Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Have Enough

Lest you think I have abandoned you, oh faithful readers—both of you, let me apologize for my lack attention, and explain my absence. My place of employment has delivered one crisis job after another for the past week requiring in their mind my presence 24 – 7 (although even they recognize the impossibility of that) and in my mind the usual 8-5. I have been through one too many crises with my beloved employer and the notion of the fate of the planet hinges on my presence yet again has worn thin. This collision of expectation between my employer and I has resulted in a unhappy 12 to 16 -7 arrangement that has left me exhausted, and well, somewhat pissed off. Pissed off enough that suddenly the notion of retirement, which has, until the very recent past, remained some murky facet of the future that I would prefer not to think about, has moved from the shadows of my conscious to center stage. It is, as they say, time to check the numbers.

Retirement. Ah those lovely years of endless free time and no responsibility. My wife and I can travel, spend hours partaking in the hobbies we never had time for, learn to play the piano…enjoy life to it fullest without the damned alarm clock going off at 5:50 AM. Quite frankly, retirement scares the hell out of me. What I see is ever increasing decrepitude, ever increasing prices, and ever increasing expenses on a fixed income leading to an ever increasing level of poverty. I don’t really care for the notion of my wife and I running a foot race with our meager assets. Can we make it to the grave before they run out? It is time to buck up, stiff upper lip, fight the good fight, and not belabor my mind with silly notions of retirement.

Looking into the crystal ball of what lies in the near future of my employment, a series of business trips lasting for months…and when I am home a delayed project finally going into production which will be just one crisis after another. For the next two to four years, I see pretty much an endless diet of 12 + hour days seven days a week, much of it spent away from home, and all of it conducted with “the sky is falling” attitude from management. That is probably a pessimistic exaggeration on my part, although not the travel, that it is real. The pessimistic exaggeration is the endless part, surely it can’t be endless. Yet that is what I see and I am seriously asking myself, is this how I want to spend the next few years of my life?

Part of me is ashamed. When I drive into a Wendy’s at 7 PM and see the same gal at the drive thru who rang up my groceries 9 AM that morning—a gal whose haggard look leads me to believe that she is probably 5 to 10 years older than me, my unhappiness seems absurd. When I read of the unemployment, of the people who have lost their homes, of the ever increasing numbers of people living in poverty, I feel a sense of shame. I have been blessed with a decent job, why do I want to part with it so badly?

Shame not withstanding, I feel the finite quality of my remaining years starting to close in on me. If I follow my father’s foot steps, I have four years left. Do I want to spend them working? I am getting tired of the rat race, tired of the problems, tired of the dithery-dithery the sky is falling--when are you going to have this done questions and telephone calls from management. Tired of being told this is the number one priority…this is the critical path…this is a billing…. Tired of being told this is the hottest job on site, but oh by the way your people have to go to some inane training for the first two hours of the shift…but we still need to get this done.

The question “Will I have enough?” is always one of the great philosophical questions regarding retirement. One of the great philosophers on the factory floor told me several years ago on the eve of his retirement…”When you have had enough, you will have enough.”

It is time to go check the numbers. What I hope for, and sincerely doubt, is that the numbers will show that I am a damned fool to continue working. A second possibility is that the numbers will show that I am a damned fool to think I can retire. Most likely, however, the numbers will be far murkier. Why should I be entitled to clarity on this decision in my life? Most likely the numbers will show yes I can retire, but at a significant sacrifice. Then the decision will basically be…when I have had enough, I’ll have enough.

Links To My Other Retirement Posts:

You can read all of my retirement related posts at:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reality Becomes More Real?

Back in the early 90s I attempted to write a book. Nothing come of it, I never finished it or attempted to get it published. With my thoughts on photography here lately I remembered writing a passage comparing art and photography while walking on Christmas Eve 1990. The comparison of photography to art is part of a larger discussion on reality. I won't vouch for the accuracy of any of the physics. Here is what I wrote on Christmas Eve 1990. The photos and illustrations have been added now and are not from the original text. Forgive me for the length.

"Cogito, ergo sum."
"I think, therefore I am."
René Descartes, 1641

Yesterday a cold front passed through with high winds and a weird thunderless lightening. All yesterday the temperatures dropped, and over night we got about a half inch of snow. It is Christmas Eve, and I am out walking.

Down here on the road, I am amazed how much water is running because it is cold, low 20's. All down the side of the cliffs and along the road the water runs unimpeded by ice. Where the water splashes, the adjacent twigs and plants are frozen in a crystal wonderland, but the running water shows no sign of freezing. Not all that surprising considering that two days ago the temperatures were in the 60's, and we have had a lot of rain. I can't find the daisies on the S-bend; the cold must have gotten them. At the bottom of the hollow, a horse is out in the field. He is wearing a blanket and seems to want to visit with me. He comes over to the fence in the corner of the field and stares at me. Odd, the horse has never paid any attention to me before; why does he want to see me now? Maybe he knows that it is Christmas Eve, and he wants to wish me a Merry Christmas. I would like to go see him, but he is on the other side of the creek. I snort and whinny at him. He replies in horsey, some nods and hoof stamping. I don't know what he said, but for that matter, I don't know what I said to him either. I hope it passed for a greeting.

It is cold and windy with a cloudless sky, about half past three in the afternoon. I am surprised to be walking into an almost setting sun. I am always at work at this time of day, so this is a different experience. I have never thought much about it before, but the road must follow a south west course despite all the twisting and turning. With the cold air, I try to pay attention to the quality of the sound. I can't really say what the ambient noise is like; it is muffled by the creek and the runoff. But I notice that those sounds are sharper, crisper. Cold air is denser and can vibrate better than warm air. Sound travels faster and has a better fidelity in the cold. Cold clear air also has a crisp visual quality. There is no haze to obscure the view. The sky is extremely clear and blue; everything has a sharpness, a precision, a higher resolution as if somehow you had more rods and cones packed into your retina. Edges are well defined. Although there is less light from the low winter sun, it is reflected back with greater clarity. The cold clear air gives the world the quality of an Ansel Adams photograph instead of the usual murky look of an impressionist painting. I suppose that it is the humidity and the pollution that immerses the view in fuzziness. But not today. Today has a raw edge. The cold has given everything a harsh, austere, and brittle quality. Reality has become more real. It is lonely out here.

