Sunday, December 7, 2008
The opening credits consisted of silhouetted images that show the passage of time: waltzing couples, ladies with parasols, gentlemen with those old fashioned bicycles with the big wheel, and eventually people standing beside a remarkable sleek car. It was just a silhouette but it looked like something that you’d see in those old rotoscoped Superman cartoons. (If you’ve never seen one of these cartoons, they are public domain and easy to find online. This is one was nominated for an Oscar but lost to a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Rotoscoping involves tracing live-action footage frame-by-frame which results in amazingly life-like character motion. You can sort of see this fluidity on You-Tube but you should see a DVD version if you think you’d like these cartoons.)
So, anyway, where was I . . . a silhouette of a really cool car. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if they really made cars like that and not just as part of an art deco set design.’ About 30 minutes into this movie Roland Young gets a job selling cars for the Flying Wombat auto company – so that’s why they used that silhouette. It was a very cool-looking prop and something that I could imagine being created by William Cameron Menzies, the production designer, but as the movie progressed they drove the prop car. David O. Selznick may have hired 800 extras for one crane shot in “Gone with the Wind” but I can’t imagine anyone wasting money in 1938 to develop an operational prop car.
It turns out that the Flying Wombat is actually the coolest car ever designed – the Phantom Corsair. The Corsair was the dream of Rust Heinz, grandson of the ketchup mogul. (Rust was his mother’s maiden name and not an awkward nickname for a car designer.) It was pretty innovative for its time and doesn’t look like any of the other really cool cars from the 30s. It had no running boards and the wheels were brought into the design of the body rather than being concealed in fenders, where they would remain far into the 50s. There were electric buttons rather than door handles. The interior was padded with cork and rubber as a safety feature. There was air conditioning and a radio with concealed antennae – I didn’t have a car with concealed antennae until 2000. The instrument cluster included an altimeter, presumably to reinforce its aircraft-like design, as well as indicator lights for the headlights, radio or if the door was ajar.
The body was designed in a wind tunnel which was not the norm for cars and which resulted in an incredible 19 foot wedge shape which seated 4 in the front and 2 in the back. The front seat was so wide, 5 feet, that passengers sat on either side of the driver and the back seat was even more cramped by the inclusion of liquor cabinets.
The Corsair was set to sell for $12,500 – that would be around $184,000 in today’s dollars based upon the Consumer Price Index. Unfortunately, only the prototype seen in the movie was ever produced. Rust Heinz died in a car crash in 1939 at the age of 25.
The Corsair is on display at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. Here are all of the Phantom Corsair scenes "Young in the Heart." And yes, the Wombat's horn is "The Ride of the Valkyries" which Coppola used during the helicopter attack in "Apocalypse Now" and which Jones used in "What's Opera Doc"
An article from Popular Mechanics, November 1940
The Phantom Corsair of the future?
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I am thankful that I’m able to appreciate little things. Sure, I’d like to win the Lottery but as long as the sun shines just right after days of cloudy, chilly weather I’ll have a happy life.
I am thankful that I tend to assume it’s my fault. Of course this is a result of a Catholic school education but the up side is that I don't waste time blaming others.
I am thankful that I'm not motivated by money. Again, yes, please, give me a Lottery win but there are more important motivations in life.
I am thankful that I out-grew drama long ago. Life is to short to go out of your way to make it difficult.
I'm thankful that I have no one to forgive (because no one has wronged me lately and those who have in the past have already been forgiven.)
I'm thankful that I have things to be thankful for and the sense to be thankful.
Friday, November 21, 2008
I am enjoying my conversations with Bill Bloemer who is teaching CHE 137 Chemistry Cooks. Bill is the Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts and Science and, like so many other retired UIS faculty, continues to teach. He was also the person who hired me so we've had a lot of cooking conversations over the years - something we both enjoy.
A couple weeks ago, his class was covering the Maillard reaction. This is chemical reaction involving an amino acid and a sugar (Bill would give you a better and more correct answer.) Maillard results in hundreds of different flavor compounds and is the basis for many artificial flavors. If you've ever made a pan gravy by scraping the brown bits off the bottom on the pan, you've tasted some of these flavor compounds.
I did the lab assignment for his class (at least the fun part that resulted in dinner) by making gumbo. I've made many a roux in my life (flour and fat used as a thickener) but I've never had the courage to make a chocolate roux, which is required for gumbo. If you know how to make a roux, imagine continuing to cook it until it goes from white to blonde to tan to chocolate. Those color changes are a sign of the Maillard reaction. It was not as difficult as I thought. By the time it got dark brown, it started smelling like burnt popcorn, but it didn't taste like it.
