Monday, October 23, 2006

My Dad Turns 90

My father turns 90 today. See footage from his birthday celebration including attempted cake candle blowing outing:

A rare photo of my dad in his army uniform. Rare because although he was drafted in 1940, the U.S. had not entered the war yet and he was discharged in 1941 at the request of Dupont, to work on military-related projects.

Here's his first patent, a leak-sealing composition. I'm not sure how many patents he's responsible for. A quick patent search comes up with 18; my nephew says he found 35 on another database.

Here's one that looks like it could be from the set of a Frankenstein movie: Synthesis of Acrylates from Alpha-Chloropropionates

My dad grew up in Iowa, where his father was a Lutheran minister. Here he is (on the right) ca. 1924 with one of his Iowa friends:

Friday, October 20, 2006

Invisibility Cloak

Scientists breathlessly announced today the invention of an invisibility cloak that can hide anything placed inside it. Although no pictures were released, it is believed the cloak is based on enemy technology captured during the war in Afghanistan.

Still needed... an invisibility cloak to hide the invisibility cloak.

Actually, the article indicates the cloak only works on microwaves. That will be handy when we need to attack a frozen dinner factory.

In college I had a friend who worked on a frozen dinner assembly line. His job was to ensure the vacu-formed chicken patties were in their proper compartment in the plastic trays. His job title was "meat adjuster".

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Trombones in the news

(Chicago Symphony Orchestra bass trombonist Charlie Vernon.)

The 19th century was a golden age for orchestral trombone writing, but there comes a time in every trombonist's study when he realizes, after several years of looking, that there is no trombone counterpart to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto or a Beethoven piano concerto. No major composer* ever wrote one.

Part of the problem is that it just isn't regarded as a solo instument capable of nuance.

Comment from a NYTimes article:
When he won a competition, one critic wrote that a trombone on the concert podium was like an “accordion in church,” Mr. Lindberg said. A London impresario told Mr. Lindberg’s manager he would go to hear a trombone concerto only when “heavily drunk.”

Today's composers are pretty much midgets compared to those of the romantic era, so don't expect any breathtaking developments in this area, but there is some activity. Four trombone concertos are premiering over this coming season:
The premieres suggest that an instrument that has rarely been invited into the spotlight has finally hit the big time. They also shed light on how solo commissions come about, through a mixture of friendship, personal ambition, dedication to the instrument and, sometimes, sheer ’bone luck.

Link to whole article: In the Back, by the Tuba, a Star Is Born

*Actually, Rimsky-Korsakov, a major composer by any measure (Scheherezade, Russian Easter Overture, Flight of the Bumble Bee), did write a trombone concerto. It should have a sticker on the front that says: "WARNING - Don't get your hopes up. Complete disappointment."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Rocket Man!

Check out this guy flying a jet pack in a video on

Oh, yeah, the jet pack is kinda cool too.

Friday, October 06, 2006

NYC Taxi Tip

When friends or family are visiting New York City I remind them to use only official, medallion-bearing yellow cabs. There are many unfortunate stories of so-called "gypsy" cabs driving their passengers to dangerous locations and then demanding more money in return for being taken safely to their destination.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Farting Preacher

When I'm feeling down, I know I can always turn to televangelist Rev. Robert Tilton to lift my sprits.

It's hard to explain how big Robert Tilton was here in Dallas in the 80's and early 90's. He seemed to be on the air 24/7, people spoke of him as if he were a great and decent man, and when there was some religious issue in the news, local TV news would actually seek him out for the "Christian" point of view. They were eager to play along with him and never spoke of the obvious fact that he was just vacuuming money in from suckers.

But there was an alternative perspective... the Pastor Gas tapes. Created by I-don't-know-who and circulated on nth generation VHS dubs. You can see two above.

Eventually Robert Tilton fell in a big way, but for a while he was an icon of the greed-gilded-with-righteousness that was Dallas back then.

Footnote: One saturday, back in the early '90's, I got a last minute call to a gig in an ensemble for an Easter Sunday church service. During a lull in the rehearsal some of the other musicians were talking about what they'd been up to and it turned out that all the brass players (except for me) had at one time or another been in the orchestra at Robert Tilton's mega-church in Farmer's Branch... and been fired from it. Usually for asking for a raise.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Congressional Pages

A new exhibit for the museum of lame pick-up lines:

(52 year-old Congressman to 17 year-old page) "I am just finished riding my bike on a 25 mile journey now heading to the gym..."

Note to middle-aged men everywhere: No 17 year-old is going to be impressed by you chugging out 25 miles on a bicycle, especially since he just got his drivers license and intends not to be caught dead on a bicycle for the rest of his life.

But Hooray! After 23 years of careful storage we can bring this joke out again...
#1: Did you hear Representative Foley was banned from the Library of Congress?

#2: No, why?

#1: He kept bending over the pages.

Of course, this has been a problem since the time of the ancient Greeks and will continue to be as long as status-hungry parents keep sending their children to live under the eye of older men who imagine they aren't getting as much as they think they should be getting:

I'm seeing this deliberation.

"Oh, Clarisse... it seems Blake Jr. has been invited to assume a position as a "page" with a group of middle-aged men in Washington DC. Although the job pays nothing, he will be expected to be at their service whenever they call him."

"Hot damn! That was fast! I just sent his head shots out last week. The Smiths will turn green with envy when they hear this. Especially since George Smith mentioned that he had been a page when he was in high school."

"And listen to this Clarisse... as proof of their high moral standard, this group of middle-aged men points to their recent passage of a bill legalizing sexual assault, humiliation and abuse in the treatment of foreign prisoners. We can't miss this opportunity to have men like these shaping our son's ethics and judgement!"

"That's right, Blake! Hmmm... I wonder why the Smiths didn't have their boy apply for this?"

Actually, I think this page program can be saved. Just send ugly kids to be pages. The fat ones, the ones with greasy hair, the ones with zits the size of an eyeball. We've known since the computer age that those are the real thinkers, the real idea people.

But I suppose clear thinking and ideas aren't what congressmen are hunting for.