Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pi Day

We all take Pi for granted. It’s loaded into our computers and calculators for us, and we use it in equations all the time without ever thinking of it beyond it's formulaic utility. Some years ago, while working as an estimator of utilities, I found it necessary; or maybe desirable; to understand the exact meaning of Pi and how it worked in relation to the circle.

Having failed at the subject all through high school, and even before that, I had this “fear” of math brought on by my parent’s assertions that I was not able to understand the subject. I was, like my mother; and remember, it was my mother who said it; used to tell me, “You take after me and I could never understand math. But you can read well, and your brother can’t.” What a stupid statement to make to any child, even your own! Water under the bridge. Having navigated around the world, by sextant, in the days before Nav Sats etc., I can truly say that I am perfectly capable of working out any mathematical problem thrown my way. The failure was in the teaching method.

Had they wanted to really engage my passion all they would have had to do was make the problems relevant to real life. Like, you are on a ship and headed in this direction for 8 days at so many mils per hour. How far have you gone? That would have got me interested. And by high school, rather than the mundane tasks of geometry and trigonometry, nautical astronomy would have proven more effective at teaching not only both of those subjects, but given the student a true perspective of just where we were on the terrestrial plane, and also how insignificant we actually are; individually, or collectively, in the grand scheme of things.

What is Pi? 3. 14159 is the most common answer. Then browse Wikipedia for what that means. Ask the “math” student in your family. The answers you get will all be concerned with the number rather than what it really means, or stands for. That was the purpose of charting it, as I did above, almost 40 years ago while estimating the volume of pipe necessary to hold a specific amount of water. I used a 6” pipe for the example, mostly because it was easily equated to decimal form, and I had a boatload of 6” pipe on hand.

But I kept running into Pi while figuring it out, and then rechecking my figures. So, I did what Captain Ellison used to tell us at the Baltimore School of Navigation; “Draw it out!” And, I did. And while putting some of my papers in order a few years ago; I actually did that; I ran across this and decided to post it for posterity.

In short, while Pi represents the factor used to determine the area within a circle, by careful calculation; and drawing the problem out; it becomes apparent that Pi actually represents .785% of the area of any circle. Will this change the world as we know it? I hardly think so. But it is an example of the beauty and perfection of numbers.

While I have rounded off the number to obtain this new factor, it should not pose any real problems for any calculations confined to construction, travel etc. Would I use it to build a spaceship and plan a trip to Mars? Hardly. But for the average needs of an estimator; or carpenter; this factor works out just fine.

I hope someone finds this useful and lets me know! Pi for now!

Note: Though I was able to find something about the factor .785 referenced on line; and one fellow even describes drawing a square with a circle inside the perimeters; I still find this explanation and diagram easier to follow.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Daffodils



See the pretty daffodils,
they grow in gardens;
grow on hills.

Unless the wind blows
they stand still;
like Guardians of the spring.

🌞


Photo by Sarah Ruth Williams - Chapel Hill, NC

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"The Man Who Watched Trains Go By" with Claude Rains (1951)


Claude Raines plays a man who has been the head clerk/bookkeeper for 18 years at a firm in Holland. He lives by the sound of the train whistling to and from Paris his whole life, while he remains where he is.

A scandal at a rival firm leaves that firm bankrupt. But, though it has been proven the bookkeeper was innocent of any wrongdoing or knowledge of the crime by his boss, his life and career are ruined anyway. Even Claude cannot help him find a job.

Through a set of circumstances a police detective arrives from Paris tracing some Dutch currency which has been circulating in Paris on the black market. He comes to Claude's firm. The boss is most cooperative. Too cooperative.

Out walking one night, Claude finds his boss burning the books and running away with the firm's money. They struggle and the boss falls in the canal and drowns. The firm's money is strewn on the ground where it fell, along with a train ticket to Paris. What should he do about that? There are no more books, but keeping the money will make him guilty of embezzlement.  And leaving his family behind is not an option he really cares for. But this is an extraordinary situation.

What should he do? Tell the authorities the truth and risk disbelief and ruin? Or is there another way? And does that train whistle to Paris have an influence? Who can say?

Will he go to Paris so that it looks like his boss stole the money? Is it morally okay? After all, the boss was going to leave him holding the bag.....

Wonderfully adapted from the novel, and filmed in beautiful, almost muted color. This 1952 film stands the test. Also released as "The Paris Express".

Friday, December 28, 2018

End Peace - 1982

How can you just abandon
Such strong feelings?
Am I that weak?
Or are you too strong?

I look at what we had and wonder-
Will I ever feel that much again?
Are there really other eyes out there-
That sparkle like yours-
Or shine like mine?
I really don’t think so.

