Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

April Thank-You Notes

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

To start with an aside, let me say that I have made the move from “thank yous” to “thank-you notes,” thus avoiding a “word” I didn’t like to see in print, but had nonetheless used a few times here. Sometimes the obvious solution to a problem takes a while to become visible. I will not be giving any “shout-outs.”

As usual, this blog got a ten-fold increase in daily visitors while MacSurfer’s Headline News™ had a link to a post (What a Relief! MacBook Pro Overheating Problem Cured—Really) here. Thank you, Darren.

Other Mac sites that continue to send visitors here are PowerBook Central, and LowEnd Mac. Thanks, folks. I’m so glad that I actually have a solution to the MacBook overheating problem to point to now.

My post Some Observations on College Guides and Their Usefulness was included in the Carnival of College Admission: Kick A@$ College Links. Thank you, Elizabeth.

Joe, aka Coonass in italy, referenced and commented on Dante’s Heavenly Vision and the Physics of the Proton in his March 13 post “religion and science.” Thank you again, Joe.

David of D Dubs Reads found a lot to think about in the Dante post and added On-Screen Scientist to his blogroll. Much appreciated, David.

Denyse posted a long excerpt from the Dante piece on her Colliding Universes blog and linked to it. Thanks again, Denyse.

Harry of The Kudzu Files has placed this blog on his Blogopedia list. Thank you, Harry.

I’m programming an iPhone app (baseball related), which is taking a lot of my time, so posting will no doubt continue to be less frequent for a while. I’ll probably record another of the oldies for an audio post before long. Requests welcomed at the email address toward the upper right of this page.

Oh yes, I’m now on twitter as onscrn.

Only Three More Shopping Days Until DNA Day! Save Big!

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Let’s face it: knowing the structure and workings of DNA is part of basic scientific literacy these days, which is why, after all, millions of us celebrate DNA Day. If you’re still doing last-minute DNA Day shopping, do we have a great deal for you! OnScreen DNA, the world’s best three-dimensional computer model of the double helix structure of DNA, complete with on-screen, tutorial-based simulations of how DNA works, is on sale at 50% off.

And what better way could there be to celebrate fifty-six years since the 1953 publication of the Watson and Crick paper elucidating DNA’s double-helix structure than buying OnScreen DNA for only $19.53? It’s perfect for those students, teachers, and science lovers of all ages on your shopping list. And don’t forget to treat yourself.

Don’t worry if you don’t see this until DNA Day itself—the online offer and the ability to get the software immediately by download will still be available right through April 25. Yes, we are celebrating with the “traditional” April 25 instead of moving to April 24, as many national national organizations, evidently wanting to avoid a weekend day, have done this year.

Seriously, there is nothing that I know of that teaches DNA structure and functioning in such a complete and thoroughly three-dimensional way as OnScreen DNA, which I designed and programmed myself. The software runs on Macintosh OS X or Windows XP/Vista. The on-screen tutorials explain everything you’re seeing, and practically no prior knowledge is assumed.

The animations of DNA and RNA chain-construction in OnScreen DNA are a lot of fun. I still enjoy them after having gone through them countless times during programming, debugging, testing, and just playing. You really need to see the three-dimensional structure of DNA, not just the two-dimensional ladders which animations encountered on the internet seem to invariably fall back on. Having programmed the OnScreen DNA animations, I can see why they do that—it’s a pain to do the three-dimensional programming. But it is worth it. Take a look at the results and judge for yourself. Just go to <> to take advantage of this special offer.

Catching Up on Thanks for Links

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

I’d like to thank a few bloggers for links and kind words. Annie of AmbivaBlog, in her post “White on Black,” wrote the following about the post I made on the eve of Obama’s inauguration: “A white guy from Texas, who remembers what segregation was really all about, celebrates the casting off of those mind-forg’d manacles represented by the election of a black president.  Especially if you are not old enough to remember what segregation was really all about, read this.” Thank you, Annie.

Jim at Stonekettle Station, in a post called “The LHC and Walter L. Wagner, Dangerously Insane (now with more nuts!),” linked to my post “Large Hadron Collider: What’s the Risk?” with the comment “Walter L. Wagner and his adherents claim the support of a ‘growing number of scientists.’ These scientists, as you might expect, are of the same cloth as Wagner himself. Some are outright frauds, nuts, and kooks. Some, while scientists, are on the fringe of actual science itself, or completely outside their area of expertise. None are actually qualified to evaluate Wagner’s alarmist nonsense, and have jumped on the bandwagon largely for the same reason Wagner has. An excellent breakdown of these people can be found at the On-screen Scientist.” Thanks, Jim.

