Breaktime in Branson

January 6, 2019 | Slideshow | Photo Album

For our Winter Break of 2018, Wendy and I opted to return to Branson for a few days after Christmas. The first semester of this school year was never a dull moment, with each of us continually engaged in challenging technology work. So we deliberately avoided any school-related work, emails, etc. during our stay in the tourist town. We needed to relax and were ready to be pampered a bit.

Keeter Center Stay

We had enjoyed our stay at the Keeter Center at the College of the Ozarks during Spring Break 2015, so we returned there to be pampered by the attentive students of Hard Work U. They turned down the beds each night, leaving us cookies they had made and milk from the college dairy, and brought us a tasty breakfast each morning of mostly farm-to-table items. We made sure to provide gratuities for the various students throughout our stay, who work at stations across the college in lieu of tuition.

We arrived late on a Friday afternoon. After checking in, we dined at the Dobyns Dining Room in the Center, where the hosts, servers, cooks, and bakers are all students working for their cost of education. Wendy had country fried chicken, and I had prime rib. We were seated near a piano and were pleased when a student came over and began to play during the meal.

Dolly’s Stampede

Ready for the show

The main attractions at Branson are the various live shows, and we enjoyed the old-style Presley’s Country Music Jubilee show on our previous visit. On Saturday, after a light lunch at a Subway and a walk through the Branson Landing outdoor shopping mall, we took in the Christmas dinner show at Dolly Parton’s Stampede. The show featured 32 horses with stunt riding, singing, two skaters performing on a tiny ice rink lowered from the ceiling, and various tableaux. The menagerie included camels, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, and a donkey.

The Dolly Parton Stampede Christmas Show

Dinner was markedly different from the previous day at Dobyns. We consumed without the benefit of cutlery some creamy vegetable soup, a biscuit, a Cornish game hen, a slice of barbecued pork loin, corn on the cob, a potato, and apple turnover. Thankfully they also provided warm towelettes.

Godfather’s

I had originally hoped to hike at the Lakeside Forest on Sunday, but it was too cold and rainy for that. My plan to have lunch at the Godfather’s Pizza in Branson was also foiled, as it was closed on Sundays. I really had a hankering for their pizza, since I got hooked on it at Campus Corner in Norman back in my undergraduate days yet there are no franchises near Bartlesville. The internet revealed there was another location, open on Sundays, a 30-minute drive north in Ozark. Wendy was willing, so off we went.

Springfield Art Museum

After lunch we needed to walk, and I recalled there was an art museum in Springfield only a 20-minute drive away. At first we were the only visitors, viewing three galleries containing the exhibit El Grabado: Contemporary Cuban Printmaking. Drs. Tony and Luz Racela of Kansas City had provided from their private collection 70 prints created by 33 artists at Cuba’s Taller Experimental de Gráfica de Habana.

There were several images of skeletal figures by Julio César Peña Peralta, including Jimaguas (Twins) and Clases de grabado (Lessons of Printmaking). I liked the intense expression on the girl in Cabalgata (Ride) by Daysi Carmona Pérez.

Cabalgate (Ride) by Daysi Carmona Pérez

Most of the works were lithographs (stone-writing) where an image was drawn with oil, fat, or wax onto a limestone plate, which was treated with acid and gum arabic to etch areas not protected by the image. When the stone was moistened, the etched areas retained water and would repel oil-based inks. Then a blank paper sheet would be applied to transfer the ink from the image areas to form a printed page.

In the 1800s thousands of lithographic stones were imported into Cuba from Germany, along with machines from France and Germany, to create lithographic seals and rings for Cuban cigars to fight counterfeit products. The switch to embossed aluminum seals in the 1950s meant many lithographic stones were repurposed as field stepping stones and the like, but some of the apparati were preserved. A red woodcutting machine from 1829 is still used today by artists at the Taller Experimental de Gráfica de Habana.

The Springfield Art Museum has over 9,000 works in its collections, built up since 1928. In its main galleries it had an exhibition that was a cross section of the collection with particular emphasis paid to the ways its works reflect our country’s history as it developed its identity. This included works by George Caleb Bingham, Asher B. Durand, Jackson Pollock, Grandma Moses, Robert Motherwell, Wayne Thiebaud, and Alison Saar.

Ebony cabinet with porcelain inserts

There were some furnishings on display, and a 19th century ebony cabinet with porcelain inserts caught my eye. Most of the inserts were vague images of couples and cherubs, while the large centerpiece showed a blindfolded man playing hide and seek with two damsels. I was amused at how his left foot was about to step on a dog whose face was a bit too human, with what appeared more like a girl’s hair than dog ears. His right hand also appeared to almost be cupping one woman’s breast. His anatomy seemed questionable, given the oddities of his right leg and the suggestive folds in his leggings.

A centerpiece with several issues

Wendy is always on the lookout for color schemes she might use in her own paint pours, and noted Nell Blaine’s First Lyme Landscape and Michael Mazur’s Pond Rain

Pond Rain by Michael Mazur

Living in Oklahoma, we are regularly exposed to western art at area museums. I was pleased that the museum had some pieces that broke away from the typical works reminiscent of Remington and Russell. I liked the high energy of the cartoonish lithograph Bronco by Luis Jiménez. He is better known as a sculptor, with his memorable Mustang at the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art in Norman. Tragically, he was killed when the torso of a larger version of that statue fell on him in 2006 in his studio.

Bronco by Luiz Jiménez

Wendy and I both enjoyed William Schenck’s Where Have All the Cattle Gone, with its static-edged clouds, the colors of the distant hills, and the choice to render the cowboy and much of his horse in shadow.

