Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013

It's astounding (time is fleeting) how quickly 2013 passed. Once again, though, I have a sinking feeling that it was yet another "lost" year... Marked by stagnation and obstruction. Another continuation of the "noughts" brought to you by a political party that thinks it is more important to spite the first black president than it is to move the country forward. I sure hope that 2014 is a better year, but it will entail a lot of work. November will soon be upon us.

As a side note, this last post of the year is the first I've composed on my phone. I don't think it will become a trend with me, but it's nice to know that I can use my phone to do more than watch porn.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Faithful Departed

Reading about a proposed "Pogues" musical written by David Simon, creator of The Wire, I read that Phil Chevron had been collaborating with Mr Simon. On October 8th, Phil, born Phillip Ryan, succumbed to esophageal cancer at the age of 56. As is typical, I was preoccupied with work for the entire month of October and was unable to keep abreast of current events. I learned about Phil's death in November, in the course of a conversation with my brother Vincenzo.

Phil Chevron's career with the Pogues began when he produced the Ennio Morricone inspired, Jem Finer penned A Pistol for Paddy Garcia. He then joined the band as a guitarist, beginning with the Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash album. Prior to his career with the Pogues, Phil was a founding member of The Radiators from Space, a band which had the distinction of releasing the first Irish punk single, Television Screen:

The album T.V. Tube Heart followed, with songs like Sunday World covering the same theme as The Jam's News of the World:

Enemies was another standout track from the album, an angst-ridden but tuneful lament about not knowing who has your best interests at heart:

In 1979, the band shortened its name to The Radiators and released their second album, the critically acclaimed Ghostown. The album is more sonically complex than the first album, with influences ranging from rockabilly to show tunes. It's also extremely dense lyrically, with numerous literary allusions cropping up in the course of the album. If there's a song that could claim the "title track" mantle, it would have to be the mind-boggling, Joyce inspired Kitty Ricketts:

They're Looting in the Town is another outstanding track, one which begins by contrasting the piety of the laity with the rapaciousness of the clergy:

Another standout song, recorded in the 80's, but added to later pressings of the album, is Under Clery's Clock, a song about a same-sex rendezvous, fraught with the same danger as that which ensnared Oscar Wilde:

In Phil's tenure with The Pogues, he contributed perhaps the greatest emigration song ever written to the band's repertoire- Thousands are Sailing, from the album If I Should Fall from Grace with God, is a tearjerker, perfectly capturing the ambivalence of emigrants who "celebrate the land that makes us refugees". Here's a version with Phil handling lead vocal:

The other magnum opus Phil contributed to the Pogues repertoire was Lorelei off the Peace and Love album. Lorelei is a sublimely beautiful song about a drowning man resisting the charms of the eponymous Rhine siren. Here's a live version by Phil from 2004:

I've saved my favorite Phil Chevron song for last, the epic Song of the Faithful Departed, from which this post (Phil was secular) derives its name. I covered the song in a previous blog post- suffice it to say that it is chock full of literary allusions (covered in that other post) and addresses a society confronted by religious hypocrisy:

The girls from the kips proclaim their love for you
When you stumbled in they knew you had a shilling or two
But they cursed you on Sundays and holy days
When you all stayed away

And when you slept there naked light bulb blinded your shame
The shadows on the wall took all the blame
And the Sacred Hearts picture compassion in His eyes
Drowned out the river's sighs

The original version of the song is a new-wave epic:

The song, which has taken on the status of a standard in Ireland, was covered by trad stalwart Christy Moore, who seems to be taking his cues from an acoustic version which was the B-side of Kitty Ricketts:

Finally, here's a version of the song which Phil performed with some guy named Declan:

Phil's sendoff must have been quite the occasion, being attended by luminaries of the literary and music worlds. Phil left a legacy of amazing music behind, songs of great erudition, wisdom and compassion. He will certainly be missed by his fans, but there's no more tristesse afflicting him. Rest in peace, seanchaí.

POSTSCRIPT: Once again, I am shocked that Shane MacGowan has outlived a colleague... first Kirsty MacColl, now Phil. I love Shane, but it's stunning that he has buried two collaborators so far. I hope he lives past one hundred!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

You Have My Gratitude!