A similar compliment (with link) was paid my LHC post by John the Scientist of the Refugees from the City Blog in his post called “The Soft Underbelly of Scientific Credentialism,” which deals in detail with the undistinguished scientific career of Otto Rössler, one of the two often-cited eleventh-hour LHC alarmists. “And finally, an awful lot of what Rössler has published in recent years looks just plain weird, even to the non scientist. I won’t go into too much detail, but I will quote the article that the anti-LHC crowd is so fond of, the one that the On Screen Scientist referred to when he took Rössler to school back in the heyday of the anti-LHC lawsuits…” Thanks, John.

Let me add that the research (mostly through the internet) that Jim, John, I, and others have done on LHC critics should have been done by the journalists who just took these anti-LHC characters at their word as being serious and worthy of respect. Without necessarily endorsing every psychological evaluation made in the above-cited blogs, I can recommend them as good references on the facts of the sometimes bizarre past activities and the grossly inflated credentials of the main LHC critics. I hope someone at CERN has become aware of this research and will make use of it during the inevitable “controversy” that will ramp up as the LHC restart approaches.

The Traditio et Virtus blog has added this blog to the blog feeds it displays. I’m not sure of the blogger’s name, but I’m guessing I should say thank you to David. The blog Ro-Theoria, which is evidently devoted to the interface between science and religion, is in Romanian, which unfortunately I am unable to read, but I would like to thank Mihai and Florin for putting my blog on its blog roll.

The On-Screen Scientist (Finally) Speaks Again

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Back in May, over seven months ago, I posted an audio version of a blog post (Dangerous Experiments, audio here), thinking it might be a move towards podcasting. Well, that didn’t happen for various reasons, partly my dissatisfaction with the way I sounded and partly the trouble it took to record with decent sound. I’m afraid my voice and diction are pretty much the same as they were before, but I have found a technical solution that makes it easier to record. If you’re only interested in the results, you can jump to the end.

For those interested in technical stuff, here are minimal details of how I recorded this latest version of an early post called Don’t Gamble, Hire a Physicist. A big improvement was getting a Blue Microphones Snowflake USB Microphone (for around $50). I had a good microphone before, but it was overkill for this task and required too much setup, enough to keep me from playing around with it. The Snowflake just plugs into my MacBook Pro directly, and no external power source is needed. The sound is fine for this application.

I recorded using GarageBand, which comes free with any new Mac. One thing that is not intuitively obvious is that you have to set the input device for GarageBand directly through its preferences. It does not default to what you have set using the Sound System Preference. This caused me some puzzlement and soundless delay until I realized I had to choose the Blue Snowflake in GarageBand.

Once you get the hang of it, GarageBand is great for recording something like a podcast, though I did not use the explicit podcast mode, since I just wanted to end up with mp3 and m4a files I could upload. It was easy to go in and replace flubbed sentences with corrected readings, using visually intuitive editing of the soundtrack.

The only way I could figure out to get what I wanted as a final product (mp3 and m4a files) was to use GarageBand’s Share->Send Song to iTunes menu item to do what its name implies (even if you don’t have a “song”). Once you have your recording in iTunes, you can save it in various formats.

That makes it sound simpler and more intuitive than it is. Through a klunky, kludgy method worthy of Microsoft, this Apple-branded software requires one to do the following to create an mp3 file. First, set the format iTune uses when importing from a CD to be mp3. This is done by setting an iTune’s preference. Note that the outdated Apple Help for iTunes gives incorrect instructions on where those import settings are to be found. In the latest iTunes, there is a button that takes you to import settings on the general settings panel of the Preferences (instead of these settings being among the Advanced settings). Confusing? Yes, it is.

Once you’re set up to import to mp3, you will magically find an item called “Create mp3 version” under the “Advanced” menu of iTunes. This enables you to make your mp3 file, which you can then locate and upload if you want to. Now, if you want to make another version for m4a, you have to go back to reset the import preference. No, it’s not called m4a; it’s called AAC. If you actually want to import a CD, and have a different format preference for importing, you’ll have to go back and change the preference again. Of course, you’ll probably forget to. As an aside, this is some of the worst software design I’ve ever seen on something blessed by Apple. If anyone from Apple is interested, I can tell you how to fix this confusing situation in about two sentences.

Click one of the following links to hear me reading Don’t Gamble, Hire a Physicist: mp3 version or m4a version.

A Commercial (with Money-Saving Coupon), Some Thank Yous, and an Animal Identification

Friday, September 26th, 2008

First, the big news: OnScreen DNA’s price has been reduced by $30! The standard edition of OnScreen DNA is now $39, and the Pro edition, which empowers user-controlled simulations of gene transcription and DNA replication, costs $69. You can read the press release; but, if you haven’t already—just to get an idea of how much easier it is to visualize and understand DNA’s double helical structure and the chemical bonds that underly it when you have a three-dimensional model to play with—why not download OnScreen DNA Lite (it’s free)?

