Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bill & Earl’s Garage


This sign wasn’t there when I was.

When we lived in Rochester (NY), we lived on a north-south arterial named Winton Road.
We lived in a tiny house that was built in 1865, probably the first house in the neighborhood.
323 North Winton Road. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
When it was built it was probably a farm-house, as the area around it was undeveloped.
The area was in the Town of Brighton, but as the area developed the City of Rochester annexed it.
The Town of Brighton still exists as a suburb southeast of Rochester.
Development brought sewers and public water. Gas-lines were also installed.
Winton Road also became a bus-route.
The area became city-like.
But our house stayed the same. No improvements were made, except an addition to the south.
That addition became the new front entrance, and the shed attached to the back became the kitchen.
We always liked the character of that house; we lived in an apartment across the street. It was the early ‘70s.
Suddenly the house was for sale.
It didn’t have a driveway to Winton Road, or visible parking, so I went around back to look.
Surprise-surprise. It was on a double-lot that extended all the way to the next street over.
It also had a standalone two-car garage.
I was unemployed at that time, but my wife was employed, so we made an offer.
Long-story-short, we bought the house with an FHA mortgage.
We had already been in the area a few years, in that apartment.
Not far away was a convenience-store.
And up Winton Road was a hardware and a Chevrolet dealer.
Across from the Chevrolet dealer was a post-office, and two supermarkets were not far. Within walking distance.
Winton crossed an east-west arterial not far from our house. It was called Blossom Road.
At the intersection were a number of small businesses, one of which was Bill & Earl’s Garage.
I never patronized the garage, but in a tiny attached part was “B & E Auto Parts.” It was manned by Earl, a kindly bespectacled gentleman perhaps 15 years older than me.
B & E Auto Parts became a hangout. The garage was a tiny, dingy place behind a small restaurant.
Parking was at a premium, but I could walk to it.
Bill was the shyster, or so it seemed. He was always suggesting engine-changes to fix some minor problem. He chain-smoked and pigged out on cholesterol. He often said he didn’t expect to make 70. Yet a photograph of the Piper Tri-Pacer he once owned was on his wall.
(My first flight was in a Tri-Pacer in 1955.)
Bill was always good conversation, but he wasn’t touching my car.
Earl was the opposite of Bill, a nice guy concerned with my welfare.
He loved jawing with someone who loved tinkering as much as he.
I liked working with Earl.
It was probably he that got me the carburetor-rebuild kit for my Vega’s two-barrel.
He also sold me a lotta tools, plus my annual points and plugs.
Together we got so I could work on my car.
And after the childhood I had, it was good to get some confidence.
We finally moved.
An old house is too hard to keep up. We built a deck, and remodeled our kitchen. But the house needed an immense amount of work. Most of the windows were original and still had bubbles in the glass. They were so drafty we were heating the outside.
Our new house is in the tiny rural town of West Bloomfield, southeast of Rochester, where I am now.
With our move it was so long to Bill & Earl’s Garage. But not before I had Bill align my giant Ford van, and tune its carburetor so it wouldn’t foul its plugs.
He tightened up the idle-circuit, but it still fouled its plugs.
It was because the power-valve was stuck open; its diaphragm was holed. I found that out later when I rebuilt the carb.
Apparently Bill & Earl’s Garage finally closed. Bill probably died, and maybe even Earl.
But I consider Bill & Earl’s Garage a pleasant time when I got so I could work on my own cars.
I don’t any more. I even farm out oil-changes. And cars are so technically challenging any more they’re beyond understanding.
The things I took on back then were setting points, rebuilding carbs, and even bodywork. I got so I could gap points by feel; that is, without a feeler-gauge.

• The “Tri-Pacer” was a tricycle landing-geared version of the “Pacer,” Piper’s first airplane that could carry four. The “Cub” only carried two.
• RE: “Points and plugs:” “Points” are a switch within the ignition-distributor, which when closed allows current to circulate though the ignition-coil to generate a spark. They had to be set just so, to allow the proper amount of current-dwell. The “plugs” are the sparkplugs. —Car-ignition has advanced beyond “points and plugs;” the switching mechanism that replaced “points” is now electronic, although sparkplugs are still used. But they are designed to last the life of the car; you no longer have to replace them.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Monthly Calendar-Report for July 2015


The “Keystone Safety Express.” (Photo by BobbaLew with Phil Faudi.)