Turn it over and look
at the other side.
It was worth the changes,
the joy or pain.

I can never forget the way my heart 
pounded at our first kiss,
And how time stopped 
when I first entered you.
But now we are closed to one another,
And time goes on?

For Leslie Billmire Huettner
1949 - 1989

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve - from "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith

If you can read this portion of a chapter from Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” without choking up, then you are probably not living. One of the most poignant portions of a book filled with such moments, this is a tale that should be read each Christmas. To me it is the equivalent of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens; only shorter; as most things are. 

In this brief glimpse into the lives of the Nolan family on Christmas Eve are all of the same lessons contained in Dicken’s classic holiday tale. The realities which we live are largely of our own making. And, just as Jacob Marley forged each link of his own damnation in “A Christmas Carol”, we are all capable of undoing those links as well. As you read this, remember that about the tree-seller.

There was a cruel custom in the neighborhood. It was about the trees still unsold when midnight of Christmas Eve approached. There was a saying that if you waited until then, you wouldn’t have to buy a tree; that “they’d chuck ‘em at you.” This was literally true.

At midnight on the Eve of our dear Saviour's birth, the kids gathered where there were unsold trees. The man threw each tree in turn, starting with the biggest. Kids volunteered to stand up against the throwing. If a boy didn’t fall down under the impact, the tree was his. If he fell, he forfeited his chance at winning a tree. Only the roughest boys and some of the young men elected to be hit by the big trees. The others waited shrewdly until a tree came up that they could stand against. The littlest kids waited for the tiny, foot-high trees and shrieked in delight when they won one.
On the Christmas Eve when Francie was ten and Neely nine, mama consented to let them go down and have their first try for a tree. Francie had picked out her tree earlier in the day. She had stood near it all afternoon and evening praying that no one would buy it. To her joy it was still there at midnight. It was the biggest tree in the neighborhood and its price was so high that no one could afford to buy it. It was ten feet high. Its branches were bound with new white rope and it came to a sure pure point at the top.

The man took this tree out first. Before Francie could speak up, a neighborhood bully, a boy of eighteen known as Punky Perkins, stepped forward and ordered the man to chuck the tree at him. The man hated the the way Punky was so confident. He looked around and asked;
”Anybody else wanna take a chanct on it?”

Francie stepped forward. “Me, Mister.”
A spurt of derisive laughter came from the tree man. The kids snickered. A few adults who had gathered to watch the fun, guffawed.

“Aw g’wan. You’re too little,” the tree man objected.
“Me and my brother — we’re not too little together.” 

She pulled Neely forward. The man looked at them — a thin girl of ten with starveling hollows in her cheeks but with the chin still baby-round. He looked at the little boy with his fair hair and round blue eyes - Neeley Nolan, all innocence and trust.

"Two ain't fair," yelped Punky.
"Shut your lousy trap," advised the man who held all the power in that hour. “These here kids is got nerve. Stand back, the rest of youse. These kids is goin’ to have a show at this tree.”

The others made a wavering lane. Francie and Neeley stood at one end of it and the big man with the big tree at the other. It was a human funnel with Francie and her brother making the small end of it. The man flexed his great arms to throw the great tree. He noticed how tiny the children looked at the end of the short lane. For the split part of a moment, the tree thrower went through a kind of Gethsemane.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” his soul agonized, “why don’t I just give ‘em the tree, say Merry Christmas and let ‘em go. What’s the tree to me? I can’t sell it no more this year and it won’t keep till next year." The kids watched him solemnly as he stood there in his moment of thought. "But then," he rationalized, if I did that, all the others would expect to get 'em handed to 'em. And next year nobody a-tall would buy a tree off of me. They’d all wait to get ‘em handed to ‘em on a silver plate. I ain’t a big enough man to give this tree away for nothin’. No, I ain't big enough. I ain't big enough to do a thing like that. I gotta think of myself and my own kids." He finally came to his conclusion. "Oh, what the hell! Them two kids is gotta live is this world. They got to get used to it. They got to learn to give and take punishment. And by Jesus, it ain’t give but take, take, take all the time in this God-damned world.” As he threw the tree with all his strength, his heart wailed out, “It’s a God-damned, rotten, lousy world!”