I am grateful to Batocchio of Vagabond Scholar for including me in his annual Jon Swift Memorial Roundup this year. Thanks also go to Tengrain of Mock Paper Scissors, who seems to be embarrassed by his nickname "Patron Saint of Small Bloggers"- he put in a good word for me with Batocchio.

I see that a number of the folks on my blogroll also made the grade, and it warms the cockles of my heart. High fives and a group hug to everyone!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Big Wheel!

Consider, if you will, the Marx toy company Big Wheel, best described by Alison the Heavy Metal Waitress as "A red piece of plastic, until you leave it out in the rain, when it becomes an orange piece of plastic"... an inexpensive plastic tricycle that had special "spin out" brakes on the rear wheels. I had a Big Wheel as a kid, I imagine most of the people in my age cohort in the states had one. It was a pretty sweet ride, all told.

Today, while walking home from running errands, I passed by the local school and saw a couple of pre-adolescents riding some sweet-looking big "Big Wheels". These things had adjustable seats, so they looked like an adult could possibly ride one. I asked their mom where she had gotten these badass machines, and she told me that Toys-R-Us has them on sale.

Poking around the intert00bz, I discovered that there are high end adult "Big Wheels". Who knew? I imagine it would be impractical to commute to work using one of these- the temptation to continually "spin out" would slow one's progress down. Still, watching the kids doing donuts on the basketball court had me pondering a bout of arrested development.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A War on Christmas Carol

With apologies to Shane and Kirsty:

It was Christmas Eve, babe, at the Nat Rev,
A gauche man said to me, "That's central to my point."
And then he sang a song, a turgid tune by Rush.
I turned my face away, that boy just won't hush..
Got on the gravy train, no need to use my brain.
I have a feeling, that I will start to spew.
So happy Christmas, you godless heathens.
I can see better times, when I can jail you!

They've got fake wars on things, they have purity rings,
They've got teabagger rallies where Lloyd Marcus sings.
When I first lost my mind and became a wingnut,
I became obsessed by gay sex in the butt.
You were mad, you were nutty, we called MIss Fluke slutty,
When Ted Nugent was playing, the crowd howled for blood.
Obama was winning, the gays were all sinning.
We wrote for the Corner, and shilled for the right.

The checks that we lined our pockets with were coming from the Kochs,
And the comment threads were full of racist jokes!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The War on Merry

First of all, here's wishing a happy Christmas to all of my readers. I hope you had a good day with your loved ones. My Christmas was pretty 'meh', but I specifically "took one on the chin" so my co-workers could enjoy their holiday and worked an overnight double. It was a quiet night, and I got to spend time with mah preshus kittehs.

Anyway, contemplating the past month, I came to the conclusion in the quiet moments that the people who claim that there is a war on Christmas have successfully waged a war on "merry". The generic greeting "Happy Holidays" is inclusive- not only does it acknowledge that ours is a pluralistic society composed of adherents to many religions, it also encompasses a holiday season that ranges from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day (or Orthodox Christmas, if it falls after New Year's Day). The insistence that only one holiday be celebrated signals to members of minority faiths, or no faith of all, that their status is second-class. The humorless prigs (yeah, even when they claim they're joking, they look dour and angry) who are preoccupied with the fake war on Christmas are anything but merry.

Religious Christians have adopted the slogan "Jesus is the Reason for the Season". I'm going to ad that "Jesus of Cool Makes a Good Yule". In other words, Nick Lowe has released a really great Christmas song, compete with a video reminiscent of an animated Christmas special:

As a guy who had weather related travel complications earlier this month, I immediately loved the song. I could listen to it a second time, so here's a live performance by Mr Lowe:

Remember that the "merry" is just as important as the "Christmas". Perhaps the question that people need to ask these days is "What would Nick Lowe do?"

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Improvised Fish Thing

It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the workplace! One of my co-workers has a second job as the manager of the clubhouse for a fraternal organization, and he has to work his second job because a client rented out the hall for a big party. Another co-worker has a couple of kids at home, and wanted to spend Christmas morning with them. I started my work-stint at 4PM Christmas Eve and will be working straight through to 8AM Christmas morning. I don't mind, everything will be quiet, and I'll be able to go out drinking on St Stephen's Day. Yeah, I've got this thing figured out.