Last week, they were studying brining ('tis the season with Thanksgiving turkeys on the menu soon.) Common knowledge is that brining is an osmotic process in which salt, which is in higher concentration in the brine, moves through the cell walls of the turkey to create equilibrium. If you watch Alton Brown, he says this every year and has cute demonstrations of how it works. Bill likes to watch Alton, but he tells me Alton is out of his mind when it comes to brining. He says osmosis would move water from out of the turkey in an attempt to dilute the brine. Equilibrium might be the result but it would be at the cost of a shriveled up turkey that had lost its moisture.
Of course, this isn’t what happens when your brine. Your turkey gets heavier and juicier and the salt and other seasoning do get into the turkey. So if not osmosis, as Alton says, then what? Bill says it’s not a cellular process. Muscle tissue is made up of bundles of cells, muscle fibers. He thinks that the muscle tissue is simply acting like a sponge and holding water among the fibers rather than within the cells themselves.
He did an experiment with some porkchops. He weighed two porkchops. One was soaked in plain water and the other was brined. After an equal soaking time, he weighed the two porkchops again. The brined chop had absorbed more liquid than the unbrined chop. His theory is that the salty brine breaks down the connective tissues that hold the muscle fibers tightly together. This means that there is more potential space between the fiber which allows them to absorb more water.
Friday, October 31, 2008
They are both really good movies which hold up more than 70 years later but what fascinates me is that they are both good examples of Technicolor, specifically two-strip Technicolor. The two-strip process was first used in 1922 – so yes, there are a few full-color silent films out there for you to enjoy. The images produced by the two-strip process are composed of red and green and the result is odd to the eye. The color is unnatural and bold which creates an effectively eerie mood at the end of “Doctor X”.
The Technicolor that most people know followed this process and was known as three-strip Technicolor. If you’ve ever seen “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, “The Wizard of Oz” or “Gone With The Wind” you’ve seen a Depression-era example of the three-strip process. What is fascinating to me, and what I learned only a few years ago as I studied the two-strip process after watching my favorite scary movies, is that Technicolor movies were shot on black and white film – it’s an optical process rather than a film stock.
A Technicolor camera simultaneously films an image on three different rolls of B/W film. In very simple terms (simple is the best I can offer with my level of knowledge), light bounces off the object being filmed and into the camera lens. As the light enters the camera, it passes through a prism array which splits it into the three primary colors of light – red, blue, and green. Each color of light exposes a single roll of B/W film.
Again, in really simple terms, this means the image of the blue sky was exposed on the blue roll, the grass was exposed on the green roll and the sun was exposed on the red roll. Of course, most images are a combination of colors so each roll would have the specific color aspects of an object, for example a purple horse would be on both the red and blue rolls (I couldn’t come up with anything purple so let’s assume it might be a horse.)
These three rolls of film were developed and then dyed their complementary color (red was dyed cyan, blue was dyed yellow and green was dyed magenta.) The three dyed strips could then be stacked together to produce a high-quality color image. This color theory is used in the three-color off-set printing process to produce the color images for magazines and newspapers.
Fortunately, for people like me, the Technicolor dye is really stable so, unlike your Polaroids from 30 years ago, a Technicolor film strip is practically unchanged even 70 years later. Unfortunately, for people like me, it cost a lot to create a Technicolor movie print so, if the processor created a less than perfect print, it still went into circulation to a smaller market. This means that even though classic film is still in good condition, it is not necessarily easy to find a clear, well-produced print.
If you’ve never watched “The Wizard of Oz” or “Gone With The Wind” on DVD, it is worth doing so. Remember that the images of these movies are made up of three strips of film being stacked on top of one another. This requires registration (the process of lining up the three images) but this was done by hand in a processing booth. So, even the clearest, most pristine dyed strips might appear blurry in the final print if it weren’t perfectly registered (it required an accuracy of at least 8/10,000 of an inch.) We've grown up with these iconic images that are actually second-rate blurry prints. Today, computers can perfectly line up the three color strips so DVDs present a perfect image. You will see the burlap texture on the Scarecrows face and when the Tinman says “oil can” you will see that he is rusty. It's like seeing the movies for the first time.
One final tidbit of local trivia to end this overly long post. The first three-strip camera was built by William Young who was born and lived in Springfield, Illinois until he was 48 years-old.
Monday, October 20, 2008
If you have an active sense of sight or hearing, it’s hard to avoid election news this month. (Notice I excluded an active sense of smell, but that might be true to some extent as well.)