How can reality be more real? What does temperature, humidity, and clear air have to do with reality or loneliness? Common sense tells us that a tree is the same tree whether it is viewed through haze or clear air. The tree is the same even if totally obscured by fog or darkness. What changes is our perception of that reality. Nineteenth century physics would have agreed, reality exists independently of the observer. It is there no matter what. But in twentieth century physics, things get strange. Reality depends upon an observer--the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Note! Click on photos for full size.

The act of observation causes a "collapse of the wave function", and thereby creates a firm reality out of what previously had been only a statistical set of possibilities which exist in a wave form of probability or chance. A major tenet of the Copenhagen interpretation is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Discovered by Werner Heisenberg in 1927, the principle states that it is impossible to know with absolute precision both the position and the momentum of a particle. It is not a problem with the measuring equipment, rather it seems that position and momentum do not exist in simultaneous precision. The uncertainty principle has been expanded to include other properties and is called the complementarity principle. The whole deal comes down to that reality, at least on the subatomic scale, exists only as a throw of the dice frozen in midair until someone takes time to observe what is going on. At that time, the dice land and reality hardens into physical existence. Does a falling tree make a noise if no one is in the forest? According to quantum mechanics, without an observer, the tree and the forest does not exist in a material sense, let alone the noise. How the universe operates when we are not paying attention is something that I don't quite understand. Do you find this a bit hard to swallow? Don't feel bad, so did Albert Einstein who said: "God does not throw dice." Niels Bohr, a founder of the Copenhagen Interpretation, put big Al in his place when he replied "nor is it our business to prescribe to God how He should run the world."

Now if all this seems strange, then consider the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics. This interpretation was developed by Hugh Everett with encouragement from John Wheeler in the late 1950's. Instead of the wave function collapsing into one firm solution of reality, the universe splits and a new independent universe is created for each possibility. Flip a coin and two universes result, one for heads and one for tails. Roll a pair dice and our one universe must split up into 36 different universes, one for each possible combination of the two dies. Imagine how many universes are created by some of the state lotteries.

But they pale in comparison to all the universes that are created by nature. You see a split occurs for every quantum event, and quantum events are rather tiny subatomic occurrences (such as: is a photon absorbed or reflected) that continually occur at a prodigious rate throughout the universe. You don't need anything near as complicated as a state lottery or even a coin to split up universes. Each new universe continues to split and so on. So according to this theory, there are countless and ever increasing editions of you and I roaming about in countless and totally isolated universes. In many of these universes you are not reading this blog: I decided not to write it, Blogger decided not to publish it, you decided not to read it, I am dead, you are dead, the server is dead, I was never born, you were never born, somebody got trigger happy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. . . . Makes you tired, doesn't it? I wonder what big Al would have said about this one. Fantastic as it sounds, it is a viable theory, and intelligent people give it credence.

So is reality more real in the cold? Is it harsher, lonelier, more austere, more brittle? Or are you being victimized by plagiarism--unintentional, but nonetheless plagiarism? How often have we read the Arctic, the Antarctic, or some mountain top is cold, austere, barren, forbidding, etc, etc, and that reality in this cold place is more real simply by the forbidding elements which one is forced to endure? Reality becomes more real because it forces you to pay more attention to it. You are uncomfortable so it's more real. It is a cultural thing, if it's cold, it's more real. It probably goes back to Jack London and the polar explorers. Is today no more real than a pleasant summer day, it just seems so? But if reality depends on the observer, as the Copenhagen interpretation suggests, then today is more real simply because I observe it to be more real. But then again, if I observe a little green man in the middle of the road singing "Ave Maria", is he real just because I observe him? Can I go about forcing figments of my imagination on the world? What about those people who live in the world of their imaginations: children and the mentally ill? Should we regard their claims seriously because they observe an phenomenon? Perhaps what they see is real. Maybe they are caught in a worm hole between two universes. Physically, they are in our world. But mentally, they are in a parallel world, similar to, but not exactly our world. Maybe their delusions are real. Could maturing be the process of learning to keep one's mental life in the same universe as his physical being? Maybe the mentally ill have never learned the process, or through some trauma have forgotten. Possibly they are victims of an oddity of super-space rather than psychosis.

Is there a physical basis for the magnitude of reality? And really what do we mean, is something more real? I am not sure that we can apply the tenets of quantum mechanics to the macro-world, to everyday life. Does nothing happen on the dark side of the moon? From all appearances, everything does just fine without observers. But if there were no intelligent observers in the universe, would the universe exist? Let us consider for a moment a universe that is exactly the same as ours except that there are no intelligent conscious forms of life and no Divine Beings. Just to be safe, let's suppose that this universe is devoid of all life, and can not be observed from superspace or some other universe. Would such a universe exist? On the one hand yes, on the other no. Everything is there: matter, energy, space, and time. But who knows that it is there. No one. How can something exist, if there is no one to verify the fact? So it does not exist! Yes it does, we just said so. No it doesn't because no one is there to prove it. It does exist! It doesn't! It does! It doesn't. . . .

We are back to the old sound from the falling tree in the earless forest. Does such a tree make a sound? Well now, that all depends on how you define sound. If you define sound as vibrations in the air, then, yes, our proverbial tree makes a sound. But if you define sound as vibrations in the air being perceived by an ear, then, no, our tree does not make a sound. So can we use the same argument for the existence of our lifeless universe? If existence is defined as a state of being, then yes, it exists. If existence is defined as a state of being perceived by an intelligence, then no, it does not exist. Does it all boil down to semantics? No, I think it goes much deeper than the meaning of simple words, but I am not sure why. I think that part of the problem is that the earless forest exists in a world where there are ears, so even though there may be no ears in the particular forest, there are ears somewhere in that universe. The idea of sound exists. But now, does the falling tree make a noise in an universe which has no conception of the term sound. I think not. What the hell difference would it make? Of what value is sound in an earless universe? I think that the state of existence demands an intelligent observer. If there are no observers, then there are no words to define. No words, no thoughts, no recognition, no existence. Of what meaning does the idea of existence have if there is no one to determine that the idea of existence should exist. In fact, there is no one to have any ideas about anything. Do ideas exist independently of a thinking mechanism? I don't think so. Again we are considering this problem as though there is no such thing as a Divine Being. But did we not agree that this universe was there? Sure, but in doing so, you and I became the observers of it. Even though we are removed from this universe, we gave it existence by our agreement that it does exists. Eliminate us and it no longer exists simply by the fact that there is no one to realize that it exists, or that there is such a thing as existence. In such a universe, existence does not exist. Or as Descartes might have said: No one thinks, therefore nothing is.