There's one nod to tradition that I figured I'd try to make on this Christmas Eve, and that's the Fish Thing, more properly known in the NY Metro Area as The Feast of the Seven Fishes. On my way to work, I stopped at the local grocery store and picked up some of the frutti di mare, specifically four types of fish and three types of molluscs:

The "cooking" facilities on the job are pretty slim- I had access to a knife, a plate, and a microwave. I was somehow able to cook some orzo by nuking several coffee cups of water and continually soaking the orzo in changes of boiling water. Miraculously, I was able to achieve a perfect al dente texture. I then tossed the orzo with some diced red onion, hot peppers grown by a co-worker, sundried tomatoes, garlic, and anchovies. I used this pasta as the bed on which to serve small portions of the tinned seafood:

On the bottom left is a portion of smoked scallops served on a sliced baguette, while a codfish filet sits at the six o'clock position followed by (going counterclockwise) calamari in its ink, octopus in olive oil, fish "steaks" with hot peppers in oil, and fish "steaks" in hot sauce.

The meal came together extremely well for a hastily improvised, no-equipment effort. In some ways, cobbling together this dish was a process similar to the purported origins of pasta alla puttanesca, a dish often hastily assembled from canned ingredients. Cooking is an endeavor in which technique often trumps fancy ingredients- all of the fancy Himalayan pink salt in the world can't make up for ham-fistedness in the kitchen.

Buon Natale, amici!

Monday, December 23, 2013

I Celebrate it Year Round!

So, today is Festivus, a "holiday" characterized by the airing of grievances and feats of strength. Meh, I air my grievances on this blog on a regular basis and go to a dojo to get my "feats of strength" card punched. Why limit these activities to one day?

Speaking about airings of grievances and feats of strength, I just discovered the hilarious "Jane Austen's Fight Club":

For those of you celebrating Festivus, have a productive one... what adjective does one use to describe such a holiday? "Merry" or "Happy" don't fit. Cathartic Festivus?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Skyclad Solstice!

This Fall went out like a sonofabitch- the temperatures dipped into the "teens" earlier this week, and we had snow accumulations on Sunday and Tuesday. There are still hills of snow in the parking lot at work, left by the plow. Today, the first day of Winter, it's pushing 60 degrees Fahrenheit (about 15 Celsius). I'm walking around in a polo shirt. Tomorrow, it's expected to hit 65 F (about 18 C), which is "shorts" weather for me. For all of my pagan friends, it'll be a prime solstice on which to go around skyclad.

Back in 2010, I put up a post which referenced the song Have Yourself a Groovy Little Solstice, but was unable to find a version of the song to post. Happily (or should I say groovily?) some kind hearted pirate posted the song to Y00t00b last year. Have yourselves a groovy little solstice, dear readers!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dick Dynasty

I don't have a T.V., so I was blissfully unaware of the show Duck Dynasty, a show about a clan of successful duck-call crafters, until it became a cultural touchstone for right-wingers. Lately, one of the members of the family has caused a bit of a furor by making some nasty comments about gay men. Let's get it straight from the duck dude's quackhole:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

Even more striking to me than the homophobia is the sexism- yeah, ladies, you have more to offer society than a man... one whole orifice (whole hole?) more! Robertson has one thing right, a vagina is a lot more desirable than an asshole like Roberton. Seriously, his comment reducing women to the sum total of their orifices should be creating more of a stir.

The best response to this controversy would be airing a satirical skit called Dick Dynasty, about a gay-owned company that makes custom dildos. The slogan of the show could be "No Beards!" Somebody, get on this stat! Fight the hate with ridicule.

UPDATE: When I wrote this post, I wasn't even aware of the racist element of Duck Dick's blathering:

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

Yeah, he never heard a word about "these doggone white people" from the black farmhands with whom he worked, and he chalked that up to "happiness" rather than fear of reprisal. He must have known what was going on during the civil rights struggles of the early-to-mid 60s, so this statement shows a willful ignorance on his part (or pure trollery).

Homophobia, sexism, and racism... a classic American combo, just like processed beef scraps, E. coli, and ammonia.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another Friendly Voice Gone Silent

Damn, it's happened again- another favorite local DJ of mine passed away this year- Caroline Corley, who spun records at my local commercial radio station of choice, passed away while I was on my European vacation. Her memorial, which I was unable to attend, took place tonight. Caroline was a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive so to speak, riding along on the commute home. She had a great sense of humor, which shines through this self-deprecating bit of her station biography:

“After being fired from every (yes, EVERY) rock station in Denver she came to New York to collect legendary station call letters like Pam Anderson collects rock star boyfriends — WLIR (just before their tragic demise), WYNY when they were country (just before their tragic demise), and WCBS-FM (just AFTER their tragic demise!)”

