Kindness of Strangers

Schools Or strange kindness? Perhaps both.

Living on a farm has its upsides and downsides. One of the downsides is a harvest crew firing up at 2:30 in the morning. Which happened last night. I groggily awoke to the sound of backup beeping and engines revving up their rpms. Put on jeans and boots, jacket, went outside and grumpily surveyed a a crew prepping trailers and tractors for a romaine field.

Despite the positive effect on my character (theoretically), I don’t enjoy waking up at odd hours of the night. I couldn’t get mad at the crew. They’re just doing what they’re told. The backup beeping was from a forklift loading empty crates on the trailers. The tractors were warming their engines and arranging various trailers into position. Three hours more to go before the actual harvesters arrived, but there’s always a lot of prep that has to be done first.

Aargh.

Another downside of living out in the fields, in the larger context of a law-disdaining state such as California, is dumping. Strangers will often pull over and kindly dump their garbage on the side of the road. Sometimes they’ll drive deeper into a ranch and deposit a whole pile of bags, appliances, old tires, you name it. Parents, schools, entertainment mind-molders, etc do not teach private property these days.

Free, to a good home

Anyway, here are some nice box springs that someone generously donated to the ranch next to my house a few days ago. Feel free to stop by and get them if you need a moldy box spring for your bed.

The noisy harvest crew is an unavoidable part of living on a farm. This place is like a big, open-air factory. It just is what it is. Nothing bad about it–just peskalicious. However, dumping garbage on other people’s property is different. That hobby is a very small stone in the mosaic called “The Center Cannot Hold.” Yeats describes the process much more eloquently, but I think a lot of people are getting suspicious about that these days.

Covid Survey David Bowie Style

NO, I AM NOT DAVID BOWIE

Whilst perusing the boundless, skunk-infested garbage dump that is the internet, gas mask firmly strapped on and idly recollecting David Bowie’s career, I encountered a page urging me to participate in a covid survey. Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University. Aside: I have never had the pleasure of purchasing a carnegie melon at the grocery store, but I imagine they’re delicious.

POSSESSED BY THE MODERN SPIRIT

Yes, I clicked on the survey. And, in the modern spirit of being all that you can be, self-identifying, grooving with your internal flow, floating on the subjective breeze of self, I decided to live my life out as a person of Finnish-Urdu extraction, housed with a large extended family of nine in a yurt. Unemployed, but possessing a doctorate in environmental studies, and the beneficiary of considerable monies from the public pocket of Uncle Sam. Also, I identified as being vaccinated four times, boosted twice, and currently suffering from more medical problems than the collective patient population of Mayo Clinic Rochester.

Needless to say, this made the survey much more enjoyable. I do appreciate sharing intimate medical issues with anonymous grad students from Carnegie Mellon. Doubtless, some might take umbrage with me and point out that I’ve skewed the statistics. The statistics? That, somewhere, are part and parcel of our national health defense?

BALDERDASH

The American health statistics, numbers, data, and whatnot available for covid-related matters are paltry and hopscotch. They’re laughable. Particularly in comparison to other countries. You can find rather comprehensive data sets from places like the UK, various Scandinavian countries, Israel, etc.

If you’re skeptical of that, do some research.

GUILTY?

So, no, I don’t feel guilty. After all, I write fantasy. I could’ve claimed I was an elf. Though I imagine there are plenty of people these days claiming such a reality in all earnestness. Blue-haired elves, possessed of many cats.

One of the more intriguing parts of the survey was toward the end. Several questions about whether I thought the pandemic was being secretly orchestrated by a small group of individuals (screenshots included here). What an intriguing question. It made me recollect the scene from So I Married An Axe Murderer. You know, the one where Mike and others are discussing the secret society that the Queen and Colonel Sanders belong to.

This is the stuff that prompts story-writing, furtive conversations and, ultimately, throwing chests of tea in the harbor. I have always disliked tea.

 

Air and Space Museum

The main Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC is closed for renovations these days. However, their sister museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center next to Dulles Airport, is open. And what a fantastic place it is.

Recently, the family (complete with Super Kids and even Superer Wife) were out in Virginia for a wedding and some sight-seeing (historical, mostly). We went to a great many museums (tax money well-spent, in my estimation). You can’t drive half a mile in Virginia without seeing some sort of historical and/or museum site. Appomatox Courthouse. Monticello. James Madison’s House. Bull Run. The Museum of This. The Museum of That. Upon This Ye Olde Spot Patrick Henry Did Converse With Several Farmers and One Ye Olde Cow.

Etc etc.

Virginia is an amazing place. Plus, coming from California, it is even more amazinger, because: green (not the ideology–I mean trees everywhere), no homeless people (other than wandering around DC, though, some of them might’ve been Congressional staffers after a late night bender), and no trash anywhere. California is cornering the world’s market on outdoor trash.

Back to the Hazy Center (Steve Hazy, by the way, is the CEO of the Air Lease Corporation, a billionaire, and, I imagine, quite a large donor to the Smithsonian). If you have any interest in planes and helicopters of any kind, this is the place for you. It contains the Enola Gay, the Discovery Challenger, a Blackbird, and many, many other fascinating examples of Man’s ingenuity. The place is huge. Free (tax money at work, which means it isn’t free). I could’ve happily wandered around in there for half a day.

