August 2008 Archives

I just heard the announcement that Microsoft will build a $500 Million data center in Iowa. This would not have happened if the Governor hadn't arranged tax breaks as an incentive.
Bill Gates, the World's Richest Man, does not need Corporate Welfare payments. Iowa taxpayers will be footing the bill for Microsoft. The data center will provide only 75 jobs, it is unlikely that any of them will go to Iowans. The data center will require massive amounts of electric power, straining Iowa's power infrastructure. This is an exceptionally bad decision by the Iowa State government.

Missing: The Largest Geode in Iowa

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I love geodes, they are the Official State Rock of Iowa. They're quite common here (as these things go). I even have a few nice specimens of geodes sitting on my mantle for display. I'm currently on a hunt for the largest geode ever found in Iowa, it has gone missing and I may be the only person that even remembers it existed.
I remember back in the early 1970s, the University of Iowa Geology Department had a huge geode on display in front of their building, along with a bronze plaque declaring it the Largest Geode Ever Found In Iowa, and the date and place of its discovery. The geode was about 4 feet in diameter, and a chunk had been knocked out of the front so you could see the smoky grey quartz crystals inside. Most of the crystals were as large as your fist and came to very sharp points. The geode, as displayed, was quite similar in shape to a chair. So it used to be a freshman tradition to have yourself photographed sitting in the geode. Sophomores who enticed people into a sitting portrait already knew the trick, you brought a few sheets of cardboard to sit on, to prevent your butt from being pierced.
But the Geology building was moved in the 1970s. I don't mean the department was moved to another building, the entire building was moved across the street. And the geode was in the path. It was removed for the duration of the relocation project, and has not been seen since that time. No trace of its existence has been found, except for my memories.
I have spent years trying to track down the geode, it is a historic artifact, and probably worth a substantial amount of money. It is worth restoring to its proper place. But I have been unable to find anyone who even remembers the geode, let alone knows where it went. I went to the Geology Department and spoke to the oldest staff members who might have worked in the old building, but still nobody remembers it. I thought I might have found it when an old geologist told me where they dumped a group of large rock specimens right behind the new building. I inspected the site, but there was no massive geode.
So the trail has gone cold. If there is anyone who remembers this geode monument, or knows where it has gone, please contact me. You can leave a comment here on this blog entry. You will be doing me (and all Iowans) a great service.

Please Leave A Message?

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A friend offered to drive me to an event the other day. About ten minutes before he was supposed to pick me up, I called his cell phone to let him know I'd be waiting in front of my house. He didn't answer, I figured maybe he was already in his car and doesn't take calls while driving. So I left a short message that I'd be waiting out front.
He arrived about five minutes later. As I got into the car, he started checking his Blackberry for phone messages. He said to me, "hey, there's a message from you, did you say anything important?" I said no, so he deleted it without listening to it.

The Large Quantity Barbecue

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I discovered an amazing pamphlet from my archives, "The Large Quantity Barbecue" by William Loeffel, Chairman of the University of Nebraska's Department of Animal Husbandry. This pamphlet may date back to the 1930s, I think it belonged to my Grandfather, he was an old USDA meat inspector and worked around the Omaha stockyards and slaughterhouses. I've scanned the 27 page pamphlet and you can download it as a 5Mb PDF.

The Large Quantity Barbecue

The scope of this brochure is breathtaking. This isn't for someone who wants a steak on the barbecue. This isn't even for a large party. This book is for someone who wants to turn a small herd of cattle into a feast for hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. Sides of beef are buried in huge fire pits dug in the raw earth. The cooked meat is pulled from the fire with a pitchfork. And everything is immaculately documented, from the logistics of mounting a huge barbecue to efficient methods of rapidly serving the mountains of beef. I salute Mr. Loeffel, the Barbecue Master.
Footnote: I did a little research and found a short biography of Mr. Loeffel (downloadable as a tiny 36k PDF at this link ). It indicates Mr. Loeffel attained the rank of Chairman in 1940, so this pamphlet dates back no earlier than that time. The biography says this was his most popular pamphlet and was nationally distributed. From his biography, it seems that he was quite a colorful character.