But looking at the other side of the coin, what if you and I think that this place does exists. We observe it daily when we leave our padded cells at the institution and meet on the planet Retipuj for a fine afternoon of philosophical discussion on the nature of existence. Does it exist? The orderlies at the hospital never see us leave our cells, but you and I know better. We have our daily trips to Retipuj. So does Retipuj and its surrounding universe exist? This sort of reminds me of a tale that a guy in the service once told me. Where he grew up in Texas, a neighbor had an old flathead Ford V-8 engine and a milking stool setup in a chicken coop. This guy was seriously working on a space vehicle for a trip to the moon. It's a shame that NASA hadn't heard of the guy, might of saved a lot money on those highfalutin rocket engines--just use an old flathead Ford, damn good motor. I wonder if he ever made it? Before you send the guys in the white coats after me, realize that many fiction writers claim that they have no control over their characters. Once they create the character in their minds, the character then seems to live an independent life in their imaginations. So, do these characters exist? If reality is the impinging of a physical existence on an intelligent network of neurons, how is that so vastly different from the network of neurons creating its own reality? The final result of both seems to be the firing of neurons. Judging from the incomes of some fiction writers, I would have to say that their characters are a hell of a lot more real than my paltry life at the factory. Perhaps reality can only be defined as something that at least two or more intelligent observers experience and can mutually verify.

I am at the second S-bend, the nettles are looking bad. Still a little green in places but for the most part dried up and brown. I round the bend, and again I am walking directly into the low winter sun. It has an almost silvery quality as it shines through the bare branches of the trees. About a half mile back, I mentioned the photography of Ansel Adams and impressionist paintings. Which is more real? Who observed a scene longer, Adams or Monet? Adams could click a picture in about 30 seconds. How long did it take Monet to paint one?

If reality depends on observation, which is more real photography or painting. Think about this. The painter must observe the scene, process the visual information into hand motions, paint the scene, compare the painted scene with the actual, and make corrections. During the process, the painter must make conscious decisions: which brushes, paint shades, stroke styles, paint densities, and textures to use. Think of the flood of neural activity that must occur in the painter's brain during the painting process. The painter must experience the scene in a more intimate fashion than a photographer. Based on the Copenhagen interpretation, wouldn't we have to say that the painting is more real because of the magnitude of involvement required by the painter. The guy has poured his heart and Soul into this painting for hours. Ansel, by comparison, looks at the scene, decides on a film, a lens, shutter speed, f-stop, filter, focus, and CLICK.

Consider for a moment that you are a military planner. Would you want a photograph or an impressionist painting of the enemy's territory? Which is more real? Perhaps both media are just as real but in different ways. The photograph is more real in an objective way, whereas the painting is more real in a subjective way. Thinking back on that flood of neural activity in the painter's brain, how much of it is filtered or enhanced by emotions and past experience. A certain Norway spruce brings back, for the painter, memories of a lovely romantic interlude from years ago. Yet that meadow over there looks just like where the painter was thrown from a horse. Couldn't we expect that the spruce and the meadow will reflect the painter's experiences in a subtle and unconscious manner? Now you happen by and look at the painting, pretty good, but something is wrong with that spruce. It does not look real. That you sprained your ankle under a similar spruce never enters your mind. Because the scene must be experienced, it is colored by the painter's past life, emotions, and personality. The painting is more real with respect to the painter, yet the photograph is more accurate. I suppose that our appreciation for a painting will reflect our agreement with the artist's experience and world view. If we do not share that experience, we probably will not appreciate the art.

There can be artistic choices made in photography as well. Yet these choices have to be made on a conscious level. The choices will influence the entire scene rather than one part of it; unless we are speaking of doctored up photography--trick or computer enhanced--which then enters the same realm as painting, although still on a more conscious level. If you are altering something that already exists, you have to do it on a different level than someone who creates a scene from nothing. Unaltered photography, however, can only reflect a limited amount of artistic choices, the results of which can be accurately predicted by the photographer. Therefore we would have to maintain that photography is more objective--real than art.

What is more real art or photography? Let's consider another area. Suppose that you are a machinist. Someone wants you to make a complex gizmo for a franistandt. Would you want a photograph of the gizmo or a blueprint of it? A blueprint is a drawing, so is it art? What happens if the drafting technician's emotions enter the drawing? Maybe this person does not like the Gizmo Corporation. Yet we hope that the technician's experience will enter the drawing and clarify the ambiguous areas. Perhaps a section is needed here or there. If the gizmo is complicated, what would be more real to the average person in the street, a photograph or a blueprint? To the machinist?

You know it's odd, at one time I could draw a passable blueprint. Passable enough to get me through God knows how many drafting courses--but not passable enough to be hired as a draftsman. "You want this drawing this year? You got to be kidding!" Yet, I can't sketch a dog as good as my seven year old son. Give me a Kodak Instamatic, and I'll take a passable picture of the dog, but don't give me a Nikon with all those dials, levers, knobs, numbers, beeps, and flashing lights. The best that you would get would be a dog shaped blur. What if I had to do a blueprint of a dog--not good enough to manufacture a dog, but good enough that a machinist could look at it and know that it was a dog. Could I do it? I suppose that I could render one down from a photograph using a compass, dividers, strait edge, and French curves. Yet it would not be a very believable dog compared to one that my wife could sketch in 10 minutes. So what is more real a blueprint or a sketch?

