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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

JUNE 20, 2021    PATRIARCHS

On this Father's Day, I look back to my father (born in 1909), his father (1881), his father (1842), and even his father (1780).

 

That's the latter on the left from a highly retouched daguerreotype.  Click on the picture, and with animation by Deep Nostalgia, he'll check out your 21st-century surroundings and then even smile for you!  Dr. Archibald Thomas once served with Andrew Jackson's soldiers, and his firstborn son B.A.M. is memorialized at the Alamo.


While all that was happening, another of my father's forebears was leaving Germany and sailing across the Atlantic at the age of 17.  His family immigrated to Chillicothe, Ohio, where one of them would grow up to obtain a patent for a special ironing board.  That's Great-Great-Grandpa George Frederick Scholl colorized on the right.

I tell the stories of the Thomases and the Scholls in a new article celebrating my Paternal Ancestors.

 

JUNE 17, 2021    STOCK CARS

Go west, young man!  Eighty-five years ago in a yellow 1936 Chevrolet Master Deluxe Coupe — like the one photographed by Dave Koontz (above left) — my 27-year-old future father (above right) went on a great adventure, motoring 2,000 miles from western Kentucky to the top of California's Mount Wilson.

Twenty years later, backyard mechanics modified similar vehicles into racing machines.  They slid around the turns of a quarter-mile dirt track on Friday nights while my father and I watched.

The story is this month's 100 Moons article, to which I've recently added some photos.

 

JUNE 14, 2021    PHARAOH'S ARMY GOT DROWNDED

When the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, according to Exodus 14:22, the waters were divided asunder and formed walls to the left and right.  But an eyewitness says that's an exaggeration.  The waters did withdraw, but they formed puddles to the left and right.

We learn what might really have happened in Brother Billy's latest fictional conversation, an episode entitled Escaping the Pi-hahiroth Trap.

 

JUNE 11, 2021    FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK DETOUR

Near where I live , there are three bridges that cross the Allegheny River between 19 and 29 miles upstream from Pittsburgh.  I've located them on this overhead view with blue circles.  From the top down, they're at Freeport, Tarentum, and New Kensington.  (The crossing at the orange arrow is actually only a dam.)

The curbside service of a store just on the far side of the Tarentum Bridge has been my source for groceries during the pandemic.  Unfortunately that four-lane span, used by 30,000 vehicles daily, is undergoing a $3.24 million rehabilitation project.  It's completely closed now; the southeastbound half of the bridge will reopen next week, but the northwestbound lanes will remain closed until June 28.

The nearest detour involves driving 2½ miles further downstream to New Kensington, but the antiquated two-lane bridge there is completely jammed.  These cars are trying to reach it, and delays of up to an hour were reported the first day.  I plan to avoid that area entirely, shopping on my own side of the river.

If I do have to get to the other side, I'll head off in the opposite direction to an alternate route indicated by the yellow line on the overhead view above.  It's only 18 miles, partly four-lane roads and the remainder a pleasant drive through the countryside.  I won't mind.

Virginia Montanez found this description in an Ernie Pyle column from 1937:

Pittsburgh is undoubtedly the cockeyedest city in the United States.  Physically, it is absolutely irrational.  It must have been laid out by a mountain goat.

The reason for all this is the topography of Pittsburgh.  It's up and down, and around and around, and in betwixt.  Pittsburgh is hills, mountains, cliffs, valleys and rivers.  Some streets are narrow; some are wide.  None runs more than a few blocks in a straight line.

You may have a friend who lives half a mile away.  But to get there you circle three miles around a mountain ridge, cross two bridges, go through a tunnel, follow a valley, skirt the edge of a cliff, and wind up at your friend's back door an hour after dark.

 

JUNE 9, 2011 flashback   LOCAL FAUNA

I hadn’t noticed it before, but this week, outside a medical office only a block from my apartment, I discovered a 10-foot-long Stegosaurus.

Painted on its left side is an image that is itself a dinosaur:  a view looking up at Pittsburgh’s Fort Duquesne Bridge, from the era before Three Rivers Stadium became extinct.