A friend and co-worker of mine corresponded with Caroline on a regular basis, and used to be perpetually steamed that the nature of our work made the station's Coffee with Caroline promotion unfeasible for us to host. I believe my friend was at tonight's memorial- if she was, I imagine she left a lot of other attendees with tear-soaked shoulders, being one of those wonderful people who wears every emotion openly.

Caroline Corley's catchphrase, delivered every day without fail, was "It's a beautiful day in NY's Backyard." I remember driving home from work in a downpour and hearing her deliver that line in her typical cheerful fashion, and thinking, "She's right, it is a beautiful day... it's the only one I've got." To a large extent, optimism and kindness are contagious, and Caroline Corley was certainly a carrier. Her cheerful, funny, friendly voice is sorely missed.

For a small sample of her distinctive voice and irreverent style, here is the late Ms Corley doing a movie recap:

The morning commute won't be the same.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Melancholy and Memorials

Yesterday, I put up a sad post about a friend of mine whose life was cut short by a senseless act of violence back in 1988. Feeling both a twinge of melancholy and a bit of 80's nostalgia, I have to note that today is the anniversary of Stuart Adamson's death by his own hand. Stuart was best known for being the lead singer of Scottish band Big Country, though his music career began with post-punk band The Skids. Big Country was largely considered a "one hit wonder" in the 'States, scoring a top-forty hit with the song In a Big Country, while knuckleheaded radio presenters made a big deal about how this Scottish band somehow made their guitars sound like bagpipes (I find the comparison somewhat strained), an effect achieved through the use of an effects pedal and, in many cases, an E-bow. For a stellar example of the use of the e-bow in an extended intro, I can think of no better song than The Storm, a song about the futility of vengeance:

Stuart was a true bleeding-heart humanitarian, fronting an interracial band and championing African famine relief, nuclear non-proliferation, and non-violence. There is remarkable footage of him stopping mid-concert to admonish individuals in the audience who were fighting:

In this intro to a 1988 performance of the heart-wrenching song about unrequited love Thirteen Valleys in Moscow, Stuart describes the song as being about someone who has to endure great trauma:

Stuart had a knack for ripping his ribcage open and showing the world what was written on his heart. His ability to convey emotion in his lyrics and his performances was second to nobody's. Sometimes, it seems as if certain people possess so much empathy, they take on the pain of the world, and this often leads them to "self-medicate". Stuart struggled with alcoholism for years, and took his life twelve years ago. One of Stuart's catch phrases, repeated in the the chorus of the song In a Big Country, "STAY ALIVE" has become a rallying cry for the fandom. While Stuart ultimately lost the will to carry on, his work has bolstered others in times of difficulty. In one moving but poorly spelled Youtube comment, one fellow gave perhaps the best memorial a songwriter could ever have:

Ironicaly - you're music is the reason I didn't do it. Shine on - SA RIP. An insperation to a generation.

The world always gets you in the end, don't help it achieve this... as long as you humanly can, STAY ALIVE!

I feel that I should post one more video here, the song Just a Shadow, the lyrics of which are as timely as they ever were:

I know there is no need for what's been done
I know there is enough for everyone
Frustration brings a heavy hand to bear
And there never is a hand outside that cares

You left the world too young, Stuart. Your wisdom and humanity were needed more than ever in the dark years after your loss.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

About the Son You Never Knew...

Back in 2011, I wrote a post which invoked the memory of my friend Ken Bissett. This weekend, I read that Ken's biological mother, who had sworn not to try to track him down, recently found out that her son had been killed in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 back in 1988.

I went to high school with Ken, who was two years my senior. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Ken was a great guy- just the fact that he would associate with students two grades below him is an indicator that he wasn't a typical cliquish high schooler. He was an honors student with the academic bona fides to get into Cornell University, and his artistic skills earned him the moniker "Ken the Pen". Ken's "tags" on the stage crew locker were so inspired, neither the faculty nor subsequent production crews ever painted over them. Ken was a skinny high schooler, but he possessed an incongruously deep voice which would have made a radio announcer proud.

