A Raptor-ish weekend

Much to-do in the avian community: Nest building and scoping out this year’s territory….

Osprey 04192015 sm

And Jeff doesn’t even send a coffee mug any more…

The new chorus of Love, Oh love, Oh careless love….

“Just see what Prime has done to me….”

Amazon Orders


They say when my parents arrived home from the hospital with me that my brother who had been at home with the live-in housekeeper/nannie greeted me at the door with a baseball glove and a baseball because he had been told that I was to be his companion, someone to play baseball with. My wife says, “Of course, that’s what they told siblings in those days when they brought babies home.”

They also used to tell a story about how I fell from the bed as a baby in mysterious circumstances in the presence of my brother. Of all the people who told these stories or were principals in them, only I remain. No one can deny the embroidery I might choose to add to the recounting.

But I told my office colleagues – as a way to soften the statement that I had just made about going to visit my brother whose cancer had blossomed in his body – that one of the things I intended to do was to tell him that I forgave him for the incident with the hammer.

It must have happened sometime before 1948 and probably when I was six or seven. A playhouse had been erected in the side yard of our house in the Chicago suburbs, probably no more than ten feet by six feet, with a door and a window in the front and windows in the end walls. The outside was wooden weatherboards nailed to two-by=four studs. The inside walls were unfinished, leaving a ledge above the door where the header framed the opening. It was on that header that my brother had placed a hammer, a place to keep it out-of-the-way but handy.

It was my habit to enter the playhouse by jumping from the ground outside, up the six inches that it took to reach the sill. It must have seemed like a sign of ownership or something, making the little house tremble a bit on its concrete block foundations. It made me feel good.

And on this day, the balanced hammer responded to my entry by toppling onto my head.

I don’t remember any of this reliably. The memory of it has always been made clear by the inch-long scar on the left side of the back of my head, visible through my teenage years and into my time in the military when I wore my hair in a crew cut. But they say that I ran, sobbing loudly, from the playhouse to the kitchen porch, with blood oozing from the wound and down my neck. And placing the blame squarely on my brother. And over the years, the blame remained on him although the story began to be told more as the evidence of a brotherly bond than as a story about murderous intent.

So it was my intention, during my visit, to tell Walt that I forgave him, that I knew his intent had been innocent. Sitting in the room that he had adopted as his own when he became sick, lying on the bed where his pain had made him switch position so his feet were at the head of the bed, his large hand covering the left side of his face to help him reflect or to shield himself from his present situation, eyes closed, he said, “So what do you want me to tell you?”

So I said no, I wanted to make sure that I told you that I forgive you for the hammer incident. He didn’t even wait for a second sentence.

“Oh, my god! From the moment I realized what happened I knew I had done the stupidest thing imaginable. I tried to work it out that it was just a simple accident, but I knew that I had put the hammer in the worst possible place, that I should have known that it would hurt someone.”

And he and I were alone in the room, the last two survivors of that incident, one who carried the physical scar which he could not even see, the other who had carried the blame, blame without intent but blame, as a real part of his life.


In September in anticipation of the beginning of his chemotherapy I sent Walt some biker doo rags; he sent me this selfie with one of them in place.


en route, Tampa to Providence

Vaudeville of the Air International

Terns in France 2


Terns hang out abroad, too. At the chateau of Chenonceau, this guy was keeping an eye out for lunch. Same grace, same flickering maneuvers.

The Tern’s Vaudeville of the Air

(Note: A post I was drafting in August of 2011…the thread of thought is gone, but the Vaudeville of the Air lives on….)

When I was a kid, Admiral Donald MacMillan, skipper of the schooner Bowdoin, made at least two lecture stops at Beloit College to recount his explorations in the Arctic. He described in detail the habits of the puffin, the comical-looking bird with an orange beak that occupies the entire front of its head. I think it was his characterization of the puffin that got me to anthropomorphizing birds, a habit that is obviously not unique given the popularity of movies such as Madagascar and Happy Feet.

So when terns showed up on my morning walk a couple of years ago I was quite ready to give them the personalities that I felt they deserved. For one thing, they are showy fliers, capable of rapid direction changes and sudden turns. Their broad tail plumage is an active part of their navigational trickery.

New blades sweep clean – Harry’s razor/blades/shave cream



I’m 73 now, so shaving isn’t the chore that it once was – sparser beard, slower growth – but once I started shaving I was all over anything that promised greater effectiveness without sacrificing comfort. It’s boring now, but considering I started out in the days before Gillette’s Super Blue double-edged blade was introduced, that’s a bunch of technological improvement. Now, of course, we’ve arrived at five blades per shaving head with battery vibration…or electric shavers that we use in the shower.