—I was chasing trains around Altoona (PA) with Phil Faudi (“FOW-dee;” as in “wow”) on June 26th, one year ago.
It was the last time I chased trains with Phil, that is, me driving with Phil in the shotgun seat with his railroad-radio scanner telling me where to go.
He calls ‘em “tours.”
Phil used to be the one driving me around, but gave it up due to a couple near accidents.
Phil then gave up riding with me since his wife has Multiple Sclerosis, and he was afraid of her falling.
But he still monitors his railroad-radio scanner at his house, and calls my cellphone.
Like me, he’s very much a railfan.
This picture was still Phil and me, and we went down to South Fork south of Allegheny summit.
South Fork is where Pennsy turned back west towards Pittsburgh.
Pennsy had marched west across PA with the Juniata river (“june-eee-AT-uh”) to Tyrone (“tie-ROWN;” as in “own”), a notch in the mountains.
And then it turned southwest toward Altoona, where it struck out across Allegheny mountain. After the summit it turned southwest again to South Fork, where it turned back west.
Pennsy is no more. Its railroad still exists, owned and operated by Norfolk Southern.
The line is very busy, as it was with Pennsy. It’s a major railroad route to and from our nation’s interior, one of two. The other is CSX’s ex-New York Central line.
We photographed a few freights, and then the train pictured appeared.
NS road-unit 6954, an EMD SD60-E (a Juniata Shops rebuild of EMD SD-60s for Norfolk Southern), followed by passenger-cars from Norfolk Southern’s Executive Business Train.
Plus other passenger-cars in need of refurbishment.
Juniata Shops, ex-Pennsy, are Norfolk Southern.
“What’s this?” we both asked.
We later determined it was Train 975, a special movement, Norfolk Southern’s “Keystone Safety Express.” It operated all across PA to promote safety at highway grade-crossings. There are still many on the old Pennsy main, and since the line is quite busy you have to be careful.
That is, expect a train.
I’ve been frightened myself along these tracks. I was up in Tyrone backing to turn around, and planning to cross the tracks.
But all-of-a-sudden here came a train, horn blowing. I held back.
Other things were also promoted, like not walking along the tracks, or walking across the tracks.
Every once in a while someone is killed on CSX’s tracks through Rochester.
He was walking along the tracks, back to an oncoming train, with ear-buds in his ears so he could jive to his tunes.
He couldn’t hear the train’s horn.
All-of-a-sudden he’s hit from behind by the train. He never knew it was coming.
It seems ridiculous a railroad has to promote this stuff, but it’s like people don’t even think the railroad exists.




Pride of the Luftwaffe. (Photo by Philip Makanna©.)

—When Hitler and his Nazis began marauding across Europe in the late ‘30s. they had the superior fighter-plane.
The July 2015 entry of my Ghosts WWII warbirds calendar is a Messerschmitt Bf 109.
Hitler’s Luftwaffe reined supreme until the Allies caught up.
The Messerschmitt was pretty good, but the Spitfire was better, and the Mustang even better.
It took a while for the Allies to get rolling, but once they did the Luftwaffe was toast.
Messerschmitt production was also slowed by bombing.
I’ll let my WWII warbirds site weigh in:
“In the mid-1930s, the Luftwaffe began to modernize its fighter aircraft fleet. A competition for new designs was held, resulting in at least four competitors.
Two designs were selected for further development, one being Willy Messerschmitt’s Bf 109, a single-seat derivation of his previously-successful Bf 108 design.
The first -109 prototype, powered by a 695-horsepower Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine, first flew on May 28th, 1935. The second prototype was fitted with the engine for which it had been designed, the 610-horsepower Junkers Jumo 210A. Pre-production prototypes had various combinations of armament and engines.
The first production model, the Bf 109B-1, was delivered in early 1937 to the JG132 “Richthofen” squadron, Germany’s top fighter unit. The new fighters quickly established a good combat reputation in the Spanish Civil War later that year.
The next production variant, the Bf 109C-1, appeared in the fall of 1937, and utilized a more powerful 700-horsepower Jumo 210Ga engine. Demand for the airplane was so great that it was built under license by four other companies, including Arado, Erla, Focke-Wolf and Fieseler.
By the time World War II began in 1939, the Luftwaffe had more than 1,000 Bf 109s in service, and it was to play a major role in all further fighter operations.
Allied bombing gradually slowed German aircraft production, but -109s were also built by WNF in Austria, and in Hungary.
During and after the war, Messerschmitt exported thousands of Bf 109s to Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, the USSR and Yugoslavia. In addition, Spain’s Hispano company produced the Bf 109 under license beginning in 1945, calling it the HA-1109. Their HA-1110 and HA-1112 variants were two-seater and modified single seaters, respectively. Several engines were fitted, including the 1,300-horsepower Hispano-Suiza HS-12Z-89 and the 1,400-horsepower Rolls-Royce Merlin 500-45.
Yet another source of Bf 109 production was Czechoslovakia, where the Avia company supplied S-99 and S-199 variants, many of which remained in service until 1957.”
The Messerschmitt pictured has a Daimler-Benz DV605A engine rated at 1,475 horsepower.
As I understand it, this engine was fuel-injected, so the airplane could do maneuvers that would starve the carburetors of Allied fighter-planes.
Yet the Spitfire and Mustang were better airplanes.
Many Messerschmitts were built, 35,000, some by manufacturers in other countries under license.
A Spanish-built -109 with Merlin engine. (Photo by Max Haynes.)
Other engines were also used. The Messerschmitt pictured on my warbirds site is a Spanish-manufactured H1112 with a Merlin V12 motor, same engine used in the Spitfire and Mustang.
At least the Messerschmitt pictured is not converted to a Merlin or Allison.
I’ve seen Japanese Zeros with Pratt & Whitney engines. The original Mitsubishi radial was beyond restoration, or would cost too much to restore.
I’ve even seen Texan trainers painted as Japanese Zeros.