Today, I noticed a news story which suggests that convicted felons may be this week’s soccer-moms/Wal-Mart-moms/hockey-moms/NASCAR-dads, etc (the one voting block which will tip the scales.) Apparently, nearly 100% of the felon vote goes to one party. (I’m not sure how they know this. I thought votes were confidential.) The article suggested that, if felons were open to spreading their votes more equally between the parties, it wouldn’t be an issue but being so single-minded in their voting presents an unfair situation.
But wait, felons can’t vote, right? My understanding was that convicted felons lost certain civil rights, including the right to vote. There are no voting booths in prison so they’re not voting there. And, once they’re released from prison, they regain their right to vote, right? Actually, not always.
Each state sets its own standard for restoring civil rights. From what I’ve been able to discover 33 states automatically restore voting rights when a felon has completed their sentencing. Some states automatically restore voting rights for the first felony but have more severe requirements for additional convictions. 3 states require an Executive Order from the Governor. (1 of these 3 allows a 2/3 majority in the state legislature as well.) 2 states require a pardon even if the sentence is fully served. 2 states do not suspend voting rights in the first place. Some states deem specific crimes to be so serious that voting rights are permanently suspended, the most common crime being buying/selling votes or preventing other from exercising their right to vote.
Friday, October 10, 2008
She’s a pretty good actress and I say that without bias – I can recognize when she’s on or not and she’d prefer to know the truth (I think:) As the article notes, I know her to be quiet and reserved but she is uninhibited on stage. On stage, she’ll do things she wouldn’t do in public, which suggests to me that the stage is a private place that others just happen to be looking in on. At least this might be the case for those who enjoy acting.
Once, she recruited me to play two parts in the play “Jeffery” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_(film) I’m not sure what happened to the person who was supposed to play those parts but I came in on the rehearsal before the first performance and I recall still memorizing lines between my first and second appearance on stage – I might have had 4 lines altogether but you actually have to say them at the right time and in the right order. I’m comfortable speaking in front of crowds so it wasn’t scary, but it was REALLY stressful. In my experience, it was me on stage speaking lines, and not a character, so the stage was a very public place.
All of this may have had an impact on how I advise campus-based LIS majors. Whenever a young, traditionally aged student sits at my desk to discuss course options, I always say, “I’ve got the perfect course for you” and then I show them the Intro to Acting course. I’m not exaggerating when I say “always”, I do this without fail, even if it’s not on the current schedule. In almost every case, their faces register the same emotional cocktail: a combination of ego and fear. Some quickly shift to the fear side and we move on to other class options but some get this subtle smile on their face, as if they’re imagining themselves on stage. When I see the smile, I try to sell them on the class. What better skill for a young, inexperienced student to learn? Better that they learn to define their public personae than to allow the world to define it for them. After all, aren’t we all actors?
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Polygraph – This was the first time I’ve seen a polygraph demonstration and, while it was interesting, the demo was not as interesting as the briefing. Like most, I equate polygraph with lie detector but the goal isn’t to prove someone a liar (except on Maury Povich.) Rather, the test is a resource management tool. The example used in the briefing was money missing from a bank with three employees having access. A polygraph cannot definitely prove who took the money, but it can tell you who is nervous when questioned so that the agents can focus their time on that person.
It was also interesting to learn about the testing process. I would assume that you’d walk in, get hooked up to the system, and answer predetermined questions but this isn’t the case at all. The examiner discusses the process with the person being tested and develops the questions with their input. This seems to defy logic since having pretest knowledge of the questions should give a good liar a chance to prepare, shouldn’t it? (No.) The test is performed three times, with the questions asked in different orders, so a good liar would have the chance to practice – if it was possible to control breathing, galvanic skin response (sweating), and blood pressure.
The examiner is trained to observe the test subject during the pretest and, based upon observation, hone the questioning so that the test is as accurate as possible. For example, if the question is “have you ever committed a robbery,” a victim of an armed robbery might have the same physical response as someone who is lying. To be accurate, the examiner would need to ask the question in such a way that acknowledges that experience.
F.A.T.S. Firearm Training System – This is that cool video game system with which agents role play stressful situations and it was cool but, again, the briefing was most interesting.
The briefing was given by the division counsel and it was clear that firearms training is legal training. A cynic might suggest that this training is an effort to teach law enforcement how far they can go without getting in trouble (and I can be cynical from time to time) but I don’t think that’s the case. It’s clear that the many agents I’ve had the chance to meet have a sincere respect for law and order. This legal training is an effort to work within the laws that they’ve committed to protecting since not doing so would destroy the public trust they need to accomplish their goals. In other words, I think this training is done with a sincere respect for law and not with a fear of being held accountable. It welcomes accountability.