OnScreen DNA is a virtual model, of course, which is good from a number of standpoints. It costs a lot less than a hardware one, and it can be animated to show the essential three-dimensional details of how DNA works. If you know someone who teaches DNA at any level, please tell them about OnScreen DNA. If you’ve wanted to come to a deeper understanding of DNA and how genes work yourself, please note that it is now a lot easier and less expensive to do so.

As an extra inducement to readers of this blog to try OnScreen DNA, here’s a coupon code to save an additional $20: hs908. Just enter that code in the appropriate box on the order page to get OnScreen DNA for only $19. This won’t work forever, so don’t count on it being there a month from now. OK, commercial over.

I need to catch up on thank yous and acknowledgements. As always, another blog’s linking to this one implies no endorsement of views in either direction.

David, the Christian physicist and novelist who writes the He Lives blog, linked to Conversations in the Club of Truly Smart People. Thanks again, David. Another Dave, he of the Not the Religious Type blog, mentioned the same post favorably and linked to On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism. Thank you, Dave. Ropata of the Earth is My Favorite Planet blog also linked to the Bad Habits post. Thanks, Ropata.

Denyse, a very busy Catholic journalist and author on topics of religion and science, keeps three blogs going. We have exchanged some emails, and she has added the onscreen-scientist to the blog roll of Colliding Universes, which I’d say examines physics and biology from a thoughtful Intelligent Design standpoint. She also (with comments) linked to the two previously mentioned posts related to atheism and to the one on animal suffering, Cries in the Night. Thank you, Denyse.

My post about the anti-LHC campaign, Large Hadron Collider: What’s the Risk?, coming as it did a couple of days before the first proton beam circulated in the LHC, drew more traffic than even the computer troubleshooting ones have in the past. John of the Refugees from the City blog linked to my aforementioned LHC post in two separate posts: Mixed Nuts, in which he makes a thorough exposé of the dishonestly exaggerated credentials of Walter Wagner, the main instigator of the doomsday hysteria, and also looks at Rainer Plaga’s background and work, and Whooooo Hoooooo!, which summarizes the credentials of all notable LHC opponents. Thanks, John.

I have also exchanged emails with JoWynn, who wrote to tell me how much she and her husband appreciated my Reading Proust for the Last Time post. JoWynn, in addition to being a voracious reader (including books on particle physics!), maintains a blog largely devoted to her embroidery art (Parkview 616), despite a disabling condition that confines her to one room most of the time. Thanks, JoWynn. Judy of the Reading Proust in Foxborough blog said good things about the Proust post and also linked to it. Thanks again, Judy.

Finally, I’ve decided that the predatory animal whose strange wild sounds I couldn’t identify in my Cries in the Night post was almost certainly a raccoon, based on some sounds I’ve found online. It’s funny that out of all the raccoons I’ve seen in my life, I’ve never heard one make a sound that I can remember. So, just to return to that disturbing death struggle I overheard in the middle of the night, I now imagine that it was a raccoon that had caught a squirrel. The raccoon, lacking big, powerful jaws like a dog, could have been holding the squirrel in its mouth waiting for it to die of blood loss, internal injuries, etc. The squirrel, being still alive, could have made its cries and also have mustered up the strength for a desperate struggle to escape every few minutes, which would explain the fierce raccoon sounds mixed with thrashing around that I heard periodically.

On the one hand, I’d just as soon get those sounds and speculation about what was going on out of my head, but it’s also good to have the drama linked to known animals. It changes my view of raccoons, which I had known to be scrappy fighters by reputation (able to drown dogs that were foolish enough to pursue them into the water, for example), but had never seen or heard in action.

August Thank Yous and a Pledge of (Almost) No Politics

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

It’s time I once again acknowledged some kind words and links from others in that vast and brave new world we call the blogosphere. From my tiny home planet, establishing communication with one of the millions of other bloggers out there still seems to me something like a successful SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) contact. Needless to say (well almost, or why say it?), in thanking people that have linked to this blog I am not necessarily endorsing the religious, political, or literary opinions they express on their blogs, which are, in any case, quite likely to be in disagreement with one another.

Tiffany, a librarian who loves to read and who lives in my home State of Texas, writes a blog called Considering All Things Literary. After reading Ronnie Knox, Marcel Proust, and I, she honored the On-Screen Scientist blog with a place on her list of Literary Links and Other Fun Perusings. Thanks, Tiffany.

Joe, a blogging oil field worker, writes FarSouth of I-10, which is currently following his thoughts and adventures as he makes the transition from South America to Italy. He recently added a link here with these words: “There’s Bob the Onscreen scientist that sometimes sounds like Bill Gates and other days sounds like St. Paul,” which demonstrates Joe’s ability to use ludicrous comparisons for humorous effect, while at the same time making an accurate point about the varied content of this blog. Thanks again, Joe.

