Arid Adventure, Part 1: Salt Lake City Metro

TRIP DATES: June 7-9, 2018 | Slideshow | Photo Album

Giving up a lifetime of summer breaks was part of the package when I became a 12-month school district administrator. But Wendy is still a classroom teacher with summer breaks, so when I mapped out my use of my limited vacation days beginning in July 2017, I made sure to save back enough for a 9-day June vacation for the two of us. In July 2017 we had driven out to the Grand Canyon in Arizona with friends, and Wendy had wanted to visit a slot canyon at the north edge of the state. But our itinerary that year could not accommodate that addition.

So when she again mentioned wanting to see a slot canyon in northern Arizona, following that up by sharing with me online photos of beautiful scenery in southern Utah, I formed a plan. Neither of us had spent any time in Utah, so we would fly out to Salt Lake City and loop our way south to Escalante, lowering the lasso enough to later reach Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon before heading back up and over to Moab as our last stop before returning to Salt Lake to fly home.

Flight & Rental Car

Having only nine days for our tour meant we would need to fly, rather than drive, to Utah. We flew from Tulsa to Salt Lake City in First Class on a Delta Bombardier CRJ-700. The trip was uneventful, although both of us got put through a millimeter-wave body scanner¬†at the Tulsa airport, and Wendy had one leg patted down. I snuck a glance at it on occasion for the rest of our trip, just to be on the safe side. ūüėČ

When I rented a car for our honeymoon a couple of years back, Hertz had failed to honor my prearranged discount. So for our long drives through Utah I was determined to work with a different rental company. I ended up with a good deal from Thrifty, which they fully honored.

We did have a long wait at the rental car counter at the Salt Lake City airport on a Thursday night. We were fourth in line with only one agent, and the couple just ahead of us, who took turns chasing down their wandering toddler, kept having their credit card declined. We didn’t run into that trouble, although that prompted me to file a travel alert¬† with my bank, something Wendy had already done for her own card.

Our Ford Fusion Hybrid rental car

Overall, it took over a half hour for us to finally secure a¬†Ford Fusion Hybrid. I’d never driven a gas-electric hybrid vehicle, so it took me awhile to become accustomed to our second-generation Ford Fusion. I loved its 45+ miles per gallon efficiency, but the large battery reduced the trunk space so much that our largest piece of luggage had to be transported in the back seat. The car was also more sluggish than what I am accustomed to, meaning I had to be cautious about passing other cars on two-lane highways. I did enjoy its coaching on my acceleration and use of the car’s regenerative braking, which helped me increase its efficiency.

Salt Lake City

Years back I read Jon Krakauer’s well-written¬†Under the Banner of Heaven: The Story of a Violent Faith, which told early stories of the Latter Day Saints¬†and their Mormon theology. So I knew about Brigham Young leading the largest sect westward to settle at the Great Salt Lake. I presume many of the folks we met throughout Utah were Mormons, given they comprise 63% of the state’s population. Wendy and I were both struck by how most of the tourists we saw were Asian, followed by a formidable showing of Germans, with a few Australians and Brits in the mix.

Salt Lake City Terrain MapSalt Lake City appears to sit in a bowl with the Wasatch Range to the east and north and Oquirrh Mountains to the west. When I first saw the latter name on a terrain model at the Utah Museum of Natural History, I had no idea how to pronounce it. Only later did I find out you say it as you would “oaker”.

Our coolest weather of the trip was in the city, with us staying at a Holiday Inn Express near Temple Square downtown. Around us were many hipster bars, something that surprised me, given the Mormon prohibition on alcohol. Some research, however, revealed that¬†only half of the city’s residents are members of that faith.

An uncomfortable chaise longue

I did not care for most of the hotel’s decor. It was mid-century modern revival, with an uncomfortable low-back couch and hard chaise longue¬†(that’s the French spelling). Our suite was spacious, but the large kitchen area had a dozen or more empty cabinets, and the living room needed a coffee table. Wendy compensated with our usual travel trick of turning an adjustable ironing board into a narrow low table.

Wendy, however, admired the gray and orange color combination in the seat backs of the hotel breakfast area, which was spacious and had a separate food area offering hot items such as crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, mini omelets, and good cinnamon rolls.

Downtown & Temple Square

We set off the first morning to walk the few blocks over to the 10-acre Temple Square. We passed a passel of signs out in front of the convention center. They were an art installation called Point of View designed by¬†Maine artist Aaron T. Stephan. Wendy and I both were prompted to think of Signs¬†by Five Man Electrical Band. The “You are here” element when you face the installation head on is a nice added touch.

Point of View by Aaron T. Stephan

The Temple Square is surrounded by a 15-foot high wall. Within the grounds is the imposing 222-foot high quartz monzonite temple, built from 1853-1893, as noted by a large panel on its eastern face. We could not venture inside, something reserved for Mormons who are baptized and receive a temple recommend after multiple interviews. A 12-foot tall golden statue of the Angel Moroni adorns the tallest spire. The entire Temple Square features well-tended flowerbeds and plantings.

Salt Lake City Temple

We viewed the temple from the south and northeast, as well as facing head-on toward its eastern façade.

Beehive House

Nearby we went around Brigham Young’s Lion House¬†of 1856, with its 20 gabled bedrooms for some of his plural wives and their children. It is adjacent to the Beehive House, his 1854 home, named after the sculpture which adorns its top. Utah’s nickname is the Beehive State;¬†Young called the territory he and his fellow Mormon pioneer settled Deseret, which the¬†Book of Mormon¬†says was an ancient word for honeybee.¬† In 1881 the Deseret News explained,¬†“The hive and honey bees form our communal coat of arms‚Ķ. It is a significant representation of the industry, harmony, order and frugality of the people, and of the sweet results of their toil, union and intelligent cooperation.”