Horsey-horsey. (Photo by Brad Brenneman.)

—The July 2015 entry of my Norfolk Southern Employees’ Photography-Contest calendar is a picture of a Norfolk Southern freight passing a horse standing in its pasture.
Photographer Brenneman was on his way to his parents for Fathers’ Day, when he noticed this horse standing in its pasture not far from the tracks.
He knew a train was coming because he heard it blow its horn for a nearby crossing.
So he stopped, but the horse began walking away. But then the horse stopped at this wet spot.
Snap-snap-snap-snap; 10 times.
Later when he viewed his pictures on his computer, he decided his horsey picture was a calendar-shot.
Well, okay; fabulous lighting, not a cloud in the sky.
But the horse is just standing there.
Ho-humm!
I compare this to a video I was watching of restored railroad steam-locomotive Norfolk & Western #611.
611 on 18th Street in Erie (PA). (Photo by BobbaLew.)
611 and a railfan excursion pass a pasture with a horse. The horse gallops away in terror! Diesel trains galore, but nothing ever like this.
Of course, it’s a video, and Brenneman’s picture is only a still photograph.
But the horse is just standing there.
I don’t think the picture is extraordinary.




Darth Vader’s car.

—The car pictured above is so important I can’t put the Jim LePore Musclecar calendar-picture last.
It’s a 1987 Grand National Buick, and has the 245-horsepower turbocharged V6. As far as I know it’s the only musclecar marketed during the ‘80s, although GMC marketed a Jimmy-truck and a pickup with the same motor called the “Typhoon” and the “Syclone” in the early ‘90s.
Both trucks were All-Wheel-Drive.
Typhoon.

Syclone.
Neither was much of a truck, but both were based on GMC’s mini-truck.
Buick’s Grand National was very much a car, a two-door sedan based on the Buick Regal.
The ‘80s was a turbulent time for American car-makers. They were having to make smaller cars, anathema to their big-car philosophy.
But Americans were buying smaller cars, mainly imports.
There also was conversion to front-wheel drive, the opposite of what had been marketed for eons, the Model-T layout, front-engine, rear-wheel drive with center differential in the axle.
The cost of gasoline was rising, ending gas-slurping musclecars with gigantic engines.
Pollution controls were also constricting performance. But automobiles were a chief polluter, so pollution controls had to be implemented.
The Grand National Buick can be said to be GM’s last hurrah. At least back then.
But now we have the new Corvette and Camaro.
A ground-pounding car in the ‘80s is significant, although I can’t say a Grand National is as much a ground-pounder as an early ‘70s musclecar.
A turbocharged motor is more coming on the turbo at upper revs.
0 to 60 in 4.3 seconds. I’m sure it could lay rubber on startup, but where it came on strong is approaching 60 mph.




Confusion reigns. (Photo courtesy Joe Suo Collection ©.)

—The July 2015 entry of my Audio-Visual Designs black-and-white All-Pennsy Calendar is a Baldwin RT-624 center-cab on Pennsy in Philadelphia.
The calendar says it’s Baldwin, yet my vaunted Pennsy-Power Books (Pennsy Power II, by Alvin Staufer), which I will never part with, says it’s Lima (“lye-muh,” not “lee-muh;” as in “lima-bean”).
This probably stems from the fact Baldwin Locomotive Works, and Lima Locomotive, had to merge during the onslaught toward dieselization by the railroads — in 1950.
Baldwin had been a long-time supplier of steam locomotives to the railroads, and tried to get into manufacturing diesel locomotives, but collapsed as demand for diesel locomotives withered.
Lima originally manufactured Shay locomotives for logging railroads, but got into side-rod steam locomotive manufacturing with its SuperPower concepts.
(Shays use a side-shaft geared to the trucks; cylinders mounted on the side of the locomotive rotate the shaft. The shaft has universal-joints in it to accommodate truck rotation. Shays work much better on rough track and steep grades than a side-rod locomotive, but are slow.
SuperPower was maximizing steam generation, so steam-locomotives were less likely to run out of steam, especially at speed.)
Lima also tried to get into diesel locomotive manufacturing.
Lima merged in 1947 with General Machinery Corporation of Hamilton, Ohio, to form Lima-Hamilton. Later Baldwin merged with Lima-Hamilton to form Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton (B-L-H). Hamilton was the supplier of the diesel engines.
This double-engine transfer locomotive is originally a Lima design. Two versions were built, one with General-Steel-Castings “Commonwealth” trucks (which the calendar-photo has), and one without. I think 5671 through 5683 were Lima, as were 8943-8951. At least I think so; my Pennsy Power book is vague.
What’s pictured is 8953, one of two Baldwin locomotives delivered to Pennsy without train-phone or multiple-unit capability.
8953 was stationed in Philadelphia, and 8952 at Conway Yard near Pittsburgh.
Confused-confused. (Photo by Gene Colora©.)
The Audio-Visual Designs black-and-white All-Pennsy Calendar published a photograph of 8965 and 8962 rounding Horseshoe Curve in August of last year.
Things are no longer making sense. The Pennsy-Power book stops at 8951.
These double-engine behemoths are a lot of locomotive, 362,000 pounds (181 tons), 2,400 horsepower.
Excuse me, what I notice in this calendar-photograph is that light-colored Chevy fastback, looks like a ’51.
Of course back then, when this photograph was taken, such cars were quite common. But now you’d only see such things at car-shows, or in Cuba.
The locomotive is probably pushing the back end of a train. It has two standard Pennsy cabooses, and the rearmost is wood.