The St. Paul reference was doubtless due to my recent post called On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism, which caught the eye of a few bloggers who write from a Christian perspective and who linked to it. David, a physics professor and novelist who has an interesting blog (He Lives: Reformed views of a nuclear physicist) largely dealing with Christian theology and issues of science and religion, included a link to my post in a short one of his own, which link continues to bring in daily a few readers (or five-second scanners, one never knows) even a couple of weeks later. Thanks, David.

Eric posted a short note (“A physicist’s conversion from atheism to theism”) and an excerpt from the atheism post on July 23, 2008 at In the Agora, which is a group blog I’m very happy to have been noticed by. Thank you, Eric.

Josh, whose blog Quid Sit? deals with “Catholicism, Art, Culture, & Everything in Between,” linked to the atheism post with one of his own called I Kicked Them Both, Too. He noted that, though our ages were very different, our experiences were similar. Thank you, Josh. Jesse of Karate and Whatnot from VA also recommended the atheism post with a link. Thanks, Jesse.

How have other bloggers found out about this blog before linking? In a few cases, I have emailed them about some post here that I thought they might be interested in based on what I could tell from their blogs. (Every blogger should include an email address! To email me, look to the upper right portion of any page of this blog.) Others have seen a reference somewhere else. I got a digg (in the OffBeat/Odd Stuff category!) for the atheism post, which may have been the source of a link or two. Thanks, yoder. And of course bloggers read blogs, which is another possible source of links, once one has been made somewhere.

As was predictable, I guess, the atheism post was, after the computer trouble-shooting experience posts, the one that has drawn the most visitors in this blog’s short life. A good number of those visits came from a blog devoted to atheism where I had left a comment mentioning the post. I plan to tell more about the (for the most part respectful) back and forth between me and some commenters at that blog in an upcoming entry.

My intent is still mainly to avoid religion and politics here, but in writing about my life that is well nigh impossible, so religion will no doubt be touched upon from the personal standpoint from time to time. I have more or less promised to trace over time the significant steps in my path from atheism to theism, which of course are very important to me, and I hope of interest and possible benefit to others.

In politics, I am a somewhat hopeful cynic, in the sense that I hope for the best, despite my disappointment and lack of confidence in politicians and parties. I try to maintain a good deal of emotional detachment, even while being very interested in the Presidential campaign as a national and personal (for the candidates) drama. Though no longer committed to the “no support to either of the Capitalist parties” position of my radical past, I find my disinclination to become a partisan of either major party is still strong, even without the ideological basis, mainly because of what seems to be the pervasive corruption and shallowness of the two parties. Now that I think about it, I might express the danger of strong partisanship as being one of potential idolatry (worship of a man-made god), but I don’t feel I am very tempted in that direction.

It’s also hard for me to imagine myself becoming enthusiastic about an individual candidate (I tried for a while this election), though I will consider voting for a major party candidate now, which I would not have done in the past. No longer viewing political change as the potential solution to all of life’s problems, I am more willing to try to judge what seems to be the best realistic alternative at a given time, but with low expectations, mixed with hope that it won’t make too much difference who wins. I might add that I don’t view the threat of radical Islam and terrorism as a phony one concocted by the Republicans.

Who cares what I think, anyway? There are more than enough political commentary blogs for just about any political viewpoint one could wish to see, and I am not going to add another. Most people want to read political commentary they already agree with. Whatever interest this blog may have will be due to some possibly unexpected resonance my experience has with that of the reader or from some observation I make that seems more original than any I might make about politics.

Happy Juneteenth!

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Juneteenth! What a marvelous word! I almost let the day get by without realizing that today is the day. I first heard the word when I was a boy visiting my grandparents who lived in rural northeast Texas. It was a holiday by Black folks for Black folks, but they were willing to share the barbecue, which was superb. This was not an official holiday, this was a folk holiday. And it is the only non-religious holiday except the Fourth of July and New Year’s Day that is still celebrated on the original date.

Juneteenth—doesn’t it just sound like a word the freed slaves would have applied to the day their freedom was made official and permanent? Jubilation! On June 19th, 1865 the following proclamation was issued in Galveston by Union Major General Gordon Granger:

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.

It’s time to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Ronnie Knox, Rest in Peace

Monday, June 9th, 2008

A few weeks ago (May 21) while I was out, my teenage daughter took a phone message for me from someone who started off the message by saying “This is probably not going to make viagra sense to you.” Since I hadn’t been expecting a call, and since my daughter had known nothing beforehand about the subject of the call, her account of the conversation was at first puzzling to me, and I wondered if it involved some strange kind of scam. But then the words “passed away” and “team” (or some other sports-related word) and the notion that I had inquired about someone came through, and I knew what it had to be about.