In an absolute sense, there is no reality in any of the graphic arts. Three dimensions have been squeezed into two, it is not real. Yet we have thoroughly accepted this lie. If you have ever looked at a hologram, you will understand immediately the fiction of two dimensional graphic art. I always find myself looking at the edge of a hologram trying to find a reason for their depth. Even though rationally I understand the principle of holograms, I find them fascinating because they appear to violate reality. Holograms don't look real. Pictures are not supposed to move around as you move your head. Under the fascination, there is an uncomfortable edge that one is somehow being fooled. Yet the hologram, at least in terms of the third dimension, is more real than a normal photograph.

In his book Disappearing Through The Skylight, O. B. Hardison Jr. borrows the term "necessary fictions" from poet Wallace Stevens. Necessary fictions are those elements of our psyche that allow us to make sense out of the world by using untruths. Hardison presents the idea with a discussion of map which "are wrong in the sense that they misrepresent the truth about the world. The world is round, not flat. Their wrongness is precisely what make them useful." And so it is with all graphic media, they tell the "truth" through a lie. Three dimensions are squeezed into two. Drafting recognizes this fiction and corrects it with the standard three view orthographic projection. Paper can only display two dimensions accurately, length and width. The orthographic projection utilizes this fact by totally ignoring depth in the drawing. Instead of giving you a fictional three dimensional drawing, drafting technicians give you three very accurate two dimensional renderings of an object as viewed square on from each dimension. Thus, the drawing has a front, top, and side views. Drawn to scale and showing all the details of a surface, these drawings are extremely accurate representations of an object. They are very real. Yet inexperienced people find them difficult to understand. Reality is harder to understand than fiction.

Drafting technicians tell lies also. The orthographic projection will show all hidden surfaces as dashed lines. For instance, a square block with a hole drilled through it would appear in one view as a solid square with a solid circle, a truth. With no method of showing the hidden surfaces, the other two views would simply be a solid square, also a truth. But with the addition of the dashed lines for hidden surfaces, the other two views would show two parallel dashed lines representing the unseen inner wall of the hole, a fiction. The paradox is that these fictional lines end up telling us a good deal of truth about the object. The true view, the solid square with the solid circle, only tells us that this surface contains a circular deformity. It could be a straight hole all the way through the block, a straight hole partially through the block, a hole tapered to a point, an "O" stamped into the surface, or even a disk, dome, or cone projecting out of the block. All of these very different realities would be depicted simply as a solid circle on solid square from the front view. The truth can be rather ambiguous. But with the other two views, using the fictional hidden lines, the truth is known. Are the hidden lines a fiction? If you held the block in your hand with the hole perpendicular to your line of sight, then the dashed lines would be invisible, thus a fiction. Yet take an x-ray of that same view, the hole would be apparent--not in dashed lines--but there, hence a truth. So the fictional dashed lines are more real than reality. But it is precisely this "realer than reality" aspect of drafting that can make a blueprint difficult to understand. A complex object can get lost in a forest of dashed lines. More elaborate lies are sometimes told to further illustrate the truth.

Drafting uses sections, exploded views, out of plane views, and a myriad of other techniques--lies all--to show the truth. Sections are cross sectional views of an object as though it had been cut with a saw. The section shows the surface that came into contact with the imaginary saw. Exploded views are the typical drawings that you find in a parts list for an assembly with many parts. The unit is drawn disassembled with all the subassembly parts magically hanging midair above the main assembly, showing the position and the order of assembly. It is like a freeze frame photograph of an extremely orderly and nondestructive explosion of the assembly. Sometimes lies are told for the sake of economy.

A car could be illustrated with half of the view devoted to the front, and the other half devoted to the rear. This is called an out of plane view, the rear view of the car is shown rotated out of its normal plane or position. It's a lousy advertising picture, but a great picture for depicting a parts list showing front and rear bumpers, trims, grills, headlight frames, taillight and parking light lenses, hoods, trunk lids, front and rear windows, all in one view. Automobiles are symmetrical objects; the left side is a mirror image of the right. Out of plane views can work well with such objects. So, a drawing that is a horrible and nasty distortion to the salesman (who does not want to promote the idea that this wonder-car may ever need a replacement part) is a time saving tool to the parts manager. Yet a "blueprint" in a sales brochure--those highly stylized three dimensional drawings that appear as though they were drawn with chrome ink on glossy royal blue graph paper, with a few phoney dimension lines and center indicators thrown in, and a well placed sparkle here and there, all with highly slanted modern lettering emphasizing the high tech and varoooooommmmm, varoooooommmmm, aspect of the vehicle--is a great pinnacle of technical truth for the salesman, and absolutely useless to anyone else.

In defense of the salesman and his beautiful advertising blueprint, it must remembered that without sales there is no need for any of the more serious drawings. A good part of understanding a blueprint is knowing how the lies are told, and perhaps who the lies are told for. If you don't understand the process of lying, you'll never know the truth. That is why the average person can not decipher a blueprint.

On the entire question of reality in the graphic arts, haven't I confused process with product. The process of painting or drawing is certainly a more complicated affair than snapping a photograph. Therefore Monet, my wife, or a drafting technician must experience a scene with a higher degree of concentration than a photographer. Hence the process of drawing or painting entails a higher degree of reality for the artist. But that higher degree of reality does not necessarily get transferred to the product. Only the process is more real. Photography is more than the simple act of clicking a shutter. What is more real, a photograph of President Lincoln, or a photograph of President Bush? The technology of the camera and the film must be considered. Modern cameras and films represent a tremendous technological achievement in optics, electronics, chemistry, and--considering that the average person can afford a sophisticated camera--manufacturing technology. Every time you take a picture, the efforts of thousands of people are manifested in that click. The fact that I could go out and take the same exact photograph as Ansel Adams (assuming that I had some education in photography) is a testament to the reality of the product. Two artists could never paint identical works without looking at each other's canvas while painting. So I would have to say that a photograph represents reality to a higher degree than a painting. But the process of doing the painting is much more real than photography. What is more real a ditch dug by hand or a ditch dug by a tractor? Who experiences the art of ditch digging to a higher degree, the guy with the shovel or the guy with the tractor?