Ditch the top. (Photo by Scott Williamson.)

—July 2015 entry in my Oxman Hotrod Calendar is a lowboy 1929 Ford Model-A roadster, a quintessential hotrod.
Although I don’t think it looks that good. The “lowboy” look only works on chopped coupes. For me it doesn’t work on roadsters. The car looks “slammed.”
Raise it about four inches and I’d like it more. It’s not bad, just sitting too low.
I’d like it more without that top.
No top. (Photo by Scott Williamson.)
The calendar actually has three pictures, and one is without the top.
The car sits on a boxed ’32 Ford frame with extra crossmembers. The engine is a 283 Chevy with triple deuces and a Duntov cam.
That sounds drivable.
I’d love to cruise the streets in this thing, but without the top.
A friend, since deceased, was building a Model-A roadster hotrod much like this car. It even had the ’32 Ford radiator-shroud; it looked great.
It had a souped-up ’56 Pontiac V8, but he couldn’t get triple-deuces to work on it — it backfired through the carbs.
So he switched to a single four-barrel, which worked.
He never could finish it. The generator of a ’56 Pontiac V8 is 12-volt, yet everything on the car is 6-volt.
Wiring problems galore, and the poor guy was lost with wiring.
He had to sell; he was faced with a registration deadline.
Then he died.



Pennsy’s would-be passenger engine pulls freight. (Photo by Mac Owen.)

—The July 2015 entry in my All-Pennsy color calendar is two Pennsy E-5a (4-6-4) box-cab electrics pulling freight through Columbia, PA.
The train at left is stopped in siding, and the coal-train at right is passing.
The P-5a was supposed to be Pennsy’s passenger locomotive, except the GG-1 (“Jee-Jee-ONE;” I only say that because a friend was mispronouncing it “Jee-Jee-Eye”) being developed was so much better.
Rather than give up on the P-5a, Pennsy regeared ‘em down for freight service.
Box. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

Steeple. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
Two versions of the P-5a were fielded, a box-cab as pictured, and also a steeple-cab after a grade-crossing accident killed the crew.
The steeple-cab version puts the crew far back from the front. The GG-1 is also a steeple-cab.
I never did very well with the P-5a, and the P-5a’s are long-gone.
The only picture I got of a P-5a pulling a train is awful. I did better at the Wilmington Shops sand towers. —I lived in Wilmington, DE, as a teenager.
This line to Columbia on the Susquehanna is the original railroad from Philadelphia. It was part of the vaunted Pennsylvania Public Works, a system of canals and railroads across PA meant to compete with NY’s Erie Canal.
(The Public Works System failed after PRR was built.)
The line eventually became Pennsylvania Railroad, which bypassed the Columbia line to more directly access Harrisburg.
Every mainline east of Harrisburg in PA was electrified by Pennsy, including this line to Columbia.
The line to Columbia became important after Enola (“aye-NOLE-uh”) Yard was built, since freight could more directly access Enola with a river-crossing.
Enola was installed because Harrisburg became a bottleneck.
But electrification of the Columbia line has since been de-energized, and the wire taken down by Conrail.




1966 Lightweight Ford 427 Fairlane. (Photo by Peter Harholdt©.)

—This is not a bad photograph, but to me it’s a stupid looking car. Ford never really got a handle on the musclecar concept for looks. About all that tell you it’s a musclecar are the badges ahead of the front wheels, and the scoop on the hood.
The July 2015 entry in my Motorbooks Musclecar calendar is a 1966 Ford 427 Fairlane.
This car was supposed to compete with the G-T-O, but looks like a garden-variety Fairlane.
But inside is the monstrous 427 cubic-inch “side-oiler,” except the “side-oiler” was essentially a racing-engine, heavy, brutish and temperamental.
Ford was slow to achieve the musclecar concept, and I don’t know as they ever did.
What they developed were supercars, aimed at winning the super-races at Daytona and Talledega (“tal-uh-DAY-guy;” as in “towel”) speedways.
1969 Ford Torino Talledega.
Cars like the Ford Talledega and the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler.
Both had special bodywork up front to make them more aerodynamic. The stock Ford musclecars had a scoop grille.
To me the best musclecars are General Motors, mid-size sedans with gigantic hot-rodded streetable engines.
The “side-oiler” wasn’t very streetable, but at Daytona or Talledega it could reign supreme.
GM musclecars didn’t dominate Daytona or Talledega. Only Chrysler was competitive, and that was because of the Hemi (“HEM-eee;” not “HE-me”) engine.
A Hemi might take the pole with side-oilers along side, but a Ford might win.
At least this calendar tells we what a side-oiler was.
A side-oiler had oil passageways machined (drilled?) into the sides of the block-casting.
But a Fairlane with a side-oiler? It doesn’t look the part. Drag-racers call ‘em “sleepers.”
Line a side-oiler Fairlane next to a G-T-O, and the Ford would probably win a drag-race. That’s a 427 cubic-inch racing motor versus 389 cubic-inches, and not a racing motor.
But the G-T-O sold way more cars. It looked the part.
I’ve seen plenty of GM musclecars, but no Fords. I hope to see a Talledega some day, or a Cyclone Spoiler.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Buncha crap!