So when Harry’s popped up on my Twitter feed one day towards the end of February this year, it was the first time in a long time that a non-Gillette innovation had provoked me to try something new. Sorting through their product offerings, it boils down to a new blade company trying to break into the business. I say they’re a blade company because their message, when distilled to its essence, is that they sell blades for less than (*wink *wink) their competition. And that pretty much becomes the basis for my evaluation of the product, because the rest of the product system is pretty ordinary (although visually appealing).

What you see in the photo above is what you can get from Harry’s for $15: A handle, three cartridges, and a tube of shaving cream. (What? A tube of shaving cream in this day of gel and foam? Yes, and that’s also a part of the story.)

The handle

The handle is the most problematic of these bits. There is an aluminum version of the handle for $10 more and it’s shaped like the cheaper handle, but the base handle is built up from a zinc rod with plastics and lacquer. It has a very pleasant appearance and good tactile appeal; it’s nice to touch. Put alongside Gillette’s Fusion handle, it looks serene and self-confident. But in the hand of the user, Harry’s handle proves hard to shift from one angle of attack to another – it’s just too symmetrical and smooth to provide finger grips as you shave around nostrils, mouth, and eyes. When wet (how else are you going to use it?), you’re not confident that you can guide the razor without some shifting or rotation.

So aesthetically, Harry’s handle is a big winner while its functionality is less than any Gillette handle since the old straight handle on the double-edged razor. While this doesn’t affect the quality of the shave delivered by the blades, it does mean – if you want to use the blades – that you will be having a diminished shaving experience.

The blades

Harry’s blades come in cartridges with five blades, making them similar in appearance to Gillette’s Fusion cartridges although they are not compatible with Gillette gear. Harry’s blades do a good job of shaving your face. I switched to the Harry’s system completely for my test period, using two of the three cartridges for two weeks apiece. The shaves were consistently close, my face satisfactorily smooth for the entire four-week period. On the last two shaves with the second blade, there was some minor skin irritation around the base of the nose and some slight bleeding in that area.

While the shaves were more than satisfactory, someone will have to do a closer analysis of the Harry’s cartridge versus the Fusion cartridge, because there is something small in the difference between the two that has a significant impact on the ability to shave close to the base of the nostrils. I think the Fusion cartridge is slightly narrower at the sides of the blades and that it is slightly thinner than the Harry’s cartridge. The combination of these two things means that the Harry’s system can’t get as close to the nostrils and you’re left with minor stubble there. Not a huge thing, but noticeable if you touch your face during the day, which gives you a minor tingle of anxiety about how it might look to others.

The cream

Since I was shifting to Harry’s razor, I shifted to the whole system, including the shaving cream. That means, of course, that whatever results I observed were coming from the combination of handle, blades, and lubricating system. That, too, is critical to Harry’s success or failure.

I have been using foam (or gel) for years because of its convenience – easy on, a pretty comfortable shave, easy cleanup. At one point in my shaving history I used a natural boar bristle brush and a cake of shaving soap in a mug, but I gave that up because of the annoying additional cleanup steps and the additional time that it took to lather up. I’d used shaving creams, too, and given those up because shaving cream requires longer to apply than foam and it’s messier to clean up off the razor and off your face.

But I suspected that a part of the quality of results I was getting with the Harry’s system was due to the cream, in particular the smooth, moist feel of my cheeks as the day wore on. As luck would have it, my wife called my attention to a review of men’s cosmetic products in the New York Times that featured one strongly-recommended product, Proraso shaving cream. So about a week into my Harry’s experiment I switched shaving creams to the Proraso product. (I did no particular comparisons between the two; the NYT endorsement and my general impression of the two products side-by-side suggested to me that I would do better with the Proraso product.)

At the same time I bought my Harry’s setup, I sent the same thing to my son. He’s about 45 years younger and has an outstandingly tough, black beard that he wears “scruffy.” (Meaning he gets to shave every third day or so, a luxury not available to me at his age.) The idea was that we would compare notes after we’d tried the products. The shaving cream was something that he feels has improved the shaving experience for him; his tube of Proraso is arriving by UPS today.

I’m now back in a four-week test of my former Fusion razor, this time with the Proraso shaving cream. I’m only a week into it, but it seems clear to me that I am getting a better shaving experience from this combination than from the Harry’s handle and blades. My son’s experience with the Harry’s equipment has been the same as mine with respect to the grip on the handle and the difficulty of navigating the overhangs and crannies with the cartridge.