As I continue to walk along in the bright blue cold reality, several cars pass by, such glum looking faces for Christmas Eve. The sun is sinking lower, and it is getting down right nippy out. I am passing the Louis Kahn house, a hugh beautiful Christmas tree is visible through the narrow T window. Did I mention that the nettles were looking bad. I picked a leaf and there was hardly any odor at all. There is one way that cold air is less real than warm, odors are less powerful. I wonder is it because a numbing of the sniffer, the olfactory nerve, due to the cold? Or is it because substances do not evaporate as rapidly in lower temperatures? What can you smell better, soup on the stove, soup at room temperature, or soup out of the refrigerator? The phenomena is probably a combination of both factors. And while we are speaking of reality how about the sense of touch? Numb fingers certainly experience less reality than warm ones do. And what about when you have been out in the cold all day and are exhausted, cold, and numb? Don't you have a tendency to lose touch with reality? The cold becomes less than real because of sheer exhaustion. And who cares anyhow, why walk along and think these stupid thoughts about reality? Well it keeps my mind off of the cold. By thinking about reality, reality has become less real.

The sun has gone down now; I am on the trip back home and it is getting just plain cold. Even with my pace, I can feel the cold creeping up my back making me stiffen up. Overhead the sky turns a cooler shade of blue, and the world darkens a bit in the beginnings of twilight. It's not as harsh as before, but every bit as lonely. The cold wind blows through the tree tops with a low moan. Loneliness pervades my being like the cold on my back. For a moment, I'm lost in the cold north probably to be eaten by wolves. Experience the cold, experience the loneliness, the wolves are coming, experience what life remains. For a brief moment of revelry, I am free of life's problems, free to die in the bitter cold north at the jaws of the wolves. It feels good to be free.

I round a bend and on top of a distant hill the scarlet twigs of a stand of red maple are dancing in the last red rays of the setting sun. The wind moans again and I revel in the melancholy of it all. The lonely deepening blue of the sky, moaning of the wind, darkness gently descending, tinges of fading crimson against cobalt, the cold, the pervasive creeping cold. I stop and watch the layer of red sunlight followed by a band of darkness slowly ascend the trees and then fade. I try to shutdown the chatterbox in my head and just take it all in. There are a few fleeting moments of genuine living in my life, and this is one of them.

Like the wine from a communion glass, the experience quickly fades. But communion it was, if ever so brief. A communion with nature and through nature with God. These brief moments of pure experience are for me the ultrareality--the "realer than real". It is a religious experience for me in a way that far exceeds anything that I have ever felt in church. I continue on my way home feeling a mixture of joy and sadness, that quintessential emotion of my life, bittersweet. For a brief moment I felt His face shine upon me. What joy and what sadness is contained in the pure reality of God's creation, a beautiful Christmas gift.

Photo Captions & Credits:

1. Werner Heisenberg
Wikipedia, Werner Heisenberg

2. Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr at the 1930 Solvay conference, photographed by Paul Ehrenfest.

3.Anthropic Principle and Many-Worlds Hypothesis:
University Of Oregon

4. Autumn Moon, the High Sierra from Glacier Point, Ansel Adams Astronomers pinpoint moment of famous Moon shot

Oddly enough the article above describes a proposed attempt to duplicate this photo, back in 2005.

5. Poplars on the Epte, 1891, Claude Monet
Carol Gerten Fine Art

6. Orthographic projection. Yours truly.

7. Crankshaft & Pistons Exploded Part Drawing For A Honda 4 Cylinder Engine.
Bernardi Honda Parts

8. Blue Print For a Kelmark GT
Cartype, Kellmark GT

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Photographs & Blogger

I have been treating photos as though they are gold. You only get 1 gig of free storage, so I have been downsizing my photos before storing them and worried about what am I going to do when I get to my limit. This morning I took a look at the Picasa Web Albums site where Blogger stores our photos. I have 66 photos stored and I am using 0.6% of my allotted 1 gig of free space. Well I guess I have a way to go before I have to worry. I checked the storage rates:

Select a plan:
20 GB ($5.00 USD per year)
80 GB ($20.00 USD per year)
200 GB ($50.00 USD per year)
400 GB ($100.00 USD per year)
1 TB ($256.00 USD per year)

According to the little blurb, 20 Gig will store 10,000 photos from a 5 megapixel camera. Ok so why am I downsizing photos? I think I can afford five bucks a year!
So let me post a few photos from yesterday's trip to the Living Treasures Animal Park near New Castle, Pennsylvania, and let's see what happens.

Living Treasures, Moraine

Click on the photos to see half size. Click on the half size photo to see full size.

I just added these 6 photos and my usage went from 0.6% to 0.86% I think I can add full sized photos rather than resizing them as I have been doing. But going back to the rates, usually when you buy more of something the unit price goes down. However, the rates maintain at 4 Gig per dollar (1 terabyte = 1024 gigabytes hence the odd looking but binarilly correct price of $256 per TB).

I read recently that computer storage is consuming more energy than air travel. That seems hard to believe, but the figure accounts for not just the energy that the servers use, but lighting, heating, and cooling required for the infrastructure.

My new camera has an 8 gig class 6 HDSD card. The cost $34. This thing is 32 x 24 x 2.1 mm thick. A bit larger than a postage stamp albeit a lot thicker--about as thick as the edge of a new quarter.

Wikipedia, Secure Digital Memory

Amazon threw in a free 4 gig class 4 card which is probably more than adequate for my needs but the class 6 card transfers faster. I don't know the exact figures but my guess is that my camera's memory card has more memory than existed in the world in say 1956--but that is a guess.

The card in my old camera, a Compact Flash was about 43 X 36 x 5 mm and held 64 MB. It ran about $30 when I bought the camera. The old card would hold 660 photos of 640 X 480. The new card will hold 61,000 of that size photos. In the 7 years that I owned my old camera I would have used on a 1/4 of the new card's capacity. I take bigger pictures now, but not huge, 1600 X 1200. I have taken 1063 photos and I have only used 911MB. I still have over 7 Gig left on the card.