Eagle Gate

While Young’s dreams of a State of Deseret did not come to pass, the Compromise of 1850 brought Utah territory, which became a state in 1896 after a ban on polygamy was adopted by the church in 1890, with the prohibition incorporated into the state constitution.

At the Eagle Gate next to the Beehive House we turned back to return to our hotel. I will confess I dislike the 1960s mid-century modern version of the gate, even more than the hotel’s decor. I realize the historic versions of the gate were made obsolete by street widening, but their more conventional pillars seem far less threatening than the current arachnoid creation. More to my liking was part of Dennis Smith’s¬†Counterpoint¬†bronze figure set, with a mother twirling her daughter about in the air.

University Hill

Pi in The Pie’s underground location

We later drove due east to what I thought of as University Hill, where the University of Utah is draped across the lowest slopes of Mount Van Cott. We ate lunch at The Pie Pizzeria‘s underground location, where legions of university students had scribbled their graffiti across every wall.

Nearby was the Natural History Museum of Utah, filled with skeletons of dinosaurs and other ancient life, along with many quite lively young humans. It was fun to see workers picking away at fossils, including the skull and lower jaw of a Teratophoneus curriei.

Picking away

Wendy loved the wall displays of gems and minerals. I enjoyed the panorama from the upper deck of the museum.

Wasatch Range from the Natural History Museum’s roof

Seer Bonnet

We also ventured to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Angela Ellsworth’s Seer Bonnet made me uncomfortable with its thousands of pearl-tipped steel corsage pins creating a beautiful exterior but sharp and dangerous interior. In Ellsworth’s reimagined history, Joseph Smith received prophetic powers via a seer stone¬†while his multiple wives received their own visionary and revelatory powers from their seer bonnets. When I was a little boy my tiny maternal grandmother, who had a hardscrabble garden in Paoli, Oklahoma, used to have me wear a bonnet while I hoed weeds. I am most grateful she did not have me wear a seer bonnet!

Gilgal Garden

A bizarre stop the morning we left town to head south to Escalante was the Gilgal Garden. From 1947 to 1963, Thomas Battersby Child, Jr. filled his backyard with 12 bizarre sculptures and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and literary texts. Child was a masonry contractor and a Bishop of a Salt Lake ward of the Latter-Day Saints. In the Bible, Gilgal was the camp where Joshua ordered the Israelites to place twelve stones, one for each tribe, as a memorial after they crossed the Jordan River.

Child identified large stones which he had transported to his garden to be sculpted, adapting an oxyacetylene torch normally used for welding into a tool for reshaping stone. He hired artist Maurice Edmunds Brooks to assist with the project, fashioning a sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith, an offputting shrine to Child’s wife Bertha, and other tableau, including a full-size standing sculpture of Child himself with symbols of his ward and his trade, including brick pants.

Thomas Battersby Child, Jr.

“Priesthood” includes a rock arch formation with a keystone with letters Alpha and Omega on it, which are symbolic of Christ’s words: I am the beginning and the end. The granite boulders are for recorded messengers who helped restore the Gospel to the earth, such as Peter, James, John, Elijah and Moses. Cast books include The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.

A cave featured two human hearts, one red to symbolize life and the other white for death, with two hands descending like stalactites. This symbolizes the baptism of the dead, one of the more controversial practices of the church, which is why it invests heavily in genealogical research and records.

Daniel II

A hillside with giant dismembered body parts¬†called “Daniel II” depicts King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a large giant emerging from a mountain, topped by a boulder, which comes down to destroy him. It symbolizes the end of al`l man made kingdoms.

The engraved figure of a man holding an unsheathed sword, with a huge boulder in place of his head, is part of the Gilgal tableau. That could be symbolic of the Gibeath Haaraloth (Givat Ha’aralot): the hill of foreskins where all of the Israelites born during the Exodus were circumcised. Enough said, eh?

The most striking sculpture to me was an old man’s head on the ground near a huge grasshopper, with a nearby well missing its wheel and a broken pitcher. The symbolism is from Ecclesiastes 12:5¬†and 12:6.

Ecclesiastes 12:5 and 12:6

Child recognized that his art was eccentric, stating, “You don’t have to agree with me. You may think I am a nut, but I hope I have aroused your thinking and curiosity.” He certainly succeeded, with me pondering his works 55 years after his demise.

Next door a large condominium complex was under construction on the sites of former residences. The Gilgal Garden was threatened with the same fate in 2000, only spared from development by a $679,000 investment by the county and various donors. Volunteers and nonprofits have rejuvenated the property, repairing vandalized pieces and planting the garden with many beautiful roses and other plants.

Wendy was delighted with the rose beds and how the gardeners had labeled the various hybrid teas on display.

Wendy and the roses at Gilgal Garden

Provo

Salt Lake City is part of the Wasatch Front, a long metropolitan area stretched out along the western side of the Wasatch Range of mountains where 85% of the population of Utah resides. South of there is Provo, known to me as the home of Brigham Young University (BYU) and the birthplace of the WordPerfect software I relied on for over 30 years. I first learned to use WordPerfect at the University of Oklahoma in 1985 and always found it superior to Microsoft Word. While I no longer use WordPerfect itself, I still regularly use the vector drawing portion of the Corel Presentations software which was born from it.

Over the decades I had many superb students who were Mormons. They often chose to receive their higher education at BYU. So I thought it would be interesting to finally glimpse its campus. Our journey south to Escalante included zooming down the massive Interstate 15 past Provo, so we turned off there to visit the art museum on the campus.

I liked the directive at the campus entrance: “Enter to learn; go forth to serve“. The nearby art museum¬†had a striking piece, Gabriel Dawe‚Äôs¬†Plexus no. 29, consisting of almost 80 miles of colored filament¬†threaded between the Museum‚Äôs mezzanine walls and oculus. I presume the symbolism of the flood¬†would occur to many believers, although I found the display somewhat incongruous given the modern association of the rainbow with the gay pride movement¬†and the Latter-Day Saints’ condemnation of homosexual behavior. Wendy’s shot showing one of Robert Indiana’s¬†Love sculptures under the rainbow only reinforces my bemusement.