The last time I saw Ken alive was on a visit to my older brother at Cornell University. Ken, who lived in the same dorm, heard that I had been planning a visit, so he dropped by. He told me that he had jumped through hoops to get a transfer to Syracuse University so he could study abroad in England. In the course of our conversation about his upcoming semester, he was practically glowing with excitement.

Ken's funeral, the first time I "buried" a peer, was a surreal experience. I remember looking around at my friends, some of whom I hadn't seen since they graduated, and thinking about how bleak we all looked in our dark suits. The fact that it occurred during Christmas break, ordinarily a happy time of year, only compounded the bleak mood. Ken was an only child, his mother (I hadn't known that he had been adopted until that day) was disconsolate. We all "toughed" our way through the ceremony, but I could tell that it was the first big "mortality trip" we'd experienced.

I don't know if Carol King-Eckersley will ever read this blog post, but several "Raw Story" commenters have suggested that I try to get in touch with her. I think I will begin by e-mailing the BBC a letter of introduction. The fact that, with his death, two mothers (and a father) were robbed of their only child compounds the tragedy of the world's loss of Ken.

Mrs King-Eckersley, about the son you never knew... he was well-loved by his adoptive parents and well-liked by his peers. He was smart, talented, and good-natured- an all-around solid guy. Thank you for bringing him into the world, he made it a better place for those of us who knew him during his all too brief life.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


It's a bit of a relief that the massive winter storm hitting the northeast has largely driven coverage of the first anniversary of the "Sandy Hook" massacre from the news. Even more thankfully, the bad weather seems to be keeping the trolls out of the Newtown, Connecticut area.

I took the news of the Sandy Hook horror pretty hard, spending a good portion of the weekend with little kids on a regular basis. That being said, I am weary of the pieties that always seem to characterize remembrance, while nothing is done to address the original problem. Forget the memorials in the cathedrals and churches, the deity most commonly worshiped in this country isn't the Gentle Nazarene. This country's gods are Mammon and Moloch. The servants of Mammon keeping raking in the profits resulting from the ongoing sacrifice of children to the 7.62mm Moloch.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Post Travel Cruddiness

After taking long plane rides I feel pretty crappy sometimes. This week, I have had some nasal congestion sneak up on me, and my throat has gotten pretty sore. Looking back through the archives, I see I haven't put up a neti pot post in a while.

Today, before heading off to work, I must have irrigated my sinuses five or six times with my handy dandy neti pot. After the first nasal irrigation, the gunk coming out of my nose looked positively lovecraftian.

Luckily, I am working alone tonight (with the exception of Fred and Ginger, so I brought the neti pot to work. When I get home, I'll probably mix myself a Manhattan before bundling up and turning in for the night.

Tomorrow, we had a nice low-key fundraiser set to take place, but it has been cancelled due to a winter storm warning. I can't say I'm upset- I would probably have pulled a switcheroo with my co-worker **REDACTED** if the event were still taking place. As it is, I'm scheduled to work an overnight, so it's almost fortuitous that I will be able to avoid traveling the roads in the teeth of the storm. Even better, I'll be able to pour torrents of water up my nose in privacy... it's not the sort of thing you want to do in front of anyone else.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: I Call It the Switzerland Particle

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the latest Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Dr Ray Jayawardhana of the University of Toronto's astrophysics department. While Dr Jayawardhana specializes in the search for exoplanets, last night's lecture was on the topic of neutrinos, a topic he wrote about in his bookNeutrino Hunters. Before I start the recap, I have to get my little joke out of the way- neutrinos are a lot like Switzerland, small and neutral.

Dr Jayawardhana began his lecture, with a quip about the Higgs boson hogging the limelight (insert joke about Hoggs boson). He joked that the Higgs had done well for itself, even being dubbed (by non-physicists) the "God particle" in a good PR move. He then asked us to give neutrinos a chance. Dr Jayawardhana likened the "measly but magical" neutrinos to a "cosmic chameleon", indicating that they come in three flavors.

