Sunday, June 29, 2008

On The Air

Randy queueing up another great country hit at WFRB

Well, here is another oldie but goodie I dug up today. This picture was taken on Easter Sunday, April 14, 1974. Here we have a 21-year-old version of myself in the control room of radio station WFRB 560 AM and WFRB-FM 105.3 in Frostburg, Maryland. The station is located on top of Big Savage Mountain west of town, and due to its position on the dial, the station covers parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.

This was at a time before Interstate 68 eased the trip up the mountain, and you had to take the steep US 40 up the mountain. Some nights coming home, the fog was so thick you would not be able to see more than 2 feet ahead of you, and one wrong path would take you down the side of the mountain. Wintertime was also a challenge, as the Maryland State Police would often close Route 40 in the area and you could not come up or down the mountain at all.

Dig those groovy glasses! And what about that rotary dial, six-button telephone? The main console is a Harris board if I recall correctly, complete with the old-style rotary pots (the round knobs on the main console, or potentiometers...basically glorified volume knobs to control and mix the various audio sources going out on the air). Then there's the copy book open on top of the console for commercials and announcements to be read live. Of course, there were several carts (stereo tape cartridges) stacked up that contained jingles, commercials, and other pre-recorded material. Music was actually played from vinyl on professional-grade turntables. MP3s? Shoot, we didn't even have MP1s!

Those were some great times!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Finches Feeding

This morning I happened to find this pair of what I believe are house finches enjoying a breakfast of birdseed from my backyard feeder. I am no bird expert, but I think the colorful one is the male, while the fatter gray one is the female. Perhaps she is about to lay some eggs. In any case, they are fun to watch. On the page linked in this post, there is a place to click and hear their song.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Baby Robins

There are lots of red, red robins bob-bob-bobbin' along the Colorado Front Range these days, and a nest of babies is in my son's big shade tree. I got to see and photograph a little robin activity this evening, and figured I share some of them here. As always, click on the photos to get a bigger version.

First of all, here is a hungry little mouth looking for mom to bring him a worm.

Next we have two little guys wondering when they are going to get dinner. "Mom! We're hungry!"

Finally, mom shows up with a worm and keeps a wary eye on the guy with the camera while she tends to the brood.

There was another baby that fell out of the nest, and despite the best care by my son and daughter-in-law, it didn't make it. Such is life. It is hard for all the creatures.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The REAL Colorado Rockies

Sunset over the Rockies - click photo for larger view

Everyone knows that Colorado is a very scenic and picturesque place. Living along the Front Range where the prairies meet the mountains give many opportunities to enjoy the views nature gives us. The majestic Rocky Mountains always give an amazing backdrop the the sunsets, and often the clouds moving over them add to the display. The picture above was taken from my front porch.

One nice thing is that here in the Denver area, it is always easy to get your directional bearings. Look for the mountains; that is west. from that, you know all the other directions. Quite a handy navigational aid that is always there.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin Dead

I am sorry to hear about the death yesterday of George Carlin at age 71. I have followed Carlin's career for over 35 years, and consider him to have been more than just a comedian. He was a social commentator and iconoclast, speaking out on the ridiculous things that are verboten to discuss. When I took a class in public speaking at Allegany Community College (now Allegany College of Maryland) back in 1973, Carlin was one of the people whose recordings we listened to in order to study different styles of presentation.

From his routines like the Hippie Dippie Weatherman, through the infamous Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television, to his biting commentaries on business and religion, Carlin made hamburger out of sacred cows. His very entertaining books like Napalm and Silly Putty, and When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops kept me laughing.

Four years ago, I got to see George perform at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Now that he is gone, I am glad I went to the show rather than sticking around for the entertainment provided by the convention I was attending.

The world needs its iconoclasts. George Carlin will be missed by many.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Getting In Touch With Nature

We are a part of nature, and sometimes it is good to get back in touch with other parts of life on Earth. Maybe I am just getting old and reflective but I am finding more and more of a connection with the plants and animals around us as the years go by. I have always respected life and believed in the intelligence of other creatures. We human beings often forget that there is not much of a gulf between us and the rest of nature.

Since we now live where there are more trees than we have had in many years, I have noticed the sound of birds singing every morning as they perch atop the branches. About three weeks ago, I put out some feeders and found they are quite enjoyed by a variety of our feathered friends. Squirrels running along the fence and up the trees also chatter and entertain. Rabbits, although they eat at the lawn, have found a home at the base of our aspens; and deer still roam the dry gulch a few blocks away.

Yet, it is not just the animals that we enjoy in nature. The backyard is a bit of a mess from neglect from the previous occupant, but you have to start somewhere. So this weekend, the lovely spouse and I worked to clear out a neglected flower garden, raise the height of the retaining wall to level it out, and got it filled with new top soil. We then put landscaping fabric to cut down on weeds into the garden, and went to buy some perennial flowering plants to start bringing some color and interest to the yard.