When last I wrote about Ronnie Knox, the gifted quarterback whose reference to the pleasures of reading Proust had so intrigued me some fifty years ago, I noted that a college teammate of his, Jim Hanifan—later an NFL player and coach—had mentioned in his book that Ronnie had died homeless. Since I had not found anything else referring to Ronnie’s end or how he had spent the decades of his post-football life, I thought contacting Hanifan might be my best (phentermine) shot at learning more. I learned that Hanifan was now part of the St. Louis Ram’s radio broadcast team. Through the radio station’s website I submitted an email query, asking the unknown recipient to please contact Hanifan for me, both to confirm that Ronnie was dead and to see if he could provide any more information. For anyone just stumbling in on this, I refer you to prior posts here and here to catch up on my interest in Ronnie Knox.

About a month had elapsed between my initial inquiry and the phone call. The person that had called and talked to my daughter was Jim Stassi, the director of the Rams’ broadcasts. Stassi had left his phone number, and I called him the next day. What a nice guy! He was apologetic for not having gotten around to calling sooner. Anyway, he had talked to “Coach Hanifan” and could attest that Ronnie Knox had indeed died. He also mentioned that a San Francisco Chronicle writer named Ira Miller had written a piece about Ronnie at the time. I thought he said Ronnie had died in 1986 or so, but I may have cytotec misunderstood him.

Now I had to consider that the “few years ago” in Hanifan’s book from 2003 might be closer to twenty years. I went back and checked online for California death notices that far back and came across the definitive (birth date is Ronnie’s) answer: Ronald Knox, born in Illinois on February 14, 1935, died in San Francisco on May 4, 1992.

Unfortunately the online archives of the Chronicle only go back to 1995, so I will have to track down a physical (or microfiche) copy of the paper in a library to see the Miller piece that Stassi mentioned. I did find online, however, in the archives of the Los Angeles Times an article from July 17, 1988, when Ronnie Knox was 53. I paid $3.95 to get the full text of this article, which was a treasure trove of information on Ronnie (including the years after football), his stepfather, and other family members. The writer, Bob Oates, or an assistant, had interviewed both Ronnie and his notorious stepfather Harvey. Without quoting too extensively from the article, I will pass on some of the information that was completely new to me, and which helps fill in the missing years and casts a different light on some of the earlier strange goings on.

About Ronnie’s appearance, the author mainly affirms that he hasn’t changed all that much since a much earlier description was made in the LA Times:

To Times writer Cecil Smith 34 years ago, Ronnie was “a big, rangy kid, handsome, with tousled brown hair and hazel eyes, an easy, relaxed manner and a great deal of physical charm.” And most of that still goes. Ronnie’s weight and hair are almost unchanged today, although, like many old quarterbacks, he is noticeably round-shouldered.

Ronnie had evidently led a bohemian existence from the time he quit football until the interview thirty years later, and presumably continued to do so until his death. Hanifan had called him “homeless” when he died, but from the Times article it sounds as though he had been pretty close to that much of the time. At the time of the interview, he was moving out of a “one-room apartment” he’d been in only a week. I said his life was that of a “bohemian” rather than a poor transient because he evidently felt he was devoting his life to literature. However, if belonging to an artistic community is required for bohemian status, then he may not qualify.

Basically he seems to have been a drifter who wrote poems, tried various jobs (including coaching eight-man football for a Baptist school and working in the kitchen of a San Francisco harbor boat), and went through a number of career false starts. The article speaks of his longing to go to sea, but not of his having done so. Neither comradeship nor romantic attachments are mentioned, so one gets the picture of a solitary vagabond, which may not be accurate. I think of the phone call from Ronnie that Hanifan didn’t take because of a meeting he was in. Ronnie’s summary of the past thirty years: “Like James Fenimore Cooper’s noble savage, I’ve been away.”

The constant through these years was his devotion to literature, both the reading and writing of it. Over the years Ronnie wrote many poems, and had had the manuscript of a novel called Masquerade (on the theme of life is but a dream), which he considered his masterpiece, stolen along with hundreds of his poems in a suitcase from outside a motel in Galveston. Obviously he was not storing everything on a hard drive or remote server in those days.

Harvey, the stepfather, who, according to the article, had gained and lost several fortunes in his up-and-down life as a promoter of things like real estate developments, in addition to the careers of his children, said he always helped Ronnie when he could and alluded to Ronnie’s “emotional problems.” There’s no way to know exactly what that meant. Had there been serious mental breakdowns? There was no mention of drugs or alcohol. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Ronnie was incapable of living a normal life with a regular job. Ronnie seems to have been given to expressions that don’t make obvious sense both in his speech and poetry. For example the article quotes him as saying, “The trick is to stay fluid without turning into H2O.”