Francie saw the tree leave his hands. There was a split bit of being when time and space had no meaning. The whole world stood dark and still as something dark and monstrous came through the air. The tree came towards her blotting out all memory of her having lived. There was nothing – nothing but pungent darkness and something that grew and grew as it rushed at her. She staggered as the tree hit them. Neeley went down to his knees but she pulled him up fiercely before he could go down. There was a mighty swishing sound as the tree settled. Everything was dark, green and prickly. Then she felt a sharp pain at the side of her head where the trunk of the tree had hit her. She felt Neeley trembling.
When some of the older boys pulled the tree away, they found Francie and her brother standing upright, hand in hand. Blood was coming from scratches on Neeley’s face. He looked more like a baby than ever with his bewildered blue eyes and the fairness of his skin made more noticeable because of the clear red blood. But they were smiling. Had they not won the biggest tree in the neighborhood? Some of the boys hollered “Hooray!” A few adults clapped. The tree man eulogized them by screaming;

“And now get the hell out of here with your tree, you lousy bastards.”
Francie had heard swearing since she had heard words. Obscenity and profanity had no meaning as such among those people. They were emotional expressions of inarticulate people with small vocabularies; they made a kind of dialect. The phrases could mean many things according to the expression and tone used in saying them. So now, when Francie heard themselves called lousy bastards, she smiled tremulously at the kind man. She knew that he was really saying, Goodbye – God bless you.”

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Gunrunner - Prelude to Fast and Furious



There are very few people who have not heard of John Dodson or the “Fast and Furious” program. But what many people don’t know is that this program was begun during the Bush administration in 2006* as “Project Gunrunner”, which was pretty aptly named, as that was the true purpose of the program; to run guns. The link between these two programs is clear; the United States is engaged in an effort to destabilize foreign governments. We have seen this in Iraq, and also Mexico.

In  May of 2007  I was on my way home from work in Hickory, travelling South on I-77 and passing through Mooresville, N.C. At the time Blackwater was working for the Federal Government in the capacity of providing “support” to the troops in Iraq. Their excesses are widely known and chronicled. But some of the things they were involved in were not related directly to the War in Iraq. Running guns was one of those activities.

It was Memorial Day Friday and it seemed as if everyone had hit the road for the 3 day weekend. I was driving a company provided pick-up truck and thinking about the weekend when I got rear ended by a guy in a BMW. Somehow, in spite of all the traffic, he managed to get around me after hitting me, so that his car was in front of mine on the shoulder when the State Police arrived 20 minutes later.

During that time I was offered cash to take care of the damage and I noticed that the driver was intoxicated. I explained to him that it was a company vehicle and the decision was not mine to make. He then proceeded to show me his identification and asked if I had heard of Blackwater. I replied that I had but that it did not alter the fact that he had hit my vehicle and that no amount of cash; or muscling; would alter that fact.

When the Trooper arrived I explained what happened and that the other driver was drunk and had offered me money if I would allow him to leave the scene. The trooper then went to interview the other driver and what happened next still has me shaking my head in wonder.

He showed the trooper some identification which he had not shown me and the whole atmosphere of the situation changed. The officer was joking and laughing with the other driver and they both went to his trunk, which the driver proudly opened, displaying an array of automatic weapons and high capacity ammunition clips. No boxes, just loose weapons and cartons of ammunition. There were about 20 weapons in all. But it gets even better.

Within a few minutes the trooper was joined by another and they began to play with some of these weapons; unloaded; by the side of the road. The troopers seemed to give no thought to the fact that they were handling these weapons, marking them with their own fingerprints. What a bizarre sight this must have been for all who passed by in their cars. I’m sure they thought they were witnessing a big time “bust.” After all, that’s what should have happened. But wait, it gets better still.

At one point the other driver; who was very well rehearsed in all of his dealings with me; somehow convinced one of the troopers to show him what kind of ammo he used in his state issued 9 MM. The officer actually unholstered his weapon and ejected the clip. Removing a round he passed it freely to the other driver for inspection. At this point I was apoplectic. But there was clearly nothing that I could do about it.

Returning home I related the experience to my wife, as well as a friend who was Lieutenant on the police force in my town. He was hocked beyond belief; as every protocol known to law enforcement had been violated by the actions of the troopers who were clearly enamored of the mysterious other driver. When I asked him what he thought I should do about it all; I did have the man’s name and address etc; he told me quite seriously that the best thing I could do about it was to keep quiet.

Two weeks later my boss called me into his office and thanked me for the $1,200 dollar check which he received as payment for the bumper.

*As related by Agent John Dodson - ATF
He worked on the Fast and Furious project.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"The Tree I'll Be" by me



Recycle me.
I'll be the worm who returns 
using all that I've learned.
Never making any sound;
waiting for the spring.

Nurture me.
As I become the tree,
a spirited green canopy.
A shaded restful place to be; 
a place where laughter rings.

Remember me.
I wasn't always what you see,
I used to be humanity,
Now Ive found humility;
the most important of all things....