:

I can’t see what it was reflecting off of here, though. I was expecting solar panels, but none of the other maps show anything. Weird.

Tales from Stinkbug Manor: Just Like That Softball is Over

I never really wanted to coach softball. My baseball experience petered out toward the end of 8th grade, with the end of little league and the fading appeal of stickball games in the cul-de-sac on Grace Lane.

I present to you the JYA Freaks In Cleats 2018 team, assembled for the last time together in uniform

But then my daughter began T-ball in Kindergarten, grudgingly, and the team’s volunteer coached made no small noise about being voluntold for the position by his wife. So, not to beat my chest too much–this isn’t what this post is about–I stepped up.  I gave him a hand. And, the next year, I when J was still too young for machine pitch, I volunteered again. Fearing I topped out what I had to offer these kids, I didn’t offer to be head coach of J’s machine pitch team.  (This becomes a recurring theme through the years–I’m going to write a book entitled How to Succeed in Coaching Children through the Peter Principle.) Of course, I ended up being an assistant coach.

By the time J was aged into to the minors in 4th grade, I was drafted into the organization’s board to be groomed for commissioner, a position that I deftly sidestepped. Instead, I ended up helping coach my son’s team when another parent volunteer dropped out.  The next summer, I was the softball minors coach and I had to reconstitute the team–begging kids and parents at times to sign up.  Jenkintown has a problem keeping girls in softball. The high school doesn’t field a team, so the little league players all end up in other summer sports, like lacrosse. It didn’t help that the last coach was a bit of a hot head. So, I had to convince kids to play. There is no shame in admitting that I just don’t know the mechanics of pitching, so I found a few other dads to fill in the gaps in my ability.

It was a good team, and we had a decent season that year, which I entirely owe to Dave and Matt.

For the last two years, I’ve been Anthony’s assistant coach along with Matt. Anthony is a great guy and knows the rules of the game better than anyone I’ve met. He coaches with a sense for sportsmanship and the stern glares of a man who teaches high school science for a living, which he does. He loathed bushleague behavior like proud Americans once loathed the Commies.  (Not fond of either bushleaguers or Commies, myself.) Practicing twice a week with the kids. Dragging my daughter out of the house to make it on  time. Getting our butts kicked by teams two thirds comprised of travel players. It has been a good two years and now, as of this past Friday’s playoff game, it is over.

I’ll have my memories, but I can’t help get a little nostalgic. Some manly tears will be shed. My proudest moment is still watching J catch the first fly ball from the first at bat of the season. I remember each at bat from the first base coach’s spot. Not just J, but all the girls. More or less the same crew since Kindergarten.

J’s happy to be done with it.  She loved the game, but never enough to see the point in really working for it. It was fun. She practiced bench cheers more than throwing, and never really understood why she didn’t play second. .  Our girls had spirit, for sure, but never the skills like we acquired playing after school every day. A combination of too many activities and not enough greenspace in our quirky little town to compete for a playing spot, I suppose. For them, softball just became a thing to do until it stopped. None of our girls play on travel teams. It just doesn’t happen.

Coaching isn’t over. There’s B’s soccer team–another sport whose requirements by 4th grade have already surpassed my skills and experience. I was head coach last year, which was fine, but now we have a new team and I’ll end up being assistant, which is also fine. Still, I’ll miss softball. The cheers. The chatter on the field.  Anthony’s frustration. Matt’s pep talks (“youse guys gotta get your heads outta your butts”).

I never really wanted to coach softball, but then I did.

 

Tales from Stinkbug Manor: It Ain’t a Sprint

B. is fast. J. is too, but B. has the running bug. If he keeps up with it, he can be really good. He doesn’t like the short runs, but events like the 1600 make him happy. He can strategize and plot. The distance gives him room to adapt to the other runners.

That goes with everything, unfortunately. Soccer. Guitar. Trumpet. School. Everything he likes to do comes somewhat easy to him. That’s what worries me.

J., however, is a struggler. She overthinks stuff. She has to work at things and doesn’t always want to. That worries me too.

I never really liked to write about the kids too much here–I like to respect their privacy–but this is about me. I really struggle with finding ways to encourage them even when the payoff is a long time away.  And that’s the hard life lesson for everyone–time has a way of moving forward, and incremental progress has a similar way of accumulating results. I’ve had my ukulele 13 years. Not a coincidence that my oldest turned 13 this year.  A little plucking once a day could have led to something, much the same way that the extra cookie each day also led to something.