The other night I happened to view that TV ad where an aging matron misplaces her keys in the refrigerator.
“Where are my keys?” she wails.
Her doting husband begins helping her look for her keys.
He pokes around, then opens the refrigerator to get something.
There are the keys.
He lovingly gives the keys to his concerned wife, saying “it’s all right, dear.”
“Buncha crap!” I shouted.
This was an ad for some Alzheimer’s medication.
Like it’s supposed to help you magically find your misplaced keys.
What if some young whippersnapper misplaces his keys?
Does that automatically imply Alzheimer’s?
No; only for oldsters.
—Us people sloughing off the young whippersnappers who wanna end Social-Security and consign us to Continuing-Care.
I hardly think so. I misplace things, but I remember too much.
These blogs rely on that.
I ain’t a candidate for some nursing-home.
Not yet.
When I no longer remember my siblings, it’s Alzheimer’s.
But not when I misplace my keys.
What is it with these TV ads? Especially the medications?
I said to my doctor last visit “In case of death, please contact your physician immediately.”

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So long, Rochester Cardiopulmonary

After 25 years — maybe 30 — I visited Rochester Cardiopulmonary Group for the last time Wednesday, June 24th, 2015.
I asked them to transfer all my cardio records to Finger Lakes Cardiology in nearby Canandaigua (“cannon-DAY-gwuh”).
Canandaigua is at the northern end of one of the Finger Lakes, Canandaigua Lake.
Rochester Cardiopulmonary is 45-50 minutes from my house. Finger Lakes Cardiology is 20-25 minutes, still a long way, but I hope by the time I can no longer drive I’ve moved to Canandaigua.
Rochester Cardiopulmonary goes back to a referral long ago by a doctor I called “the pusher.” He was affiliated with Folsom Health Center, an HMO (health-maintenance-organization) I had to be a member of at that time — this was during the ‘80s.
I called him “the pusher” because he was always prescribing pills. He was probably getting kickbacks.
He prescribed a calcium-blocker blood-pressure medication I later found made me dizzy, and that was despite my blood-pressure being acceptable.
I never did like him, but at Folsom I couldn’t change doctors.
When I had my stroke, he told my wife I’d be a vegetable.
That made me mad. “I’m gonna prove you wrong,” I told him, and I did.
So goes Dr. Rao (“row;” as in “ow”), my wiry little doctor at Rochester Cardiopulmonary.
I remembered while driving home he was the one that performed an angiogram on me prior to open-heart surgery to repair the reason I had a stroke.
It was a patent foramen ovale (“PAY-tint fore-AY-min o-VAL-eee;” PFO), a hole between the upper chambers of my heart that never sealed closed after birth.
That hole lets you use your mother’s oxygen in the womb.
Lots of people have the PFO, but never have symptoms.
But a PFO can pass a clot, and if so it goes to your brain.
Which it did in my case. A brain-clot is a stroke.
They had to see if they needed to do anything else during open-heart surgery to repair the PFO.
Which is why Dr. Rao performed the angiogram. A tube to your heart is inserted in the large artery that supplies a leg.
Radioactive dye is injected in the tube, and reveals any blockages in arteries to your heart-muscle.
If anything is blocked, they have to do a bypass.
No blockages in my case, so all they had to do was repair the PFO.
And it was Dr. Rao who performed the angiogram.
Much as I disliked “the pusher,” he referred me to good places.
Another is Urology Associates of Rochester.
But they are in Rochester, and I live in the sticks.
Canandaigua is much nearer.
At least two stress-tests and innumerable consults.
And each time I visited I was amazed at some of the patients. Creaky old codgers with walkers and in wheelchairs.
Compared to them I am Superman. I drove there myself, and walked in on my own.
To Rochester Cardiopulmonary and Dr. Rao I was the miracle who had open-heart surgery to repair a PFO.
And recovered from a stroke.
I could easily pass as healthy.

• “Canandaigua” is a small city nearby where I live in Western NY. The city is also within a rural town called “Canandaigua.” The name is Indian, and means “Chosen Spot.” It’s about 14 miles east. —I live in the small rural town of West Bloomfield, southeast of Rochester.
• The Finger Lakes are a series of north-south lakes in Central New York that look like the imprint of a large hand. They were formed by the receding glacier.
• I had a stroke October 26th, 1993, from which I pretty much recovered.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is carbon-based life doomed?