Ronnie had been married for four years to a “Viennese artist,” but the divorce had come in 1964. No children were mentioned. Ronnie’s sister, Patricia, who was referred to as a millionaire in the article, lived in Florida. His mother was said to be dying of cancer at the time of the article. Ronnie also had a half-brother I hadn’t heard of before.

I recently came across online a Pageant magazine from July 1956 that featured Pat Knox (then twenty-three) in her starlet phase. She had a good figure, I’ll say that. There’s a family shot of all the Knoxes, including Ronnie’s and Pat’s baby half-brother. The magazine was for sale on eBay. The fifties were a strange time, and looking through a Pageant magazine is a good way to be reminded of that. Perhaps only the fifties could have given rise to the sixties. Is it just that those were the decades of my youth, or have the subsequent decades really been blander, despite their own momentous events? Decades of my youth, I’d guess.

The LA Times article gave a little information about Ronnie’s actual father Dr. Raoul Landry, who was a professor of nuclear physics, of all things. Interestingly, a Google search turned up a man of that same name as having been a senior on the 1925 football squad at Southwestern Louisiana. There’s no way to tell if it is Ronnie’s father, but the age fits. From the LA Times article one gets the feeling that Harvey Knox may have stolen the prof’s wife, but I guess the couple could have been separated already when Harvey met Marjorie Landry, whom he first spotted making machine guns in an aircraft factory. In any case they married the same day the divorce went through.

Ronnie was seven at the time of his mother’s remarriage, and it must have been quite jarring to change his last name at that age, never mind to suddenly have a new father. I don’t want to engage too much in uninformed psychological analysis, but I can’t help noticing that this was perhaps the first of many abrupt changes in Ronnie’s life. Harvey set about teaching young Ronnie how to play football right away, initially against Ronnie’s desire. But, according to Harvey, the boy’s extraordinary natural talent, even at seven, was dramatically revealed in a way befitting the start of a legend.

In addition to saying something about what Ronnie had been up to since he quit football, the article also challenged my previous understanding of the early Ronnie Knox story, i.e., what went on back in Ronnie’s high school and college days. The article flatly states as fact that Ronnie was always the one calling the shots about his numerous moves from team to team and school to school, sometimes even going against the good advice of Harvey. This is contrary to everything else that I’ve read, and it’s hard to accept that all the contemporary accounts would have been so wrong.

OK, that’s what I wrote. Since then, and at the last minute (before posting), so to speak, I found online the original Harvey Knox article in the September 6, 1954 Sports Illustrated issue called Why Ronnie Knox Quit California. Although I looked for it a couple of months ago and couldn’t find it, it now turns up in the SI Vault. Lo and behold, there is the same account of Ronnie’s making the decisions about high school and college transfers due to dissatisfaction with his coaches. So if Harvey was stretching the truth, it started a long time ago.

Obviously, Harvey wasn’t telling Ronnie to quit football altogether or to bounce around from job to job in California, Mexico, Texas, Maine, and Europe in the following decades. So it may well be true that Ronnie was the one making the dramatic moves all along and that Harvey just took the heat and enjoyed the limelight. Based on the affection Jim Hanifan expressed for Ronnie, I can’t see Ronnie as the prima donna type, yet he does come across in Harvey’s accounts, at least, as extremely critical of his coaches, and with reason.

An interesting fact reported in the article was that, when the American Football League was being formed in 1960, Ronnie, then twenty-five, was offered a contract to be the first quarterback for the San Diego Chargers at any salary he wanted to name, but he told them he was through with football. Charger coach Sid Gillman, who tells of spending six weeks trying to track Ronnie down to make him an offer, finally finding him in a “dump at the beach,” is quoted as saying Ronnie was the John Elway of his day, unbelievably talented at running and passing.

Despite the disdain he expressed for football (“for animals”) when he quit playing the game for good back in 1959, Ronnie seems to have maintained an interest in it, especially for the strategic aspects of the game. The article says he was willing to call Bill Walsh the outstanding coach of the time. Ronnie’s own coaching of the Faith Baptist team is praised by the pastor.

Dr. Roland Rasmussen of Canoga Park’s Faith Baptist Church and Schools has been his most faithful employer, bringing him in three times—in ’72, ’77 and again this summer—to coach his eight-man football teams.

Knox never stays long—he learned a different way in high school—but as a football man, he has made a strong impression on Rasmussen, a pastor who discusses football with the efficiency of an expert.

“We got acquainted through his mother when she was a member (of Faith Baptist) in 1970,” Rasmussen said. “Ronnie relates beautifully to athletes—he gets the most out of each one—and he has a brilliant football mind. I think he could be an offensive coordinator anywhere.”