This introduction was followed by a history of the discovery of neutrinos, beginning with Henri Becquerel's discovery of radioactivity emitting from uranium. Becquerel's discovery of "radioactivity" was followed by by the work of Marie and Pierre Curie, who realized that radioactivity was not limited to uranium, but was a more common phenomenon. The first named types of radioactive "decay" were alpha decay, beta decay, and gamma radiation. Alpha decay involves the emission of two protons and two neutrons, a particle identical to the nucleus of a helium atom. Gamma radiation involves the emission of electromagnetic rays. In Beta decay, a neutron loses an electron and becomes a proton, losing energy in the process. In physics, what goes in must go out, and beta decay seemed to violate the Law of Conservation of Energy. Faced with this conundrum Neils Bohr considered giving up the Law of Conservation of Energy. Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli proposed (nine days after his divorce) a solution to the beta decay problem in a letter titled "Dear Radioactive Ladies and Gentlemen". His proposal was that there existed an undiscovered neutral particle (at the time, only protons and electrons were known)- jumping from two to three subatomic particles was a radical step. Pauli recognized the enormity of his proposal, writing, "I have done a terrible thing, I have proposed a particle that cannot be detected." He even bet a case of champagne that the particle would not be detected. The neutron was subsequently discovered by James Chadwick in 1932.

Italian physicist Enrico Fermi proposed the term "neutrino", a diminutive of neutron, to explain beta decay- a neutral particle with almost no mass (the neutron has mass) was needed to square beta decay with the Law of Conservation of Energy. While Fermi had a sound theoretical basis for the neutrino hypothesis, he had no observation of neutrinos. It wasn't until the fifties (World War 2 sidetracked the work of a lot of physicists) that neutrinos were detected by Frederick Reines and Clyde L. Cowan, Jr. Reines and Cowan realized that a nuclear explosion would release neutrinos, originally they wanted to detonate an atomic bomb on a tower to release neutrinos, then they decided that a bomb in a hole would be a better neutrino source. They eventually concluded that a nuclear reactor would serve the same purpose.

Raymond Davis, Jr proposed using underground detectors to find neutrinos emitted by the sun- detectors on the surface of the planet were stymied by too much "noise" from other sources, and the ground would act as a filter to reduce this background interference. Neutrinos rarely interact with other matter. With collaborator John Bahcall, Davis conducted the Homestake experiment. It was theorized that neutrinos interact with chlorine to produce argon, so a quantity of chlorine (basically, cleaning fluid) could be placed underground and the amount of argon could be measured and the number of neutrinos interacting with the chlorine could be extrapolated. For thirty years, neutrinos were "counted" one by one, and it was discovered that only a third of the expected neutrinos were detected.

Another major neutrino detector was built in Kamioka, Japan in order to solve the solar neutrino deficit problem, which is due to neutrino oscillation. Another major neutrino detector is located in a mine in Sudbury, Ontario, it is billed as the world's deepest physics lab.

Neutrinos come in three flavors (electron, muon and tau) which can change as a neutrino moves from the sun to the earth. Initially, only one flavor of neutrino was detected and the morphing of neutrinos, a hard to explain quantum level occurrence, was shocking to observers. Neutrino oscillation was first proposed by Italian physicist Bruno Pontecorvo. Neutrino oscillation depends on the medium through which the neutrinos pass.

Neutrinos are elusive, they are able to leave the "scene of the action" without interacting much with other matter. Dr Jayawardhana joked, "don't just stand there, let the neutrinos through". Trillions of neutrinos pass through our bodies harmlessly over the course of a lifetime. In 1987, with the discovery of Supernova 1987A, neutrinos from outside the solar system were detected. Because neutrinos rarely interact with other matter, they arrived three to four hours before the visible light from the supernova, they left the core of the dying star with no resistance. About two dozen neutrinos were detected from this source.

Dr Jayawardhana then went on to introduce the audience to the Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory, a one square kilometer lab in the Antarctic with eighty-six strings of detectors, with a total number of 5,160 optical sensors. The Ice Cube opened two years ago, and about two weeks ago the first results came in- twenty-eight neutrinos, the most energetic ones ever detected, were found. These neutrinos likely came from outside the solar system, emitted by supermassive black holes or massive stars that produce gamma ray bursts. This array of neutrino detectors has opened a new window on the universe.

A new experiment, dubbed KATRIN, to determine the mass of neutrinos is on tap in Germany. The transportation of the huge spectrometer central to this experiment is an epic in and of itself- this piece of equipment, constructed about 400 kilometers from its destination, was too big for local roads and canals, and had to undertake an oceanic journey of almost 9,000 kilometers.