I was hoping to see what was described by previous tourists as a nice Escher exhibit, but that was closed. Wendy and I were more than adequately compensated, however, by the inventive, funny, and varied works by Nina Katchadourian on display.

Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style

Her Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style were quite hilarious. Beginning in 2010, Nina started taking photographs and shooting videos in airplane lavatories, with tissue paper toilet covers and the like adorning her head in the style of 15th-century Flemish portraiture. We could put on headphones and watch her lip-syncing to various songs by groups one definitely does not associate with 15th-century Flemish art.

Songs of the Island: Concrete Music from New York

I liked her Songs of the Island: Concrete Music from New York, in which she collected bits of discarded unraveled cassette tapes found in the gutters of the Big Apple, cleaned them up, and spliced them together into a mix tape that is both a wall art installation that shows where she found them and an audio experience in which you can hear the bits of reggae, salsa, Indian pop, punk, rhythm and blues, country-rock, old-school rap, metal, and Vietnamese music she found on them.

The Genealogy of the Supermarket

Her delightful The Geneaology of the Supermarket was a huge wall covered by a family tree of fictitious and fanciful relations among various grocery advertising characters. She adds local images to each installation of this piece, so it is alive and growing. Wendy and I guffawed at discovering how Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima were siblings, the Green Giant and the Land o’ Lakes Butter Maiden were married and the parents of the Argo Corn Starch maiden, and Mr. Clean and the Brawny paper towel guy got married and adopted the Gerber Baby and the Sunbeam Bread girl. Clearly the Mormons at BYU do have a healthy sense of humor.

Did you know that the Green Giant and Land o’ Lakes Butter Maiden were the parents of the Argo Corn Starch maiden?

At the museum I also admired the far more traditional, and quite beautiful,¬†Le Premier Chagrin¬†(The First Grief) by Daniel Ridgway Knight. This lovely painting of two French peasant girls was crafted in 1892. Wendy was kind enough to locate a print of it in the art museum’s gift shop for me. It now adorns a wall in my man cave at Meador Manor, across from Tamara de Lempicka’s¬†Portrait d’Ira Perot.¬†The digital version below does not do it justice, but provides a facsimile of its touching beauty.

Le Premier Chagrin by Daniel Ridgway Knight

Eager for lunch, we asked girls working at the museum for a recommendation. That led us to CHOM burgers, where the food was quite tasty even if owner Colton Soelberg admits that “Chom” itself has no meaning at all.

That concluded our adventures in the metro area, with us heading south for the scenery of the tip of Capitol Reef National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which we will share in the next post about our Arid Adventures in Utah and Arizona.

Slideshow | Photo Album
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Forgotten verses

June 22, 2018

In one of those dreams that returns from time to time, I wander through what is purportedly my house, discovering levels and wings that I either had forgotten about or long neglected. It is somewhat disappointing to awaken and realize there are no forgotten rooms to be remembered or revisited.

Some songs offer a similar, but quite real aspect. Consider these lyrics:

She said, ‘I’m home on shore leave,’
though in truth we were at sea
so I took her by the looking glass
and forced her to agree
saying, ‘You must be the mermaid
who took Neptune for a ride.’
But she smiled at me so sadly
that my anger straightway died.

Sound familiar? Can you identify the rhythm in those lines? How about this:

If music be the food of love
then laughter is its queen
and likewise if behind is in front
then dirt in truth is clean
My mouth by then like cardboard
seemed to slip straight through my head
So we crash-dived straightway quickly
and attacked the ocean bed.

Still nothing? Then let me throw in the chorus that falls between those verses:

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale

Yes, those are the third and fourth verses of Procol Harum’s¬†Whiter Shade of Pale that were not part of the official recording yet vibrate the air at some of their live performances.

I am interested in how one can, as the above video does, use the entirety of the song to form a somewhat more coherent narrative than with its popular truncated version. However, I still regard the song’s nautical references more as metaphors about a negotiation that ends in a sexual act than being about a man and woman on a ship.

Let’s look at some more forgotten verses, which you have a much better chance of recognizing:

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

The flag that flew over Fort Sumter

Of course that is about the flag above Fort Sumter, for that is the second verse of our national anthem, with two more to boot which most of us would struggle to recite, let alone sing to the old drinking song Anacreon in Heaven.

This sort of thing reminds me of church hymnals with their plenitude of forgotten verses. As a youth, I was always intrigued when Charles Mohr, the choir director at Western Oaks Christian Church in far west Oklahoma City, would have the congregation sing some of the forgotten verses of popular hymns.

Just as I Am from 1835 has seven verses, but how many times have all seven been sung? Alan Jackson selected verses 1, 3, 4, and 5 for his rendition, as did Tennesee Ernie Ford.

Just as I am – without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though toss’d about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove
Here for a season, then above,
-O Lamb of God, I come

That seventh verse is often omitted, as the first six appeared as a poem in 1835 and the seventh came a year later, but from the same author, Charlotte Eliot.

And, of course, like¬†The Star-Spangled Banner,¬†a poem can be set to alternate tunes. If you know the hymn as popularized as Billy Graham’s altar call, you probably know the Woodworth version. But here’s the alternate Saffron Waldon version:

Let’s shift back to something secular, although this one is now associated with a Christian holiday. Riddle me this:

Now the ground is white
Go it while you’re young,
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bob-tailed bay
Two-forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you’ll take the lead.

The middle lines of the verse rescued you, I trust. That is the fourth verse of Jingle Bells, although I reckon you might, like me, only truly know the first verse with perhaps a dim recollection of the occasional Fannie Bright enlivening the Christmas season.

But do you feel reality shift a bit when you discover that the song was intended for the Thanksgiving season, not Christmas? And please note how some of the words of the first verse have changed since its composition in 1857:

Dashing thro’ the snow,
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O’er the hills we go,
Laughing all the way;
Bells on bob tail ring,
Making spirits bright,
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.