Where Have All the Cattle Gone by William Schenk

Samuel M. Charles’ Self-Portrait

19th century and earlier American portraiture can often seem amateurish and off-putting, but the smug expression on Samuel M. Charles’ Self-Portrait made me wonder what he was thinking as he read his paper.

I loved Julie Blackmon‘s Portrait, a large photograph that appeared rather painterly, finding the composition visually interesting and the expressions on several of the children’s faces quite amusing. It is part of her Homegrown series. A native of Springfield, her works are part of permanent collections in museums across the country, reflective of her talent in composing memorable scenes.

Portrait by Julie Blackmon

Aaron Bohrod’s Rainy Night, Wilmington wonderfully depicted city signage, including the reversed embossed One Way sign in the foreground and glowing neon hotel signs. I suppose the distant running figure is more likely headed through the rain from one hotel to the other than making his way toward the dark and distant cathedral.

Rainy Night, Wilmington by Aaron Bohrod

Abstract expressionism is often cold, but I liked Jimmy Ernst’s Dayscape with its bold circle of red and strong foreground pattern against a cool cyan background, somewhat reminiscent of stained glass.

Dayscape by Jimmy Ernst

Fast Food, New Orleans by Andrew Abramoff

Wendy admired Andrew Abramoff’s skill at manipulating oil paint with photographic clarity and realism in Fast Food, New Orleans, although the subject matter struck me as banal. I wonder what he found appealing about that restaurant. Was it the giant mug of root beer on the roof? Or did he also like the decayed midcentury modern American architecture? Before coming to America, he had trained and restored 17th century icons and frescoes in Russia. Midcentury modern is getting more love these days. But having grown up surrounded by it and bearing witness to its rapid decay, I find much of it bland and depressing.

For us, the highlight of the exhibition was the immense Timing by Frank Owen. He invented his own painting system in the 1970s, building a skin of transparent polyethylene plastic and then painting and collaging layers atop it. The works were built “in verso” where the first layer is the top of surface layer of the painting we see, with the final coat the layer that was actually applied to the canvas. So he “imagines each work from the inside out.”

Timing by Frank Owen

Wendy admires Frank Owen’s Timing

Wendy loved the work, which reminded me of a series of painting pours with particularly vivid colors. Owen described such works as abstract landscapes in microcosm, a response to his working environment in the Adirondacks, with the ripples and layers of paint suggesting the movement of water as viewed from above. The museum reports that painting is the subject of the most Instagrams from its collection, and we could see why.

We had a wonderful visit at the museum; so much better than my previous one years earlier. The works were interesting, and the staff members were friendly and helpful. While I appreciated the free admission, I happily placed a donation in their box. We will certainly be back in the years to come.

And we’ll someday return to Branson, to be pampered again at the Keeter Center and take in another fun show. We took Wendy’s new minivan on this trip, enjoying its comfortable ride across some rather rough highways and having plenty of easily accessible cargo space. For longer trips with luggage it sure beats traveling in my Camry.

We returned to Bartlesville for New Years and then I went back to work for three days while Wendy remained on vacation. Having fewer distractions with school out of session, I was able to finish a couple of lingering technology projects. Soon classes will resume with us refreshed and ready to take on another semester.

Slideshow| Photo album

Posted in art, photos, travel | Leave a comment

iPads as televisions and a desktop computer DVR

December 23, 2018

I canceled my cable television subscription in early 2008. But, like most so-called cordcutters, I didn’t actually cut any cords. I retained what was then 5 megabit/second internet service over the same cable that had been providing television programs.

Over time, more folks have embraced “cordcutting”, by which they usually mean dropping cable television for online streaming services over the internet. Kim Komando released a chart of popular channels and which streaming services offer them.

Back in 2008, that was a more dramatic choice to make than it is over a decade later. YouTube was around, but didn’t offer high-definition video, and Netflix was only one year into its streaming service with limited title selections and monthly rentals. Back then I got the movies I wanted on disc from Netflix, and the few television episodes I wanted to see were purchased and downloaded in advance with my first-generation Apple TV or Amazon’s Unbox service to a Tivo. That was better than trying to stream them, because the limited bandwidth led to much buffering suffering.

Wonder Woman in 4K from Amazon on our OLED TV

A decade later, Meador Manor has 40 times more download bandwidth, so Wendy and I can simultaneously watch multiple 4K video streams without noticeably affecting other internet operations. We can rent movies from iTunes, Amazon, or Google Play to watch together on the 55″ television using its built-in apps, our Chromecast Ultra, or our Apple TV 4K. The Chromecast Ultra works with our Google Home so we can just tell Google to turn on the television and cue up a YouTube video of our choosing.

But we consume most of our video entertainment separately on our own iPads, and the only streaming video subscription I have (outside of on-demand movie rentals) is that YouTube Premium is bundled with my $10/month Google Play Music service. The premium service used to be called YouTube Red and removes ads while offering background and offline video playback. YouTube has evolved to where it has a plethora of high-quality content on most topics.

Broadcast HDTV in Bartlesville

The Manor’s 1995 antenna can still pull in 31 free channels despite two decades of storm damage

There are still some local and national television shows that can be entertaining, and the antenna I mounted on the chimney back in 1995 can still pull in up to 31 free broadcast television channels even though hail, ice, and wind have stripped it of a couple of its VHF elements.