The bottom line of this endeavor has been that all other things equal I would prefer to pay less for my shaving habit. But the inequality of the shaving experience as between the Fusion and Harry’s (and the totally separate issue of shave cream versus foam) means that it’s not worth saving even dollars per cartridge for a worse experience.

People hearing without listening

I’m writing a long piece on how the automobile world’s ’50’s Tailfin Frenzy came about and disappeared, and the research has been interesting. I came across the following image and quotation on a website called viz., a blog belonging to the Digital Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin and maintained by members of the Visual Rhetoric Project Group:


It’s Bel Geddes design for the Toledo Scale Factory Machine Shop. What’s so striking about the design is its focus on aesthetics. This isn’t surprising, of course, given that in most everything Bel Geddes ever designed, function follows form. – http://viz.cwrl.utexas.edu/ (on 6/13/13)

I think this is a clear lesson about distortion through repetition, the old parlor game of “telephone.” Referred to as the seminal work on industrial design in the US, Norman Bel Geddes authored a book titled “Horizons” in 1932. As part of my writing project, I located and have read the text. It is particularly important to my project because it marks a point at which automobile design becomes more and more “modern,” or more properly, streamlined.

Somewhere along the line, an historian (or two, or three) noted that Bel Geddes began his career as a theatrical set designer and concluded that his works, therefore, concentrated on illusion and the superficial. A certain number of his creations support this conclusion without question, but these do not include the Toledo Scale Company project, improperly titled here the “Toledo Scale Factory Machine Shop.”  The machine shop (the circular building) is actually located next to the laboratory building (in the forground); the factory itself is a separate building, not pictured in the illustration from the viz. website.

While the outside of Bel Geddes’ machine shop has a fantastical aspect, a reading of his description of the project from Horizons reveals that it was the functional aspect of the work done in the machine shop that dictated the shape and layout of the building. The circular shape is a nod to future expansion of the machine shop beyond the initial needs of the company. The finned “hat” on the center of the building is the roof over the space to be used immediately following construction. The roof would expand outwards as more space was required.

While the viz. article says that the design was presented to the Toledo Scale Company board by its president with a warning concerning its likely cost and unusual appearance, Bel Geddes claimed that he had priced out his design and that his design came in at a lower cost per square foot than conventional designs. Further, he claimed, the savings that he had designed into the building by virtue of improving systems of lighting, supply, and waste removal would make his design even more economical.

What was it that attracted the president of the Toledo Scale Company to Bel Geddes? According to Bel Geddes it was his functional design of a hand-crafted india-ink fountain pen that he used daily and kept on his desk. The design of that useful implement stuck in the president’s mind and caused him to call Bel Geddes in to design a campus for his company on their 80-acre site outside Toledo.

Once a stereotype is strongly attached to a person or event, it is difficult to dislodge it. Yes, Bel Geddes got his start as a theatrical set designer. But to assume, therefore, that in everything he did “function follows form,” is to neglect the lengths that he went to in order to incorporate function into his designs. This makes his designs neither good nor bad, simply more complex than can summarized with a three-word cliché.

So how do I like Windows 8?

It’s a good thing that I’ve been using an iPad for several months and a Samsung Galaxy 3 for a month, because otherwise I would absolutely hate Windows 8. I would be wondering why I had to spend time staring at a screen-filling sea of apps icons with no (apparent) way to click a Start button (or anything remotely like that) to bring up my normal menu lists. I suspect that within a couple of weeks I will have developed my own way of bouncing around the menus that takes advantage of new features without slowing me down in the execution of my older, non-app programs.

(And some of the new apps-y things are pretty attractive…weather has never been so attractive or so complete or so at my fingertips, my Google calendar pops up hugely and in an instant, my mail feeds are easy to see all in the same window…and so on.)

This could be the start of something good. If I could only find out why Win 8 failed to install on my home machine this evening. The deep blue popups seemed apologetic, but there was a kind of finality to their refusal to install the new operating system; no further information, no offer of a refund.

Sunday morning, don’t you know….

Colt State Park, Bristol, RI, April 29th 2012

Western Civ – Final Exam, Fall 1958

I surely hope that I am violating no standards of academic conduct by posting an old Western Civ exam…for all I know they’re still using the same questions. (Click on image for full-size clarity.)

Western Civ Final Dec 1958