My very amazing daughter-in-law came and worked with us to get the plants into the ground, and get the cedar mulch in place. The end result is a beautiful and colorful corner as the anchor of further future improvements. While I am not a gardener, nor do I particularly like the labor involved; there is something gratifying about selecting plants for the climate here, digging in the soil, and nurturing the plants.

This project occupied most of the weekend, but we now have something to show for our trouble. I will post some pictures soon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Elusive Planet X

For years after the discovery of the planet Neptune, perturbances in its orbit led astronomers to believe that there was another planet tugging at the eighth one. This belief was largely what led astronomer Clyde Tombaugh to search for Planet X which resulted in the discovery of Pluto in 1930. However, Pluto was much too small to have the observed effect upon Neptune. Many astronomers have continued to consider that a larger Planet X was out there.

Now new computer models are indicating that indeed, a larger world is out there, not only perturbing the orbits of other planets, but causing some of the activity in the Kuiper Belt. If such a world exists, it is so far out that the sun would appear as just a bright star. (Reminds me of the line in Three Dog Night's song, Out in the Country, that says "Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime.") What a fascinating place the outer reaches of the Solar System must be! Although one bad thing about it, is that it could be the holding ground for an extinction-level asteroid that could smash into Earth, ending humanity's existence. Have a nice day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

As The Worlds Turn

As a child, I was fascinated by astronomy, and remain so to this day. I had a telescope from an early age, and enjoyed many nights looking at the night sky through that little 3-inch refractor. In those days of the 1960s, astronomers had the Solar System pretty well defined. It consisted of nine planets, in order from the sun; Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto; with various moons, comets and the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Since that time, better telescopes and unmanned probes to the outer solar system have changed the view of our planetary system.

Today, eight planets are recognized, since the discovery of Eris, a world larger than Pluto, gave astronomers reason to reconsider the former 9th planet's status. It turns out that Pluto, smaller than Eris, is just a little larger than a few other newly discovered worlds orbiting the sun. Today, Pluto, Eris, and the former astroid Ceres, are considered "Dwarf Planets". Here are some of the recently discovered worlds circling the Sun.

Some of the most fascinating worlds in the Solar System are the so-called "moons", or natural satellites of the planets orbiting the sun. I say "so-called" because this is the term commonly used, even though there is only one world officially called "The Moon"...Earth's own companion.

Back in the 1960s, there were 31 known moons orbiting the planets. How that number has mushroomed!

Of course the Kuiper Belt, a second, larger, more distant asteroid belt has been discovered. Then there is evidence to support the hypothesis of the existence of the Oort Cloud, home to the comets, and extending a quarter of the way to Proxima Centauri (the nearest star to our own sun).

The more we learn, the more fascinating and complex is this part of the universe we call home.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

It's Fathers Day!

Today is the day set aside to honor that all too often unsung hero, the father. This year I feel fortunate in that my dad has dodged the bullet of a likely massive heart attack by his recent triple bypass surgery. He is doing well with his recovery, even to the point of spending the weekend at Galveston for the Banjo show at the Opry House. He is bouncing back from this major surgery, and reach his 79th year next week. My father has always worked hard to take care of me and my sisters and brother when we were kids, and he is one of the great men I admire. His wisdom and counsel have set the example for me to live up to with my own children and grandchildren.

I am also proud to honor my father-in-law, who despite several major health setbacks is still with us in his 83rd trip around the sun. He spent his entire career at one company, from the time he was a teen. That is almost unheard of today. Those years of working on steam and diesel locomotives took their toll on his body, but he too did it everyday to provide for his family. There is so much I look up to in him as well.

So to all the dads who so often get less recognition for their sacrifices than they should, I send very Happy Fathers Day wishes.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sunday Will Never Be The Same

I, like many others, am shocked and saddened today upon learning of the sudden death of NBC Washington Bureau Chief and host of Meet The Press, Tim Russert. There's a lot being said about Tim, and I did not know him other than his television persona, yet I found him to be one of the most likeable, yet insightful observers of the political scene. He appeared to thrive on politics, and even in the midst of pressing a politician for an honest answer, he never got antagonistic or disagreeable. Tim Russert, Sunday mornings will not be the same without you. The MTP institution will continue, no doubt. But the Russert era is sadly over.

"If it's Sunday, it's Meet The Press."

Back In The Fast Lane!

Yeah baby!! After a month and a half since I disconnected Comcast cable Internet service at the townhouse, I finally have my own broadband again! Yesterday my Qwest DSL router came via UPS. Now Comcast worked pretty well, but I must say that the DSL is even faster. It was not difficult to set up, but Qwest, like most Internet providers, assume you either use Microsoft Windows or Macintosh OSX. They provide a CD that runs on one of those systems to set up the modem. I generally detest setup CDs, as they mess with your computers settings. I don't want any of their "features", either software or web, so I would rather just set up and go. But given that they provided no instructions for configuring the service manually, I borrowed the lovely spouse's laptop that has Windows XP on it to run the setup routine.