If you’re not familiar with broadcast digital television, they usually have a high-definition (1080i or 720p) main channel broadcast in the 16:9 screen ratio of modern sets. They often also multiplex additional separate sub-channels at standard definition (480i), often in the old 4:3 ratio. Here’s what I can currently pick up in Bartlesville:

In the spirit of the wonderful Chaos Manor columns the late great Jerry Pournelle once wrote in the long-defunct Byte magazine, I’ll share the details of my travails in getting everything set up and how that led me to finally purchase a streaming service subscription which brought what I still think of as cable TV channels back to Meador Manor.

Installing a HD HomeRun Connect Duo

The HD HomeRun Connect Duo lets you stream over-the-air HDTV broadcasts to devices on your network

I started out only intending to get the free over-the-air television broadcasts onto our various devices. A little internet research led me to purchase a HD HomeRun Connect Duo box for $70.

Since we could always cast from our devices to the Apple TV, rather than split the antenna signal between the television and the HomeRun’s two tuners, I just disconnected the antenna’s coaxial cable from the back of the television and screwed it on the connector on the HomeRun box. I needed to wire the HomeRun into our network router with the bundled ethernet cable, but found that every port on the router as well as a 5-port switch hooked into it were full.

I’ve cooked up a spaghetti of cords in the area behind my television, but the recent installation of new carpet did lead me to organize and label the mess. Plugged into the router back there are cables for my desktop computer in the office, the television, the sound amplifier, a Blu-Ray player, a Philips Hue hub, an Apple TV, and a Chromecast. So I purchased an 8-port switch for $30 and swapped that for the 5-port one, plugged in the HomeRun box, and mixed its power cord in with the others. The box powered on, ready to be configured.

I’ve become accustomed to configuring new smart home devices using my iPad or iPhone via WiFi. So I tried loading the configuration website on the iPad, but no new devices were detected. Guessing that the hardwired device might for some reason need to talk to another hardwired device plugged into the router, I went to my Windows desktop, but again nothing showed up. Huh?

A check of the living room network connections revealed what happened. When I swapped switches, I just unplugged the ethernet cable from the router to the old switch and plugged it into the new one, as I did with the other cables hooked into the old switch. In messing about I had inadvertently jostled loose the other end of the cable connecting the switch into the router, and now it had buried itself amongst the other cables. I fished it out and made sure it was snapped into the router. I trotted back to the Windows computer in my office to check things out, since it is often easier to configure devices with a big screen and keyboard than on an iPad, especially if you have to create or use any logins.

The HD HomeRun’s configuration menu

Sure enough, refreshing the HomeRun configuration webpage showed the device was now in the network, although it was whining about a firmware update to be installed. After that was completed, which took a few minutes, I clicked on Channel Lineup and, just like a television’s usual tuner setup, it scanned through the available digital channels and displayed what it found.

But, alas, it only found 15 channels instead of the usual 31. The various HDTV and standard-definition sub-channels for the NBC, ABC, and OETA affiliates were missing entirely. I did a web search for help, finding suggestions about adjusting the gain on any signal booster on the antenna.

Be sure the FM trap is OUT if you use an antenna booster

So back to the living room I went, to reach behind my recliner for the old antenna signal booster I bought back in 1995. It has been faithfully heating the carpet back there for almost a quarter-century, as well as making it possible to tune in the weaker signals from some transmitter antennas which are over 50 miles away.

Map showing the broadcaster antennas we can pick up from Meador Manor (via antennasdirect.com)

Given the distance to the transmitters, I did not believe the signal was so strong it was overwhelming the HomeRun’s tuners. But I dialed down the gain adjust and went back to rescan channels. Sure enough, that only led to even fewer of them showing up. Trying the gain in the middle made no difference, and at full power I was back to only 15 out of 31 channels. Harumph!

Another web search revealed that if I installed the Windows software for the HomeRun unit, there was a utility program included which I could use to see the signal quality on the various channels. Doing that merely confirmed that it couldn’t get a readable signal for the missing affiliates.

I figured there must be some problem with my home’s antenna system, so I went back and pondered the signal booster. Some fairly distant channels were coming through, so I doubted the exterior antenna connections were faulty. Then I noticed the FM trap switch was set to IN. That helps reduce any interference from nearby FM transmitters, but perhaps it was causing issues. I set it to OUT and, sure enough, a rescan showed the HomeRun’s two tuners were now finding all 31 channels. Yippee!

I installed the HD HomeRun Windows 10 app on my desktop and was able to quickly tune in any of the channels. Downloading and installing the app on my iPad was a breeze and worked fine too. Even better, I did not need to set up any sort of account with SiliconDust, the makers of the HomeRun unit. The apps just work when a device is connected to my router’s wired or wireless network.

Tapping the screen in the HD HomeRun’s iPad app lets you quickly browse what’s on and adjust controls

Tapping the screen brings up various controls, including a scrolling sidebar with what’s showing on each channel. I eventually discovered you can tap the right edge of the previews to get descriptions and thumbnails of upcoming shows.

Tapping the thumbnails shows upcoming shows & descriptions

You can also tap a menu icon for thumbnails of what’s currently showing as well as upcoming shows and movies in the next 24 hours. However, the HD HomeRun has no traditional grid viewing guide and does not let you edit which channels it displays.

In practice, my damaged old antenna cannot pull in channels 2 (NBC) and 8 (ABC) if signal is degraded by rain. It also struggles with 44, but that’s an Okmulgee channel that mainly shows shopping channels I could not care less about.