“You could be there by now if only you…” that level of regret and admonishment are starting to creep into how I speak to my kids, and I need to quit it. The same way I think about it myself. All the things I didn’t get to do 15 years ago made possible the things I have now every bit as the things I did do, if that makes sense. Sure, I could have retired by 40 if we had saved 80% of our income, but then we probably we wouldn’t have chosen kids. We should have bought a bigger house at the outset, but then the recent series of property tax increases would have driven us out of the town we like. I could have written that book or played that uke, but I still can. Incrementally. A bit at a time.

This was a good weekend. It is finally warm. The kids birthdays have come and gone, and so have the associated sleepovers. The missus and I are groggy, but Tonka is still mellow and the house still stands.

Next comes spring cleaning and the great big resetting of things.

Pitch: Doc Savage and the Land of Terror

I’m a fan of public domain pulp weird, horror and adventure fiction.  My Kindle can hold a vast reservoir of books and I’m exceedingly cheap, so the public domain is a great source of good stuff.  Last night, I just finished reading my son the first two Doc Savage novels, which were published in these monster 100-page magazines for 10 cents a pop in the early 1930s.
3304.jpg

I admit, I tend to do a little editing as we read along, as these books are a product of the time. I know we look for racism in every corner nowadays, and the first novel, at least, would generally be considered racist by today’s standards–Doc Savage and his team find a lost kingdom of Mayans. After killing some bad guys that were trying to exploit the tribe for their own end, Doc is named a member of the tribe and promised a never-ending supply of gold to right the wrongs of the world with his team of adventurers.  I see it more along the lines of Western imperialism, which was more of a cultural default position back then, but there you go.

What is perhaps more striking is all the inadvertent homo-eroticism. To put it in context, Doc is the first superhero–essentially Superman without much of the Christ allegory (although, some!). He had a Fortress of Solitude in Arctic, where he would go to devise new inventions or create new medical cures.  He, like Buckaroo Banzai 50 years later, had a super-mind. He was a surgeon-scientist-engineering-legal mastermind wrapped in bodily perfection. It is the bodily perfection part that gets a lot of play in these first two novels. “Kenneth Robeson” (Lester Dent) never misses an opportunity to point how physically perfect Doc is.  Superheros are new, I get it, but it gets a little weird. Doc is, in reality, quite asexual, although I’m sure, if the character were more popular, it could fill entire queer studies lectures.

OK,  so here’s the pitch, based off of the second Savage book, The Land of Terror, which is essentially a criminal mastermind-meets-Lost World novel. Here you go Hollywood, a ready made Avengers meets Jurassic Park/Kong script:

Summary: Adventurer Doc Savage and his band of adventurers chase a criminal mastermind Kar and his army of disposable goons across 1930s New York and to Thunder Island, home to dinosaurs, prehistoric animals and the secret of the Smoke of Eternity, Kar’s mysterious murder juice.

Think Dieselpunk: Doc’s world is full of incredible post-WWI gadgets and gizmos. This will be a New York in the Art Deco sci-fi mold of Metropolis or the Shape of things to Come. Let’s replace Doc’s conventional tri-motor plane with a full-on amphibious flying fortress.  Doc and his team carry his machine pistols, which will look like 45’s with little curved magazines attached. They’ll each hold 100s of tiny yet high-impact rounds.

Characters:

Doc Savage, Man of Bronze. Full on earnest boy scout of a character driven to the point of being a little dark. Frankly, the Rock was a great choice, but he needs to be leaner in muscle tone, like his muscles are of metal themselves. And yes, it needs to be played by an actual bronze-skinned person.

Doc’s Team: Monk, Renny, Ham, Long Tom and Johnny. I want to see a multi-ethnic cast. Whereas each of them are experts in their respective fields, they posses the foibles Doc doesn’t: womanizing, drinking, etc.  Renny usually carries a sword cane. Give each their own distinctive weapons and talents.

Monk, chemist. Ape of man, he doesn’t need a weapon to fight

Renny, engineer. He’s huge. Give him a big machine gun, like a Lewis gun to lug around

Ham, lawyer. He’s average height and slim built. Vaguely aristocratic he carries around a sword cane. Ham and Monk have dueling personalities

Long Tom, geologist. Electrical engineer. Give him a goddamn ray gun.

Johnny, anthropologist/archaeologist. He’s nerdy with glasses (one lens is a magnifying lens). He’ll carry a machine pistol but make him a martial arts master.

Kar: the main villain. The twist in the story is that Kar turns out to be the man the team has been protecting all along. The script would need to build clues up Shyamalan-style, but not has hamfisted as in the book (Ben picked up right away that Bittman was Kar all along).

 

 

Design for an Audience, a talk by the NYT science graphics editor

 

This is well worth your time: http://style.org/ku/

If I need to explain why, then you don’t know me very well

Hat tip to Flowing Data, which is also worth your time. Don’t ask me why.

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