The other day (Tuesday, June 16th, 2015) I had occasion to interface with our marvelous technological world.
I had to make two phonecalls: one to Time-Warner because my cable-TV wasn’t working, and the other to E-ZPass, because my replenishment credit-card would no longer work.
I had to update my credit-card.
I called Time-Warner first, and was answered by a voice-recognition machine.
This is not dependable, so I immediately fired up my virtual telephone keypad. I was calling from my Smartphone, and they usually want keypad strokes as answers.
The tortured litany began.
“English or Español? Press one for English, two for Español.”
So far, so good.
And so began a series of questions, at least 10 or 15. Again the answers were “one” or “two.”
I’ve encountered machines like this before, but usually no more than four questions, the last menu-option being “0,” a human.
And then of course the human asks you all the same questions you just machine-answered.
“Please state your problem (for the voice-recognition); for example, ‘no cable-TV.’”
“No cable-TV,” I said.
“Please enter your P-I-N number.”
Oh brother..... I have no idea what that is. I don’t think I even have one.
Am I gonna be able to report my outage at all?
Finally, after 89 bazilyun machine questions, I had the option to talk to a service-rep, an actual human.
I got some girl, probably in India, talking broken English. I could hardly understand her.
After heavy stumbling, and having her repeat, I reported my outage. She would arrange a technician to call.
I had to have her repeat the word “technician.”
15 minutes to do what coulda been done in five.
My next call was E-ZPass.
E-ZPass is the bit that lets you blast through toll-barriers with your car. A reader reads your transponder, and charges your E-ZPass account.
When I set up the E-ZPass I authorized replenishment of my E-ZPass account by charging my credit-card. My credit-card bank sent me one of their fancy-dan new “chip” cards. My old card would no longer work.
So I was to notify any businesses who automatically charge my credit-card account, that my old card would no longer work. They had to use my new card, which had a different expiration-date, and a different security-code.
I’ve done that, but I still had to do E-ZPass, lest they go ballistic unable to charge my old card.
State Police at my door in riot-gear. (”You in deep trouble, boy!”)
I almost immediately got a human, but he was an automaton, apparently mad at the world. Perhaps because he was fielding phonecalls despite his Masters in Computer-Engineering.
He was talking so fast I could barely understand him. I considered telling him I was a stroke-survivor, and I couldn’t follow him if he continued talking at the speed of light.
But I didn’t, for fear it would make him madder still.
Finally I got him to understand the old credit-card information wouldn’t work; that they needed to update. Same credit-card number, but different expiration-date. — All they needed was the expiration-date.
Call ended, I wondered if this is what our world is coming to: instantaneous interchange of information. Exchange of information by humans is too slow.
We’re already interfacing with computers. Why not take out the humans, and make it computer-to-computer?
At the rate we’re going, our atmosphere will eventually become unbreathable, and we’ll be awash in sea-water.
Perhaps silicon-based life has a future.

• I had a stroke October 26th, 1993, from which I pretty much recovered.
• Silicon-based life will have a religion; with an invisible dual Creator of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Back-and-forth

“The Keed” has a Facebook.
It’s called “Robert John Hughes,” me.
Would that I could change it, but nothing is ever easy on Facebook.
I’d call it “The Keed” if I could, but I can’t rename my Facebook that I know of. I hafta close out “Robert John Hughes,” if that’s possible. (My wife and sister, who both died years ago, still have Facebooks, as does a friend who died a while ago). Then I’d open “The Keed.”
I’m mad at Facebook. A while ago it would freeze my machine. But it hasn’t for some time.
It’s also insanely complicated. I never do much for fear of doing something stupid. Sure, I could figure it out, but I got better things to do.
And fairly frequently it would introduce a new interface, which I would have to waste time figuring out. They never could leave well enough alone. —Employ for the techno-geeks.
I have 50 Facebook “Friends.” Facebook is always suggesting I “Friend” people I don’t know, only because they’re “Friends” of people with whom I’m “Friends.” Perish-the-thought, I don’t feel 89 bazilyun “Friends” make me a more worthwhile person.
I have hundreds of e-mail contacts, and I feel e-mail is sufficient. Out of those hundreds there may be 10 or 20 I’m in frequent contact with.
My iPhone gets my e-mail. I preview my e-mail on my iPhone.
Facebook also e-mails every posting of “Friends.” I guess that’s what it’s doing; although I’m not sure, because “Friends” post things my e-mail doesn’t report.
The Facebook e-mails have links (as buttons) to that “Friend’s” actual Facebook posting. —Which is where the “back-and-forth” comes in.
I’ll try the link, and -a) sometimes the actual Facebook posting displays on my iPhone, or -b) sometimes Facebook won’t show me the posting, but instead wants me to get “Facebook for iPhone.”
Far as I know, I already have it. My computer-store put it on when I upgraded to iPhone-6. My iPhone “Settings” say I have it.
Not that I care. What little I dicker Facebook I do on my laptop. I’ve always felt I don’t need “Facebook for iPhone,” although having it was convenient.
It meant I could preview a Facebook posting, just like previewing e-mail.
But as I say, sometimes I have it, and sometimes I don’t. Each try is a test of where the Facebook techno-geeks are.
Suckerberg can just jump in the lake. I ain’t gettin’ “Facebook for iPhone;” not when I already have it, as far as I know.
I’m not desperate. My life has meaning far beyond Facebook.
Cat-videos I have no use for, nor “congrats.”

