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Trouble with the Messiah’s Handle

On the 10th of December, I declared Christmas Music! I yanked the general music mix thumbdrive from my car’s USB port (a car with a USB port…there’s something I didn’t predict back in high school!) and replaced it with the Christmas Mix thumbdrive. I know some of the stores have been playing Christmas music since Labor Day, but I don’t do that. 30 days and that’s it. Two weeks before Christmas is plenty soon enough, and we don’t end Christmas celebration on December 26th. Why constrain Christmas music time? Easy. I don’t want to get tired of it. I’ve talked about this before: Do Christmas too much or too long, and it ceases to be special.

And there’s that wonderful first few days when you hear songs you haven’t heard for almost a year (at least if you stay out of Target and Wal-Mart) that have in some wonderful fashion become new again. Loreena McKennitt’s “The Seven Rejoices of Mary” brought tears to my eyes, which can be an issue when you’re trying to merge onto the 101 beltway. And that wonderful cover of “I Heard the Bells” by Ed Ames, especially the kicker line, which in Ames’ bottomless canyon of a voice gives me chills and then makes me want to cheer: “God Is Not Dead Nor Does He Sleep.”

I added one this year, as I do most years. John Rutter’s “Angel’s Carol” came on our classical station, and I instantly liked it. Zoomed over to Amazon, paid 99c, and it was mine. That’s how music is supposed to work. Shame it took us so long to get there.

Not all Christmas music appeals to me. Jazzy stuff, well, no. Santa Claus stuff, yuck. Frank Sinatra, don’t get me started. “I Wonder As I Wander” has always troubled me. Not sure why. There seems to be a back-current of despair in it, and I absolutely cannot abide despair. Ditto “The Coventry Carol,” with a melody like something you’d sing at a bad funeral.

And so to my big sort-of-a-complaint for today. KBAQ plays classical Christmas music and does a good job of it. They’re particularly fond of “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” from Handel’s Messiah, and I like it too, especially the cover by Glad. When it comes up on my Christmas mix thumb drive I sing along. Good, high-spirited, affirming, all the stuff I really really like. Until we get to this part:

…and his name shall be Wonderful;

His name shall be Counselor;

His name shall be Mighty God;

The Everlasting Father…

BZZZZT! Hold on there. We’re talking about Jesus here, and I’m a Trinitarian. Jesus is not “the Everlasting Father.” Yes, I know, the verse is taken from Isaiah, written long before we had a clear handle on the Trinity. It still sticks a little, especially in a Christmas context. Ahh, well. Prophecy is hard. Isaiah was doing the best he could, and nailed all the rest of it. I’ll give him that bit, and assume God the Everlasting Father won’t be annoyed if Handel’s Messiah gets the Messiah’s handle a little mixed up.

Nor will I. I save my annoyance for those insufficiently infrequent moments when I’m in a store somewhere and they start to play “Santa Baby.” Please take that song and stuff it up the chimney tonight. Then light a nice fire, the hotter the better.

It’s turning out to be a marvelous Christmas. Don’t forget the Geminids tonight. And sing along with those Christmas songs. That’s what they’re there for.

Rant: Processed, My Ass; I Wanna Kill Something

Yes. I wanna kill something. And what I wanna kill is the term “processed food.” I wanna drive stakes through its eyes, pound it flat with a sledgehammer, then flip it over and pound it even flatter. I’d stake it to an anthill except that I like ants a little too much. The term must die. It’s a lie, fake science, fake health, fake everything. It’s also racist, classist, and elitist. I’ve heard it enough. I do not want to hear it again.

Some background: Five or six years ago, when I was on the verge of turning 60 and my blood pressure was inching up, I saw my GP. The first thing he said was, “We have to get you off of processed foods.” He hadn’t asked me anything about my diet. He didn’t define what a “processed food” is. He didn’t know that I was eating processed foods, whatever they might be. He didn’t know what I ate at all, but he was so sure that hypertension is caused by processed foods that he didn’t consider his advice absurd. I was so taken aback by the lack of logic that I didn’t even call him on it. I will not make that mistake again.