Physicists are now trying to determine if neutrinos and anti-neutrinos interact with matter in similar ways- did neutrinos play a role in the ascendance of matter over anti-matter?

The talk concluded with the practical use of neutrinos- perhaps neutrino detection can play a role in discovering covert nuclear testing. Because neutrino oscillation is connected to the medium through which neutrinos pass, neutrinos could possibly be used to locate mineral or oil deposits. Some dreamers have even proposed using neutrinos in an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life (though I would be remiss if I didn't point out the pitfalls of such a scheme).

In the Q&A session, some bastard in the audience asked about the location of the Ice Cube lab- why Antarctica? Did this have something to due with the configuration of the earth's magnetic field? Dr Jayawardhana indicated that ice can sometimes capture neutrinos, and that the depth of the ice and the resultant pressure removes air bubbles which can affect detection. Bubble free ice is needed for best results.

Once again, the Secret Science Club dished up a fantastic lecture, and Dr Jayawardhana is a very engaging, charismatic fellow. I was able to talk with him briefly after the lecture and he is a nice, nice guy. Hopefully, he will return to Brooklyn to talk about the search for extrasolar planets, which is his main field of inquiry.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bag's Back!

Yesterday, my luggage finally made it back to Casa Di Bastardo in the City of Y______ after its trans-Atlantic flight. Even the simple process of shipping my luggage was a bit complicated... my phone charger was in my bag, so my phone was basically a paperweight. To compound matters, my seven year-old Motorola cell phone (it was one of those industrial models, and could have been used to drive nails when it was in its prime) went tits up. Ironically, I was contemplating the new iPhone that the department had received on the job, thinking that it was kinda fragile looking, when I knocked my phone to the floor, which separated the display from the body of the phone. I hope that I can still download the pictures I took in Europe when I plug the phone into a USB port in my laptop.

At any rate, I had to stop by an AT&T store and secure a new phone, getting there as soon as the customer service rep opened up for the day. He initiated the transaction by asking me what my phone number was, and punching it into his computer system. When he saw the date on which I had purchased my phone, he began to laugh. He asked me if I had the phone on my person (probably just to see such a relic, maybe place it on a stone altar), but I did not. After some discussion of various contracts, I settled on (you got it) an iPhone... it was comparable in price to the Samsung Galaxy I was looking at and quite a bit smaller. Yeah, me with an iPhone- does this make me a hipster? I immediately bought a protective case for it, but will probably upgrade to a stouter "Otter Box" and bequeath the old case to the job.

I finally got home from my midnight shift after noon, and began to catch up on phone calls. I responded to a message from a gentleman who had called about my baggage, but it was the guy's day off- SORRY MAN! I then went to sleep and was awakened by the ring of an unfamiliar phone- mine. Another gentleman was calling to tell me that he had my bag and was ringing my doorbell. I informed him that he was probably ringing my neighbor's doorbell and told him that I'd meet him in twenty seconds. He was a really nice guy, with a cheerful demeanor, and he had my beautiful bag, with my beautiful bottle of grappa lying intact, wrapped in several T-shirts and stuffed into a plastic bag which was wrapped in a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of pants. Needless to say, I am one happy bastard, having that beautiful bottle of booze sitting safely on the shelf. There's just one lingering element of unease in my mind... am I now a hipster?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bastard's Back! Subtitle: Tales of Bald Ulysses

Hi, everybody! I returned to my native soil last night after an arduous, circuitous flight home from Zurich. I left my brother's abode at approximately 7AM on December 6th. I arrived in the Zurich Flughafen after a short train ride, and checked in with no fanfare.

My problems began when I was sitting in the plane on the tarmac- due to weather conditions in Berlin, the flight was delayed for almost an hour. This was enough to cause me to miss my connecting flight to JFK by twenty-two minutes. Berlin being gripped in a heavy snowfall, a number of flights were cancelled or delayed... a delay would have been a boon to me! I had to wait in line for two hours before I spoke to an Airberlin customer service rep. He took one look at my itinerary and said, "I see your plane landed twenty-two minutes after boarding ceased. That's not nice!" While he offered me a hotel stay in Berlin, I was adamant about needing to get my ass to New York. He was able to put me on a British Airways flight to Heathrow, where I would transfer to an American Airlines flight to JFK. I feel bad about not getting the customer service rep's name, he really went out of his way to unfuck a clusterfuck. If any Airberlin public relations or marketing reps ever read this, give the tall slender guy with the medium-short dark hair who works in the Berlin airport a raise- he was really great about handling this difficult situation.