Sometimes I undergo technology revelation euphorias. It is something like the oceanic feeling one gets with a spiritual euphoria but it is a--what? Being overwhelmed with wonder about the abilities of technology? I had one back in April of 2003. My wife and I were walking about the Kanawha State Forest not far from Charleston West Virgina. Now as the definition goes, this place wasn't what you would call exactly wilderness, but it was a large tract of forest with few roads and it appeared to be wilderness. We were walking with our GPS in search of a Tupperware container full of trinkets on a lonely mountain in the West Virginia "wilderness". The coordinates that we were searching were down loaded that morning off a server in Seattle. The GPS was calculating the direction and distance that we were away from the Tupperware container using up to 12 satellites located at an altitude of 12,500 miles above our heads. The GPS led us to within 9 feet of the cache. I took some pictures of cache and the surrounding area. That evening I would post a write up of our adventure including several photos on the server in Seattle and it just got me. How weird is this? Geocaching with a contraption a little bigger than a cell phone telling me where a container of trinkets is on some way out place in West Virginia from information stored in Seattle and using radio signals from satellites thousands of miles away.

And so it is with this camera memory card. I can store 61,000 photos on a piece of plastic a bit bigger than a postage stamp and as thick as a quarter. It blows my mind.

If you like my photos or dislike them, blame it on the camera. I only know how to use the point & shoot mode. The camera knows far more about photography than I do. The camera is a Canon SX20IS that I bought about 2 weeks ago. I am quite pleased with it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chasing LST 325 Down The Ohio River

See my other blog entries on the LST:

Touring LST 325

LST - I Owe My Existence To Winston Churchill

Yesterday I took a vacation day and chased LST-325 down the Ohio River to take pictures. My original goal was to get a picture of the ship from the north shore as it passed the old Dravo site on Neville Island where my mother had worked during the war. It seemed like a grand idea to frame the shipyard as a backdrop to the passing LST. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate a good place to take the picture on the north shore, so I chose a park a few blocks down the street from Dravo (now Frontier Steel) on Neville Island. So instead of looking at Dravo, the picture is looking from Dravo. Not exactly what I had hoped for, but it would have to do.

Note! Click on photos for full size.

The ship's itinerary stated that it was going to take three local cruises then depart for Marietta Ohio. So I watched the tracker. The ship didn't leave until after 10. It went down to the far end of Brunots Island and turned back. The ship then left again after 12. I watched and it kept going past Brunots Island. I hopped in the car and took off for the 25 mile drive to Neville Island, hoping that the LST would get delayed at the Emsworth Dam. Using the Internet access on my Kindle, I was able to keep an eye on the ship's progress. The lock kept the LST tied up long enough for me to find a spot a few blocks down the street from Dravo and set up my camera and tripod. I had to wait about half hour, but along it came, looking magnificent! I snapped some photos and packed up and headed down to the access road for the Dashields Lock and Dam.

Unlike the spot at Neville Island, a small opening in the trees, the Dashields access road was right on the bank of the river and offered an unobstructed view of the river below the dam. There was a bit of a crowd of onlookers at this location. The ship soon showed up at the lock. I wanted to catch the ship in the open water, so I did not go down near the dam. It locked through and as it came sailing past it was playing "Anchors Away" over the PA system. I watched the ship for quite some time drift off into the distance and felt a bit of gloom that this might be a once in a life time event. This is probably the first time since 1945 or 1946 that an LST has floated down the Ohio and it could very well be the last. I also felt a great sorrow for my mother. Had this occurred 10 years ago before her cancer and Alzheimer's had acted up, she would have been thrilled to have toured the ship and stand along the river and watch it sail past.

I then proceeded to my last destination, Beaver, a small town a bit past the most northward point of the Ohio. It turns here and heads south west to eventually meet the Mississippi and flow to the Gulf of Mexico. I parked the car at the old site of Fort McIntosh, from the Revolutionary War, high on the hill above the Ohio. Unfortunately the park has a lot of trees blocking the view of the river. The small opening in the tree cover here offered a great view but it would be fleeting. I checked my Kindle for the location of LST-325. Hmmmm! Aliquippa, it didn't get very far. That didn't seem right, but maybe it had to yield to river barge traffic. I plugged the coordinates into the GPS to get an exact location, and it was 5 miles away as the crow flies. I had some time so I relaxed in the car. Suddenly I heard the distinctive horn. Damn! There it was. I fought my camera out of the case and grabbed my uni-pod. The ship was really moving. I got a couple quick crappy shots before it disappeared into the trees. Damn it!. I start running to another open spot in the trees a couple blocks away. Have you ever seen a 61 year old guy with junk knees and a bad back run? It is a sad sight. Needless to say the ship easily out ran me. I caught the stern disappearing into the trees. So much for LST-325. I had run out of time and could not chase it any further! I returned with sadness to my car. I checked the tracker again. It showed it was still down in Aliquippa. Later in the evening when I was back home I checked the tracker. Apparently LST 325 grew a set of wheels and took a convenient land route from Aliquippa to Stratton Ohio. I was not the only person horns-waggled by the errant tracker. I told several disappointed people pulling up to the park that the ship had just passed by. "But the tracker showed it was down in Aliquippa." Alas!

Again I would like to thank the volunteer crew and The USS LST Ship Memorial for a job well done! I have very much been enriched by touring your ship and seeing it underway down the Ohio River.

USS LST Ship Memorial

The infamous tracker:

Live Tracking

For the next few days, you will be able to see the tracking from the Pittsburgh trip by clicking the "SHOW LAST" button and choosing "7 Days". I don't know what happened to the tracker, but it worked great until the ship got to Aliquippa. Then the coverage got extremely spotty creating tracks through land. For me it was invaluable for determining when to leave home. I didn't want to stand waiting on Neville Island for hours while the ship was doing the cruises. When it works, the tracker is really cool.