I just wrote him off, and soon had a better GP. This one simply handed me a prescription for lisinopril, which has been doing the job just fine ever since.

Still, everywhere I go, I see cautions against eating “processed food.” Nobody ever defines the term. Everybody who uses it assumes that its definition is obvious and universally understood. I dunno… Is cooked food processed? Is pasteurized milk processed? No? Then what does “processed” actually mean?

Crickets. (Which some consider health food. Unless the crickets are killed first, in which case no, because that would be processing them.)

If it’s about salt, say that it’s about salt. And provide numbers. I did the science on myself and found that salt does not affect my blood pressure at all. (Obviously, YMMV.) There’s actually significant evidence that it goes the other way. In fact, there’s evidence that eating more salt causes you to lose weight.

If not salt, then fat? Research finding that most fats are not only harmless but necessary and beneficial is piling up. Eating fat gooses your metabolism, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve eaten carbs. Eating a high-fat, zero-carb breakfast is one of my major strategies for keeping my weight under control.

Sugar? I’ll definitely buy that. But it’s funny how nobody mentions sugar as a key element of processed foods. Chemicals? Which chemicals? Give me a list. Be specific. You and I are made of chemicals. I eat nothing but chemicals. And so do you. We need a precise technical definition here.

All that said, little by little, I’m beginning to get a clue. I may even have a definition for you: Processed food is any food that my tribe disapproves of. Yes, here and there I’ve heard snarky pseudo-definitions on the order of “any food containing more than five ingredients.” Good luck if you want six different vegetables in your vegetable soup. I counted the ingredients in Bugles earlier today: Corn meal, coconut oil, sugar, salt, baking soda. That’s it. Bugles are health food! (What’s scarier, to me at least, is that they’re over fifty years old, and I remember their introduction.) “Processed food” is in fact one of the most important entries in the Encyclopedia of Virtue Signaling.

“Processed food” is also, in some circles, code for something eaten by working-class people, who admirably don’t care what our fackwot Harvard-educated elites think of them. Harvard, by the way, was bought off by the sugar companies decades ago to make the case that sugar was safe and fat was evil. Ever since I learned that, I’ve considered Harvard a fake university, and The Atlantic agrees with me. The gist here is that you really really don’t want to be lumped in with people who work with their hands, so never admit that you even know what fish sticks or TV dinners are.

Ok, I know, shut up, Jeff and cut to the chase. Here’s the deal: The term “processed food” is an undefinable nonsense term used by snobs who try to make it look like they know something about health but are actually obsessed with distancing themselves from those yukky working classes. It’s just that simple.

Want to prove me wrong? Go find me a precise, technical, unambiguous, and widely accepted technical definition of “processed food.” You must meet all four points, without exception. (If you don’t, I will shoot it down in nuclear flames.) Otherwise, I think my conclusion stands.

How the Dunteman(n) Name Came to America

Note: I’m writing this for the benefit of several distant cousins whom I’ve just met for the first time, all of them descended from the younger brother of my great-great grandfather. Facebook doesn’t allow any significant text formatting, so Contra gets it.


My research shows that the Dunteman(n) name came to America from Germany at least four times: Once to Chicago (my group), once to southern Illinois, once to Cincinnati, and once to rural Iowa. As best I can tell, all four emigrations came from one small area of Lower Saxony. Carol and I visited the little town of Schlarpe back in 2002, and were allowed to peruse the church’s life records (births, deaths, baptisms) with the help of a German couple we knew who drove us to Schlarpe from Bonn. Some of what I outline here came from the church’s records; some is on sites like Ancestry, and some came from family history fanatics elsewhere on our tree.