The high-definition channels look great on my iPad and desktop computer, although since they are 16:9, they display on the iPad with black bars at the top and bottom. The standard-definition ones are quite grainy or fuzzy due to their low resolution, and 4:3 broadcasts display with black bars on the left and right. A few broadcasts sent out in a 4:3 anamorphic mode should be displayed stretched back into a 16:9 ratio, but the app doesn’t always pick up on that, resulting in a squished image. Sometimes a 4:3 broadcast is displayed in 16:9 mode, with black bars on all sides, but there is a zoom button to make it fill the screen properly.

SiliconDust offers premium channels for $35/month, which is similar to what one would pay for Hulu, Sling TV, and other similar streaming services.

A DVR for the HomeRun

I used two different TiVo digital video recorders over the years, enjoying the ability to pre-record shows and later view them while skipping commercials. I gave one to my parents, and they loved it. When their unit finally died, I gave them my Series 3 TiVo, since it has a lifetime TiVo service subscription. They still use it daily, whereas it had gathered dust for months in my home.

The continuing value of a DVR was reinforced when I watched a show via the HD HomeRun on my iPad. I haven’t had to sit through television commercials in years, other than the ones in the aerobics shows I taped from 1993-1997 and habitually ignore in my weekday workouts. They haven’t become any less intrusive or annoying, so I knew I’d want a DVR so I could not only pause shows, but also fast-forward through commercials and time-shift programs to fit my schedule.

You can subscribe to a DVR app from SiliconDust to use your desktop computer or network attached storage to create and playback recordings, but one reason I went with their HD HomeRun box was that it is compatible with the Plex Media Server software I already run on my Windows 10 desktop.

I had downloaded the Plex software to my Windows desktop years back since it is a way to share your saved music, photos, and other media files via the Plex app running on a web browser or various devices, including my Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, and Chromecast. I hadn’t really ever used it, however, even though a year ago I had also purchased a lifetime Plex Pass to allow me to turn my desktop computer into a DVR and get programming guides without paying any subscription fees. At the time, I wasn’t sure where I was headed with the home entertainment system and our personal devices, but the lifetime TiVo subscription I’d purchased years back had worked out great for both me and my parents, so I decided to risk investing in a lifetime Plex subscription to be future-ready. Now it was time to try out that investment.

My Plex media server lets me access media files via the internet

I opened up the configuration settings for the Plex Media Server software on my Windows 10 desktop, finding the DVR category. But when I triggered it, it briefly showed it had detected the HD HomeRun Connect unit, but then blanked that out. Another glitch to resolve.

Earlier, I’d noticed when I ran the HomeRun diagnostic utility that it complained that some Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) data packets were not making it through the server, warning that would affect some services. I figured that was the problem with the Plex software, and another web search told me to go enable UPnP packets on my router.

So I opened up my Asus router’s configuration controls, found the Enable UPnP setting in its WAN menu, and that did the trick: the HD HomeRun Connect Duo appeared in the Plex server’s DVR section. The Plex software allowed me to choose which channels to link with my DVR; I just picked them all. I was able to have it download a grid viewing guide, and clicked on an entry in that guide to record a show.

That in turn prompted me to set up libraries in the Plex software for TV shows and movies. A perusal of the built-in help system told me where to click to do that, selecting folders on my desktop computer where my videos would be stored for retrieval. I also enabled some User Agent options that use any meta-data in the video files to organize the items.

The Plex software on my desktop lets me turn it into a DVR

I then clicked on an upcoming show to have it recorded. It asked if I wanted to record only that episode or all that were aired, and gave me an option of which library to use for the recordings. Advanced options included adjusting the start and stop times if you find you need some leeway at the front or back end of a show. There was also an option for it to try to automatically remove commercials, with a caveat that it could result in high CPU usage. My desktop is pretty powerful, so I turned that on to see how that went.

However, none of those options would do any good if my computer went to sleep and didn’t wake up when a show needs to be recorded. I checked that “Wake Timers” were enabled in my Windows 10 desktop’s power management and then put the system to sleep.

I was pleased to note that even when “sleeping” the sophisticated Plex software could work with Windows 10 and still allow me to stream music and video from my desktop to my other devices. Even better, although the show I had set to record did not show up in my recordings library while it was occurring, the next morning I did find it had recorded successfully. I could play the recording on my desktop, and when I paused it and opened the Plex app on my iPad, it could resume playback where I had left off.

The software did NOT successfully remove any commercials from the CBS show I randomly picked to record, and that hour-long recording consumed 6.3 GB of space on my desktop’s solid state drive. I have over 500 GB free on that drive, so it could store plenty of recordings, although I have no interest in archiving videos on my local storage; unlike with music, I seldom replay videos.

Subscription Channels & a Cloud DVR

When I showed Wendy how we could now access the HomeRun box from our iPads with its own app, she immediately asked if it had Adult Swim. She had reveled in the nighttime content on the Cartoon Network channel years back when she had cable TV. While I could subscribe to that and other “premium” content via the HomeRun service, we would have to rely on using my Windows 10 desktop or some other hardware in the home for a DVR. I decided to explore our options.

I found I could go back to a TV/internet bundle with our cable company, which would provide apps to watch its shows on our mobile devices. But there was no true DVR capability included, and I knew Wendy would want the ability to record shows and skip through the commercials.

Internet streaming options included Hulu and Sling TV. I decided to try Sling TV free for a week, opting for its Blue package with the Hollywood Extra to pick up Turner Classic Movies, plus its Cloud DVR option. That would give us access to all of the channels we had some level of interest in with the ability to record 50 hours of shows and skip their commercials on playback, except for required ads in some Fox shows, including some on its National Geographic channels.