I was also fascinated by the fact that the use of deadly force is a search and seizure issue. The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. The use of deadly force is the ultimate seizure and the concept of “reasonable” is central to the legal issues surround it.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
I was just starting to pay attention to the world in the Watergate era so I grew up knowing that Andrew Johnson was the only president to be impeached but I never actually paid attention to why he was impeached. I just assumed he got caught doing something wrong, like Nixon. After watching the movie, I did some reading.
One of Lincoln's wisest political beliefs was that the southern states should be welcomed back into the Union when the war ended and not punished as traitors. This was at least a factor in his decision to press for Johnson as vice-president in his second term. Johnson was a former Governor of Tennessee and was the only southern Senator who did not resign his office when the south seceded. A vice-president from a Confederate state presented hope for unity and forgiveness.
Radical Republicans (a phrase used to describe a group within the Republican party which came into power in the 1866 election cycle) weren't so forgiving. They were strong supporters of freed slaves and they wanted harsh punishment for the Confederacy. Among them, were cabinet members Johnson inherited from Lincoln, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. (Stanton may be best known for saying "now he belongs to the ages" at Lincoln's deathbed.)
In an effort to prevent Johnson from removing Radical Republicans from his cabinet, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act which required the President to get Senate approval before firing any of his appointees whose appointment had been approved by the Senate. The act, effectively, made it impossible to Johnson to appoint his own cabinet members who might share his belief in reconciliation. Johnson vetoed the bill but it was over-ridden and became law.
Johnson suspended Stanton, in keeping with the act, but when the Senate did not approve the suspension, he defied the law and fired him anyway.
So Johnson was not the scoundrel I always believed him to be. I only have a slight understanding of Johnson's impeachment but he seemed to be a bold leader who was willing to sacrifice himself for the betterment of our country.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
This week, we covered Civil Rights and White Collar/Public Corruption crimes.
Civil Rights crimes include hate crimes and abuse of power crimes involving law enforcement, what the agent called Color of Law. (Law enforcement personnel are given powers by federal, state and local authorities to enforce laws and to provide justice. When they employ these powers, they are acting under the color of law.)
Clearly, a discussion of these types of crimes is sobering, but what surprised me was that the number of Civil Rights cases investigated last year seemed to be small – less than a 1000. The agent was clear to note that Civil Rights crime, particularly hate crimes, may be small in number they have a large impact on society and, as such, are a substantial priority.
For me, the discussion of white collar and public corruption crimes was most enjoyable. Maybe this is because I work in a white collar world and these crimes offend me on a personal level.
In my own way, I’m an expert. I’ve worked in education long enough to know the ropes and I can use this experience to help students (at least that’s always my goal.) To have expertise and to have the ability to help others is a great gift. To corrupt this gift and to misguide those who count on you, or society as a whole, is particularly deserving of punishment. It’s good to know that there are agents working to ferret out these crimes.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Rather than watching the morning news as I get ready for work, I’ll watch Sponge Bob Square Pants – is that odd for someone who doesn’t have children?
When I might normally watch the evening news, I’ll do some chores around the house.
In the car, I’ve switched from the POTUS channel on XM to the comedy channel (at least I think I have, it’s hard to tell.)
And whenever I’m tempted to pick up my laptop just to see if there’s anything new on my news feed, I’ll play a game of solitaire.
I can’t say that I’ll regain the parts of my brain that have withered from convention-related trauma, but at least I’ll be a little less cranky and able to sleep.
Monday, September 1, 2008
I hosted a family picnic, which in my family does involve a small amount of showing off. We all like to cook and to eat so you’d better show some effort. The meal turned out well. I was mostly pleased with my mise en place which allowed me to take the meat off the grill to rest while while I brought together three side dishes in about five minutes. Yes, bacon did make a minor appearance in two of these side-dishes but it was the dessert that reaffirmed my faith in bacon – a buttered-rum ice cream with candied bacon.
I can’t take credit for the idea so please visit David Lebovitz site for details.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I am not one to enjoy large crowds so it is not in my nature to attend an event like Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s first official appearance as running mates. Had it not happened here, where I live, I probably wouldn’t have been all that interested. I’m a pragmatic sort so knowing he selected Biden is all I really need to know before I move on to the more important matters of my personal life, like mowing the lawn. Still, it’s not every day that you get the chance to attend an event like this, let alone have it come to your hometown. So just for you, students of Liberal Studies, I set out to document this event. (That, and my wife really wanted to go so I didn’t really have a choice.)