My great-great-great grandparents emigrated to Chicago some time in 1849 or 1850 (we don’t have passage records yet) probably in reaction to the European turmoil of 1848. Their names were Johann Karl Christian Duntemann (1808-1863) and Millizena Erdmann Duntemann (1814-1896). “Millizena” is the old German form of Melissa. German men and women of that era often had two or three “first” names and chose one for ordinary life. He went by Christian Duntemann. In Germany, the name Duntemann always had two n’s at the end. It also had an umlaut over the “u”. Most Duntemann descendents who came to America dropped the second “n” in the years running up to WWI, perhaps to sound less German. As best I know, the umlaut didn’t survive the crossing to the U.S.

Christian and Millizena Duntemann had nine known children. The first name used by those for whom we have record of all names is underlined:

  • Amelia Duntemann 1834-?
  • Johanne Caroline Millizena Duntemann 1837-?
  • Laura Duntemann 1841-1851?
  • Heinrich Duntemann 1843-1891
  • Christian Frederick Wilhelm Duntemann 1846-1927
  • William Duntemann 1850-1921
  • Louis Duntemann 1851-1928
  • Louise Duntemann 1854-1928
  • Hermann Duntemann 1859-1933

We know nothing about the two oldest girls except their birth dates. They might have remained with relatives in Germany, or perhaps been married off before the rest of their family emigrated. (Finding the family passage records would be a big help here.) The same was true of third daughter Laura, until Old St. John’s cemetery near O’Hare Field was condemned and the bodies moved in 2011. When Christian and Millizena’s remains were exhumed, the body of a child was found beside them. She was wearing small gold earrings, and by her size might have been as young as eight or as old as twelve. Church records are silent on her fate, but consider that cemetery plots were often purchased only when the first member of a family passed away. Church records do show that the plot was purchased by Christian in 1851. Laura was ten that year, so we’re fairly sure the small body found was hers.

All of the children except for the three oldest girls are known to have survived to adulthood, and all but one of those survivors now have many descendents. The exception is Hermann Duntemann, who had a son Emil in 1888 who survived only a few days. His wife, depressed for many years by the loss of her firstborn, committed suicide in 1920. There are stories that he married again later in life, but we’ve found no record of a second marriage, nor of other children.

One of the many still-open questions is whether Christian Duntemann’s younger brother Charles was the one who emigrated to southern Illinois, down near Effingham. A Duntemann descendent living there currently told me that Charles Duntemann’s death certificate listed his birthplace as Schlarpe, Germany. There’s a conflict in birth years, but such conflicts are fairly common in family history work. Schlarpe is a very small town (we’ve been there) and although another Charles Duntemann was possible in that era, it would be unlikely.

That’s the story of how my Duntemann bloodline got here. (I descend from Heinrich; the cousins I’ve recently heard from descend from William.) I haven’t been doing a lot of active searching for a few years, and my genealogy database program won’t install under Win7. So it’s time to go shopping for a new program, as I suspect my good cousins are about to shower me with facts I didn’t already know.

Odd Lots

Egg++ and My USB Microscope

Something a little peculiar happened this morning. I cracked an egg into a (white) bowl for scrambling, and the albumen looked a little pink rather than clear. Blood, fersure, though I already knew (I don’t know why) that blood in an egg doesn’t necessarily mean that the egg was fertilized. However…next to the yolk was a little brown thing about 3/8″ long. It was about the right shape for an embryo, but it was too small to pick out any details. So…

…I cranked up my new USB microscope, which I got from Carol for my 65th birthday this summer. Worked like a champ:

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I’m no expert in chicken embryology, so this is still a guess, but I’ve never seen anything like it in an egg before. The pink in the albumen suggests blood, after all.

Here’s the setup I used to take the photo, which will show you the microscope and its focusing stage:

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Like any reasonable optical microscope (we have one from Carol’s college years in biology) it has a coarse focus (the knurled column attached to the metal base) and a fine focus on the end of the camera tube itself. It plugs into any USB port and draws whatever power it needs from the port.