• “My machine” is my computer.
• “Suckerberg” is of course Facebook head-honcho Mark Zuckerberg.

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BOINK!


Scarlett, about seven years ago. (Photo by Linda Hughes.)

My silly dog, “Scarlett” (two “Ts;” as in “Scarlett O’Hara”) is 11 years old.
She’s gray in the muzzle, but can still jump five feet in the air to snag a treat.
“How old did you say this dog is?” a friend asked; “she acts like she’s two.”
Scarlett sleeps with me; she can still jump on my bed: BOINK! I don’t have to help her.
Of all the Irish-Setters we’ve had, and Scarlett is number-six, none was as springy as Scarlett. 11 is late 70s in human years, but still BOINK!
Our previous dog was 10 when he had to be put down.
Another dog’s back-end gave out at 10.
Scarlett is a rescue Irish-Setter. A rescue Irish-Setter is an Irish-Setter from a bad home, abusive or a puppy-mill. Scarlett is from a failed backyard breeder. She was penned and had two litters of puppies before age-3.
By getting a rescue-dog, we avoid puppydom. Scarlett was not abused, so was in good shape.
Our previous dogs were rescues.
Scarlett came from Ohio. My wife was still alive back then, and we had just put down a very high-energy Irish-Setter due to cancer.
My wife was interested in getting another dog, and found out Ohio Irish-Setter Rescue was going to bring a couple dogs to Buffalo for a “meet-and-greet.”
A local couple was considering Scarlett as a therapy-dog. We would consider one of her puppies.
We found the location in Buffalo without much trouble, due to Google-maps and Street-Views.
Finally the lady pulled in from Ohio. She had the dogs in crates.
She opened the side-door of her minivan.
WHAP-WHAP-WHAP-WHAP!
“I hear a wagging tail,” I cried.
“Oh, that would be Scarlett,” she said.
The dogs were let out. We greeted our puppy, and Scarlett promptly dragged her prospective master to the ground.
“Here, let me try her. I just gave up on a high-energy dog.”
We traded dogs. The couple took the puppy, and me Scarlett.
Yank, pull, lurch, slam. Scarlett was extremely high-energy.
She also was beautiful, more feathered than any Irish-Setter we’d ever had.
The couple would take the puppy. Scarlett was too much to be a therapy-dog.
“Is it fair to the dog for an old guy like me to take this dog?” I thought.
That was eight years ago, and we brought home Scarlett.
A lot has happened since. My wife died three years ago, so now I am alone with Scarlett.
Which is fine with her, since she attached mainly to me.
The master has also fallen to no longer being able to give Scarlett the active life promised.
I used to take Scarlett to the park for long walks.
I/we quickly learned Scarlett had to be on a leash. If she sensed a deer, she would bolt.
We almost lost her twice, and me once more after my wife died. I’d had my cellphone number embroidered on her collar, and that saved her twice.
Scarlett became a hunter. At least 10-15 rabbits have died in her jaws, and innumerable mice, moles, and chipmunks. Anything inside her pen is dead meat.
I refuse to discourage her. This is why dogs were domesticated: food on the table.
So now Scarlett is it. A friend told me she changed jobs so she could better take care of her diabetic cat. People advise her she should put down that cat. But she refuses to do so.
I can understand that. No way am I giving up on Scarlett. She wants to be with me, and will be as long as I can.
My hope is that some day I can take her back to the park. That will require a knee-replacement; I’m hobbling bone-on-bone. Other ailments are delaying the knee-replacement.
But Scarlett wants to be with me.

• “Linda Hughes” is my wife who died.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

The End (I hope)

With any luck, I think I finally stopped the torrent of twice-daily e-mails from Doggiefood.com.
I did this by the simple expedient of “unsubscribe,” although it was deftly located at the bottom of their e-mail, in tiny print I hopefully wouldn’t see.
I only mention this because I kept “junking” the Doggiefood.com e-mails, but they kept appearing as “non-junk.”
Usually when I “junk” an e-mail, anything from that sender is thereafter automatically “junked;” that is, it only appears in my “junk” folder.
Not Doggiefood.com. They must have been doing something to override my “junk” function.
Every day I had to junk Doggiefood.com e-mails. It was getting irksome.
I don’t know what started Doggiefood.com. I don’t think I ever ordered anything from them.
I’m more inclined to think they purchased my e-mail address from another pet supplier, and thereby began showering me.
Such are the wondrous joys of our techno-age.
Some desperate business buys my e-mail address, and thereafter deluges me with purchase solicitations, and then writes some code that offsets my “junk” assignment.
I had this happen with Linked-In. Hello, I’m not vain enough to think of myself as super-superior “prefessional.” But I couldn’t shut off their solicitations.
I “junked” everything from Linked-In, but kept getting their e-mails as “non-junk.”
I also get the feeling Linked-In is some Facebook thingy, aimed at one’s vanity.
I’m mad at Facebook — it’s locked my machine.
I also feel it played upon my ignorance to get me to join.
I finally got Linked-In to leave me alone; how I don’t remember.
I hope now Doggiefood.com leaves me alone.