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I'm in a scanning frenzy. I bought a fancy HP ScanJet 8250 with a duplex feeder, so I could scan double-sided documents. I'm trying to turn boxes full of old paper records and computer documentation into a few discs of PDFs. But it has not been as easy as I had hoped.
I have struggled with this ScanJet 8250 for a couple of years now, when it works, it works well (which is almost never). It has some frustrating problems. If you attempt to automatically scan both sides of a folded letter, it will jam when it hits the folds. So if I want to scan normal business letters or bills, I have to manually feed each side. But with a stack of normal flat paper it works fairly well, although it has a tendency to jam. I could dump a hundred pages into the feeder, and if it jammed, it lost all the previous scans. I finally figured out I could scan to TIFFs, it saves the individual files as it goes. Hooray. If it jams, now I can just clear it and pick up where I left off.
I've been feeding (and unjamming) the scanner for the last day or two, and so far I've scanned a stack of paper about eight inches high. I had some old spiral-bound computer manuals, I unbound them and put them in the ADF. Even with all the troubles, I've scanned hundreds of pages with little effort. A 260 page manual with 140Mb of scans can compress down to an 8Mb PDF. So it's worth the effort (I guess) since I can get boxes full of papers onto a single disc.
I'm going through boxes of archives, looking for material to scan and discard. I found my old college calculus textbook, the author released it as a PDF and I downloaded it. That's one more huge book I won't have to scan, and won't have to carry around any more. I don't know why I even carried it around for 30 years, I have never looked at it once since that class was over. I guess it was my trophy for passing college calculus.
I'm trying to sort out what I don't need anymore, discarding old documentation (but scanning what I need to preserve) and separating the high value documents for permanent storage. My goal is to reduce the amount of books and paper I'm storing by 25%.

Pulp Sci Fi

I was sorting through some old books when I found this wonderful little set of 1956 Ace duo paperbacks by Phillip K. Dick. It's hard to believe these cheap 35 cent novels are rare first editions.

Phil Dick Ace Duos

The books are "duos" because they are two complete novels in one book. You flip them over and on the back there's an entirely different cover and a different novel. These cheap pulp paperbacks are so fragile I couldn't possibly read them, the binding would splinter into pieces if I just opened them up. But I do recall reading "The Man Who Japed" about 20 years ago when these books weren't so fragile, it's hilarious, and oh that cover art and tagline, "He undermined their world with mockery!"

My Childhood Toys

When my Mother died and I cleaned out her house, I found an astonishing box labeled "Charles' Toys." I had no idea any of my toys survived, I thought they'd been tossed out decades ago. I took a peek inside and immediately decided I could not deal with that little trip down Memory Lane, under the emotional circumstances. I packed it away until the time I felt I could look inside. And that time is today. So indulge me while I participate in one of the Internet's silly little rituals, a photographic "Unboxing."
Just the sight of the box itself sent me into paroxysms of nostalgia. This is a waterproof box from DeGroot Nurseries, my Dad's greenhouse used to get 18-wheeler truckloads of green plants in these boxes. And I'd usually have to unload and unpack them, when I worked at the greenhouse on weekends. So in a way, this box is a symbol of Unboxing.


When I first opened the box, over three years ago, this newspaper was on the top of the stack. It's the Des Moines Register from January 28, 1967, describing the Apollo 1 tragedy. When I saw the headline, I decided that the contents of this box might be too difficult to deal with, just after my Mother died. So I sealed it back up and didn't open it again until today.


But fortunately, happier memories lay underneath. Oh boy, my old Spirograph! In fact, it's the deluxe Super Spirograph set. I spent hours and hours fiddling with this this toy. The box is filthy, covered in dust, but who cares? It's my old toy!


This is a handmade clay piggy bank, this was a souvenir from a vacation trip to Tijuana. I remember we had trouble getting through Customs with it, they wanted to break it open. If I shake it, I can hear a little change rattling around. I never wanted to put money in this bank because it has no opening, to get the change out I'd have to smash it to pieces.

Piggy Bank

Yes, I was a Boy Scout. The Fieldbook is particularly interesting, it has loads of practical information. I remember at Scout Camp we built a wood and rope bridge from instructions in the Fieldbook, using nothing but an axe.

Boy Scout Books

This is my old Boy Scout mess kit, it folds up and everything is contained within the pan and lid, but here I've opened it up so you can see everything. I had to drag this along on camping trips and hikes, but I didn't use it very often. It was hard to clean in the field, so I didn't think it was very practical.