That bundle would cost $35/month with the benefit of a cloud-based DVR so we wouldn’t be eating up as much of our own bandwidth nor using the office desktop to store shows. The Sling TV apps on our iPads and the desktop are easy to navigate, with a nice viewing grid which includes good synopses of the various shows.

Sling TV’s viewing guide provides nice info

There are also on-demand episodes of some shows, but those won’t let you skip their commercials. So Wendy will try having Sling TV record episodes of various shows for later playback. We celebrated the return of subscription television by watching an episode of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Fixer Upper show on HGTV on our big television, and I figure in the coming weeks I’ll hear Wendy giggling at some comedy shows she has recorded.

A decade after they left, the channels of cable television are again available in the Manor, although in a different manner, and we can enjoy easy access to over-the-air broadcasts on our mobile devices. However, my prediction is that I’ll use the HD HomeRun Connect Duo and the Sling TV services sparingly. I’m more drawn to tightly focused and rather nerdy podcasts and YouTube channels and reading books with my Kindle app. But it is nice to have more options, and I expect Wendy will get some real use out of Sling TV.

Posted in HDTV, home repair, technology | Leave a comment

Treasures in my net

December 8, 2018

When I cast my net out into the world wide web, sometimes I see the welcome gleam of bits of treasure amidst the accumulated flotsam and jetsam. Facebook and other social media are polluted by poisonous politics, but even there one can find safe harbors maintained by gracious caretakers. One person’s treasure is another’s trash, but here is a sampling of items I recently found online that brought me happiness.

A Sooner High that never was

Local nostalgia author Rita Thurman Barnes, who currently writes for Bartlesville Monthly,  helps folks stay positive in her latest curated Facebook group, Once Upon a Time in Bartlesville. My interest in local history ensures I scan it regularly for interesting tidbits new to me. Over the years I’ve compiled information on our local school facilities, which I organized into a District History section at the district website. But in all my rummaging through library vertical files and the disorganized filing cabinets I inherited in my district office, I had never come across any promotional material on the effort to build Bartlesville’s Sooner High in the 1960s.

So I was fascinated when Rita posted a handout sent to parents of Southview Elementary students in 1964 to promote the bond issue that built Sooner High. Take a look at the architects’ rendering:

Sooner High rendering

The original concept for Bartlesville’s Sooner High

For those familiar with Bartlesville’s Sooner High, which later became the Mid-High and has now become the replacement Madison Middle School, this is a glimpse into an alternate reality. When the school opened in 1966, the curving auditorium wall in the initial rendering had become a stepped series of straight walls, the large areas in the rear had changed, and the T-shaped classroom wing had transformed into two shorter and separate east-west wings. A one-story addition extended the south wing in 1980, a two-story addition extended the north one in 1999, and a single-story 2009 addition connected them to form a fully enclosed courtyard.

The later reality

More Beatles songs after 1970?

Everyday Chemistry

Speaking of alternate realities, another bit of treasure in my net came from a transdimensional thief who snatched a cassette tape of songs crafted by The Beatles after 1970. Say what? Granted, they did release two new singles in the mid-1990s based on some old demos by John Lennon, but this tape had 11 songs I’d never heard of.

Despite its entertaining backstory, this is really a beautifully crafted mashup of songs from the solo careers of the members of The Beatles after they broke up. The human miracle that is Wikipedia has documented what went into the pot to form this stew.

Modern technology has enabled depressing public displays of widespread intolerance, ignorance, and bigotry. But it has also unleashed incredible amounts of remix creativity.

Klaatu barada nicto

Apropos of alternate Beatles, my financial support for Longreads surfaced for me a Ledger Note article about Klaatu, a Canadian band which was briefly mistaken for The Beatles in 1976. I was intrigued enough to stream their initial album, 3:47 EST, and could certainly see why folks wondered if Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr might have reunited.

It turned out instead to be the work of John Woloschuk, Dee Long, and Terry Draper. I wasn’t all that thrilled by the first song, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, which I was familiar with as a strange cover by The Carpenters. But I persevered, if only to hear what in the world a song titled Anus of Uranus might have in store. Those who didn’t get their fill of briny Beatles from Yellow SubmarineOctopus’s Garden, and McCartney’s Admiral Halsey might enjoy the over-the-top Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III, but I prefer Sub-Rosa Subway.

Sedermasochism

A final treasure of late has been an excerpt from Nina Paley‘s latest movie. Almost a decade ago, I posted about her delightful Sita Sings the Blues, which she released into the public domain. Her creative and exacting animation told the story of the Indian epic the Ramayana with the help of 1920s torch songs by Annette Hanshaw.  I urge you to give it a try.

Recently YouTube offered up to me Death of the Firstborn Egyptians. What the heck? But I instantly recognized Nina’s incredible animation style, coupled this time to two songs from the “Spider Suite” by The Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra.

Wow…she continues to amaze me with her artistry and expertise in combining disparate elements to retell ancient stories. This comes from Nina’s new film, Sedermasochism. It is described thusly:

Loosely following a traditional Passover Seder, events from the Book of Exodus are retold by Moses, Aharon, the Angel of Death, Jesus, and the director’s own father. But there’s another side to this story: that of the Goddess, humankind’s original deity. Seder-Masochism resurrects the Great Mother in a tragic struggle against the forces of Patriarchy.

After the movie makes the rounds of the various film festivals, I gather Nina will release it for the rest of us. That day my net will be heavy, filled with a great treasure for me to enjoy for years to come.

When winter weather drives you indoors and you pick up a device to cast your net upon the waters of the internet, may you find your own treasures amidst the dross.