The device shown above costs $77.95 from Amazon.

If you don’t think squicky blobby things do the instrument justice, here’s something on the hardware side. This is a surface-mount LM386 audio amp, measuring just a hair over 3/16″ long:

LM386SM0002.jpg

The imaging software I’m using (free) is called MiniSee, and it works tolerably well. Other packages exist, and as time allows I’m going to try them.

The real challenge with the microscope is lighting. Lighting makes a huge difference in the quality of the image coming in from the sensor. There are eight white LEDs in a circle around the sensor, with a brightness control built into the USB cable. These work well for looking into dark places (like the back of my mouth) but don’t do well with objects lying on the metal stage. A flat black background is useful, especially for metallic objects. I intuit that some sort of small gooseneck desk lamp would do the trick, and I’m looking.

The instrument comes with a number of plastic probe tips for looking at your ear canal, up your nose, and, well, where the sun don’t shine. The mini-CD wouldn’t spin up on my quadcore, and as it turns out I didn’t need it, given MiniSee. (One of the reviewers on Amazon claims it’s all in Chinese, anyway.)

Overall, I’m more than pleased, especially for something in the $75 price class. There may be better ones. I see quite a few on Amazon. But this one will do.

Oh…I scrambled the egg and ate it, once I picked out the embryo. What’s a little chicken blood when dinner generally hits the table medium-rare and still dripping?

The Missing Month of October…and Oh Yeah, Hawaii!

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People are starting to ask me if I’m dead or something; my last post here was at the end of September. I’m by no means dead. I’m merely 65, which means I don’t have the volcanic energy I had when I was a mere child of 50. And there was much on the calendar in October. A certain part of it was medical, which I don’t feel like going into here, apart from saying that it was nothing life-threatening, just profoundly irritating. (Nor is it over, alas.) Some of it was home improvement: We replaced every window in the house. Every. Last. One. Why? Most windows have some sort of flange or handle to grip when you want to slide them open. Not these, no. The only grabbable part was the little lock-handle, which I doubt was designed to take that kind of lever-arm. I broke one not long after we bought the house. So we got rid of them all, in one swell foop.

And we added one. That was the real challenge. My somewhat-too-small office (see photo above) had these weird double doors that swung inward, which (given that my big reading chair was in front of them) made them utterly useless, and left my office without ventilation. So we had a local handyman tear out the doors, 2X4 up a frame for a new window, and then add wallboard, sheathing, insulation and stucco below the window once the window was installed. Because the whole wall had to be retaped and repainted, that meant moving an 8′ bookcase containing all of my reference books and many of my programming books, as well as a huge file cabinet and my reading chair. The handyman added a new outlet box for the benefit of my steampunk computer table, and I changed all the outlets and plates on the wall because the existing duplexes didn’t all match.

I’m fussy about my workspaces, let’s say.

There were whole days (most of a week of them) during which my office was basically unusable. I moved my lab machine out to the wet bar, but it just wasn’t conducive to writing. And by the end of the day, I was generally so worn-out that I sat on the couch with my Paperwhite and devoured novels rather than wrote. Writing is hard work. You knew that, I hope.

Somehow I did make some solid progress on Dreamhealer in October, while swatting off distracting ideas for new novels like flies. I hope not to alienate my readers here, but if I have a choice between making progress on a novel and dropping an entry onto Contra, Contra generally doesn’t win. My low energy levels are making me look at what may or may not be a Real Thing on the personal energy front. The cost seems excessive, but the need is real.

And then finally, on the 25th, Carol and I hopped a plane and flew to Hawaii. At last, personal energy ceased to be an issue. We spent a few days on Maui, and then flew to Honolulu to take a room at the New Otani Hotel on Sans Souci beach, which overlooks downtown Honolulu. It overlooked something else: The War Memorial Natatorium, a titanic ocean-water swimming pool with bleachers, built to commemorate WWI, built in 1927 and now falling apart. The photo below is the view from our balcony.

