Category Archives: Science & Technology

Roger That

The early 1960s milieu of my youth was certainly different than that of our contemporary turmoil, well over five decades hence. 

For example, some obscure skills regarding road maps were very useful, whether on a cross-country adventure, or just heading out to the next county, or across town. One was being able to find a tiny street somewhere in F-9.  You could not just whip out your mobile phone and ask for directions over that last mile.

Another was to unfold a large detailed map and then re-fold differently so that it could be easily used for navigation; – and then, upon completion, getting it all neatly re-folded again (yes, using the original creases and into the original pattern) without rips or tears so that it could be stored efficiently for multiple future uses. That’s an almost completely lost art.  It required patience, some imagination, and 3-D topological mathematical skills to visualize and execute the folded shapes. 

1960s Road Maps

State maps and city maps often folded differently, and especially so if one was from Texaco, another from Standard Oil, and yet another from Michelin, or from whomever.  If you need a tutorial, find a road map collecting club.  These clubs actually exist.  You can find anything in America. 

I was wondering recently about the children’s cartoon show that we sometimes watched: Roger Ramjet.  I think it was a tangent thought on our nation’s new Space Force (by the way, we’ve effectively had a Space Force since long before President Trump deemed it so). Roger Ramjet was one of countless mindless children’s empty-headed shows that ubiquitously populated the TV Wasteland of the early ‘60s moors (the theme song is right now an earworm in my brain).  The term TV Wasteland was so coined by Newton Minow, the first chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in a famous speech to a Senate subcommittee, in 1961.

The commissioner’s name is part of a humorous twist, from yet another silly brain-dead show for children that jumped into the 1960’s wasteland: Gilligan’s Island. The show’s creator and executive director, Sherwood Schwartz, decided that the name of the tour ship that would survive an ocean storm, and drop seven castaways on an uncharted island, would be named the SS Minnow, in sardonic honor of the Chairman.  

I wondered how Roger Ramjet, both the character and the TV show got their name.  Ramjet was a “hot” word de jour, in those fast-paced technology-war and cold war years.  Simply – I would learn a few years later – a basic sort of turbo charged jet engine, without an actual turbo air-compressing mechanism. 

Our hero: Roger Ramjet

But the name “Roger”, I guessed from early on, was due to Roger’s nature.  Namely military.  Roger was super patriotic, definitely military, painfully loyal and honest, possessed a bizarre superpower, and fought evil. He was also a few cards short of a full deck.  Sort of a US version of RCMP officer Dudley Do-Right (yes, Dudley was from that same TV Wasteland brain dead era).

The military term “Roger”, I (think I) learned from watching popular WW2-themed TV shows like 12 O’clock High and Combat!, which featured radio communications wherein the word “Roger” was used to indicate a message had been received.  R for Roger; R for Received. 

The history and etymology of the word “Roger” in this context is interesting and worthy of an essay in and of itself.  It’s still used today, particularly in aircraft communication.  Variations include Roger Willco (Received, will comply), Roger That, and Roger Dodger.  If its use were to start up from scratch today, it would probably be “Romeo”, as that is the NATO and US Military phonetic alphabet word-based “R.” [US Military phonetic alphabet is a tad different.]

[Since my surname is so often misspelled I am used to giving it as Golf-India-Romeo-Alpha-Romeo-Delta. That gets the job done, and the reply is sometimes: Thank you for your service. To which I must respond: I did not have that honor sir (or ma’am)].

The beginnings of “Roger Dodger” seem apocryphal, but it is a good story, nonetheless. According to legend: a naval pilot was returning from a very successful WW2 mission. Feeling quite jolly and cocky, and upon receiving landing instructions from control, he replied “Roger Dodger.”  Very, very unmilitary.  The reply is simply “Roger.”

Radios of the squadron came alive with the shouting of a senior officer at control who had overheard the wisecrack. Such undisciplined comments are simply not acceptable over military channels.  To which the pilot replied (knowing that his reply was anonymous; it could be from anyone on that frequency): “Roger Dodger, you old codger.”

Another essay foray could be into the use of exclamation points, as in the 1960’s TV show name “Combat!”,  which was my first experience with a formal name or title having an exclamation point; this was decades before Yahoo!, and Yum! type product branding. I was too young and unsophisticated to know of the famous musicals “Oklahoma!” and “Hello Dolly!”  [Soon thereafter would arrive the cookie brand, “Chips Ahoy!”, then came so many it became silly.]

What I recall of Combat! and 12 O’clock High is that they were obviously military oriented … one army air force, the other infantry army.  They were not silly, but very serious. The suffering – both physical and psychological – was real.  Personal struggles. Seeing and dealing with pain, injury, aloneness, death. 

So, how did Roger Ramjet get his name? Did Roger get his name from military roots? No. Like the name “SS Minnow” it was simpler and even less meaningful.  It turns out that the name Roger Ramjet just had a good “ring” to it.  Ramjet was from ramjet, a type of forced-air-breathing jet engine.  And Roger was the name of a reporter (Roger Smith) who joked during an interview with executive producer (Fred Crippen) during the show’s initial creation that the main character’s name should be Roger.  So it was, … and so much for branding back in the day.

“Roger” has made it over to emails and texts – well, at least in mine.  If I reply:  

  • “Roger”, then I received and understood your message.
  • “Roger That”, then I received, understood and I agree.
  • “Roger Dodger”, then I received, understood and I am feeling a bit goofy or lighthearted – or perhaps I think you are being supercilious. But I won’t add “You old codger.”

Peace out

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

Whether the Weather

“Without a doubt, chain of command is one of the most durable concepts in military organizations.” [1]

Clarity: It is critical that each warrior be responsible to a single set of orders; and that those orders ultimately flow through a single person: a designated leader. Often, it is likewise with briefing and council of such leaders: well considered, well delivered and filtered information is better than too much information; it must come through a single responsible person.

Red Sky at night: sailors’ delight.
Red sky at morning: sailors take warning.”

Not long ago. ‘Twas before weather satellites. Before weather apps sent us instantaneous forecasts and updates – for free. Before flocks of powerful computers, powered by speedy powerful, parallel processors, loaded with forecasting programs and access to over a century of meteorological data. Before all that, people relied on little bits of wisdom, like that captured in this poem couplet, to help foretell the weather. 


The insight of this this poem has been used for millennia.  One of the earliest written records is this reply to a demand for a sign from heaven:

It is one thing to gage likely weather for smallish things like picnics and hikes, and larger things, such as if a ship should leave the safety of port. It is something completely different when the future of the world depends upon predictive correctness. Yet, decades before the space age, satellite imagery and the internet, a small group of people – led by an enigmatic man – made the most important and unlikely, yet correct, two-day weather forecast in the history of the modern world.  Working with similar information, teams of weather scientists only a few miles away made different forecasts.  The world-changing consequences were immeasurable.

________________________________________________________

The enigmatic man was James Martin Stagg. He was born to a plumber and a homemaker at the dawn of the 20th century, June 30th, 1900. His first name was that of his paternal grandfather; his middle name matched his mother’s maiden name. Hometown: Dalkeith, a small market town, some 15 miles south-southeast of the big city of Edinburgh, quite near the Firth of Forth – close by the North Sea. It’s a place where one becomes accustomed to the capriciousness of weather.

James Martin Stagg

His parents were stern Scots. They raised him to be disciplined, thorough, hard-working, and accountable. He was also considered rather bookish and unemotional. Humorless. These were all traits that would serve him, and the world, well.

By age 15 James had received as much local education as possible in Dalkeith. Clearly bright and promising, he was sent off to further his education, in Edinburgh.  By 1921 he had earned a master’s degree from prestigious Edinburgh University. His career began as a teacher and science master at George Hariot’s School (primary and secondary boarding school), also in Edinburgh.  He also began post-degree research in a field that would fascinate him for the rest of his life: Geophysics.  In particular, he studied the earth’s magnetic properties.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not.
 
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot.

We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!