The event gates opened at noon for the 2 pm speech so, of course, we were in line at a little past 10 am. The line was verrrrrry long – we may have been numbers 2000 and 2001 – but the line proved to be the most enjoyable time. We chatted. We watched as the line grew even longer (it’s always more fun when you’re not at the end.) I even bought an Obama campaign button from a vendor. It depicts Obama flying over a cityscape dressed as Superman with the caption SUPER OBAMA. I wasn’t sure if it was pro-Obama or anti-Obama but it was the most interesting option.
Once the line started moving, it moved quickly. As we moved closer to the gates, we were told dozens of times that we could not bring in water or umbrellas and that we should turn on all electronics. I was actually surprised at how easy it was to pass through security. When I stepped through the metal detectors, I paused and waited. What, no frisking? Don’t you want to at least look at me suspiciously? I deserve a little stink-eye, yes? I’ve had a more difficult time getting into the court house for jury duty.
We were able to get onto the lawn of the Old State Capital. We were about 200 feet stage left of the podium but we were only 15 feet or so away from, what we suspected, would be the entrance point (we were correct.) Above us, on roof-tops, were men in jump-suits surveying the crowd with high powered binoculars. What a high-pressure job: scanning the crowd for potential trouble. Then, they brought out their sniper rifles so I stopped feeling sorry for them and starting giving them a bit of the stink-eye I thought I’d deserved.
We started the two hour wait in 90 degree heat – me, my wife, and 35,000 of our closest friends. As time passed, people started wilting, then out-right sweating, then smelling badly, and then, in a few cases, collapsing. The news reported that 25 people were taken to hospitals and that ambulances had to be called in from surrounding counties. The Red Cross was allowed in and they began passing water to crowd. (A security note: if you attend an event like this, bottled water is not allowed since it presents a throwable object. The Red Cross had to pour bottled water into paper cups, doubling the time it took to bring relief.)
Finally, the candidates took the stage. It was exciting. It was interesting to be present at something that might be remembered . Did I learn anything? Yes.
- If you are going to stand in the sun for hours, don’t forget sunblock. (I did.)
- There is no reason to show up early. Simply come at your leisure and push to the front. (I didn’t, but hundreds of others did.)
- When, after hours of sweating, you discover that you are no longer able to sweat, stop passing the water to others and drink it yourself.
- It’s kind of fun to say the Pledge of Allegiance with 35,000 people while facing a building-sized old glory.
One final bit of wisdom. As we were listening to Barack Obama’s speech an African American women pushed up next to us. She was too short to see past the crowd. She wanted a picture but was having trouble with her cell phone. I helped her activate the camera on her phone and a remarkably tall man standing near us held it up in the air and snapped the picture. She ended up with a grainy picture in which Barack Obama might have been represented by 3 or 4 pixels but she inspected it and was happy. She turned to her friend and said, “Now we can say we were here and we saw this.”
I would have been just as happy watching local television news coverage, but she was right. Sometimes it is good to be able to say you were there and saw it.
See my photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29848272@N06/
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Springfield is steeped in history, thanks in large part to Abraham Lincoln. We townies don't really bat an eye at what's around us. I mean, don't all of you have presidential tombs and libraries in your towns too?
There was a cold day in 2007 that Barack Obama came to Springfield to try to make a connection with our Lincoln legacy. If you weren't aware, he announced his candidacy here in our town - you can see his speech here http://tinyurl.com/5hx2jb At the time, he was just another person throwing his hat in the ring. He had some heat but this was back when Hillary Clinton was considered the likely Democratic candidate.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
One large component of these new tools are social networking sites. I have to admit, I'm a pretty private person and I don't do a lot of social networking beyond my friends and family, so these sites are a real mystery to me. For example, there is a VERY popular site call Twitter. (You know a tool has hit the big time when dozens of other developers are creating plug-ins to expand the tool.)
In a nutshell, Twitter is a microblog (I believe that's the correct lingo) which allows you to tell your followers every boring detail of your life. So I have two questions: 1) Are the mundanes details of my life interesting? Most Twitterers are like me and sit at a desk working at a computer. Do I need to broadcast when I go to lunch or whether I'm going to meet friends after work (can't I just do those things and not publish it to the world?) 2) Does anyone really care about these things? The goal of Twitter is to get others to follow your life. How many of us lead exciting enough lives that others would wait breathlessly for our next tweat (Twitter lingo for post)?
So, is there anyone out there who's into social networking? What sites do you use? Can you explain the allure?