Time has not even left the well-worn chorus fully intact:

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh! what joy it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

I notice that in many versions they don’t add the “Ha ha ha” I learned to insert after “laughing all the way”. I do find these variations fun…or should I say joyful?

We’ve seen a tune substitution, so let’s consider lyrical substitution as well. Consider this verse:

When you were lonely, you needed a man
Someone to lean on, well I understand
It’s only natural
But why did it have to be me?
Nights can be empty and nights can be cold
So you were looking for someone to hold
That’s only natural
But why did it have to be me?

A very few of you might recognize that is from ABBA’s¬†Why Did It Have to be Me?¬†on their¬†Arrival album, the album which more successfully featured their biggest hit in America,¬†Dancing Queen.¬†Here’s how the song goes for those unfamiliar with it:

Now I’m a big ABBA fan who bought all of their albums on vinyl back in the day. So imagine my surprise when I heard a rare B-side of theirs called¬†Happy Hawaii, which goes like this:

Early this morning I drove in the rain
Out to the airport to get on the plane
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii
Alice has been there, she said it was fun
Swimming and surfing, enjoying the sun
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii

After all I’ve had to go through
I’m making no plans (making no plans oh-ooh)
But I, but I believe love gives me a second chance

Guess I’ve been working a little too hard
Need a vacation, I’ll send you a card
From Honolulu, a greeting from happy Hawaii

It’s so exciting, why should I pretend
In a few hours the plane will descend
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii
I can imagine the beach and the sand
Walking with someone and holding his hand
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii

After all I’ve had to go through
I’m making no plans (making no plans oh-ooh)
But I, but I believe love gives me a second chance, mmm

I’ve got a feeling the dream will come true
Somebody’s waiting and I’ll forget you
Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii

Do you sense the similarity? It goes far beyond that:

Yes, they completely rewrote the lyrics during the song’s development and gave it a weird Fats Domino vibe for the released version on the album.

I started this post remarking on my dreams of lost rooms. But dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares. There is a forgotten verse of¬†Big Rock Candy Mountain or¬†Hobo’s Paradise¬†that, once you hear it, will change your understanding of the song.

Here’s the version as released:

But perhaps you grew up with the bowdlerized versions where the cigarette trees bore peppermints, the streams of alcohol transformed into lemonade, and there were no lakes of whisky, just soda water fountains? Burl Ives had ridden the rails, but he cleaned up the song considerably, although perhaps his tobacco-chewing pipe-smoking grandmother – who taught him scores of Scottish, Irish, and English folk ballads – led him to leave in the cigarette trees:

Now, those vices are not shocking. But there was a final verse that was understandably omitted. I warn you: don’t read on unless you are prepared for a rude awakening as to what the hobo in the song was about. Here’s the missing final verse Harry McClintock performed when busking with the song in the 1890s:

The punk rolled up his big blue eyes and said to the jocker, “Sandy
I’ve hiked and hitched and wandered too, but I ain’t seen any candy
I’ve hiked and hiked till my feet are sore, I’ll be god damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo’s whore on the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Oh, dear. Perhaps some forgotten rooms are best left unexplored. But don’t let the occasional odd turns stop you, for there is much delight to be found in the variations of verse and song.

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All Good Things…

June 22, 2018

All good things… was the series finale for Star Trek: The Next Generation

The title for this post comes from the final television episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ended its run in 1994 after seven years and 178 episodes. It was a great series finale, something the iconic original Star Trek series in the late 1960s never got in its three-year run of 79 episodes.

One’s mind fills in the rest of the title:¬†must come to an end.¬†We can trace the idiom back to Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem¬†Troilus and Criseyde¬†of the mid 1380s:

He song; she pleyde; he tolde tale of Wade.
But at the laste, as every thing hath ende,
She took hir leve, and nedes wolde wende.

And while all good things must come to an end, some good things have a very long life. Chaucer’s poem is still with us over six centuries later.¬†Other things have shorter, if still meaningful, lives.

18 years ago I decided to self-publish my Inquiry Physics: A Learning Cycle Curriculum, which was an elaborate refinement and extension of work done by others in the 1980s at the University of Oklahoma and Norman High School. I was initially prompted by requests from other physics teachers for my materials. Over the next 18 years I never advertised that work, relying solely on word-of-mouth and internet searches to drive any sales.

For a couple of years I sold the curriculum as a thick binder of papers with an optional CD-ROM disc. Then I simplified to just selling it on CD-ROMs for a dozen years, updating the curriculum seven times over the decades to incorporate corrections and additions. For the past five years it was a download-only product. Its most recent iteration had 19 units with 213 pages of teaching suggestions, 26 hands-on labs, 98 other student assignments, 175 pages of sample notes, and several multimedia presentations, all compressed into a 600 megabyte archive.

In 2008 I donated all of my net profits to that point, which was only $1,000, to the John Renner Science Education Center at OU, since Dr. Renner’s program under the stewardship of Dr. Ed Marek was where the original learning cycles came from. Coincidentally, that was when a six-year boom in sales began, peaking in 2014 with almost 100 sales and about $2,500 in revenue. That wasn’t my profit,¬†since in addition to website expenses, sales became large enough in the 2010s that¬†I had to file extra tax paperwork, obtain business licenses, and pay over 15% self-employment tax each year on the proceeds.

Inquiry Physics sales chart

I spent most of the profits of the final decade on purchasing website domains for the school district, school-related equipment and materials, and similar pro bono work. Sales declined after 2014, partly because I decided not to update the curriculum for the AP Physics 1 exam which debuted in 2015, only providing a correlation guide. My public retirement from teaching physics in 2017 likely precipitated a drastic decline in subsequent sales.