 

Posted in history, movie, music | Leave a comment

Climate controls

November 18, 2018 & UPDATED November 24, 2018

I’ve had climate on my mind this fall, since it played a role in three minor home improvement projects at Meador Manor. The workroom now has an exhaust fan, the faded portions of the exterior paint have been refreshed, and we now have a WiFi thermostat.

Workroom Window Fan

When Wendy began using resin to coat some of her paintings, it was obvious we needed a way to exhaust the fumes. When I was growing up, my parents had a cabin in Missouri with a reversible window fan in the dining area. It was a handy way to reduce our reliance on the noisy air conditioner and great for pulling heat and odors out of the kitchen. I was fascinated as a child by how the fan could be reversed from intake to exhaust, happily twirling the knob to various settings to observe the results.

So I purchased a 20″ Air King reversible window fan, mounting it in one of the windows of our workroom. I ensured it was mounted far enough away from the window that the blind could still drop down behind it and high enough that we could easily reach the locks on the bottom of the sliding pane. The fan does a great job, not only quickly clearing the room of chemical fumes, but helping clear the house when cooking aromas get to be a bit much.

A reversible fan can quickly clear the workroom of fumes

Exterior Repainting

The New House Paint

A project that took considerably longer to complete was forced upon me by the climate: touching up the exterior paint. Years ago I repainted all of the exterior wood with Sears Weatherbeater, matching the existing color with what they might have called Chocolate Brown. A year or two ago I noticed the painted Dutch gables on the east and west ends of Meador Manor were fading and had noticeable chalking. So this spring, with Sears on its way out, I went to Sherwin-Williams and purchased plenty of their Emerald Latex in Über Umber, again seeking to match the existing color.

Work, June vacations, and hot weather led me to put off touching up the paint until late October. I spent most of a Saturday clambering up to repaint the three Dutch gables, the exposed edge of the gutterless end eaves, the trim around the garage door, and the west side door. Thankfully the rest of the exterior paint still looks great since it has been protected by the eaves from the rain and the sun’s ultraviolet light.

One of the Dutch gables and eaves I repainted

Thus far I haven’t even used up a full gallon of the paint, so if I later need to put another coat on some of the areas, we’re still in good shape. I did everything with a wide brush and a narrower angled brush. I didn’t think using a roller was worthwhile for the confined areas I was dealing with. Plus I can enjoy slow manual labor when I have something to listen to.

Maltin on Movies

I love the Maltin on Movies podcast

While I was painting, I listened to a number of great interviews on Leonard Maltin’s Maltin on Movies podcast. During a recent walk on the Pathfinder Parkway, I had loved the touching interview with Paul Williams. So while painting I sought out some more episodes. I particularly enjoyed the interviews with Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Hader, Mark Mothersbaugh, Michael Giacchino, and Bruce Davison. Each of them was entertaining and thought-provoking and ever so much better than the glib interviews associated with movie promotions. Two other Maltin on Movies podcasts that have stuck with me for years are a lovely trip down memory lane with Richard Sherman and the amazing interview with Norman Lloyd. I remember Norman most fondly for his sympathetic portrayal of Dr. Auschlander in the television series St. Elsewhere, and he was the villain in Hitchcock’s Saboteur in 1942 and went on to produce Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was so wonderful how Norman, a charter member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater, was still so eloquent at 103 years of age! We are indebted to Leonard and his daughter Jessie for these wonderful recordings.

A Smarter Thermostat

The latest home improvement indulges my fascination with personal technology. Back in 2001 I had replaced the old house thermostat with a Honeywell programmable one. Having it cut back the climate control when I was at work or away on vacation reduced my natural gas usage by 32%. Since my teaching schedule had me at home in June and July when I was not vacationing, my overall electricity usage was only cut by 6%.

Now that Wendy and I share the Manor, the temperature settings are adjusted more frequently. We agreed to get a more modern thermostat with WiFi so that we could adjust it from our mobile devices. Voice control of the device is far less appealing to us, but possible through Google Home, Siri, or Alexa. Online reviews pointed to the Ecobee devices, and I opted for an Ecobee 3 Lite over the more expensive Ecobee 4 since we have mostly abandoned Alexa.

The Honeywell thermostat I installed in 2001 used the Red, Green, Yellow, and White wires

I knew wiring can be an issue for thermostats, so I pulled off the Honeywell to see that it used four wires: red, green, yellow, and white. No blue “C” wire for power was connected, hence its reliance on three AA cells which had to be replaced periodically.

Our furnace

A review of the Ecobee’s wiring requirements reassured me that I could get it to work with those four wires if I rigged up the included Power Extender Kit at our furnace so that the Ecobee could receive 24 volt power.

So this weekend I shut off the breakers for the climate control systems, unplugged the furnace AC, and took the covers off the furnace. I hadn’t paid any attention to its electrical board since I replaced its High Pressure Limit Switch in 2012.

I noticed that the furnace panel had a blue “C” wire attached, which the excellent Ecobee installation guide said is wired to outside condenser for the air conditioner. I did not see an obvious blue wire coming in from the hallway.

The wiring to the furnace

It was pretty trivial to add the Power Extender Kit, so I opted to go ahead and do that rather than experiment to see if I could find a viable blue “C” wire at the thermostat. I unhooked the red, white, yellow, and green wires from the furnace board and hooked them into the kit’s rewiring block, hooking its five wires into the five terminals on the furnace. The rewiring block has a magnet, so it was easy to stick it next to the furnace board and close it all up. It was time to hit the hallway. Later I would find out that using the Power Extender Kit was a mistake. Read on…

The Power Extender Kit is supposed to be a quick fix if you only have 4 wires to your thermostat; it turned out to not work well with my system. NOTE: The wiring bundle you see in this shot was cut open later along its length by a previous installer, who wired the blue wire seen here to a wire leading off to the outside condenser, leaving the blue wire in the remaining length of the bundle unused.