Boy Scout Mess Kit

Wow, my bag of marbles! I still remember when I was in second grade and we'd play marbles at recess. We'd smooth off a spot in the dirt, draw a ring, and get our biggest, heaviest "shooters" to knock our opponents' little marbles out of the ring. I remember the school eventually banned marble games, there were too many disputes by sore losers when we played for keepsies.
If you look close, on the right, there's a tiny little blue high heeled shoe, it must belong to my sisters' Barbie Dolls. I don't know how it got in there.


My handprint, cast in plaster. This must be a kindergarten project. My Mom must have kept this precious little memory stored away for years, I don't recall making it or ever seeing it.


Here are a bunch of books. Obviously I was a space nut, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. Check out the retro artwork!

Space Travel

Another space book. Sorry, it's a boring cover with no pretty artwork.

Space And Science

Manuals that came with my telescope.

Worlds Beyond

Manual for an astrolabe! I don't remember owning this, I sure would enjoy having this astrolabe today. But all I've got is the manual.

Star Finder

"How and Why" books, I love the retro artwork. Hmm.. that last book doesn't seem to fit with the theme of the other books, let's call it Anthropology so it is vaguely scientific.



Famous Scientists

North American Indians

More space books. Yes, I was really into the space program. So was everybody, back in those days.

Adventures Beyond Our Earth

I remember receiving this book as a birthday present from a friend. I remember thinking, "what the hell?"


Back into space!

Into Space


Souvenir catalogs from the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, in Chicago. I went back to visit the Museum of Science and Industry a few years ago, all the permanent displays I remember most fondly had been removed, replaced with badly designed interactive computer kiosks.


A souvenir brochure from Mexico, with an Olympics theme. Our whole family visited Mexico in 1968, but it was well before the Olympics so we never saw any of that hoopla.


A book of typeface samples. This isn't actually my book, I recall buying this as a birthday present for my Grandfather. He had a little letterpress and drawers full of lead type, which I inherited when he died.


Mike Mars, Astronaut. I loved this book, it's full of cheesy aerospace illustrations. The cover was so plain that I decided to photograph the frontispiece. This book had a big effect on me, I used to constantly make drawings of airplanes, pages and pages full.

Mike Mars

A model of Explorer 18, a primitive satellite launched in 1963. The assembly instructions are crinkled and creased due to little smears of glue. The model is supposed to balance on a little post, but the little metal weights fell off. I guess they hadn't yet invented SuperGlue back in 1963.

Explorer 18

A box full of plastic figurines of army men, astronauts, and other small toys.

Army Men

I had to laugh at one of the little plastic toys, so I decided to single it out for a solo photo. Sorry it isn't any clearer, I don't have a macro lens and this is only about an inch tall. You can almost see it's a little silver man in a space suit inside a plastic bubble. I laughed because it reminded me of Davros in his Dalek Emperor sphere. But that episode of Doctor Who was probably made 20 years after this toy.


These are the control knobs for my Tasco 6 inch reflecting telescope. My beautiful telescope was stolen, but they didn't get the control knobs! Oh well, I guess I'll throw these in the trash, they're totally useless.

Telescope Controls

Naked GI Joe and a muddy Evel Kinevel figurine. I used to have tons of GI Joe stuff, it's all highly collectible now, especially stuff I had like Astronaut GI Joe. But my little brother found it and sold it all on eBay. I am still really irked about that.

GI Joe and Evel Kinevel

Here's a little white cape with a Barbie label sewn inside. This obviously doesn't belong to me. I thought it might fit the Evel Kinevel figurine, but it's the wrong size.

Barbie Cape

One segment of wooden track for a toy railroad. I remember I had a ton of this, I was always laying out tracks on the living room floor, and then when I had everything set up the way I wanted it, my parents would make me clean it up and put it all away. I wish I had the rest of this set, it would fill a huge box by itself.

Wooden Railroad Track

I have saved the best for last: a Mattel Vac-U-Form. I must have burned myself on this toy hundreds of times, it was eventually recalled as a safety hazard. But what is really amazing, a box full of unused parts! The Vac-U-Form is highly collectible, but the original sheets of plastic are virtually unobtainable at any price. And I've got a whole bunch of them. Maybe I'll fire it up for a little project.

Mattel Vac-U-Form

Vac-U-Form Parts

Well that is everything in the box. That was quite a trip down Memory Lane, everything in this box dates back to the 1960s. I can't believe my Mom kept these toys carefully stored away for decades, it is her final gift to me. It brings a tear to my eye, not just seeing my favorite toys, but to think of my Mother keeping them for me to rediscover. That is a greater gift than any toy.