_____________________________________________________________________________

Weather forecasting was improving steadily during the first few decades of the 20th century, well beyond simple poems, owing largely to the development of powered flight – for commercial and, later, military purposes. Reasonable forecasts – wind, precipitation, cloud cover – were invaluable to pilots and navigators.  And flight gave opportunity for a bonanza of further atmospheric data collection and observation.

The century had already dealt humanity horrible calamities due to inaccurate forecasts. In the US this included deadly hurricanes (such as Galveston, 1900; and the Long Island Express, 1938) and lost aircraft: commercial, private and military.

A mixture of art and science, weather forecasting was evolving rapidly.  Some schools of thought promoted using centuries of meticulous records (even Thomas Jefferson kept detailed weather logs) and then trying to fit current readings with known patterns observed over time.  Others were promoting a rigorous science-based approach, with the belief that given enough data the weather could be forecast days in advance, based solely on atmospheric data and physics-based mathematical models.  Without high speed digital computers and data base programs, both approaches were handicapped as World War II broke out, September 1, 1939, and continued for six years.

___________________________________________________________________________

Even in the 1940s, Americans who dwelt in the Midwest, or in the east, would be astonished at how feeble weather forecasting was for the British Isles and much of western Europe, from the coasts of France to those of Norway. 

Why? Two major factors.

Factor one: Geographic location. Americans from the Great Plains to the Atlantic Coast reaped some under-appreciated major benefits here.  One was the mid-latitude Westerlies: a general motion of west-to-east wind and weather patterns between 30 and 60 degrees latitude. Another geographic benefit was the sheer immenseness of the continent.  From across the country – from cities and towns and airports and major rail stations – weather observations were constantly wired to the National Weather Service.  Usually throughout each day. 

Formed in 1890, the NWS was staffed with hundreds of dedicated hands-on human data processors who would manually amalgamate an astounding mountain of data – air pressure, temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud cover and type, precipitation amounts and rates – and concoct a pretty reasonable weather forecast for the few days ahead.  The country – from farmers to aircraft – relied on these forecasts.

The second fact simply is that the North Atlantic is not a continent. There were very, very few weather reports from which to synthesize forecasts in “the pond.” It is as much a weather generator as it is weather receiver. Any details gleaned from shipping vessels were invaluable.  Weather reports from Maine to Newfoundland, from Goose Bay, and from Thule to Iceland, were scrutinized for every possible detail.  Remote stations in Ireland, Scotland, islands in the Irish Sea and along the Welsh coast could provide, perhaps, at most, a half day’s alert. The Atlantic dynamically battles with the Arctic here: ocean currents, the Jetstream, and vagaries of high latitude weather formation over a cold swirling ocean were simply not fully understood.

____________________________________________________________

Although degreed in Geophysics, James Martin Stagg’s eclectic career and training earned him high praise, and he received an appointment at Britain’s Meteorological Office (usually just called “the Met”) in 1924.  His responsibilities, experiences in travel, life and career, and the respect of other scientists continued to grow.  For example, in 1932 he led a one-year expedition to arctic Canada, where he gained first-hand experience of weather variability north of “the Westerlies.”

His career flourished.  In 1943 Stagg was appointed the Chief Meteorological Officer to Allied forces in Western Europe. The main mission: learn enough history and patterns of north Atlantic weather sufficiently well to make predictions for an invasion – the invasion to liberate western Europe. Today we call this D-Day and Operation Overlord.

Stagg’s partner and righthand man at this task was Donald Yates, a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point. The US Military has always been great at identifying and developing potential: as an officer, Yates went on to earn a master’s degree in Meteorology from CalTech before joining Stagg.
______________________________________________________________________

Chain of Command.  The allies were blessed with capable generals from many backgrounds; – yet, more than a few were prideful and bullheaded.  Think Patton and Montgomery. They also had widely varying backgrounds. But only one person could be the supreme leader of all Allied military operations in Europe.  President Roosevelt, counseled by eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner George Marshall, and Prime Minister Churchill chose wisely.  They quickly settled on Dwight D. Eisenhower (affectionately known as “Ike”) for the singular role, even though he had only minor actual leadership experience in battle.

Ike was just one of hundreds of possible candidates.  Scores were more senior and battle-hardened; and many of those looked askance at this choice – and at Ike. 

But Ike was gifted.  He understood logistics and intelligence; he possessed superior organizational, administrative and people skills.  Above all, he showed excellent judgment. In many ways he was likeable, and considered jovial and friendly; in times of critical decision he was pensive, careful and largely unemotional.

Likewise, the allied Allied weather staffs were full of capable yet strong headed individuals from various backgrounds. But only a single person could be responsible for advising General Eisenhower. The person selected was James Stagg.  Assisted by Yates – the two acted largely as equals – Stagg’s job was to assess and make recommendations based on input from three independent teams of meteorologists. 

Those three teams represented: (1) the United States Army Airforce; (2) the British Meteorological Office (or the Met); and (3) the British Royal Navy. Stagg – like Ike – was seemingly unqualified for the job to many close observers.  His appointment as the single person responsible for meteorological advice – like Ike’s – was unappreciated by many highly trained and more experienced meteorologists, most of whom considered themselves to be superior.  Yet – like Ike – Stagg had a long reputation for exceptional judgment, and a record for careful, unemotional decisions.

Single person chain of command. Ike on the overall mission to take Normandy and western Europe.  Stagg on weather forecasts presented to Ike.  Simple. 
______________________________________-____________________________

A quick overview on D-Day, judgment, and the weather. Since early 1942 Europe and Stalin awaited the opening of a military front on the Third Reich’s west.  They would have to wait until at least the spring of ’44, before Ike and his staff thought they could pull it off. In fact, Ike was not formally in charge of European operations until January of that year. The secret chosen location was a 50 mile stretch of beaches in Normandy, west of the Seine estuary near La Havre, and east of the Cotentin Peninsula. 

What were the required conditions (besides secrecy and overwhelming force) for success of the largest landing invasion in history? 

First and foremost, relatively calm seas so the landing craft could navigate the English Channel and get to the Normandy coast.  Upon this hung any chance of success. And this depended almost solely on Stagg and the teams of meteorologists.

Second, dawn tidal conditions to suit the Higgins Boats (landing craft): a rising tide shortly after a low tide.  The rising tide would help carry the craft into shore; the lower tide would help them avoid German defense obstacles. This condition could be met with a nearly full moon, or nearly new moon.

Third, mostly clear, calm skies. This would assist pilots and their cargo – about 14,000 paratroopers and 4,000 glider troops – and give the best chance to hit drop zones. These would come in the dark pre-dawn hours; the first jumps came shortly after midnight.  Again, this depended on Stagg.

Fourth and finally, as a “nice to have”, but not a requirement: a full, or near full moon; again, to help paratroopers and their pilots.

May was an extraordinarily calm month, yet Ike did not think they were quite ready yet.  June 5th, one day before a full moon, was chosen.  All Allied – and German – meteorologists watched the weather, collected data and daily drew hundreds of charts by hand.

The glorious, calm, balmy western Europe spring suddenly turned nasty on June 4. Stormy skies and seas, with high winds and waves, and driving rain, pelted the British Isles and the Channel. 

Stagg consulted with his three teams. There was bitter debate and ridicule among and within the teams on the weather outlook.  The USAAF team, led by Irving Krick – who, coincidentally, had also earned a PhD in meteorology from CalTech – was “gung ho” for June 5th.  The two British teams weren’t so sure: one cautiously optimistic, the other firmly against.  The situation looked unsettled.

Outside of the weather, everyone really wanted to go June 5th.  To stand down could be most discouraging.  The men were mentally and spiritually as ready as they could be.  Many craft were already loaded and in the water.  The battleships were ready, staffed and ready to cruise.  The planes were all checked out.  Infantry, paratroopers, coxswains and pilots wrote wills; they wrote what could well be their last letters to family, wives and girlfriends.