There were actually six wires available to the hallway thermostat, but a previous installer had left the blue and black wires disconnected and tucked away at the furnace end.

I removed the old thermostat and confirmed that yes, there was a blue wire in the wiring bundle, along with an unused black wire. But the blue wire was so much shorter than the others that making use of it seemed it might require pulling out more of the cable and cutting back and restripping the other four wires. Plus I had not noticed a blue wire at the furnace end of things. So I was glad I’d hooked up the Power Extender Kit at the furnace, as I figured that meant I could just use the existing four wires that were already stripped and waiting. I didn’t realize this was a mistake until later in the week.

Since the wall still showed the outline where the original 1981 thermostat had been mounted, I clipped the new thermostat’s back plate into the larger trim plate. That would cover up everything except for one hole for the wider 2001 Honeywell thermostat, but I could easily fill that with spackle. Our original doorbell is mounted such that its long chime pipes hang quite near the thermostat, so I had to shift the trim plate over as far to one side as possible to ensure the Ecobee would be clear of the doorbell chimes.

The back plate had a nifty small spirit level built into it, making it easy to ensure the thermostat was plumb when I marked where I would drill for the mounting holes and when screwing the backplate to the wall. I straightened out the four wires with pliers, inserted them into the back plate terminals, and then popped on the Ecobee 3 Lite. I plugged the furnace AC cord back into the wall, threw the breakers back on, and was rewarded by having the new thermostat boot up.

The Ecobee 3 Lite is now working in our hallway

I tried using my iPhone to help the thermostat connect to our WiFi network, but that setup process froze up. I then popped the Ecobee off the wall and back on to reboot it and did the setup with my iPad. That worked fine, and I downloaded Ecobee’s iOS app, which made it easy to set up as many Home, Away, and Sleep times as we wanted on the various days of the week, quickly setting the desired temperatures for heat and cool cycles for each.

Being able to use a modern iOS app to program the thermostat is great, particularly when compared to the dozens of button pushes it took to program the old Honeywell unit. And we can still do everything we need on the thermostat’s own touchscreen, which has an intuitive interface.

Fixing a Goof

After everything was wrapped up, I noticed the heated air coming from the registers was cooler than normal. Later in the week I realized the outside condenser unit was running when the furnace lit up, indicating a problem with the wiring. I figured that the Power Extender Kit was the culprit.

So I shut off the power and opened up the furnace, tracing the cable coming from the hallway thermostat into the furnace room and how it had been split and reworked by previous climate control installations. A more careful look at the wiring bundle revealed that the unused black and blue wires I’d seen at the hallway end were indeed present down in the cable, but had been wrapped and tucked away at the furnace end. So I knew I could rewire things as shown below.

How I rewired my Ecobee to get things working correctly

So I disconnected and removed the Power Extender Kit, reconnecting the hallway wiring bundle’s red, green, yellow, and white wires directly to the matching terminals on the furnace. I untucked and unwrapped the blue wire in the thermostat wiring bundle. It was not long enough to reach the furnace’s “C” terminal, but I could reach where a previous installer had spliced together a blue wire from that “C” terminal and a wire leading to the outside condenser. I simply unscrewed that connector and spliced in the blue wire from the wiring bundle. 

Then I went back to the hallway, removed the Ecobee, unhooked all of the wires, and untucked and stripped the blue wire. It was just barely long enough to hook into the appropriate terminal on the thermostat plate. I then connected the red, yellow, green, and white wires to the terminals on thermostat plate as shown in the Ecobee manual’s section for installations with a “C” wire.

I popped the Ecobee back on the wall, restored the power, and was gratified to find the outside condenser was no longer turning on and the air from the registers was back to its usual warmth. At some point, I will need to switch the system to cooling to verify the outside condenser triggers appropriately.

Less than a week after the initial installation, I augmented the Ecobee with two remote sensors. Our office, being at the farthest remove from the furnace, has always been chilly in winter. So I placed one remote sensor on a bookshelf in there, placing the other in the front foyer since that is where Wendy likes to relax with her iPad.

Happy Homeowner

Here are the various advantages of our new thermostat over the previous programmable one:

    • Schedule vacations in advance: I used to have to remember to punch in vacation settings as we were leaving the house, telling the thermostat what temperature to maintain until a particular day and time. Now I can do all of that in advance as part of my routine vacation planning.
    • Remote access: Now we can adjust the settings from anywhere with our mobile devices or a computer with a web browser. So we can adjust the thermostat at any time without having to traipse to the hallway control, and if a workday or vacation ends early, we can ensure the house is comfortable upon our return.
    • Ecobee Weather Display

      Weather info: Since I told the device its location, it always displays the outside temperature and general weather (partly cloudy, sunny, etc.) , and a single tap on the screen displays details and weather forecasts.

    • No resets: Since it receives house current and gets the time and day from the internet, we will no longer have to manually adjust the clock for time corrections or daylight saving time nor swap out batteries.
    • Humidity sensor: The indoor humidity is displayed at all times, making it easy to judge when to set up or dismantle the humidifier I run in the front entry to keep the house comfortable in winter.
    • Voice control: We can interface the device with Google Home, Siri, and Alexa. So if we want to try to adjust things with voice control, we can. But we’d much rather use the mobile app than try to figure out just what to say to get needed results. Voice control from Google, Apple, or Amazon is still a long ways from what the computer could do in Star Trek.
    • Remote sensors: Positioning a remote sensor in a room that is sometimes uncomfortable can help adjust the thermostat’s behavior to compensate.