One of the interesting things about the flying machines displayed is that they all had their provenance spelled out. Such as: “This F-100D entered service in 1957 and flew 6, 159 hours over a 21-year career. It served during the Cuban Missile Crisis, was later stationed in Japan, and moved to Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam in 1965. Ground fire hit the plane several times during its years in Vietnam. The aircraft is displayed as it appeared during the heaviest fighting of the Tet Offensive of 1968, when it flew for the 90th Tactical Fighter Squadron…”

And so on.

I was particularly fascinated by a series of prototype helicopters invented by one Stanley Hiller, who apparently started his mind-staggering career at 15 years old, when he invented the world’s first, successful coaxial helicopter. I’ve included photos of three of his machines. He did a lot of work for the military (go where the money is, I suppose). The yellow Hiller Copter pictured here  he built while he was at Stanford, at the ripe old age of 19 (suddenly, I feel like a non-achiever). Called the XH-44, it was the first helicopter invented to use all-metal blades. He tested the XH-44 with amphibious floats in his parents’ swimming pool.

One of his odder inventions is the Flying Platform. He built this for the Army in the 1950s, but they never went to mass production with it. Apparently, a non-pilot could fly this thing by simply leaning in the direction he wanted to go. Top speed of 16 mph.

Another bizarre Hiller-machine was Rotorcycle. Hiller built that one for the Marine Corps in the 50s. They wanted a single-person, collapsible helicopter for Spec Ops missions or for dropping to pilots trapped behind enemy lines. Even though the Rotorcycle was a success, the Corps did not bring it to production due to slow speed (52 mph), vulnerability to small arms fire, and the fact that pilots could get spatially disoriented in it if they flew too high above the ground.

Interestingly enough, driving back from San Francisco Airport, I noticed a Hiller Museum off the 101 in San Carlos, near Palo Alto. Never noticed that sign before. Anyway, this Hiller fellow must’ve had quite a brain! It’s encouraging and inspiring to see creativity like that at work.

Creativity is creativity, whether it powers your drawing, your writing, or your helicopter-inventing. Unusual thing, isn’t it?

Backyard Tractors

The backyard on a ranch can look a bit different than other backyards. Such as your backyard in Georgetown, downtown Chicago, Manhattan (may I never live in Manhattan), or Santa Monica. May I never live in any of those places. If there are a high number of tractors in the surrounding fifty square miles, then I will probably be good.

Here’s what is currently living in my backyard. Tractors. Pretty big ones. Not that big by Midwest commodity standards, but big enough for coastal California farming. My boys are pleased, that’s for certain. These New Hollands are pretty cool. They also come in a double-tire version which is great if you need to roll over a large battalion of gophers at one time.

In epic fantasy terms, these tractors are the equivalent of ogres, large trolls, small dragons, or even mid-sized giants.

Gotta love these track Cases. They’re cooler than the Challengers that Caterpillar makes, but people around here tend to use Challengers more.

Night Thoughts

Odd thoughts at night are inevitable, particularly when you rarely sleep well. However, the rareness was exacerbated even further the other night by a harvest prep crew working on their machines. At 3am. On the other side of the fence from our backyard. With great enthusiasm, gusto, dedication, perspicacity, however you want to describe it. Combined with a lack of focus on how much noise they might be making in close proximity to a sleeping house.

I popped outside and had a few terse words with the crew. They initially expressed confusion and doubt as to the gravity of the situation, but then began to grasp my seriousness. After a few back-and-forths, due to the language barrier, they drove the rig deeper into the ranch. As you can see from the photo, the rig was also festooned with lights, not unlike a large Christmas tree that has fallen over but still remains plugged into the wall socket.

Regaining sleep after such an event, is usually unachievable. Therefore, the odd thoughts. In no particular order: asteroid mining, devising a plot for a book (a lighthearted, comedic version of Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, with an emphasis on lighthearted), whether or not fats are as unhealthy as “they” say they are, cats vs gopher snakes as antidote to gopher infestations, the nature of time if dimensions exist beyond our four dimensions (time becomes very negotiable at that point, doesn’t it?), and whether my kids should start learning Mandarin.

I also spent some time musing over my latest music album (about to go live on all the various streamers): Love in the Time of Pandemica. I used a loop on one of the songs without realizing that certain loops have different kinds of rights associated with them: personal, performance, sales, etc. At any rate, I used the wrong kind of loop and had to pull the one song. Which means a nine song album instead of a ten song album.

I’ll post the song here when I get a chance. Can’t sell it, but I can post it for free.

The topic of intellectual property is an interesting one. I have friends on both sides of the aisle. Everything in the public domain versus rights reserved for a definite amount of time versus rights reserved indefinitely (Leonard da Vinci, contact your heirs). Automatic public domain is a bridge too far for me. After all, what’s the difference between a loaf of bread and a song or a story? Not much.