Photo Captions

1. LST 325 on the Ohio River near the Dravo Site on Neville Island.

2. LST 325 in the Dashield Locks, Ohio River

3. LST 325 coming out of the Dashields Locks.

4. Lst 325 returning to the main channel, Ohio River near Dashields Locks.

5. LST 325 Stern shot near Dashields locks.

6. LST 325 sailing past Fort McIntosh, Beaver Pennsylvania (while I am relaxing in the car)

7. Map showing 3 photo locations for above photos.

8. A screen print of the tracker path. The red dots are where the tracker actually locates the vessel. The green line fills in the gaps between the contact points. The green line should have followed the river through Wheeling, New Martinsville, and St Marys. Note near Pittsburgh the closely spaced dots. The tracker went bad just about where I took the photos at the Dashields Dam and Locks. Map Credit: The tracker site listed above.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Touring LST 325

See my other blog entries on LSTs:

LST--I Owe My Existence To Winston Churchill

Chasing LST 325 Down The Ohio River

I can now add the LST to my life list. On Saturday, my wife and I toured LST 325. I tried to write about the experience yesterday, but found myself oddly reticent. The source of my reticence? A disquietude created in my mind after the visit by the dichotomy of the fun being had on the vessel today and the terrible gut wrenching fear and pain and death that occurred on the ship 66 years ago. There was not a sense of reverence among the visitors, myself included. Everyone was having one hell of a good time, myself included. It is human nature.

Note! Click on images to see full size.

You get on this thing and it is very cool. You enter the vessel through the huge bow doors which are deceiving. They are huge outside and while passing through them, but when you step down the ramp into the tank deck, the cavernous main bay of the ship, they are paltry. It is like being inside a tunnel with a bridge deck for a ceiling with all the beams. Along the sides there are small narrow cubby holes that were machine shops, maintenance areas, and various parts storage. You see winches, ropes, pumps, propellers, and a couple of amphibious vehicles. You hear comments, “wow it would be cool to ride in this!”

The tour is free wheeling, not at all ushered, there is no sense of being moved along except when you are on stairways or the narrow passage ways in the stern, the troop berths, and around the guns. Movement being necessary due to the constriction of the passage and of course this is the cool stuff that everyone wants to gawk at, and you can’t really stop and gawk without clogging up the works. On the tank deck or upper deck, you are free to mill about at will and no one is nipping at your heels to move along. There are plenty of volunteer crew members about who are thrilled to answer your questions or listen to your dumb comments, like my “Wow this is so cool. My mother welded these 6 miles down the river and my dad rode on one from Saipan to Okinawa.” I probably unleashed that on 5 or 6 volunteers until I came to the vague realization that these guys have heard that story or one like it a million times, why don’t you just shut your mouth and leave the poor bastards explain to someone else that “no the ship is not outfitted with 16 inch guns like the New Jersey, it is a landing ship, not a battle ship.”

Two sources of disappointment for me was that you couldn’t see the engine room or the modern bridge added by the Greek Navy. I love looking at the navigational equipment, harbor radar, radios and the likes. You could peer into the original wheelhouse, with it’s traditional ships wheel, engine telegraph, speaking tube, and compass binnacle with the large correction spheres. Very neat, but they understandably kept you the hell out of there, and again you could not stand and gawk without clogging the line. The engine room would offer numerous hazards and opportunities for mischief, but none the less I would have loved to see those huge locomotive diesels. I contemplated asking but decided the pain in the ass factor to the crew was more than the fascination / brazen factor for me. No I was not one of the people who had to sit on the gunners seat of the 40 MM AA gun with a big cheesy smile while my spouse tied up the line taking my picture.

The crew has placed poster sized photographs here and there of the ship in action. If you take the time, you can learn quite a bit about the LSTs role in the war, but while you are on the ship, the sense of fascination overcomes the sense of history. This is too cool to get bogged down in patriotic reverence or an appreciation for the bravery and sacrifice for the people who sailed in these ships. For me that came later at home and during my attempt yesterday to write this. There were some tugging hints of it on the ship for me. There was a photograph of the tank bay loaded with wounded soldiers returning to England. That huge long bay, packed tightly with wounded young men. For a moment the gravity of what occurred with these ships struck down the feeling of “This is so cool!” Another moment occurred for me when I saw the people joyfully cranking the gun rotation crank getting a small ride on the anti-aircraft gun. This thing is a machine cannon for shooting down aircraft and people are playing with it like it was an amusement park ride. The thought occurred to me of the overwhelming fear that the exposed gunners must have felt trying to shoot down a Messerschmitt, or a Zero, or far worse a Kamikaze whose pilot was equally devoted to trying to kill the gunner, or in the case of the Kamikaze totally devoted to the death of the gunner and everyone on the ship as well as himself. The damn thing was not a toy…nor was it cool to ride on the amphibious vehicles down on the tank deck, or Higgins boats hung on the davits. It was frightening, damned frightening in ways that those of us who have never experienced it could not even imagine.

Indulge me for a moment on the dark side. Think of another LST. LST 750 informally named the USS Allegheny County because it was paid for by the citizens of Allegheny County’s war bonds. It was launched on the day before Memorial Day 1944 at Dravo. My mother quite possibly worked on this ship, if not, my grandfather and a couple of my mother’s cousins most likely did.

Now put yourself in that gunner’s seat on December 28, 1944 in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines. You are on a LST, Large Slow Target, moving at 9 to 12 knots by two twin General Motors diesels providing 900 horsepower each. A Japanese D4Y3 dive bomber with 1400 horsepower comes diving down at you at 350 mph. You want to get home to your wife and kids…the pilot of D4Y3 wants to die for The Emperor and God. Divine Wind! You blaze away at him, but the crank adjustments are too slow. You try to lead your fire ahead of him but the closer he gets the faster he moves relative to your aim adjustments. For a brief moment before all turns black you realize that you failed to stop him, you failed yourself, you failed your wife and kids, you failed your country, and you failed your shipmates. You really didn’t have a chance, but you failed none the less.

One more indulging moment of darkness please. The tank deck could hold 20 Sherman tanks. That sounds impressive. It is impressive. The Sherman tank had a 450 horsepower gasoline engine, moderate armor, and a 75 mm canon. Sounds impressive, but compared to the German Panzer Tigers (heavy armor, diesel engine, and an 88 mm cannon with extreme accuracy) it was something of a tin can with a peashooter sitting on a bomb in the form of fuel tank. You have to have fuel to run a tank, but gasoline is not the fuel of choice…it tends to do more damage than enemy fire when hit. The only thing impressive about a Sherman tank compared to a Panzer was the overwhelming numbers that were produced, and that you could get them on shore quickly with an LST. So imagine the 2 or 3 hour journey across the Channel on June 6, 1944. You are in your tank. You get the order to load your weapons and start your engines. You feel the ship lurch against the beach, the big doors open, the ramp goes down, and out you go into pure hell. Three months ago you put a few practice rounds through a sheet of plywood back in the States.