What did we do in Hawaii? We slept in a lot. We bobbed in the water a lot. After dark we flew a Megatech Firefly until it broke. We talked about the damndest things. We ate maybe a little too much. We took in the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium, both of which were an easy walk from the hotel. (In fact, they were the major reason we chose the Otani.) We tried our best to act like newlyweds again.

Our room faced west, and from our balcony we watched the sunset most nights. They were among the most colorful sunsets we’ve ever seen.

The food at the Otani was excellent. They serve corned beef hash that has so little potato in it that they might as well call it pulled corned beef. The open-air dining room overlooks the beach, and requires reservations even for breakfast. They have a more formal restaurant on their second floor that has geishas, and prices so high even we balked. Fortunately, there is a little convenience store in the next building that sells decent sandwiches and Bugles. Picnicking on the beach was in fact a fine thing.

I made a game out of grabbing driftglass from the surf, which sounds easy until you try it. I picked up quite a bit of it our last afternoon at the beach. One assumes that the brown glass is from beer bottles, but it seems awfully thin for bottle glass. I found a piece of white glass with a blue Japanese design on it, and assume it came from a sake bottle.

While diving for driftglass fragments on the wave-tossed ocean bottom, it occurred to me that Driftglass would make a great title for a novel–and I even got a concept for one to match. Alas, Samuel R. Delany did a story collection called Driftglass in 1971. Will that stop me? Don’t know yet. Let’s just say that I have a lot of other writing to do first.

We spent Halloween at the beach before heading home on November 2. In honor of Halloween, I watched British blob-monster movies on my laptop all the way home. There are several, two of them Quatermass films. Damn, but they seemed way scarier in 1963. We haven’t had a genuine blob monster movie released in quite a while. Reboot, anyone? Once I score The Blob, I may do a writeup on the genre here. No, it’s not British, and like a lot of American horror movies, it centers on ukky creatures eating annoying teenagers, generally while they’re trying to make out. That may say something about something. Don’t ask me what, because I don’t want to know.

And so I return to Contra, with solid plans for several new entries, including one on health insurance that will doubtless annoy everyone. I also feel the need to do a few good rants. Not sure what I’ll come up with next, but I’ll think of something.

Odd Lots

  • I get asked several times a year: “What are your politics?” Tough question, given that I think that politics is filth. But now Jon Gabriel has answered the question for me: I do not join teams. I create my own. I’ve been doing this all my life. I’m not going to stop now.
  • Side note on Jon Gabriel: He used to work at Coriolis back in the day. So although I’ve been seeing him online for years, I never realized until very recently that he was our Jon Gabriel. (There is another who does diet books.)
  • Twitter is experimenting with doubling the size of tweets to 280 characters. I wonder if Gab had any least little bit to do with that?
  • Cirsova Magazine posted a short excerpt of something called the Denham Tracts from 1895 on Twitter, with a longish list of British supernatural beings, among which are “hobbits.” You can see the whole fascinating book on the Internet Archive. It was published by the Folk-Lore Society and it’s exactly that: Short notes on British folklore, including local saints, odd little ceremonies, song lyrics, and supernatural creatures I’ve never heard of, like the dudmen, wirrikows, gallytrots, miffies, and loads more. (The list starts on page 77.) Great fun!
  • At last, it looks like a popular treatment of sleep science is coming to us. Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep will be released on October 3. This long-form piece provides some background. Walker is willing to say what I’ve been saying for decades: Do not short your sleep. Bad things will happen, including cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s and who knows what else. Unlike me, Walker is an expert on the subject, so maybe you’ll believe him.
  • Lack of sleep can kill you. So, evidently, can low-fat diets, according a Canadian study of 135,000 adults in 18 countries, published by The Lancet. Note the reactions of NHS physicians, who aren’t convinced. (In their defense I will say that the Mayo Clinic is still pushing a low-fat diet in their newsletters.)
  • Here’s a long, rambling, but worthwhile discussion of how the fake science of fat demonization came about, and how, faced with the spectre of being shown to be wrong about something (impossible!) governments are doubling down on the fake anti-fat message. Government actions cause harm because we can’t throw the responsible parties in a cell and leave them there. The King, after all, can do no wrong.
  • Via Esther Schindler: The history of email.
  • I’d prefer that it be in Pascal, but so it goes: There is a Javascript code baby onesie. My grand-niece Molly is now a month old. Decisions, decisions…
  • In his will, philosopher Jeremy Bentham specified that he was to be mummified, dressed in his ordinary clothes, and put on display. So it was written. So it was done.