Ike called in Stagg.  What about the weather? Quite possibly the outcome of the entire war in Europe hung on Stagg’s shoulders. On one hand, if he recommended a No-Go, i.e. a postponement, then the invasion might not occur for weeks, or even months. The weather looked to be settled in for a long stretch of ugliness. Could the Allies maintain the surprise that long?  What, meanwhile, would befall the beleaguered civilians in occupied Europe? On the other hand, if he recommended a Go for June 5, it was possible that the weather could cause catastrophe for the invasion – in fact, it might self-destruct.

Stagg recommended a postponement. Ike pushed him: really?  Are you sure?  Yes, he was. Like everyone, Ike really wanted to go. But, he acquiesced: he’d give the order to stand down.  But what about the next day, June 6?  There was a likely window of a few hours in the morning when the landings would be possible.  Standby.

German forecasters, with similar access to history and data – although not quite as extensive – came to a similar conclusion.  There would be no invasion on June 5.  The weather looked so bad, in fact, that they forecast no likely invasion for at least two more weeks. Consequently, many German officers left their posts for personal leave, or to attend war games in Rennes. Many troops were given leave also. Erwin Rommel, the famous German general (The Desert Fox) who had been made commander of all Atlantic defenses even went home for a few days, in order to surprise his wife on her 50th birthday.

Krick’s team was so disappointed in the June 5th stand-down order that they tried to go around Stagg and get to Ike through back-channels.  Good thing it didn’t work: the tradition of military chain of command stood firm. That day, as it turns out, would have resulted in a tragic outcome for the Allies. The German defenses would have barely had to fire a shot. Weather would have thwarted most flights, and tossed the Allied boats and ships to-and-fro all over the Channel. Battleships in the channel, pitching and rolling, could not have shelled the German bunkers with their big guns along the coast.

Weather chart for June 6, 1944

Later that night, Ike called for Stagg again. So: what about June 6th?  To varying degrees all three meteorological teams supported taking the chance; each with differing and various concerns and caveats – except Krick, who was still gung-ho. It seemed that a high pressure was edging up from the mid-Atlantic, with just enough relief to offer a good possibility for the morning of the 6th

Normandy Beach (Utah), June 6, 1944

Would it be perfect?  No. Mixed, intermittent clouds (scattered in east Normandy, thick in the west), ground fog, and breezes would surely make it rough on paratroopers and their pilots (most sticks did miss their DZs — drop zones).  But the landing craft could probably get to the beaches. Ike considered Stagg’s and Yates’ inputs, concerns and recommendation. 

Ike conferred with his top leadership team to consider Stagg’s report. The three highest ranking members of this team were all Brits: Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (British Army); Commander-in-Chief of Naval Operations, Bertram Ramsey (Royal Navy); and Air Marshal Arthur Tedder (Royal Air Force). The first two leaned toward GO. But Tedder was against June 6th — the possibility of cloud cover was too risky. Ramsey then reminded Ike that the 7th could not possibly work, as many sea vessels would have to return to port to refuel, postponing a possible attack many days.

Ike considered all inputs an opinions. Then announced: June 6th was a GO. 

Had Stagg or Ike been more cautious and postponed yet again, the next possible dates were June 19 & 20. The tides, of course would cooperate, but it would be moonless. 

The Allies continued to put similar effort into weather forecasting after the successful June 6th landings.  Air Force sorties and trans-channel crossings with supplies went on almost daily, quite dependent on their dependable forecasts.  June soon turned stormy again. Yet the forecasts for June 19 were for relatively calm skies and seas.

Had the Allies stood-down again on June 6th, then almost surely the three teams, Stagg and Yates would have recommended that Ike go ahead with a June 19th invasion.  Especially after postponing twice. Ike would have accepted that and issued the invasion “Go” order.

That would have been one of the worst disasters in military history. It was called “A Storm from Nowhere.” Tremendous winds and waves lashed across the Channel and crashed into Normandy.  The large temporary Mulberry harbors were damaged, one of them destroyed completely.  

Sometimes you need to be good AND lucky.  June 6 was a good choice.  And it was a lucky choice. Ike and Stagg were the right choices for their roles. They played the odds, trusted their guts, rolled the dice and chose well.  The world is better for it.

After the war, Ike of course went on to serve two terms as US President.  Between the war’s end and the presidency he held multiple leadership roles, first as Governor of the American Zone in occupied Germany; here he is most noted for ordering thorough photographic evidence of Nazi death camps, as well as organizing food relief for German civilians. Ike also served as Army Chief of Staff (succeeding Marshall), the first Supreme Head of NATO, and President of Columbia University.

Yates was awarded membership in the US Army Legion of Merit, and France’s Legion of Honor.  He ended up a career military man, transferring to the newly formed Air Force in 1947. Through his career he held leadership and technological positions, working in both weather and rocket research. He also commanded Patrick Air Force Base, in Florida. He retired in 1961 as a Lieutenant General (3-star).

Stagg, the hero of this essay, was awarded membership in both the United States Legion of Merit, and in the Order of the British Empire.  After the war he served as a director in the British Meteorological Office, until his retirement in 1960.  He also was an elected a member of the prestigious Royal Society of Edinburgh, and president of the Royal Meteorological Society.

There were many heroes and personalities from the European Theater of WW2.  Some are obvious; they will never be forgotten.  Here’s to some lesser known heroes, including the Scotsman James Stagg and the American Donald Yates.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Joe Girard © 2020

[1] Army War College publication, by Michael Piellusch & Tom Galvin

Excellent resources:

Book: “The Forecast for D-Day”, by John Ross

And some good internet sites (there are so very many)

https://www.history.com/news/the-weather-forecast-that-saved-d-day

https://weather.com/news/news/2019-06-05-d-day-weather-forecast-changed-history

Some omitted but cool items:

From Krick to Petterson, many senior Allied weathermen later wrote disparagingly of Stagg. But not of Yates. Regardless, Stagg made the right calls, and the responsibility fell on his shoulders.

Bloody Ramble: from Typos to Chaplin

I am not a hematologist. Nor an immunologist or a virologist. Just an aspiring amateur writer who has recognized that typos fall into two dominant categories. Regular readers have no doubt spotted more than a few.

The first kind of typo comes from stream of consciousness – such as just getting the initial thoughts and sentences tapped in.  Misspellings, poor grammar, dreary or ambiguous word choice, double words, lazy punctuation.  The long list continues: verb/noun mismatch; change of tense within a paragraph; chronological inconsistencies; using “their” or “your” for “they’re” and “you’re” …

These are all forgivable, and relatively painless. Many make it to draft status, when well over 90% can be cleaned up by a few proofreading passes.

It’s the second kind of typo that is really painful.  These result from late edits.  The eleventh-hour flash of brilliance that results in a “catastrophic improvement.”  At the final moment, with the cake fully iced, the product is ready for a la mode, and full reader enjoyment! 

But no! Those last flourishes require just as much proof reading as the original drafts.  Yet, it is so easy to skip. I’ve done it many times. Slow learner.

To my readers: Thank you.  Many of you have gently suggested improvements and corrections to my typos and “facts.”  The rest of you have kindly ignored them; or, perhaps in your brilliance, merely read what I intended, not what I wrote.  Exhibit A: My last essay enfolded references to (a) a famous bathroom fixture company, (b) its founder, (c) the label for a common convenience, and (d) my regular tapestry of  history, factoids, and observations.  During some post-published proof-reading I found a few major hiccups. It’s better now, but only after some help and a couple of paragraph re-writes.
 

________________________________________

Not only are there two kinds of typo; there are two kinds of Type-O.  Positive and negative.  We’re talking blood here.

I am O-positive.  That’s the most common blood type, nearly 40% of humans have it, despite O’s transmission on a recessive gene.  About 85-90% of people in need of transfusion can accept my blood. If I didn’t carry the Rh-positive antigen, 100% could take my blood.