• I have a dog, Scarlett, a rescue Irish-Setter.
• “My machine” is of course this computer.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Class Act

I am friends with Brenda Tremblay (“trom-BLAY;” as in “trombone”), the morning radio-host at WXXI, the classical music radio-station out of Rochester (NY) I listen to.
I’ve listened to WXXI for years; I say it’s the only radio I can stand.
When I come in the house it goes on.
Brenda at the controls.
How and why I became friends with Brenda I can’t remember, but it may be because we are both graduates of Houghton College (“HO-tin;” as in “hoe,” not “how” or “who”), 70-80 miles south of Rochester.
Brenda is 1990; I am Class of ’66. Brenda’s parents are Class of ’64; I remember Brenda’s father.
I’ve never regretted attending Houghton, even though I graduated a ne’er-do-well, and almost got kicked out three times.
Houghton is a religious school.
Houghton was the first place adult authority-figures valued and solicited my opinions, instead of automatically labeling me “despicable” and “of-the-Devil.”
My parents did this — I could not respect my father, and that drove him crazy with rage — plus the powers-that-be in the churches I attended declared me “of-the-Devil.”
A church-deacon once told me I was “degraded.”
My sister, now deceased, told me Houghton is where I flowered.
(She was Class of ’68, but dropped out to get married after two years, and that marriage ended in divorce. Her first of four marriages, although her last was good.)
“So what did you get out of Houghton?” a friend asked.
“A wife,” I said; “and a really good one.”
Plus my penchant for caring about things. They cared about me.
I don’t know as this legacy of caring about things made it to all Houghton students. But it made it to me, and I think Brenda.
Brenda is assembling a documentary about native Rochester composer David Diamond, and I bet it ends up being a class act.
STORY TIME:
After my stroke I volunteered to be on the Boughton (“BOW-tin;” as in “wow”) Park Board to administer the park.
Boughton Park is the old water-supply for a Rochester suburb.
When the suburb outstripped its water-supply, and switched to county water, they sold their water-supply, and three local towns bought it as a town park.
It’s very rustic, almost a nature-preserve. About the only human element is the dams, which make ponds.
The Board decided to keep it rustic; development wasn’t allowed. The state wanted to install a swimming beach, but was sent packing.
I got on the Board to see if I could still do it despite a stroke.
My park brochure.
I didn’t do much, but the Board decided they needed an informational brochure, and since I worked at the Messenger newspaper in Canandaigua at that time, they enlisted me to do it.
They suggested I do a map of the park with its ponds from a tattered xerox.
I refused. No cheap-shots from this kid!
If I was designing that brochure it was gonna be a class act.
It was the old Houghton waazoo. Do it right!
They ended up getting far more than expected, a professional-looking brochure designed by me.
Since I left the Board, they did a four-color brochure, that unfortunately wasn’t as good as mine.
And mine was only el-cheapo one color, black ink on yellowish card-stock.
The new brochure wasn’t designed by an artist, which I apparently am.
I also have gotten into other things, mainly a calendar of my train-photos. I’m a railfan.
It’s the old Houghton waazoo: How can I get Shutterfly, my calendar-producer, to give me a class act?


My calendar cover.

Try this background: NOPE! Try another: that’s more like it! Patterned versus solid; nope, gotta be solid.
Okay, fonts. Try this: NOPE! Looks stupid. Try this: that’s more like it! But maybe we can do better. So try another: there it is.
Okay, how big should the fonts be? Try this: NOPE! Too big. Downsize; too small. Increase a little, just right.
Font-color: black: NOPE! Looks awful. Try maroon: nope! Still looks awful. White: there it is.
Flush-right, flush-left or centered. Try ‘em all. Gotta be centered.
So what pictures do I use? Sometimes my brother gets the better picture. I’m usin’ his instead, even though it’s my calendar.
The eye of the artist has decided.
I feel pretty confident any more. Critics are happy to downplay my abilities, but both my brochure and calendar look pretty good. People tell me how good they are.
(And of course both are only two of things I’ve done. Years ago I did motorsport coverage for a small Rochester newspaper, and during my employ at Regional Transit Service as a bus-driver I produced a voluntary newsletter in my computer for my bus-union.)
Years ago an RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) photography professor said “You’ve obviously had a liberal-arts education.” He was telling me how well written my term-paper was.
Nope; it was mainly Houghton — and my ability to sling words.
People were telling me what I was doing was impressive; including adult authority-figures.
It’s taken a while to become confident in my abilities.
It’s offsetting a childhood that made me feel inferior and stupid. And I feel like Houghton started it.
Which is why I think Brenda will produce a class act.

• For 16&1/2 years (1977-1993) I drove transit bus for Regional Transit Service (RTS) in Rochester, NY, a public employer, the transit-bus operator in Rochester and environs. My stroke October 26th, 1993 ended that. I retired on medical-disability. I recovered fairly well.