The Great American Eclipse, Nebraska-Style

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A little over five weeks ago, Carol and I threw the Pack into the Durango and blasted north for Colorado Springs. We spent a day there visiting, then passed off the Pack to Grandma Jimi (the breeder from whom we bought them) and headed north again. We didn’t drive past our old house. We decided, in fact, that we would never drive past our old house ever again. Closure is good, trust me on that.

We got the the Denver airport just in time to pick up my oldest friend Art, whom I had met in kindergarten, and who in 1969 had dragged me away from my pile of broken TV chassis long enough to meet my wife. All along northbound I-25 were dot-matrix signs from Colorado’s DOT, warning us about heavy eclipse traffic. Well, we had a plan for that. Instead of going straight north into Wyoming, we headed NE out I-76. We left I-76 at Sterling, Colorado, and drilled almost straight north into deepest Nebraska.

This was not an impulse. This was something I had had in mind since we began making plans for the trip several years ago. I had a hunch that most people would make a beeline for places where the path of totality crossed an Interstate. That’s why we didn’t keep going east to North Platte. And forgive me for being right: We saw very little traffic once we got away from I-25. Many other people we know, including Charlie Martin, got caught in some nasty traffic jams coming down I-25 from Casper, Wyoming. Not us. Nebraska’s backroads are excellent, and there was almost no one else on them. We reached Alliance, Nebraska about 3 PM the day before the eclipse. I had reserved a hotel room there a full year before, practically the day they began taking reservations. That was a good thing, as there are (I think) all of three hotels in the whole town.

With the hotel room squared away, we roared off to Wells Ranch, a few miles south of Alliance. There we met my high school friends Pete Albrecht and Ernie and Michelle Marek, along with their daughter Laura. Ernie had reseved space for us all at Wells Ranch, which had cleared one of their cattle pastures (you can guess what that entailed) and set up to receive as many as 1,000 visitors in tents, RVs, and trailers. Ernie brought his Airstream trailer, and Pete a tent. We had a nice little encampment fairly close to the portapotties and the building where the Wells people were providing hot meals, especially burgers and sausage made from (extremely) local beef.

One startling thing we saw on pulling in was that the sky was full of kites. I hadn’t seen that many kites flying in one place since the old WIND kite festivals at Chicago’s Grant Park downtown while I was in college. I hadn’t thought to bring one, but a nearby camper had a few extras and I actually got to join the other campers in sculpting the sky, as they say.

Art did a little better than kites: He brought his professional-quality 4K video camera drone. He didn’t fly it a great deal, but he took some video footage and a few stills of the campers in the Wells pasture.

We spent an hour ot so catching up, and laying our plans for the next morning. Come five PM, we all piled into the car and headed back to Alliance. For that Sunday they had blocked off pretty much the entirety of their main street, and threw one helluva party. A local rock band played, and all the restaurants had tables and catering trucks outside. Beer flowed like water. It was a beer crowd, as you might expect; I looked in vain for wine.