Through the magic of genetics and natural anti-bodies, I am quite valuable to blood banks.  There is a virus connection here.  How appropriate for this time of novel coronavirus, SARS CoV-2 and international tumult.

Most adult humans have, at some point in their lives, contracted the Cytomegalo Virus (or CMV). As much as 80%.  Of those affected, nearly 100% who contract it suffer from only mild symptoms, if any. Except infants. CMV can cause severe long-term damage to new arrivals – especially “preemies” – as their immune systems are just waking up. 

Of the many scores of herpes viruses discovered, only eight are known to regularly affect humans.  Once infected, our bodies almost always eventually mount a swift and decisive victory, driving the virus from the battlefield – our homeland: tissues, organs, blood.  Better, our well-evolved immune systems retain intermediate and long-term immunity via anti-bodies (of the five main types Immunoglobulin-M and -G antibodies are of the most interest here).

Like many types of virus, the herpes family is insidious.  Even though thoroughly thwarted by a superior foe, they execute a strategic retreat, never quite leaving the body.  They “hang out” in nerve cells. Lying dormant for long intervals, they occasionally “wake up” to see if their host – us! – is healthy enough to fight them off for another round of battle.  If the response is “yes”, they retreat again to the sanctuary of our nerves, a place a proper immune system has been trained to not attack.

This happens over and over again, until we die, as sufferers of HSV 1 and 2 can attest (Herpes Simplex 1 or 2); that is, repeated blistering around the mouth, or even in the mouth.  Those episodes of re-occurrence are only mildly annoying when compared to what can happen with the Chicken Pox virus (Vicella Zoster Virus, or VZV); later in life it can manifest as what’s commonly called “Shingles” – with an agonizing and often debilitating rash accompanied by stabbing pains.

Since CMV is in the Herpes family there is always a likelihood it is in someone’s blood; that is, if they have ever had it in their life. Hence, their blood must never be used for transfusions to infants.

My blood always tests negative for CMV anti-bodies, both IgM and IgG. This means it is not lying dormant somewhere and I am a safe donor for infants.

I donate blood as often as practicable.  I am of some use to society. We Type-Os are also delicious to mosquitoes. My wife says that having me around is better than using insect repellant.

______________________________________________________________________

Until the previous turn of the century, blood types were unknown.  The micro-biological processes of transfusions and outcomes were a mystery, so it was practiced sparingly and as a last resort. Sometimes with spectacular success.  But more often with horrible, painful, fatal results.

At that time Austrian scientist Karl Landsteiner was wondering about this. He hit upon the idea of simply mixing blood from various people together to see what happened. No chemistry. No microscopes. In hindsight, this seems most unsophisticated – even elementary; but no one had done it. 

What he found was rather amazing. Some samples got along well together, and most others did not; they made globules: which was the observable effect of one blood trying to obviate the other; or each other.  Landsteiner had discovered blood types!  For this he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine, decades later, in 1930.

At first he identified 3 types: he labeled them A, B and C.

Red Blood Cells

In the scaled down world of micro-biology and microbes, red blood cells are like titans. Thin and disk-like, they average about 7 microns in diameter, with a thickness of 2 microns, which “squishes” down to about 1 micron at the center, not unlike Life Saver candies. [From now on, I will give sizes in microns, with no units, for simplicity]. This topography gives the red cell a very large surface area compared to its mass and size, which is useful for its main duty: ferrying oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules around the body and passing them across its surface membrane.

A CMV virion’s size is about 0.2. The SARS nCoV-2 is probably smaller than that: about 0.1.  Bacteria, like staph and strep are bigger, but still smaller than a reddie: size, on average, about 1.

Cytomegalovirus CMV, a DNA-type virus from Herpesviridae family. 3D illustration. CMV mostly causes diseases in newborns and immunocompromised patients

A and B blood types were found to carry antigens on their surface. Antigens are anything that triggers an “attack” from antibodies. These red blood cell antigens are, surprisingly, sugars of the D-galactose family, size about 0.0005 (or 1/2000th the average thickness of a red blood cell). 

A blood type which has no sugar antigens, C, was re-named O, which basically means zero, or none. A little later it was discovered that some types carry both A and B antigens, so they were naturally named “AB” – pretty rare.  These 4 types (A, B, AB and O) comprise 99.9+% of all blood types.

Now it’s not at all complicated to tell who can take whose blood for a transfusion. Since my O has no sugar antigens, anyone can take my blood.  But my body will “see” the A, B, and AB cells as invaders. We Type-Os are picky. Although anyone can take my blood, I can only take Type-O.

But wait, not quite so simple. There were still problems.

Rh markers were found a few decades later, around 1940 (also, sort of, by Landstein [1]) – just in time for most of WW2, resulting in fewer multiple-transfusion complications … and a better understanding of baby-to-mother Rh mismatch for the baby-boom that followed WW2.

The Rh markers are proteins (there are actually about 49 of them; the most common is type-D), about size 0.003.  About 90% of people have Rh-positive blood.

Floating nearby in the plasma are anti-bodies.  For mammals these are about size 0.1 – quite small.  In Rh-negative people, these little workers are always “on the ready” to identify Rh proteins as “bad guys.”  And also to identify foreign A and B antigens.

People, especially prospective mothers, with no Rh proteins (i.e. Rh-negative) must be careful with donations and pregnancies.  The first time the body encounters the Rh antigen the process or pregnancy is usually OK.  But the body is stirred up, and it remembers. The next time it’s “attack.” If a Rh-negative patient gets more than one Rh-positive transfusion — or a Rh-negative mom gets a second Rh-positive baby in utero — it can be bad news.

____________________________________________________

Returning to the red blood cell.  It is quite large; a workhorse of the vascular system. Yet, one might wonder: why have we evolved so that its surface is laden with thousands of tag-a-longs and stowaways that seem more trouble than their load is worth?

Well, maybe those labels are a bit harsh.  Research suggests that the Rh proteins can provide a sort of osmotic-efficient pathway for the relatively large CO2 molecules (compared to oxygen) to slither through the cell membrane.  And it appeared millions of years ago – before anything like a hominoid walked on two legs. [2]

We can consider these ancient genetic tweaks as a sort of typo: a minor transcription mistake in typing out genetic text from DNA to RNA and back again to the DNA of a new cell, thus creating a new or different function for such genes.

Sugar antigens, similar to A and B, appear in the blood of all mammals. Again, these evolved in our pre-hominoid ancestors long ago. [3] Just why this is so, is a bit of a mystery.  Perhaps it was for a weird but clever type of “trick play herd immunity.”  A virus sees cell coatings as something that can provide an attach point on, or even pathway into, a cell.  If a population has a random collection of these sugars and proteins, then a single type of virus pandemic cannot wipe out the entire species.

Here I like to imagine a sports team cleverly crafted to beat any team at, say, a football match. That team is the Evil Virus. The first games for team EV are easy victories. The next several matches they stampede confidently onto apparently identical pitches, only to be confronted with rules for cricket. Or golf. And then tennis. Then speed skating.  Result?  Team EV fails. –  The species survives; the virus must go off and mutate further or die out.

All these rule changes – different cell coatings among individuals among the same species – makes our bodies suspicious of one another.  When there’s a transfusion mismatch the coatings are identified as antigens and marked for destruction by those tiny antibodies. 

Interestingly, something similar might be happening with the virus du jour, SARS CoV-2 which causes Covid-19. Early analyses of cases (and deaths) in hard hit areas of Europe suggest that those with Type-A blood are disproportionately susceptible. [6] How or why this happens is not understood but could give virologists and immunologists an understanding of the virus and our bodies’ machinations.  Perhaps the A-type sugar is a sort of 5th column for the virus; or the presence of B-type antibodies somehow distracts, diminishes, or delays the body’s defense.

I expect there will be a plethora of studies of many sorts regarding this coronavirus, its impact, and our reactions in the months and years to come. Brace yourselves.

_______________________________________________________________

Classic Charlie Chaplin Photo

The improvement and acceptance of blood type science went beyond medicine and into forensics. It helped reduce Charlie Chaplin’s embarrassment, but only a little.