Since sales in the first half of 2018 have declined to 2009 levels, it is time for another good thing to end. I remain uninterested in updating the curriculum, and by ending sales now I can avoid dealing with self-employment taxes and paperwork next spring. Plus the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair sets the stage for cities and states to begin directly collecting sales taxes on internet sales rather than hoping consumers will pay¬†use taxes. It wouldn’t make sense for me to invest the time and effort in arranging for the collection and payment of those additional taxes on such meager proceeds.

But over the past 18 years I am surprised and pleased that, without any advertising, I was able to sell 578 copies of my curriculum to teachers in 48 of the 50 states and 14 foreign countries.¬†(The holdouts were North Dakota and Wyoming.) I know almost all of the sales were to teachers, as I verified purchasers’ online presence at school websites. So I can safely presume portions of my materials have been used to teach many more students than the 2,663 I was blessed to have in my own classes from 1989-2017. To help protect the integrity of the assignments for the teachers who still use them, I will not consider releasing the curriculum into the public domain until after I retire from education in 10-15 years.

This is not a tale of a small business destroyed by government taxes. It is the story of a cycle. Just as there is a learning cycle, there are cycles in a business and in a career. This marks the end of my physics cycle, but I’m only one year into a new one revolving around technology and communications.

Life is good, even though…

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Down the rabbit hole to find what came before

February 25, 2018

Granger MeadorFaithful readers of this blog will know that my largest focus over the years has been on day hikes and related photography. But I also offer healthy if less popular dollops of technology, some home repairs (which are my most longest-lived popular posts), music, a smattering of school-related politics, and occasional embedded history. The last topic is my focus here, prompted by the rabbit-hole of web-based exploration I fell into this weekend.

My interest in local history is no doubt somewhat influenced by my father’s love of the subject. He was born in Dewey, just north of Bartlesville, but spent his teens up in Independence, Kansas and eventually worked for Cities Service Gas in Oklahoma City for about 30 years, so I was born and raised in OKC. Dad is 93 at this writing, and both he and my mother are avid readers, so I was destined to become one too. I love to buy books for both of my parents, who have never embraced the Kindle e-readers like I have.

Dad loves to read history, and I remember how he created a large timeline going back thousands of years on the back of old gas pipeline blueprints. I also was influenced by the love of history that Edgar Weston, my first cousin once removed, had for the Bartlesville and Dewey area. (I’m no genealogist, so I always have to look up how we were related to get the terminology right. To be specific, Edgar was my paternal grandmother’s brother’s son.)

I still have my old History of Bartlesville and Washington County website¬†running at bartlesvillehistory.org, and one of my popular blog posts was my web research on the old micro-midget racetrack in Bartlesville. If you are interested in the subject, the Bartlesville Area History Museum has an exhibit on Bartlesville micro-midget racing program on display from February through June 2018. They are open Monday-Friday from 10-4 and admission is free, but donations are appreciated. I’m grateful for their sharing of history and curation of the fabulous Frank Griggs photo collection, so with my enhanced income as a new full-time school administrator I decided to send in this weekend a check to become a Patron in their Friends of the BAHM program.

Local newspaper columnist Rita Thurman Barnes has a fun Facebook group, currently called Once Upon a Time in Bartlesville, which shares remembrances and inquiries about things in Bartlesville that once were but are no more. Rita has to enforce some good rules to rein in some of the crankier participants and the nostalgia can get a bit thick, but I enjoy seeing and reading about what came before.

Hilltop Drive-In (photo from elmorovivo at Cinema Treasures)

This week some photos of the old Hilltop Drive-In theater off Nowata Road were posted in the group. I had never seen it, although I had long known where it was because it was shown on old USGS maps of Bartlesville, and I knew the¬†Examiner-Enterprise facility built in the 1990s was on the western half of the old drive-in’s lot. I suppose my interest was also perked because just a week earlier I had been sitting in a studio at the E-E, right about where the screen of the drive-in was once located,¬†sharing with the public about Chromebooks. That geophysical connection perked my interest, and a dive down the rabbit hole.

Earlier, in a comment on a post on the old Penn theater, Kyle Baker had shared a link to¬† Cinema Treasures, which documents current and past movie houses. So I used that site to see what the old Hilltop looked like and to learn that the screen tower was a pre-fab wooden construction that was erected in only five days. I’ve seen plenty of nostalgia about drive-ins in various movies over the years, but drive-ins were pass√© by the time I was driving age.

That could have been the end of that dive into history, but then someone now living out of town posted a photo of an old Ben Franklin five-and-dime store and Foodland grocery with the Hilltop Drive-In visible in the background. They asked if the Ben Franklin/Foodland building was still there. Folks speculated the Foodland was now Tumbleweeds Steakhouse and the Ben Franklin store was now a series of smaller stores, but were not certain if the building was actually the same.

The Ben Franklin & Foodland stores once west of the Hilltop Drive-In

I figured historic aerial photography could provide an answer. So I went web surfing and found a 1971 aerial photo showing the Hilltop Drive-In and the stores to the west. I paid a monthly subscription fee and an added photo fee to an online service to acquire a good shot to share with everyone. (The free aerial photo sources from the government are, as you might expect, quite diverse, somewhat awkward to use, and limited. As always, you get what you pay for in our capitalist society, and I was willing to pony up for a good shot.)

The Hilltop Drive-In back in 1971, with the Foodland and Ben Franklin buildings to the west

When I compared that to a modern-day aerial shot, I could confirm that the buildings are probably the same. When I moved to Bartlesville in 1989, they were the big and dusty Walls clearance store. Later it was subdivided and the front façade on the north was thoroughly remodeled.

The same area today

I shared those photos in my comments on the post over on Facebook, and included a street view of the buildings, as they look now, for the out-of-towner.

The Foodland and Ben Franklin buildings today

So a tiny tidbit of local history was explored a bit more. But now I had paid for a month’s access to watermarked 1971 aerial photos, with an added fee to get individual shots I could actually share. No use letting that subscription go to waste, right?