So the mysterious “lost years” of Ronnie Knox’s life (the major part of his life, in fact) have been filled in somewhat, if vaguely, in my mind. Inevitably, the Golden Boy mystique has been largely effaced by all those thoroughly unglamourous years of what seems to have approximated aimless bumming around writing incoherent poems (based on my reading of the one—the only published one?—that concluded the article).

Yet I can still remember when, as a kid in Texas, I first heard of Ronnie, when he was maybe the best football player in the country, and both our lives since then were all potential and unknown. What does that young Golden Boy have to do with the rather pathetic fifty-seven-year-old drifter that died in San Francisco? Well, what does that Texas kid that looked up to Ronnie as a hero have to do with the white-bearded fellow at the computer keyboard writing these words?

Although it seems a bit ridiculous to me now, there was a time in my life when I thought I might become a writer (as in novels, not a blog) also. I just never wrote anything. I did go through a phase of occasionally writing “poems” (mainly on napkins in bars, as I recall), though I never quite deluded myself into thinking I was a poet. Poems had the advantage of being short. Ronnie just kept on living his dream. Was he crazier than I or a poorer judge of his own talent than I was of mine, or was he just more serious, determined, and steadfast?

My life has also had a few periods of uncertain direction (see for example my posts Don’t Gamble, Hire a Physicist and The Perfect Italian Woman), but always with a PhD in physics to help out on the employment front and then to make “regular life” too comfortable and, at times, too interesting to forgo, without even mentioning the rewards and demands of family life, which Ronnie missed out on. And there were those periods where political activity took precedence in my life, which doesn’t seem ever to have been the case for Ronnie. Still, I can see more similarities in our lives than I would have guessed. I wish I could have run into the guy at some point. Imagine what it would have been like for me to have realized that the athletic fellow scribbling in the bar in Austin or the cafe in Berkeley was the real one-and-only Ronnie Knox!

Now I know with certainty that Ronnie died sixteen years ago. How should we think of him: eccentric or mentally ill? If he was crazy it was the sort of craziness that afflicts saints or crackpots who cause no direct harm to others. Was this obsession with literature a curse? He didn’t view it that way. He was in it for the long haul, and there is something admirable about Ronnie’s continuing to write poems all those years without encouragement, while still viewing it as his true calling. Literature was something he could stay connected to when his life was otherwise without mooring. He compared himself to a “noble savage,” and I will keep that interpretation in my mind as I recall the words of Jim Hanifan: “I thought the world of him, and it hurts to see him gone.”

More Thank Yous to Start June

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

I need to get caught up on some thank yous to sundry fellow bloggers that have taken the trouble to visit, read, and then link, sometimes with very nice compliments included on their pages. It also gives me an opportunity to point my many readers in new directions. I find the blogosphere to be so large as to be overwhelming. Looking at the virtually endless list of blogs in a blog directory can truly make me a bit sick with vague dismay. But, along with the myriad dull plastic needles in that worldwide haystack, there are many sharp ones of genuine steel, worthy of close examination and perhaps useful for spiritual mending or embroidering. I was glad to come across a few more of these, and, believe me, I appreciate the needle-grabbing magnets other bloggers have supplied to their readers in the form of links to this blog.

Christina, who runs the Everything Worth Reading monthly blog carnival (one of the few “carnivals” a themeless blog like this one can submit to), honored The Perfect Italian Woman as one of the worth-reading selections for the April 23 edition and with the Link of the Week (think she meant month) designation. Thank you, Christina.

Baseball in Normandy mainly recounts the fortunes of the Bois-Guillaume Woodchucks, an entry in the Normandy section of the French Baseball League (whose existence was a welcome discovery for me). I hadn’t heard of most of the towns in the league, but Dunkerque and Cherbourg are familiar from World War II. Chris, who is on the team’s roster and writes the blog, also occasionally reminisces about baseball in his younger days in the States. Chris refers to himself as an ex-philosopher, but how do you stop being that? A post called Best Baseball Memory and Rick Silva, which turned out to be very well written, was what drew me to his blog. I was looking for other baseball reminiscers after I’d written A Rocky Little League Start.

I emailed Chris, thinking he might be interested in my piece, and it turned out he was. He read it and liked it, so I also told him about the follow-up It’s Only One Game when it was posted. A bit later I was pleased to see a few folks coming to this blog as a result of a post of Chris’s called Introducing Bob Estes (a nom de correspondance of your On-Screen Scientist) with a link to the two Little League coaching posts. I haven’t checked on the Chucks’ fortunes in a few days. They finished in first place during the regular season and were about to begin playoffs last time I read about them. Earlier, their season had seemed in jeopardy due to the sound (like a gun shot) foul balls make hitting the slate roofs of houses (including the mayor’s) near the field. I’ve wanted to visit the D-Day Landing sites for a long time. Now I hope I can make that trip happen during the baseball season. Thank you Chris.