What’s the deal with this strange statue?  Although the plaque has gone missing from its signpost, I recognized the beast as one of the fanciful fiberglass dinosaurs that invaded the environs of Pittsburgh several years ago.  So I went in search of more information to the greatest library the world has ever known — the Internet.  In a matter of minutes, Google led me to the details.

This is one of a herd of 100 such dinosaurs that were commissioned for DinoMite Days in 2003.  This particular one, Bridgeosaurus, created by artist Michael Hogle, was displayed at The Waterfront in Homestead.  It’s nearly 5½ feet tall and weighs 200 pounds.

The design was described as follows:  “Pittsburgh's many bridges are arguably the city's most evocative images, to both the visitor and the long-time resident.  The structures of the Fort Duquesne and the Fort Pitt Bridges find a perfect echo in the curved back of Stegosaurus.  Transposing the images of these iconic spans from Pittsburgh's Point creates a resonance between natural past and engineering present.”

After four months, the statues were auctioned off to raise money for the renovation of Dinosaur Hall at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  Bridgeosaurus sold for $5,700.

The Internet couldn’t tell me where this dino has been hanging out for the past eight years.

Nevertheless, Bridgeosaurus is now my neighbor.

UPDATE:  Four years later, it became Stegoskeletus.

 

JUNE 6, 2011 flashback   THOMASES DON'T TWEET

I’m not sure what to think about recent trends in interpersonal communications.

When a startling piece of news comes to my attention, I feel an obligation to inform the other people in the room.  But that’s usually as far as I go, because that’s how I grew up.  As a college student, if I wanted to call someone I had to walk downstairs to the public telephone and ring up the operator.  Therefore, even today, I don’t phone all my absent friends to tell them the news.  I assume they’ll hear it from the radio or TV, the same way I did.

However, in the 21st century young folks carry cell phones with them, and they feel an obligation to text or tweet their widely-scattered friends with their OMG! reactions to everything that happens.

A study by Frank N. Magid Associates’ Magid Generational Studies unit, described in an article in Broadcasting & Cable last week, describes how the news about the death of Osama bin Laden was spread differently by the different generations.

I’ve rounded off the numbers to produce these pie charts.  I’m a Baby Boomer.  The next youngest generation is called Gen X, and younger still are the Millennials.

BOOMERS

MILLENNIALS

How did you learn about Osama’s death?

 

In the next hour, did you tell someone else?

Magid’s Sharalyn Hartwell comments, “A communications lifestyle isn’t something Millennials take lightly.  It is important to them not only to be available to their personal network, but to share with their personal network.  It was instinctive for Millennials to directly share such big and important news.”

But I remain a Boomer, and I’ll probably never change.

I do look favorably, however, on another recent development.

When I was a young man, we discussed sports stats in ordinary language.  “He’s been on a hot streak.  But I bet he’ll cool off eventually.”

Nowadays, technical terms from statistics have entered the discussion.  If a player has been hot lately, someone cautions us about the “small sample size.”  When he eventually returns to mediocrity, someone cites “regression to the mean.”  Such considerations ought to discourage analysts from ascribing too much significance to short-term trends.

With my background in science, I welcome this more precise language of mathematics.  (See my earlier comments, now augmented by a borrowed cartoon.)

 

JUNE 4, 2021    UFO SIGHTING

Those who like to be frightened by scary ghost stories are eagerly awaiting a declassified report from the directorate of national intelligence and the Pentagon.  It's due to be handed over to the Senate Intelligence Committee this month.  However, sources say the report will contain few unambiguous answers.

Could there be alien life forms in the universe?  Minnesota biology professor PZ Myers assumes so, but, he adds, “the hard-to-swallow bit is the idea that they're here.  Lens reflections, sensor artifacts — there is almost always an alternative mundane explanation.  ...All it takes is a few easily fooled people with access to government funds to open the purse strings and fuel all kinds of nonsense.”