A few minutes later, we are back online! The router I ordered from them includes an integrated WiFi 802.11 b/g access point makes it very convenient to set up a home network. It comes preconfigured for WEP encryption, but it was a snap to reconfigure with WPA, so I did that and we were off to the races. I also set the power from 4 all the way up to 10, so I should get good coverage. Right now, on this Linux laptop, I am getting a 93% signal, and I am downstairs and the router is across the house and upstairs.

I originally plugged the router in to a phone port in the living room, but it apparently isn't live, so I moved it to the kitchen for setup. Unfortunately, I noticed that the wires all over the counter would not make the LS happy, so I moved it upstairs to the other phone port...the one in our bedroom. Well, come bedtime, she notices the flashing LEDs were too bright for her to sleep, so I told her to stick it under the bed for now. So that is where it is at the moment. I may have to find a better solution, but for now, it works.

I had Qwest DSL where I lived 3 years ago, and it was fairly solid service. I am hoping I get an equally stable DSL here. So far, so good.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The New Mister Television

In the 1950s, comedian Milton Berle, fondly called "Uncle Miltie", was also given the nickname "Mister Television" for his groundbreaking work in the early days of network TV. Is there a successor to the title in today's world of 500 channels? If so, I nominate the ever ubiquitous Regis Philbin for the honor.

Regis just turns up all over the dial. His long-running Regis & Kelly (formerly Regis & Kathie Lee) continues in syndication; Game Show Network reruns ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire; Last year he hosted NBC's America's Got Talent, and he now is on a revival of the old favorite Password on CBS. In this revival of the old show that was amicably hosted by the late Allen Ludden, Regis Philbin and celebrity contestants play with the average Joe or Jane to see if they can give away a million bucks. And who better to do that than Reege? The new Million Dollar Password looks like it could be the latest hit game show, as it has all the core components...a familiar and likeable host, a million-dollar prize, and the nostagia factor to bring the baby boomers into the fan base.

I watched the premiere episode, and thought the contestant, Dante Mercadante (love that name), left too early. He was doing great, but got cold feet. But who can argue with his fifty-grand prize money?

The password is "entertaining".

The Ongoing I-69 Project

The ongoing project to extend Interstate Highway 69 south from Indianapolis to the Texas-Mexico border continues to move along slower than rush hour traffic. The plan has been surrounded by a number of controversies, with people fighting against it for anti-NAFTA reasons to conspiracy theories to environmental opposition. In Texas, the project is the Trans-Texas Corridor, and will run southwestward from Texarkana to an eventual triple fork running to the towns of Laredo, McAllen, and Brownsville, all on the Rio Grande and the Mexican border.
The Houston Chronicle reports today that TxDOT has changed plans to route the highway through rural areas to the north and west of Houston, instead using existing US 59 (the Southwest and Eastex Freeways), the 610 Look (West Loop and North Loop), or the Grand Parkway (Texas 99). Through most of the state, US 59 will become the new I-69, and while much upgrading is needed, a lot of this highway is already up to Interstate standards, particularly in the Houston area.
However, running the new "I" either straight through on US 59, or worse, putting it on 610 (the busiest highway in Texas, and possibly the U.S.) seems to me to be a bad idea. If this gets Grand Parkway completed, it will be a much better routing, in my opinion, although the new road will quickly become as developed and congested as the others. Still, it is far enough on the outskirts of the city to avoid running the Mexico to Canada traffic into the Bayou City's rush hours.
I-69 already exists from Indianapolis to the Canadian border in Michigan, and upon completion, this will be a major trade route from Mexico to the markets in Canada such as Toronto, Montreal, London, and other major cities. For more on I-69, check out the following links:
Snopes debunks a sexy I-69 myth
Houston Chronicle article about the routing of the highway

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!!!

Well, it is June 1, and it has been a while since I posted anything dealing with roadgeekery. Therefore, it's time to do so!

I took this picture in late April heading back to Colorado from Houston. It is a stretch of Texas Highway 6, just a few miles to the north of the towns of Bryan and College Station. Highway 6 is a major state highway that runs from Galveston County on the Gulf Coast, to the Red River where it crosses into Oklahoma to become Oklahoma Highway 6. Major cities of note on the route include Houston, College Station and Waco.

The thing that makes this stretch of highway interesting is the fact that there is not one center stripe, but for each lane. But that's not all. Notice that there are not only rumble strips in the pavement on the outer edges of the roadway, but between the center stripes, there is also a rumble strip. This is a great idea, as it would give a loud, audible warning if a driver veers across into the oncoming lane. Such a simple thing could easily result in saved lives by warning inattentive drivers that they could be about to cause a deadly head-on accident.

This is one innovation that should be considered for all roads where oncoming traffic shares the pavement without benefit of an esplanade.