My scheduled arrival at JFK would be shifted from a nice 3PM to a less felicitous 11PM. Gahhh!!! A nice young fellow from Vienna was in the exact same situation as I was in, so we immediately clicked as fellow "Airberlin orphans".

When I got to Heathrow, I was singled out for extra security scrutiny, probably due to my bizarre itinerary. I bombarded the poor security agent who had to take my information with an extremely detailed account of my travel travails. "The flight to Heathrow was solely due to the efforts of Airberlin's agent in the Berlin airport. My intended itinerary was much simpler." I also received a patdown from a security agent who made me look like a junior petite. Everyone was very polite, and I have to say that this scrutiny was much preferable to ending up as a smear somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. Yeah, I'm not complaining.

The flight from Heathrow to JFK was in an oddly empty plane. I was offered a change of seat, but declined, because my fellow "Airberlin orphan" ended up in the same row, and we both hit it off with a young woman who was returning to New York from a conference in London. There's nothing like adversity to give you a sense of camaraderie.

The plane touched down at JFK at about 11PM, so I was able to breeze through immigration and customs. My Austrian friend got a grilling like I had at Heathrow, due to the complicated itinerary that eventually landed him in JFK. Needless to say, our luggage did not arrive with us, so we had to head over to the luggage office. Again, I have to comment that the baggage agent, a young woman, was extremely pleasant and professional. While I typically don't travel with anything I would miss, my phone charger and a really nice bottle of grappa are in that bag, which should be shipped to my house.

Getting home from JFK to the City of Y______ was time-consuming but easy- the JFK Airtrain takes one to the "E" train, which unfortunately doesn't run express at the time I was traveling. I had to transfer to the uptown "4" train to the Bronx. When I disembarked from the train, I did something I almost never do- I **gasp** took a cab home from the Woodlawn station. As anyone who knows me well will attest, this is a "less than once a year" occurrence. I finally got home at about a quarter to two in the morning. Oof!

So... that's my Odyssey, tales of Bald Ulysses indeed! Hey, that reminds me of the one Cream song that I consistently enjoy:

I figure I'll be writing posts about my vacation over the coming week. I didn't anticipate that the flight home would be enough fodder for a post.

UPDATE: All things considered, having read the news, I have to say that I am one lucky bastard.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Happy Birthday, Sweetums!

This year, I am fortunate to be able to celebrate my older brother Sweetums' birthday. Tonight is my last night in Europe, and a family celebration is the perfect way to cap off a European trip which has encompassed Thanksgiving and two birthdays. The trip has also encompassed two of the ancestral homelands of the family... it's been all about roots and relatives. Happy birthday, Sweetums, and thanks for the hospitality!

Tomorrow, Sweetums and I will head out, he to the office and I to the airport. I have a flight to JFK leaving in the ten o'clock hour. It's been a lovely time in the Old World, but reality will soon be hitting home.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Have Swimsuit, Will Travel

I make it a point never to travel without packing a swimsuit. As I have noted before, I could travel to the interior of Antarctica in the middle of the austral winter, and I'd still pack a swimsuit. Swimsuits don't take up too much space, and one never knows when one will be confronted with a body of water in which one can swim.

The last time I was in Switzerland, Sweetums and I jumped off the Wasserwerkstrasserücke into the lovely Limmat on a warm May day. The water in the river was still very cold, cold enough to "burn". I don't anticipate any impromptu dives off a bridge in December, but there is always the opportunity to check out some hot springs.

I don't often offer unsolicited advice, but seriously, folks, if you're going to travel, you must pack a swimsuit. Chances are, you'll use it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fourth Blogiversary

Wow, I started this blog four years ago, putting up a perfunctory introductory post on a quiet day on the job. I have traditionally written blogiversary posts, thanking my readers and commentariat.

This blogiversary post was composed back in November, before I flew out to Europe to visit two of my brothers. Compared to most blogiversary posts, it's pretty perfunctory. Suffice it to say, I wish to thank everybody for all of their friendship and support over the years.