Chaplin, the famous actor-comedian-film maker, was married four times and a well-know philanderer, as well as a misogynist. [4] A paternity suit against him in the ‘40s resulted in blood testing, and eventually changed family law. 

In the 1940s a young actress (with whom he was “friendly” – this during his 3rd marriage) claimed he was the father of her child. She sued him for child support. Blood tests on Chaplin, the child and mother showed that he could not possibly be the father. 

Chaplin, with recessive Type-O, could not have been the father of a Type-B child whose mother was Type-A.  Case dismissed?  No. She pressed her allegation, nonetheless.

Astounding to us in the 21st century, accustomed as we are to such quotidian data as DNA matching, blood tests were not permitted as evidence at the time. Chaplin lost the court case and was compelled to pay child support.  Worse: His trysting filled the pages of the days’ print media. His reputation was trashed.[5]

The law was changed a few years later.  But not in time for Chaplin.  He was so disgraced that – combined with other bad press and McCarthy-era distrust – he was even denied re-entry to the United States, in 1952. (He was not a US citizen, although he’d lived there for over 40 years).

He resided in self-imposed exile in Switzerland for the rest of his life. He returned to America only once before he died, for a few days in 1972, then aged 83, to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars.  On stage, with Jack Lemon, he received a 12-minute standing ovation – the longest in Academy Awards history.

_______________________________________________________

Even though Type-O is recessive, it has survived. Not surprisingly, its prevalence is about the same for whites and blacks; we are one race, after all.

Recessive?  Well, we Type-Os are sometimes weak, as attested to by Chaplin’s behavior.

That’s a wrap, from typos to Type-Os. Thanks for any corrections or suggestions.

Until next time, peace to you.

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

Final footnote on Chaplin.  He was soon married a fourth time.  He reportedly approached the young 18-year old Oona O’Neill with the line: you look like my next ex-wife. As he was 38 years her elder (in fact nearly the same age as her father, famous playwright Eugene O’Neill) he was disgraced again. Next ex-wife?  Wrong! They stayed married for over 30 years, until his death, producing 8 children.  The eldest, Geraldine, starred remarkably with Omar Shariff and Julie Christie in Dr Zhivago: at the tender age of 20 when filmed.

[1] Who discovered the Rh factor?  http://www.rvdoon.com/rh-negative-blood-blood-feud-which-scientist-discovered-the-rh-factor/

[2] Possible purpose of Rh proteins: https://phys.org/news/2005-05-rh-protein-biological-role.html

[3] Blood Types over 20 million years ago: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-mystery-of-human-blood-types-86993838/

Could be as recent as 3.5 million years ago: https://www.livescience.com/33528-why-blood-types-exist-compatible.html

[4] Charlie Chaplin: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2597412/2-000-lovers-comedy-genius-didnt-like-women-New-book-reveals-Charlie-Chaplins-obsession-young-girls-cruelly-treated-them.html

[5] Chaplin paternity, blood tests and court case: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/63158/how-charlie-chaplin-changed-paternity-laws-america

[6] Type-A and COVID-19: https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200603/Blood-group-type-may-affect-susceptibility-to-COVID-19-respiratory-failure.aspx

History and Culture: A Vacation in Croatia

“UNESCO is the conscience of the United Nations”
- Federico Mayor Zaragoza [1]

I will not live long enough, nor do I have enough money, to see everything there is to see in this world. Yet, I have been fortunate to visit many wonderful places and see many beautiful things.  Most of them with my wife.  A great blessing.

Some of them have even been awesome.  Awesome.  What does that even mean anymore in this age of ever-fluid language and shifting definitions? It is a bit sad that this word, “awesome”, has been so overused and misused that it has nearly lost its meaning. 

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Alas. Only a few decades ago it was rarely used, and only then to declare an exceptional status: possessing such rich quality that its beholder experienced a state of “awe.”  As in “awestruck”; or to be overcome with reverence and emotions like wonder or fear.

Nowadays a meal, a glass of wine, a golf shot or a last second winning field goal are commonly described as “awesome.”  Pshaw.  These things happen almost every day.  Hardly awesome.

The Grand Canyon? Awesome.  A 50-year marriage of mutual support, trust and fidelity: awesome. Landing a spacecraft on another world?  Awesome. Even a total eclipse of the sun can be awesome.

_____________________________________________

Where does the history of the United Nations begin?  Can we say it rose from the ashes of the League of Nations, whose failure:

(1) can be ascribed to political bickering in the United States; and

(2) led to the rise of fascism and World War II?

Roosevelt and Churchill, aboard the USS Augusta. August, 1941.

Alternatively, perhaps the UN rose from the thoughts and aspirations shared between Churchill and Roosevelt in a clandestine meeting off the coast of Canada, in August, 1941, aboard the cruiser USS Augusta, some four months before Pearl Harbor triggered the US entry into WW2 (and nearly two years after that war had begun).  During that meeting, they wrote and signed the Atlantic Charter: a betrothal of sorts, that the US  and Britain would support each other, not just in this struggle for the future of mankind, but to avert war and protect human rights forever afterward.

Soon thereafter, on January 1, 1942 – with the US now officially at war with the Axis Powers – the term “United Nations” became official, as the US, the United Kingdom and 24 other countries signed the Declaration of the United Nations.  An extremely brief document, it contained the affirmation to support the Atlantic Charter, and a commitment to win the war without “separate peace.” It would grow in scope and vision to become the charter of the organization we now call the United Nations.

These 26 signatories, plus some 21 more who signed during the war, became the founding members of the United Nations (notably including the USSR and China), which met for the first time to sign the Charter document, in San Francisco’s Opera House, June 25, 1945. 

_____________________________________________________

Regarding travel. My wife and I spent most of this past October in Croatia. That country – even though sizing up smaller than West Virginia – is more abundant in history, culture, terrain and beauty than I had imagined. Among the many locales and sights, we visited perhaps the most beautiful and truly awesome place either of us had ever seen:  Plitvice Lakes.  Any attempt to describe it is to fail at justice. 

Here’s my attempt.

For many millions of years the region that is now the mountain ranges and rugged islands of Croatia and Italy that parallel the Adriatic coast lay under a sea. For most of those ages the earth was much warmer than today; the sea teemed with life – including fish of many sizes, as well as shellfish like oysters and clams, all feeding on the abundant micro-plant life, like phytoplankton. When each individual perished the detritus of their life, which contained calcium, collected as sediment on the seafloor.  Layer upon layer. Under great pressure and through eons of time, calcium-rich rock formed tremendous amounts of dense, hard limestone (primarily calcium carbonate, CaCO3) extending over a vast region.

Eventually, more powerful and longer-term earth dynamics took over: plate tectonics. The Adriatic Plates began to drift and rotate, forcing these huge sheets of limestone to fracture and rise from the sea, sometimes reaching for the sky. This produced the dramatic mountains and islands of Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, including the Velebit Range, as well as the Apennines that form the spine of Italy.  While some areas are still rising, others – like Venice – are sinking into the sea due to the same dynamics, millimeter by millimeter.

Along the Adriatic, the climate and terrain of Croatia’s coastal side of these mountains tends toward the classic Mediterranean feel: rocky, warm and dry.  I was quite astonished to cross the mountains, drop to the coast, and see cactus and palm trees at the same latitude as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up. On the inland side, where it is cooler and wetter, many streams and rivers drain the region – all of which eventually run to the Danube – including the Korana River.  [2]

Along the Korana River’s path it has sculpted a lovely little canyon from the limestone.  Here you will find Plitvice Lakes, probably the most naturally awesomely beautiful place I’ve seen in my life.  To walk its paths and feast your eyes is like walking through endless postcards.  [Pictures here: hopefully this link lives a while].  <More pics>

Within the canyon are a series of 16 lakes, each linked to the next by cascades of countless waterfalls of every shape and height – one lake flowing to the next.  At the brink of each falls, particularly where there are entangled roots of trees and shrubs, calcium carbonate is continuously, slowly, steadily precipitating from solution to form new rock; thus the crest of most waterfalls tend not to erode, but grow and change in shape.  Very.  Very.  Slowly.   