Helena, an Australian lady who blogs as Dysthymiac, emailed comments about the dangerous (naturally produced) drug testosterone in regard to the risky juvenile behavior recounted in my post Times I Might Have Died, which she came to having seen a comment I’d made about a beautiful photograph elsewhere. She has since read and liked Ronnie Knox, Marcel Proust, and I and has recommended it on a couple of blogs I know of. We have exchanged emails on various topics of overlapping interest (e.g., Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, Billy Sol What’s-his-name, and the blogosphere), and she has added a blogroll-type link to here on her blog. Thank you, Helena.

Norm Geras’s links contain numerous interesting blogs. One I found that way is Far-South-of-I-10, which is written by Joe, a guy who has spent years working on oil rigs and is currently in Columbia about to move to Italy. I thought he might be interested in The Perfect Italian Woman, to which I referred him. He responded with a cordial and complimentary email. Later I saw that my post Times I Might Have Died may have given him the idea to write Dancing With Death about a truly harrowing job experience on an oil rig. Joe’s gift for humorous narrative makes the story—even if your fear of heights is as strong as mine—a pleasure to read. Thank you, Joe.

A few days ago I became aware of Sports Illustrated and Proust, another blog post that referenced my Ronnie Knox, Marcel Proust, and I piece. Seeing that I had found the 1958 reference in which Ronnie Knox mentioned Proust, Michael of Orange Crate Art decided to utilize the full Sports Illustrated online archives to see just how many times and in what way Proust had been mentioned by SI in its history. So far, no Petite Bande references in the Swimsuit issue. In one excerpt, I’m afraid an NFL player was pulling the sportswriter’s leg, but the player must at least have taken some review courses in college to be able to reel off the names that he did. Referring to his reading preferences, the player said that he couldn’t abide fiction, except for “Dostoevsky and Melville,” preferring to spend his time reading “sociology, philosophy and political thought” as found in “Proust, Hegel, Rousseau and Mill.” And above all, Kafka. I don’t mean to say that stuff’s not there in Proust in Kafka, but it’s still fiction. Thank you, Michael.

Sure, I read political and news blogs, but I don’t think the world needs another one, so I am not planning to join in. I am delighted to find other sorts of blogs in which people far and wide are writing well about things from their lives and thoughts which can be of interest to a number of people outside the small circle of family and friends—if only to a very small percentage of all internet users. May this blog come to be one of them.

The On-Screen Scientist Speaks!

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I recently decided it might be a good idea to start a podcast. I figured I would just read and record my blog posts. Most of them are timeless—well, as good one time as another—so the fact that a podcast was based on a blog post from a month or two ago wouldn’t make much difference except for the small number of people that had already read the post. The idea was that I might expand my readership into a bigger “listenership.” I don’t subscribe to any podcasts and seldom listen to episodes, but I guess some people do, maybe a lot of them. In any case there can’t be as many podcasts as there are blogs.

I still haven’t decided if I will do it, but I did record one of the earlier, shorter posts just to see how it might be done. You can skip to the last paragraph if you’d just like a link to the recording. I am not happy with it, primarily, I’m afraid, because I don’t like the sound of my own voice, as recorded. Maybe that would be a little better if I hadn’t been getting a cold. Also, I’ve noticed a tendency to slur my words. Do I do that all the time? Probably. It could be a Texas thing. I believe President Bush does it too. Anyway, there have been places where I did that and then went back to record the paragraph again. Total blunders—mispronunciations or saying a word different from the one that was written—have occurred also. So I’ve had a chance to hear some paragraphs recorded multiple times, and I’ve noticed that I emphasize different words in different readings. The meaning doesn’t change much from the emphasis usually, but it is subtly different, and since I clearly don’t have a fixed idea for which emphasis is better, does it make sense to record one rather than just leaving it as text on the screen? Probably not.

There is also the issue of whether to use good old-fashioned mp3 format or new-and-improved m4a (AAC). If I use Apple’s iWeb software to set up a podcast, then I get the Apple-favored m4a. This is probably the wave of the future, and anyone that has iTunes can presumably play it, but what about those PC users that don’t? I haven’t been able to get an answer to this, but I don’t like the idea of having two audio files for each recorded post. I have done it for this first experiment though. The superiority of the AAC file seems clear: it sounds better, and it’s substantially smaller. Having played them both again, I realize that I dislike my voice less in AAC.

Podcasting would be very time-consuming. The recording I made is less than six minutes long, but I hate to think how long it took me to get to a place I could quit, even then with some parts in it I really didn’t like the sound of. That would probably improve in time, but most of the posts are longer, some a lot longer.

Anyway, if you’d like to hear Dangerous Experiments, click m4a or mp3 for the format of your choice. And, if you think I should be encouraged to do more, please send me an email. I’d also appreciate feedback on the audio format issue. Email address is in the upper right section of the page.