So I looked up the quarter-acre that Meador Manor was built on back in 1981. I wanted to see how the area looked in 1971.

Our quarter-acre lot was at the northern end of a field back in 1971

Well, it was a bit of the north end of a field. Wendy and I live in the sixth addition to Arrowhead Acres, and I was surprised to find that the original loop that was the start of the development was already complete by 1971. It was also fun to see how much smaller Tri County Tech, which is just east of Arrowhead Acres, was back then.

The same area in 2018

Next I targeted the house I lived in back in Oklahoma City from 6th-12th grade. I knew that the Windsor Hills neighborhood had developed in the 1960s on what had been a golf course. The aerial imagery for OKC I could access went back farther than it did for Bartlesville, so I was able to figure out that the house sits on the eastern half of what was once the fairway to the northwesternmost hole of the course.

The golf course that became Windsor Hills in OKC

Floyd Farley designed many golf courses around OKC

On down the rabbit hole I went. I searched for golf course references in OKC and figured out that was the Meridian Golf Club, which golf pro Floyd Farley had designed as his first golf course back in 1941. He built the course on land he leased from the Classen Fruit Farm. (You can see the remains of what Dad recalls as a pear orchard on the western edge of the course.) Of the course he said, “Everybody liked it; it was a natural. I hardly moved any dirt to build it, and the bulldozer bill was only $2,000. It was just a natural piece of ground, but everybody liked it so well and thought I was responsible for it that people started hiring me to build them a golf course. So that’s how I got started.”

Farley was drafted into army during World War II. After his discharge he returned to golf, turning from being a golf pro to designing courses full-time. He subleased the Meridian course, which he owned until 1961 and it became the Windsor Hills neighborhood. Floyd Farley passed away in 2005, having designed over 40 golf courses over six decades, with almost 20 of them in the Oklahoma City area.

OKC developer Anton Classen

Hmmm…the¬†Classen Fruit Farm? That led me even farther down this historical rabbit hole. Surely that was a reference to Anton H. Classen, the land speculator who bought up farmland around Oklahoma City in its early days and developed many housing projects, whose name lives on in the form of Classen Boulevard and Northwest Classen High School.

I knew that Classen had built up streetcar lines to help his developments, and that one line had extended from downtown to almost 23rd and Meridian, at the southeast corner of Windsor Hills. I’ve had fun driving the boulevards winding from my old neighborhood to downtown. If you pay attention to the street layout and the wider boulevards and curves, you can follow the streets quite easily along the old streetcar route, even though no visible remains are present.

An Oklahoma City streetcar

Oklahoma City is spending a lot of dough to revive a small rail streetcar system downtown. This amuses me, given how there was once a major streetcar system throughout the city, with interurban lines linking it all the way to Guthrie, El Reno, and Norman. What goes around comes around!

I found a neat online map of the old lines on the web with an article on the old streetcar lines.

The streetcar lines were often used by housing developers to offer easy commuting to jobs downtown, with amusement parks planted at the end of some lines to drum up business on weekends. Belle Isle Lake was built in north central OKC by Classen and John Shartel with a powerplant to power the streetcar and interurban system. Eventually an amusement park was built there, but it was long gone before I was born. Maybe some of you have shopped in that area, which is now home to Penn Square Mall and Belle Isle Station.

This particular rabbit hole thus circles back, in my mind, to Bartlesville. A few weeks back a former teacher asked me about the interurban in Bartlesville. I sent her to my Bartlesville history website, where I had briefly noted:

The Bartlesville interurban

In 1908 the Bartlesville Interurban Railway opened, expanding by 1915 to operate two loops with 10.1 miles of trolley track connecting the zinc smelters with the rest of Bartlesville and Dewey. Stops included Dewey, Tuxedo, National Zinc Co., Bartlesville Zinc Co., Star Smelting Co., and Interurban Park. A round trip cost about 20 cents and took 45 minutes on the north loop, with half-hour service on the south loop. The terminal, brick power house, and car barn were at Fourth and Comanche. The line, like so many others, was wiped out by auto interests and closed in 1920. Visible remains include the angled Interurban Drive in the Tuxedo area of Bartlesville, with the old line route extending across modern-day Robinwood Park and leading to some old bridge pilings on the Caney River nearby.

I also shared with her that Phillips Petroleum was once part of a conspiracy to kill off the old interurbans and bus lines nationwide in order to boost automobiles and thus petroleum sales. Phillips was one of the companies convicted in 1949 of conspiring with General Motors, Goodyear, Firestone, Standard Oil, and Mack Trucks to monopolize bus sales and related products. The fines were minimal, and it is arguable if the various streetcars and interurbans would have survived anyway given that their owners often did not capitalize them sufficiently nor invest enough in their upkeep. Plus the much greater convenience and enthusiasm for the automobile was a major reason only a few old streetcar lines remained intact over the decades, such as the famous cable cars in hilly San Francisco and the old streetcars of New Orleans, including a streetcar line named Desire.

And so we dig our way up out of this hole, re-emerging into present day Bartlesville. I’ll close this ping-pong history exploration with a shot of the old interurban pilings on the Caney River south of the bridge on Frank Phillips Boulevard and the old interurban foundations found near the Pathfinder Parkway.

I hope you enjoyed this dig to explore what came before. Maybe you have some digging of your own that will interest you. When people ask me what era I wish I were living in, I always say TODAY. That maximizes the history there is to explore and, with the world wide web, makes armchair exploration of it incredibly easy and rewarding. Happy digging!

Concrete foundations of the old interurban line near the Pathfinder Parkway

Interurban bridge pilings on the Caney River near Frank Phillips Boulevard

Posted in history, photos, random | 3 Comments

What Good Am I, Oklahoma?

The Step Up Oklahoma plan to raise revenues to finally address the dire teacher shortage in Oklahoma failed in February 2018 primarily because the minority House Democrats wanted 5% instead of 4% gross production tax for the first 36 months of a well. The Republicans, heavily influenced by the oil oligarchs, refused to go above 4%.