Yes, if you go, take a full day to see it.  Be prepared for crowds, even post-tourist season, in October.

Plitvice Lakes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  UNESCO is a United Nations Agency that has been part of the United Nations practically since its beginning, also going back to 1945.  (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).  The mission of UNESCO is to help preserve peace by promoting Education, Science and Culture. 

Currently there are over 1,100 such heritage sites worldwide.  They are recognized – and thus protected – for having great significance, either as a historic human achievement, a wonder of nature.

In the United States, you will easily identify places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.  There are some 20 more, many of human construct, such as Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the Statue of Liberty.  

There are several benefits to such sites.  Yes, they do get some UN funding, but it is small.  Being so recognized brings attention – this means positive world recognition, and (sort of bad news) more tourist dollars to support the site.  Finally, the Geneva Convention on the rules of warfare protect all UNESCO heritage sites.

Croatia is dense with such sites, much more than most countries, and we were fortunate to see many.  Besides Plitvice Lakes, we

  • walked the ancient island city of Trogir,
  • saw the Venetian defense walls of Zadar,
  • were amazed by Diocletian’s Palace in Split, there also experiencing a UNESCO Heritage Intangible: an a capella performance by a local Klapa group (example here, and we watched in the same place as this performance),
  • experienced the historic splendor and walls of Dubrovnik, 
  • and we bicycled through the Stari Grad Plains on the island of Hvar, where sturdy folk have eked out an existence on the rocky ground cultivating olives, figs, grapes, lavender and pomegranate for nearly 24 centuries.
Stari Most Bridge, Mostar, Hercegovina

On side trips, we walked the Stari Most Bridge in Mostar (in Hercegovina) and beheld the eye-candy of Lake Bled, Slovenia. (The bridge is a UNESCO site; the latter is not, but could well be soon).  [3]

Lake Bled, Slovenia

A couple of places we visited are likely candidates to become such sites soon: the tiny village of Ston, with its most impressive wall – the longest stone wall in Europe (now that Hadrian’s has faded away) – as well as its salt beds, oyster and mussel farms. And, the fetching city of Korčula, on the eponymously named island, purported birthplace and later home of famous Venetian world traveler Marco Polo.

I won’t let it pass that UNESCO World Heritage Site status spared neither the city of Dubrovnik nor the Stari Most Bridge of Mostar from severe damage during the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, the 1990s.

In Mostar, the bridge crashed into the Neretva River from Croat shelling.  In Dubrovnik, thousands of buildings were damaged, many of them totally; over one hundred non-combat inhabitants were killed.  Many more were injured.  The city was left without power and water during the seven-month Serb “siege of Dubrovnik.”  Such a cultural outrage that even Hitler’s Nazi armies, nor Tito’s national partisans, would perpetrate.  

In any case, the historic and magnificent walls of Dubrovnik, built between the 12th and 14th centuries were finally used for defense of the city – and they did quite well. The city has been largely rebuilt, as has the Mostar Bridge.  Each done faithfully to their original construction.

We do intend to visit Croatia again. It is quite reasonable with regard to cost and weather, and the people are extremely friendly and English speaking. Croatia, as they say, is open for business. 

In case you are thinking of visiting the area (and I hope you are), I’ll put in a plug for the company we used: Soul of Croatia (SoulOfCroatia.com).  Robi helped us set up, and pull off, a rather complicated tour with no hitches whatsoever. 

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and that you find peace in your lives through all components of your heritage, including education, science and culture.

Joe Girard © 2019

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing me at Joe@Girardmeister.com.

Notes:

  1. Federico Mayor Zaragoza, head of UNESCO for 12 years.  Bio here.
  2. The Danube River watershed is large, second only to the Volga for European River watershed size.
  3. During the Yugoslav Civil Wars, Croat shelling destroyed the Mostar Bridge in 1993.  It was rebuilt in 2004 and is regarded as one of the most elegant bridges in the world, a testament to Ottoman engineering skill of the 16th century.

Final notes: The US is not starved for UNESCO Heritage sites, although on a per square mile basis, it is sparse compared to Croatia.  In the US I have visited the following: Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Olympic Peninsula National Park, Cohokia Mounds, Mesa Verde National Park, The Everglades, Independence Hall and Park (Philadelphia), Redwoods National Park, Great Smokey Mountains, Chaco Canyon and Culture Center, Monticello and the University of Virginia, Carlsbad Cavern, The Missions of San Antonio (including the Alamo, which I wrote about here).

Still have about 10 to go: Yosemite, Glacier Bay are on the bucket list.

Outside the US and Croatia, our list is larger still.  We’ve been quite fortunate …

In Germany we’ve visited and seen: Aachen Cathedral, Würzburg Residenz, Medieval town of Bamberg, and Köln Dom (Cologne Cathedral).

Austria: Hallstatt, Salzburg, Vienna, and Schönbrunn Palace.

Belgium: Brugges (Brugge)

France: Mont Saint-Michel, a Vauban fortified city (Neuf Breisach), and the post-WW2 re-built city of Le Havre.

Canada: Rocky Mountain Parks, and Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump (this last one might need its own essay)

Also: Luxembourg City Center, and Sydney Opera House

Lambert

by John Sarkis

November 12, 1946 –

lambert-pic

Albert Bond Lambert — aviation pioneer, champion golfer

Seventy years ago today, Albert Bond Lambert died in his St. Louis home at the age of 70. As the Missouri state golf champion, he competed in the (Paris) 1900 Olympics, finishing 8th in the individual event. Returning home, he won several local and national tournaments before competing in the 1904 Olympics, held in his hometown of St Louis.

The event was held at Glen Echo Country Club, which was owned by his father-in-law, Col. George McGrew. Lambert finished 8th once more, but his team won the Silver Medal. [1] [2]

The 1900 Paris Olympics had been held in conjunction with the Paris Exposition, and it was here that Lambert first saw men soaring aloft in balloons. So he returned to Paris in 1906, where he learned to become a pilot. [3]

In St Louis, he became one of the leading members of, what at that time, was considered a sport. Competing in many national events, he would often have his balloon filled by Laclede Gas at South 2nd St and Rutger St, and later at Chouteau and Newstead.

On one occasion, the wind took him over the mountains near Chattanooga and into northern Georgia where he was taken hostage by moonshiners, who thought he was a Revenue Agent.

Realizing he needed a field better suited for balloon ascensions, several sites were considered. One was on Olive, just beyond the city limit, and another was near Creve Couer Lake. A third location, north of downtown, between the river and North Broadway, was also a serious contender.

In 1910, the St Louis Aero Club leased a farm near Kinloch [4], and this would be the site of many aviation “firsts”. Kinloch Field would have the first aerial tower, and was the site of (some of) the first aerial photograph(s). [5]

Taking off from there, Teddy Roosevelt would be the first President to fly in a plane. [6]

In 1912, a plane took off from Kinloch Field carrying Albert Berry, who would make the first parachute jump from a plane (landing at Jefferson Barracks — just outside the city’s southern boundary — from an elevation of 1,500 feet).

Albert Lambert bought an airplane in 1911 from the Wright Brothers, and, becoming accomplished in this field, he began promoting St Louis in aviation circles. In 1920, he leased an additional 160 acres at $2000 a year. Buying the property in 1925, he spent his own money on improvements, and then offered it to the City of St Louis at the price he paid for the unimproved land. The City bought it in 1928, and “Lambert Field” became the first Municipal Airport in the country.

Albert Bond Lambert was able to pursue his many hobbies because of the wealth he inherited from his father’s company, Lambert Pharmaceutical. His father, Jordan Lambert, was a St Louis druggist who invented a product called Listerine. Now known as a mouthwash, it was originally marketed to sterilize medical equipment.