When Monday morning came, Alliance and its surrounds were covered in very dense fog. I got a little nervous at that point. Back in 1972, some friends and I (including Art and Ernie) had driven almost 2,000 miles to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to see a total eclipse, only to be clouded out a mere hour before totality. The fog lifted eight-ish, with only a few scattered clouds remaining, and we began setting up our equipment.

Art, Pete, and Ernie are hobby photographers with fabulous cameras, filters, telephoto lenses, etc. I’m not. I didn’t plan to photograph totality at all. Instead, I brought my Criterion portable scope (which I had bought to see Halley’s Comet from Bonaire in 1986) and arranged it to project a magnified image of the Sun on a sheet of foamcore board. This worked very well for the partial phases of the eclipse. No need for glasses; we were never looking at the actual Sun.

Partway through the partial phase, some denser and far less scattered clouds wandered in. My blood ran cold. This was how it had begun in 1972. Fearing that this was as good as it was going to get, I took a couple of remarkably good shots of the partial phase right through the clouds, with the clouds acting as their own solar filter. All I did was aim my Canon G16 at the sun, and snapped away on auto. But damn, I was worried.

Very shortly after I took the shot above, the clouds dispersed in a hurry, as though God had leaned over the railings of Heaven and yelled “Shoo!” I stilled my pounding heart; it would not be 1972 redux.

As the partial phase of a total solar eclipse nears its end, the quality of the light changes. It gets “thin” in a weird way, which I have always characterized as “elfin.” Some people say it seems a touch green. It does seem more than a touch spooky. We put my spare sheet of white foamcore down flat on the ground, in hope of glimpsing the mysterious and hard-to-see shadow bands. Carol and I had seen them during the total solar eclipse of 1998, from a cruise ship in the Caribbean. It helps to have a large area of plain white to look for them. We had the side of a bright white ship, and the shadow bands were immdiately obvious in the last few seconds before totality. Nobody quite knows for sure what causes them; see the link above for several theories. The Sun became an ever-thinner sliver, putting the area into something like deep twilight. I looked at the foamcore, and damn! Shadow bands! They were hard to see and only lasted a few seconds, because then…

Totality.

Everybody all across Wells Ranch cheered. It got dark, but not midnight dark. Twilight-gray faded to a weird off-black. The Sun’s corona was much larger than I had predicted, and cast quite a bit of light all on its own. Yes, it really did look like Art’s photo at the beginning of this entry. During totality you can look at the Sun through a telescope, and we did. There were several pink-violet prominences at points around the Sun’s limb. You can see some in the photo below (from Pete Albrecht) if you look carefully:

This was a short eclipse, with only a little more than two minutes of totality. I took some quick looks through the Criterion, but mostly I just stood and basked in the strangeness of the light and the weirdness of the corona. I wondered what our primitive ancestors might have thought, when chance placed them in an eclipse’s path. Were I even a hard-headed Neanderthal (and they were very hard-headed) I would have been hard-pressed not to ascribe the sight to supernatural activity.

And as a quick aside, I need to point out that eclipses of the sort we see are a consequence of a truly weird coincidence: That the Sun and the Moon present almost precisely the same angular diameter to people on Earth’s surface. A smaller Moon would merely transit the Sun’s disk. A larger Moon would have blocked out the prominences and even the corona. So why did it work out this way? Nobody knows. It seems an astonishingly unlikely thing. In truth, the Neanderthals’ guesses are pretty much as good as mine.

It lasted for two marvelous minutes and change. The end of totality is signaled by something no less astonishing than the eclipse itself: A dazzling point of light appears along the limb of the Sun, forming what people call the diamond ring effect. Like the shadow bands, it lasts only seconds, before the exposed point of the solar disk broadens to a slowly growing and painfully bright crescent. Again, people cheered, not so much because the eclipse was over, but because we had driven a long way to see it, and succeeded. (Unlike us in 1972.) This was my third total solar eclipse. I expect to make it four, come 2024. I hope to make it five, but more than that…unlikely. So I cheered with the whole gang scattered across the cowfields. We came. We watched. We triumphed.