Luis Elizondo claims to have been the head of the Pentagon's Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.  We've heard from him before. “Imagine a technology,” he says, “that can fly 13,000 miles an hour, that can evade radar, that has no obvious signs of propulsion, no wings, no control surfaces.  That's precisely what we're seeing.”

I've imagined a military debriefing.

So, Major, I understand you encountered an Unidentified Flying Object last week.  I'm sorry, an Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, UAP.

That's correct.  I was flying the left-hand T-38 of a pair conducting a low-level training exercise near our base.

Was this during the day or the night?

It was late afternoon, about 1630 hours.  We were northbound at Mach 0.8, and the base was clearly visible off to our right.  It was raining there, but the clouds were breaking up and we were often flying in bright sunlight.

So you had excellent visibility?

Yes.  But then I looked to my right, beyond the other T-38, and I observed a huge alien craft!  It was hovering over our base.  It was unbelievably long.  It extended from one end of the base to the other.  And it wasn't straight like an arrow; it was bent up in the middle, rounded like an arch.  I'd estimate it must have been a thousand feet tall.  I've never seen an aircraft anything like that.

Was it silver in color?

No, actually it seemed to be glowing!  There were many different colors of lights, kind of all blended together.

And did the other pilot also see this UAP?

He did when I pointed it out to him.

You say it was hovering in a stationary position over the base.

Well, actually it seemed to be moving north at the same speed that we were.  It seemed to be following us, spying on us.  Somehow this huge — thing — was traveling at Mach 0.8, but I couldn't see any form of propulsion.  There was no exhaust plume.

Did you radio the base to ask what was above them?

Yes, but they didn't see anything but the rain.  And their radar showed nothing, in any direction.  It didn't show up on our onboard radar, either.

So how long did the alien craft follow you?

For almost a minute.  We were ten miles past the base, and it was still beside us.  And then, just as we flew into the shadow of a cloud, it vanished.  In an instant!  Poof, just like that.

Amazing.  How could it move so quickly?

Whatever it was, I hope it was one of ours!  But I have to tell you, I believe it must have been something from another planet.  Nothing on Earth can be that big and move like that.  We don't have that technology.

And you're sure you saw this alien craft?

Just as I've described it.  I'm a military pilot; my eyes don't deceive me.

Well, thank you, Major.  I'll need you to write up a full report on your experience, and we'll file it away.

 

JUNE 1, 2021    WANDERING OUT OF ONE'S LANE

Watching the Indianapolis 500 Sunday, I remembered something that always puzzled me.

Coming off Turn 2 (at the top of the picture), centrifugal force has forced the cars to slide up close to the outside wall.  But the cars don't stay up there!  Each driver keeps his steering wheel turned to the left for an extra fraction of a second.  The line snakes all the way across the track to the inside, almost touching the white line next to the grass.  Only when necessary to set up for Turn 3 does the driver return to the outside.

Doesn't he know that the shortest distance between two points (B and C) is a straight line (BXC)?  How much shorter, you ask?  Each half of the backstretch is 1,650 feet long and 50 feet wide.  Pythagoras tells us that the length of the hypotenuse BY is the square root of 16502 + 502, or 1600.76 feet.  But that's only nine inches longer than BX.  The track isn't as wide as this diagram makes it appear.

Hmm; nine inches is hardly enough to worry about.  So there's no good reason to stay with the straight-line path BXC.  Are there reasons in favor of swerving over to BYC? 

Maybe the drivers simply prefer to keep away from the wall.  (I certainly would.)  They want to be able to move either left or right to pass other cars.  Also, at 220 mph it's dangerous to spend 12 seconds almost brushing the outside barrier.  On the front stretch, which has barriers on both sides, the cars tend to deviate not all the way across the track but only to the middle.

Then I remembered swim meets.  The better swimmers are assigned lanes down the center of the pool, where the water moves easily.  In the outer lanes, the water is sluggish because of drag from the walls.

Race cars must experience similar aerodynamic effects.  They need to distance themselves from the wall so that nasty barrier doesn't try to “side-draft” off them and steal their speed.  It's traveling 220 mph slower, don't you know.

TBT

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