Again these thoughts did not plague me (much) on board the 325. I like everyone else had a hell of good time. The ship was cool. It is the most enjoyable thing I have done in quite a while. Yet, yesterday when I tried to write about the tour, I could not find words. All I could think about was the gut wrenching fear the men must have felt going in, and the pain, suffering, and death that occurred among the wounded coming back. How many guys died of their wounds on that tank deck that I walked about without a care in the world? I looked back on the tour of the ship and perhaps suffered a bit of survivors guilt. Oh I had my shot at going off to war. I flew to Thailand in 1972 and again in 1973. On the flight over the first time, I even entertained some vague concerns that I might not come back. But flying off to an air base in a neighboring country away from the hostilities is one thing. Landing on a beach with live lead flying about is another. I can only imagine the fear those guys felt, and our worst imaginings undoubtedly fall short of the real thing.

So what is my recommendation? Not enjoy yourself on these things? No, by all means have a good time. Sit on the 40 MM and crank the crank and smile a cheesy smile. There is a romance with war machines. Let’s face it, they are cool. But realize while you walk the decks, that this ship delivered more GIs than it brought home. Many of the young men did not come back. As much as I owe my existence to the LST, there are many unborn…their would be fathers charging through the open bow doors of an LST onto a hostile beachhead.

I would like to offer a heartfelt thanks to the volunteer crew of LST 325 and to the USS LST Ship Memorial Organization.

I would also like to offer a heartfelt thanks to all the men and women of World War II for their efforts, bravery, and sacrifice to our country.

See my earlier blog entry on LSTs here:
I Owe My Existence to Winston Churchill

EDIT 9-10-2010: In a bit of a post partum depression for LST 325, I started to search the news at Marietta to see what was going and found this article from a couple weeks ago when the LST was heading up the river:

The State Journal, "D-Day Ship Attracts Viewers on Ohio River", Jim Ross

Here is a guy that was there, and can offer a glimpse of what I was alluding to above.

When the ship passed Kenova, Huntington resident Robert McClellan was watching from the other side of the river in South Point, Ohio.

McClellan said he made one trip on the LST-325 — from England to Utah Beach on D-Day.

“I remember sleeping on my duffel bag with my helmet over my face while the sky was lit up with anti-aircraft tracer bullets. The whole sky was red. I was just an 18-year-old kid. Talk about someone who was scared. I looked to God for guidance and to take care of us,” he said.

EDIT 9-19-10 Here is a newspaper article stating the the total visitor draw for the cruise exceeded 41,500. Pittsburgh had 13,000 visitors, some waiting in line for 3 hours.

“We could have been in Pittsburgh another two weeks, there were so many people,” said Adams. “Probably 50 percent of the crowd there either worked in Pittsburgh's shipyards (making LSTs during World War II) or had parents who worked there. We’ll make that trip again someday.”

Evansville Courier & Press

EDIT 11/21/2012

Thanks to Chris Briem's blog Nullspace for making me aware of video done by The Pittsburgh Post Gazette on LST 750:

Nullspace, Can We Bring LST 325 To Pittsburgh (again)?, Chris Briem

The video tells the story of Jim Ottery who was indeed a gunner on LST-750.  The video has some remarkable battle footage and explains that LST 750 was sunk by a Japanese torpedo not Kamikaze attack, although Kamikaze attacks were going on a the same time.

Video Credit:  YouTube, Pittsburgh History, The Untold Story of LST 750, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

For a better rendition of the video see:

Image Captions & Credits

1. LST 325 docked at the north shore of the Allegheny River. The Fort Duquesne Bridge and downtown Pittsburgh are in the back ground.

2. The tour enters the bow doors. Note the twin 40 MM anti-aircraft cannon. The name inside the doors is the Greek Navy’s name for the ship.

3. Inside the tank deck, looking out the bow doors.

4. The aft end of the tank deck looking forward.

5. Single 40 MM anti-aircraft cannon.

6. The original bridge.

7. Looking aft from the front of the ship on the upper deck. The modern bridge was added by the Greek Navy.

8. LST 325 beached at Normandy, June 1944. Image Credit:

8-A Cover of Dravo Slant, plant newspaper 30 May, 1944.  LST 750.   Added 2/23/15.  Image Credit:
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. World War 2 Collection

9. A Kamikaze Japanese DY43 dive bomber attacking the USS Essex in November, 1944. Image Credit:
Wikipedia "Kamikaze"

10. LST 738 burns after a Kamikaze attack. Image Credit:

11. Sherman tank leaving an LST. Image Credit:

12. Wounded soldiers on the tank deck of an Australian LST. Image Credit:

For more photos of LST-325 at Pittsburgh go here:

Moonlight Scribbler: The USS LST-325 in Pittsburgh

Thursday, September 2, 2010

LST 325 And My New Camera Are In Pittsburgh

Note!  Check out my other posts on LSTs and LST 325:

LST: I Owe My Existence To Winston Churchill

Touring LST-325

Chasing LST-325 Down The Ohio River

It made it! LST 325 arrived in Pittsburgh yesterday. It pulled along the USS Requin, our resident WWII submarine, and the two craft saluted each other with shots from their deck guns. (I miss all the cool stuff with this odd requirement for employment.)

I had thought about going down to the north shore of the Ohio across from Neville Island and get a photo of the LST as it passed the old Dravo site. I woke up yesterday morning, checked the location with the tracker, and it was sitting where I wanted the photo, probably waiting for access to the Emsworth Locks. Meanwhile I am sitting 20 miles on the wrong side of Pittsburgh with a huge rush hour between me and the LST. Not to mention that I have a new camera that I don't know how to use.

The camera came and I have no idea how to use it. The demands of everyday life have prevented me (basically a boy--albeit an ancient one) from playing with the camera (basically a toy--albeit a somewhat expensive one). Alas, boys and their toys, a great sadness results when they are separated.

Read about LST 325 here:

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, WWII Navy transport spurs memories Thursday, September 02, 2010, Torsten Ove

PHOTO CREDIT: Darrell Sapp, Pittsburgh Post Gazette (above article)