An experienced oil man told¬†Wayne Greene of the¬†Tulsa World¬†that a 1% increase in that tax would be a like a 30-cent decrease in the price of oil over the life of a well. As Greene wrote, “It‚Äôs insignificant. It‚Äôs less than the rounding error in the pre-drilling projections, my source tells me.”

A significant majority of the House members embraced the Step Up plan, but we need a ridiculously high 75% supermajority to raise taxes in Oklahoma (but only a simple majority to cut them, which is the reason we are in such dire straits). The failure of both parties to embrace an obvious compromise not only killed a desperately needed teacher pay raise to address the teacher shortage, but actually led to another $22 million cut in public school funding to balance the budget. So yet again the schools took the hit from a state revenue failure, on top of multiple past failures that have devastated their budgets.

Greene wrote:

How strange that the marginal difference between a 4 percent gross production tax over the first three years of production and a 5 percent gross production tax over the first three years could shut down any progress.

Logic says that neither side would be fighting if the cause weren’t significant, right? If the distinction for the oil companies’ bottom line is less than the rounding error and the state revenue numbers are less than 10 percent [of the Step Up plan], why would we go to the mattresses?

The only answer I can find is that it’s not about money, it’s about dominance. In the end, this highly technical debate is at least as much about emotions and politics as it is about revenue and policy.

The compromise neither side would embrace earlier this month is obvious. They should soothe the consciences of the ideologues in both parties and the egos of the oil barons by adopting the¬†rest of the Step¬†Up¬†revenue package but increase the GPT to 4.5% to split the difference between the parties’ positions. I’d suggest dedicating the $35 million from the extra 0.5% to increase state worker salaries, which are also desperately low.

Yes, teachers and state workers deserve MUCH more. But this is about COMPROMISE from ALL sides to get over that ludicrous 75% supermajority hurdle. We must stop the bleeding and bind our state’s self-inflicted wounds. It is past time for our legislators from both parties to get off their high horses and shake hands on a compromise to save our schools. That should be the Oklahoma standard.

The failure of our state legislators to reach a compromise has dire consequences for our schoolchildren and the state’s most vulnerable citizens: the poor and the elderly who depend on state services. I ask the legislators who have been voting no, and the partisans who support them, to think about that.

Bob Dylan put it quite well about 30 years ago:

What Good am I

What good am I if I’m like all the rest
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

I’ve read that about 40% of state workers now qualify for food stamps, which is abominable.

Meanwhile, the grim state of our public schools is illustrated below:

Enough is enough, legislators. You need to embrace the obvious compromise and GET THIS DONE. If you do not, I guarantee you that parents and teachers will be shutting down the schools across our state this April until you do. We shall wait no longer.

UPDATE: In April Bartlesville schools, and many others statewide, were suspended by a teacher walkout for 8 school days. The threat of the walkout helped prompt the legislature to pass the largest teacher pay increase in state history, ranging from about $5,000-$8,000. During the walkout, another $40 million or so in future funding was earmarked for education. Although Oklahoma teachers will now have a regionally competitive salary for the first time in my career, per pupil funding remains dead last in the region. The state will need to invest even more in its public schools to reduce class sizes and restore lost course electives, etc.

Posted in politics | 4 Comments

Bob Cratchit and Bias Bubbles

December 28, 2017

Granger

Facebook helps spread fake news of all sorts, not just liberal or conservative

We hear much these days about “fake news”, a term promoted by President Trump when he wishes to deflect critical coverage of his latest untruth, of which there are many. But he is correct in that there is actual fake news on both sides of the political spectrum. Facebook’s addiction algorithms, designed to keep users clicking and sharing while viewing more ads, helps spread untruths and misinformation in the political bias bubbles it forms around its users.

Based on my own political persuasions, Facebook has formed a liberal bias bubble around my account, although I thankfully have some conservative and libertarian friends there whose posts can penetrate the bubble. The current nonsense spreading in the liberal bubble is a post claiming that the impoverished character of Bob Cratchit in Dickens’ famous novella¬†A Christmas Carol was making far more than our equivalent minimum wage today:

While watching A Christmas Carol tonight, my attention was caught by Bob Cratchit’s salary. He makes “15 bob a week.” I got curious and looked into inflation and conversion to American money, and if A Christmas Carol happened this year, Bob Cratchit would be making $27,574 per year in American money.¬† If someone works 40 hours a week at the current federal minimum wage, they’ll make $15,080. So Bob Cratchit, the epitome of poverty, makes $12,494 more than minimum wage workers (full time) each year. And yet we have people saying minimum wage is fine where it’s at.

Bob Cratchit and Scrooge

My own liberal bias would lead me to grant too much credence to this claim, since I believe our minimum wage is miserly and know that those earning it do indeed struggle economically. Thankfully, however, I was trained to think critically, so I was immediately skeptical. We all know that Scrooge was a miser paying such a low wage that his clerk Bob Cratchit and his large family struggled with basic needs. Given the point of the novella, would Charles Dickens really have set Cratchit’s annual salary to be equivalent to over $27,000 in America today? That struck me as quite unlikely.

One of my heroes was Carl Sagan, who provided a Baloney Detection Kit in his book The Demon-Haunted World. The first tool in that kit is this:

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the ‚Äúfacts.‚ÄĚ

So, rather than rely upon the unsupported claim in the post spreading on Facebook, I decided to do my own calculation. I realized it would be fraught with difficulties, since:

  • we don’t know the precise year of the story’s setting
  • British currency underwent decimalisation in 1971, altering how it would convert
  • the foreign currency exchange rate from the British pound to the U.S. dollar varies continually
  • one must impose inflation
  • the work week of a clerk in Britain in the 1840s was not the forty-hour standard work week of modern-day America

So I first determined, from the actual text of the novella, that he was paid 15 shillings per week, according to Scrooge. The novella was published in 1843, so I converted 15 shillings in 1840 to British pounds in 2005 using a British government website that handles old money conversions before the 1971 decimalisation. That came out to¬†¬£33. The Bank of England’s inflation calculator¬†said that would be about ¬£45 today. Google’s currency converter said that the current exchange rate made that about $60 in the United States.