Then it was over, and before the Moon moved entirely away from the Sun, people were throwing stuff into their cars and trailers and heading for the exits. I expected that, and it was the reason we had all decided to stay the rest of the day and the coming night in Alliance, so that the mad rush out of town would be other people’s problem.

And well that we did. That night, in the mostly empty cowfield, we were graced with some of the darkest skies any of us had ever seen. The air was clear, and apart from Alliance’s lights on the northern horizon, there was nothing to dull the stars. The Milky Way was as bright as I’d ever seen it. We leaned back in our lounge chairs and reminisced about Lane Tech, while spotting a few satellites and several very bright meteors, probably late Perseids.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had taken a quick trip a few miles north to Carhenge, one of the most peculiar things I’ve ever seen. Back in 1987, an eccentric artist created a model of Stonehenge, only made out of 1960s and 70s cars, all painted gray. There is something delightfully human and weirdly Rural American about it. Nobody would do something like Carhenge in the Seattle suburbs. Sure, it’s a tourist trap. We were tourists.

Worked as designed.

And so it ended. In a way, the expedition redeemed our ill-fated coming-of-age adventure to Cap Chat, Quebec, in 1972. Closure, as I said, is good. Pete took a photo of the three of us who had gone that time, along with a little blue souvenir flag that Ernie had somehow managed to retain for 45 years. Better late than never–and it had been well worth the wait.

Odd Lots

The Other Fry’s

Sure, you’ve got Amazon Prime. (I do too.) But I have something that (most of) you don’t have: Fry’s Electronics. It’s a 12-mile drive from here, so I can’t just dash over anytime I want, like I can to Artie’s Ace Hardware. However, I realized after stopping in after a 15-year hiatus the other day that I need to go there more often.

Fry’s is hard to describe. It’s a double-big box store, done up in Aztec decor to look something like a pyramidal temple. It’s the ultimate nerd supply house, and has everything you might expect: motherboards, memory sticks, power supplies, cases, monitors, hard drives, Flash drives, software, and so on. Want to build your own desktop? It’s all there. However, Fry’s is remarkable for going even deeper into the wild country of the word “electronics,” right down to resistors and capacitors, soldering stations, shrink tubing and wire in any color you could name, and aluminum chassis. Good lord, they even have panel meters. Tools, wow: multitesters of every sort, needle-nose pliers, dykes (sorry; I still call them that), Dremels, Internet cable connector crimpers, and on for page upon page.

It gets a little nuts after that: toys, kites, CDs, DVDs, candy, all kinds of snacks, light bulbs, night lights, swamp coolers, refrigerators, camping gear, CB radios (!!), and fifteen varieties of fidget spinner. There was a display of something I truly don’t understand: body shapers (which is I think the generic term for things like Spanx) printed to look like bluejeans. Yes, I know, there are plenty of women nerds…but underwear in a resistor shop?

Crazy world.

Why was I there? I’ve noticed over the past year that the Mozilla codebase has grown ever more memory-hungry. Waterfox has taken to gagging with just six or seven tabs open. I’ve been meaning to add more RAM to my quadcore for some time, on general principles. It started out as an XP machine, and so had a scant 4 GB since I bought it. Now I had an excuse. Windows 7 Pro 64-bit can manage 192 GB of RAM, so throwing 16 GB at it is no big deal. But since I dropped those sticks into the quad, I haven’t heard the least little feep out of Waterfox.

Excellent prices, overwhelming selection, and people in the aisles who know what they’re talking about. Still another expression of the boggling richness of Phoenix’s retail sector. Fry’s Electronics is legally unrelated to Fry’s supermarkets, but was created by the sons of the man who founded the supermarket chain. If you’re ever in town for some reason, make sure you go over there. If you do, call me and I’ll come along.

Buy some hot pink shrink tubing. Dare ya!