Editor’s notes:

a) John Sarkis is retired, residing in the St Louis Area. He posts regularly on the St Louis, Missouri. History, Landmarks and Vintage Photos Facebook page. All content is his Intellectual Property. Screwups are my fault. This essay is gently edited, mostly as denoted by parentheses.  Footnotes below are the editor’s.

b) ==>Can you imagine filling a balloon with natural gas to fly??.

c) ==>Lambert was the first major donor to Charles Lindbergh’s efforts for a non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, and the publicity helped LIndbergh raise quite a bit of money from St Louis.  His plane was named after the organization that Lambert helped found to help Lindbergh: The Spirit of St Louis.

Footnotes.

[1] In 1900 the Olympic Golf competition was a simple stroke play event.  In 1904, there was a 36-hole qualifier.  Sixty-four players went on to a single elimination competition, where Lambert was defeated in the quarter-finals.

[2] Contestants represented their various athletic associations and clubs.  Lambert was on the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association team. Golf teams had ten players each, and their score was the summation of all 10 players over the 2-round qualification.

Although golf returned as a medal sport in the 2016 Olympics – it had not been an event since 1904 – the team event has not returned.

[3] The 1904 Olympics were also held concurrent and alongside a World’s Fair: the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis

[4] Kinloch is just Northwest of Saint Louis, between Ferguson and I-170. At the time, known as Kinloch Park. This area is now part of the city of Berkeley, although Kinloch (in a much reduced state) still exists as a municipality.

[5] First aerial photographs.  This is of course contested and subject to interpretation.  The first true aerial photograph was from a hot air balloon, by Frenchman Gaspar-Felix Tournachon, in the 1850s.
Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel successfully designed and launched a rocket with a camera aboard that took aerial photographs in 1897.

Aerial photographs were also being creatively taken from kites as early as 1888. And by birds about the same time.

Wilbur Wright is most often credited as taking the first aerial photographs from a plane, in 1909. He also made “moving pictures” at this time, while in Italy. Actually the shots were made by his passenger, an Italian military officer.

[6]  At the time, Roosevelt was former president – the flight was in 1910).

[Sources] [Another Source]

Chaos, Entropy, and Stuff

Got Milk?

 

Through the 1990s I was frequently told that I looked like Cal Ripkin, Jr, the Baltimore Orioles super ironman who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.  In fact, from California, to Florida – to even Scotland – I’ve been mistaken for Cal. As a matter of fact I was asked for my autograph so many times it got embarrassing. I was addressed as “Mr Ripkin” more times than I could count.

I was always kind and patient, asking folks where they are from, how old are their kids, etc.; I then explained I’m not Cal: he’s 6 foot-4 inches tall and I’m stretching to get over 5-10.  Sometimes they insisted on an autograph.  I declined, saying I’d be happy, however, to sign my own name.

In fact, it’s the other way around: Cal Ripkin Jr looks like me, since I’m a few years older.

Pic1-Cal-GotMilk

Cal Ripkin, Jr — 1998 “Got Milk?” promotional advert

The frequency of this sheepish embarrassment seemed to hit its peak around the time this “Got Milk?” advertisement came out.  But with that “milk-stache”, we shouldn’t look alike at all. Or would we?

Ripkin is probably most noted for defying age and setting a baseball record that will likely never be broken.  He played in over 2,600 consecutive games.  That’s over 16 years. Almost all of the games were played at shortstop, the most physically demanding position in baseball, besides catcher.

This achievement stands as not just one of sports’ most remarkable of all time, but it is outstanding for its long-running defiance of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

This Law is Nature’s way of saying: “You can’t win, and you can’t break even.  In the end, I win.”  As time progresses there will always be more net chaos and disorder than there is order.  In the big picture, eventually, the entire universe will be totally without structure or order of any recognizable form.

To explain this, I’ll start with the more familiar 1st Law of Thermodynamics: Energy can be  neither created nor destroyed.  It can only change form. [1]  

For example, the solar panels on my roof do not “create energy”; they merely change solar energy into electrical energy.  In a very short period of time, nearly all of this energy is converted to heat energy (mostly via friction and electrical resistance); this heat energy then slowly diffuses out to the universe.

This leads to the essence of the 2nd Law.  Energy and order are inevitable losers; energy is lost (to unusable forms) and order becomes chaos.

The highly ordered and structured energy of the sun is irreversibly “lost” (but not destroyed) to a very unordered and unstructured heating of the universe.

In fact, it’s even worse than that.  A great deal of energy is “consumed” (i.e. changed from one form to other less useful forms) in order to mine, refine, and manufacture the many common and obscure elements required for the solar panels to do their job.  Each and every time energy changes its form, part of the process contains a fraction of energy transfer that is irreversible; hence from ordered to disordered energy … and the universe takes another tiny step toward ultimate chaos and disorder.

This is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Every time energy that is converted from one form to another, the net disorder (referred to as “Entropy”) in the universe must increase.

As humans we observe this most through the process of aging.  The order and structure in our bodies and in our lives breaks down as time progresses.  It is a fundamental truth that as energy is transformed over any period of time, the net disorder must increase.  Or: We fall apart.

We consume food (energy stored in chemical bonds) and convert it to kinetic energy to move our limbs, to pump blood, to breathe.  As we do so, most or all of the kinetic energy is converted to heat … which leaks away.  The ordered energy (chemical bonds in plant and meat molecules) is converted to disordered energy (heat), which leaks away.

In our lives we’ve observed organizations that micro-manage their projects and personnel. This never ends well, and, even when the project turns out well, the lives of the individuals on the team are heavily disrupted. Chaos wins.  Disorder wins.  Entropy wins.

Eventually, Cal’s streak came to an end. [As is Venezuela’s centrally controlled economy]. Entropy defeats everything.

Personally, as I approach age 60, my streak of living in a high maintenance house is coming to an end.  The energy and time I expend to maintain the house is not worth the degradation on my mind and body. I call this “entropy management.”

So it’s time to simplify, downsize, and sell the house.  In fact, we had an Open House this past Saturday.

Pic2-Prickly-Pear

Prickly Pear in bloom at the Girard Hacienda

A few days before the Open House, as I was policing the yard, looking for anything out of order (like the odd weed), I was distracted by the gorgeous patch of prickly pear cactus that had burst into bloom in a xeriscape area alongside our driveway … just in time to boost our house’s curb appeal.  Yay nature!

The blossoms reminded me of my lifelong struggle with allergies.  Pollens and molds are my worst allergy enemies, but I have reactions to all sorts of things.  This year, so far, my allergy symptoms have been unusually mild, especially considering that we’ve had a wet spring.  Mostly I just get itchy eyes, and that’s usually in the mornings. (In defiance of allergies, we often sleep with windows open).

Oh, those lovely prickly pear cacti.  Bees buzzed and flitted about the blossoms.  I could see, with gleeful expectation, that in a few days, dozens more buds would bloom. The bees would be happy.  Possible house buyers would be happy.  I would be even happier.

Then I detected a minor flaw in the picture.  Some grass had somehow sprouted up and dared to take root among the cacti; the blades were climbing high to seek the sun, which exposed them to my ever-observant eye.  Somewhere deep inside my ADD riddled brain – deep in that part of my heart that dared to take on entropy and its brutal law – I decided to remove those blades of grass.

The cactus needles (or spikes) were plain enough to see.  Surely I could avoid them. Even without gloves. I’m such a daredevil.

Carefully I reached along the ears of several cacti, and – clear of the spikes – I clutched and tugged at all the grass, freeing even their roots.  Success!! I looked at the cactus patch with pride: it was pristine.

It took about 10 seconds to realize something was wrong.  I looked closely at my left hand, which I’d used to pull out the grass.  Nothing.

I looked closer.  Closer.  Closer.

There!  I saw them. Dozens. No! Hundreds of the tiniest little stingers you can imagine.  Where they were clumped together I could see them best, although not easily.