The general consensus is that Bob Cratchit would have worked sixty hours per week. So he was earning the equivalent of $1 per hour in modern U.S. terms, or about one-seventh of  our current minimum wage of $7.25. Even if we assume Cratchit had been working the modern day standard of 40 hours per week, he would have been earning $1.50 per hour, which is about one-fifth of our current minimum wage. So the original post was indeed erroneous. But I saw various well-intentioned folks, including those in the news media, reposting it in their personal Facebook newsfeeds.

My point is neither to criticize nor defend the minimum wage. Instead, I ask you to recognize that everyone, liberals and moderates and conservatives alike, are vulnerable to bias and can be guilty of spreading fake news. We should approach all political posts with a hefty amount of skepticism, and keep Carl’s baloney detection kit¬†in mind. In my case, I now try to ignore most political posts. When I do respond to them or post my own information, I try to stick with verifiable facts, even if I have to verify them myself.

Think before you click. The mind you save may be your own.


2/10/2018 UPDATE: Facebook lost a million users in North America in the fourth quarter of 2017. Managing the district’s Facebook page makes it clear why some folks choose to get away from entirely. Even with that frequently horrible experience, I still find Facebook a net positive, but I have to actively limit my time on it.

Posted in politics, technology | 3 Comments

Listening as one of my digital clouds evaporates

December 22, 2017

The forthcoming demise of Amazon’s Music Storage service, limiting my access on its streaming services to songs it has licensed, prompted me to assess my¬†approach to digital music. The rapid pace of the digital world’s evolution makes it powerful and responsive, but also makes digital services and devices quite ephemeral.

In my experience, there is considerable value in retaining access and control of one’s digital data amidst the churn of devices and services. So the growth of cloud-based storage and streaming services poses a challenge. While they offer distinct advantages over the decades-old reliance on standalone applications and local data files on our personal devices, even the largest cloud services are vulnerable to temporary service outages as well as permanent shuttering, and they seldom play well together.

Downloading vs. streaming music

It is hardly surprising that the demographics for streaming music skew younger than those for downloading it. The fall 2016 AudioCensus by MusicWatch showed that of the people who routinely use on-demand streaming services, 35% are between 13 and 24 years of age. In comparison, only 26% of regular download purchasers are 13 to 24 years of age.

Younger people rely more on streaming music; while older folks rely more on downloading

Now over 50% of all music revenue in the U.S. comes from streaming, and YouTube currently accounts for 25% of all music streaming. Anecdotally, while I turn to YouTube for music merely to access obscure tracks not available on other paid streaming or download services, Wendy uses it routinely.

For the over 15,000 songs in my iTunes Music Library, I paid for every one that I could, via iTunes or Amazon or by ripping them from purchased CDs. The only unpaid tracks in my library are ones that were simply not available for licensed downloading, leading me to extract the audio from a YouTube video or the like to ensure I had a local copy for long-term continuous access and retention.

This increasingly unusual behavior¬† is a personal habit borne of both necessity and convenience. I have curated my iTunes library and playlists since I bought my first iPod in 2004, when streaming music was impractical. iTunes remains the most convenient way for me to quickly access music on my desktop computer, Apple TV, and iPhone. Plus I never want my music to “disappear” when someone fails to negotiate a licensing deal, shutters a service, or internet service is unavailable. But my method of accessing digital music is increasingly unpopular.

Streaming music is destroying music downloads

One digital cloud evaporated in a year

I am among the 1 in 3 music downloaders who also have music streaming accounts. I pay $10/month for Google Play Music, although I actually just use that account to get the ad-free YouTube Red service. I also subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited for $79/year to make that large streaming music library available on the Echo devices at Meador Manor. But I never use Google Play Music, and I seldom use the Amazon Music apps in Windows or on my mobile devices, as they are even slower and clunkier than Apple’s deservedly maligned iTunes.

In April 2017 the frustrations with the inadequate music search on the Echo devices led me to pay for Amazon Music Storage for $25/year. I then uploaded over 12,000 of my songs to Amazon so that I could search that smaller library on an Echo, making it much more likely it would play the track I really wanted.

But now that will end after only a year of use, with me unable to renew my Amazon Music Storage subscription when it expires. No doubt Amazon calculated that it was better for its bottom line and its ecosystem of devices and services to kill that service, despite the inconvenience to folks like me.

What next?

I’m used to companies like Google and Amazon shuttering services I rely upon, forcing me to adapt. Apple could one day falter as well.¬†I view this as an unwelcome but inevitable by-product of evolving technologies and free-market competition. But it also reinforces my 13-year habit of buying my music in iTunes, ensuring I have a local copy that should always be accessible.

But now¬†rumors swirl that Apple could stop selling music downloads in 2019. The download model I’ve relied on since 2004 may be doomed. So in another year I may need to re-assess my approach to digital music. While streaming services will no doubt continue to improve in their usability and the extent of their collections, I’m leery of relying on the cloud.

Clouds can be beautiful and comforting, or impressive and terrifying. But in the end they always evaporate.

12/28/2017 UPDATE: Two trustworthy former students, Daniel Quick and Brian Taylor, independently urged me to try using the Plex media server, something I had heard about but only briefly explored a few years ago. Prompted by their recommendations, I’ve now installed its server software on my Windows 10 desktop and have Plex apps installed on my iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. I splurged on a lifetime subscription to Plex Pass to ensure I would not encounter any limitations. Next I need to link it up with Alexa. Then I get to start building new habits on accessing my media around the manor.

Posted in music, technology | 3 Comments