Now it’s time for a new science lesson. A lesson with unpleasant and severe consequences and as undeniable as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics that I have learned since this little grass-and-cactus adventure. A few cacti, and all dozen or so of the Prickly Pear type in the Opuntia genus, have a second and much more insidious type of needle.  The evil glochid. This picture accompanies an article by Steve Schwarzman on the topic, which informs….

Look at all those tiny glochids

Look at all those tiny glochids

 

“Just about everyone is aware that many cacti protect themselves with long, sharp spines. That’s true of the prickly pear… the lower portions of its large spines can turn yellowish or even reddish-orange, as shown here. Less well known, and much more insidious, are the short and very slender spines that you see surrounding the base of the large ones. Known as glochids, these tiny spines pull out of the cactus very easily, find their way into your skin just as easily, and don’t come out of that invaded skin at all easily. Once glochided, twice shy, we might say, if we’re willing to customize—cactusize—a familiar proverb.” [2]  

And, according to gardeningknowhow.com …

“Cactus glochids are not a feature with which to fool. Glochids in skin are irritating, difficult to remove and stay in for a long time.

“Glochids occur in tufts, often around a main spine. They … have backwards pulling barbs that resist removal. Glochid spines dislodge with even the gentlest touch. They are so fine and tiny that removal is almost impossible. You can barely see them but you can sure feel glochids in skin.” [3]  

At the time I realized the fingers on my left hand itched like hell … well, I had no idea of any of this. Glochids!!! Who knew?? Not me, even after 32 years in the arid west.

I could pull out a few that I could see which were clumped together.  But there were others scattered all over my hand.

I’m sure I appeared quite the fool to anyone watching.  Just standing there in my front yard … What a fool, staring at his hand and trying to pick out immovable and invisible nits. That was nothing (in the way of appearing foolish) compared to what was to come.

Finally, in desperation, I instinctively resorted to suction.  I put a sore finger spot to my mouth and sucked as hard as I could.

Well, … I wasn’t really thinking, was I?  Now I had another problem.  My lip hurt almost the same as my fingers.  “What!?!” you say. It’s spelled D-U-M-B-A-S-S.

As I walked briskly into the house I thought of something I’d heard once.  Sticky things work. Put tape on your fingers and rip it off.  Or cover your hand with cheap white school glue (think Elmer’s ® Glue).  Let it cure and peel it off.

Fortunately my wife keeps our house pretty well organized. After all these years I still have to ask her where many things are stored, even in our well organized house.  She wasn’t around, but – again fortunately – I knew where the tape and adhesives were stored.

It takes time for the glue to set, so I went to the tape shelves first.

Repeatedly I wrapped my fingers and hand in clear packing tape.  And ripped it off. Over and over again. Then I put the tape up against my mouth.  Then I ripped it all off.

After several such iterations I realized the tape was not going to work.

Over to the glue cabinet.  I found the bottle of cheap generic white school glue.

I twisted the lid and tried to squeeze out enough to cover my hand.  But the glue was old and the tip was clogged with old, hard, cured glue. Should I delay and fetch a toothpick or fork tine to poke out the old glue? No! The time to act is now.

So I just unscrewed the whole lid and started dumping white glue on my hand.  It smelled just like I remembered from – what? – 6th grade?

Before the glue could set, it started to run onto the kitchen counter.  How long would this take?

Oh crap! My lip.  Ouch.

OK, for this next 5-minute stretch I did in fact look like Cal Ripkin, Jr in the “Got Milk” poster.  Yes, I poured white school glue onto my lower lip.

I had enough dignity remaining to NOT look in the mirror to see how I looked (super goofy, no doubt) … or take a selfie … but the image from the closing scene of the movie short with Gene Wilder in “What is Sodomy” from Woody Allen’s movie medley “Everything You wanted to know about Sex* (but were afraid to ask)” came to mind. [4]  

Used wads of tape on the counter.  School glue on my hand and drooling from my mouth. Perfect. That’s when my wife came unannounced in through the door.  I don’t think she noticed the glue (not Woolite ®) on my lip, but she could tell immediately I was up to something.  My body language of “shame on me; oh woe is me” justified a reasonable assumption of guilt.  Experience is usually a pretty good teacher.  Especially a bad experience. I’ve found it best to just confess everything.

About 10 minutes later I’m peeling the glue off my hand and lip.  That worked for about 80% of the little devils.

Upon Dr Wife’s suggestion, I then soaked my hand and lip for about another 10 minutes in hot soapy water and, thereafter, I almost felt normal.

The rest of the evening was annoying but tolerable. Several itchy spots on my left hand, mostly on my fingers, which could suddenly hurt intensely when touched the wrong way. Close inspection of most spots revealed … nothing. Plus a blotchy red spot on my lower lip.

I resolved to let nature take its course.  I resolved to simply live with it until it passed, which in all likelihood, it eventually would. Let it be a lesson Joe; suffer the consequences. This bad experience will be a good teacher.

After a lovely night’s sleep I awoke refreshed.  Upon rising, as usual, the first things I noticed were (1) the ringing in my ears, (2) the stiffness in my shoulders and knee, (3) a mild headache, and (4) a great joy to be alive – almost all of these attributable to the consequences of the car crash, now over two years ago.

Then I noticed that my allergies had again manifested in itchy eyes.  Instinctively I reached up to give them a “good morning” greeting with a gentle rub.

Oh Good Lord. I could feel those little bastard glochid needles touch my eyes.  Didn’t I just say that experience is a teacher?

I blinked and then flushed my eyes.  Whew. No harm done.  Just a scare.

By the end of the next day I was free of those despicable and invisible glochids. I was lucky.  Those bastards can cause all kinds of problems – even progressing to death – if you are stupid enough to take them lightly. And especially if you did what I did and ingest them, or touch your face, eyes, etc.[5]  

So here are some takeaways:

  • After your cactus encounter: never, ever put your hands anywhere near your face.

  • Putting tape and glue all over your fingers and lips might be cool in middle school, but not when you’re standing there, looking guilty in the kitchen, and your wife suddenly walks in the door

  • Yes, cheap white school glue smells and tastes just like it did when you were young.

  • If you want to look cool like Cal Ripkin, Jr, pouring white school glue on your lips is probably not the way.

  • Chaos wins. Entropy wins. By trying to enforce a bit more order in our xeriscape garden I released a dam’s gate through which there poured a Pandora’s Box world of disorder.

    Corollary: – It’s okay to accept a little disorder in life.  It’s not without some good reason that it’s said “A neat desk is a sign of a sick mind.”

 

With that, I wish you all an acceptable and tolerable level of chaos and disorder.  Because, believe me and thermodynamics, they will be with you always.

 

Peace and be careful out there.

 

Joe Girard © 2016

 

 

Afterward: By the way the cholla cactus (also called the “jumping cholla”) has a similar dastardly secondary needle, although in the US these are usually only found in the harsher deserts of Arizona and California).

The dangerous Southwest Cholla

The dangerous Southwest Cholla

 

At right: Jumpin’ Cholla

 

 

 

 

Footnotes:

 

[1] With thanks to Albert Einstein, for noting that matter is, effectively, energy.

[2] https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/a-soft-view-of-a-sharp-subject/     by Steve Schwartzman

[3] http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/cacti-succulents/scgen/what-are-glochids.htm

[4] Explanation of the Gene Wilder reference.  The 1972 Woody Allen movie “Everything you wanted to know about sex* (but were afraid to ask)” is a collection of movie shorts, each maybe 5-10 minutes long.  In “What is Sodomy”, Gene Wilder plays a psychiatrist who falls in love with a sheep. He is discovered, loses everything and appears in the final scene as a homeless person, disheveled and holding onto a bottle of Woolite®, the contents of which appear to be dribbling out of his mouth.

[5] Short essay by Chris Clark for Social Wanderer.  Dangers of and removing cactus needles. https://www.kcet.org/socal-wanderer/how-to-remove-cactus-spines-from-your-perforated-body