Travel Beckons

The various home improvements of late are rewarding, but we were also anxious to hit the road and get away for awhile. Last weekend Wendy traded in her Chevy Impala sedan for a new Honda Odyssey minivan, so we had oodles of room for short visits to Kansas City and Oklahoma City during Thanksgiving break.

We are ready to hit the road in Wendy’s new minivan

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A Revolution in Home Automation

November 3, 2018

We recently had a home automation revolution at Meador Manor, with Google Home devices vanquishing a number of Amazon Echo toys that had built up over the past two years.

In the summer of 2016 Wendy gave me a first-generation Amazon Echo, a tall black cylinder with a speaker and microphones that functions as a voice-driven assistant. I purchased a $79/year subscription to Amazon Music and put the present to use. I use it as my wake-up alarm and, when I go to bed, to control a Philips Hue bulb in the lamp on my nightstand, play music, hear the NPR news update, and get a minimal weather forecast.

Amazon Echo Devices

I eventually bought another large Echo cylinder for the home office, and added smaller Echo Dots in different rooms. When the Echo Show was released, with its screen and camera, I bought three, putting one in the kitchen and thinking I would have one at work and give one to my parents. The screen and camera promised easy video calling, which I thought could be useful.

However, I’d previously quickly abandoned using Facetime on my iPhone with a webcam on a computer at my parents’ home as too much bother, and my folks have no interest in smart phones or tablets.  I was never able to get the Echo Shows at work and home to call each other, so I never gave my folks the third Echo Show. And while I liked having the Echo Show’s screen in the kitchen so Wendy and I could see the timers we requested, that is about all we used it for, and nothing we used it for required the use of its camera.

Alexa can be quite frustrating

Wendy found Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, quite frustrating. When she would ask for a particular song, it would often struggle, playing something else or getting confused. Other seemingly simple commands could quickly befuddle it. That led Wendy to ban any voice-controlled lights around the house except for the lamp on my nightstand, and we kept our older Honeywell programmable thermostat instead of replacing it with one with WiFi and home automation integrations.

I found Alexa frustrating as well. I resorted to searching for a song from my music library using the Alexa app on my iPad until I learned to always say, “Alexa, play song title from my music library” to get what I wanted. Alexa’s poor comprehension means we have never trusted using it to buy anything or put things on a shopping list, even though we buy a lot of items from smile.Amazon.com.

For my birthday a friend bought me a Roav VIVA for my car. I had hoped it would let me easily request songs without taking my hands off the wheel. But it relied on my iPhone to connect to the car’s speakers, and I wound up having to invoke or mess around with its app almost every time I started the car. It was much easier to just set my iPhone so that I could holler out, “Hey Siri” and request specific songs that way. Siri is about as bad as Alexa at figuring out which song to play, but at least it is always ready, not requiring me to mess around with a special app.

I tried using If This, Then That and other Skills with Alexa, but found none of them compelling. Granted, some could have been more interesting if we had automated more lights, appliances, and utilities at Meador Manor. But the only Skill Wendy and I wound up using was “Simon says” just so we could make Alexa say silly things. I knew we weren’t as hopeless as the folks using Amazon Echo Silver in a SNL parody, but we were not getting much value out of our many Echo devices.

Amazon then decided to terminate my ability to add to my own music library in their service, limiting me to what I already uploaded and what they could stream. That mortal blow led me to order in July 2018, two years after getting my first Echo, a Google Home Mini, which is a competitor for the Amazon Echo Dot.

The Google Home Mini vs. the Amazon Echo Dot

My expectations were so low that it took me months to bother to plug in the Google device. Not caring for its default voice, I configured it to speak in a male British accent. (Since Apple changed the original voice of Siri, losing Susan Bennett’s intonations, I’ve turned it into a male Aussie.)

Since I was already paying $9.99/month for Google Play Music to get the bundled ad-free YouTube Red service, which has now morphed into YouTube Premium, it can stream music like the Echo devices, and Google still lets me upload my own music library.

It was easy to get it to work with my Philips Hue bulb, and I eventually had Wendy try it out. She was delighted with it, as it was far more accurate than Alexa at playing the songs she wanted. So I bought another Google Home Mini for her bathroom and then the larger Google Home, with its improved speaker and microphones, for our home office.

Her happiness with the Google voice assistant led me to finally break out a Wemo Switch Smart Plug I’d received as a birthday present 18 months earlier. I plugged Wendy’s coffee maker into it, programming it to turn on automatically each weekday morning as well as respond to her verbal commands to the Google Home devices. That sealed the deal for her.

Our Google Home devices

When the Google Home Hub came out, with its small screen and no camera, it replaced the Amazon Echo Show in the kitchen. It does everything we need, and its smaller size suits our galley kitchen better than the bulkier Amazon unit. Plus I know Wendy is glad it has no camera someone could hack into.

Sometimes Wendy and I want to share YouTube clips with each other on the big OLED television in the living room. I used to struggle with the remote controls to get AirPlay working via the Apple TV so we could stream videos from one or both of our Apple iPads. So I plugged a 2nd-generation Google Chromecast I found in the junk drawer (yes, there is a 1st-generation unit still in there) into the back of the TV, which thankfully supports HDMI-CEC so that the Chromecast can turn the TV on and off, which in turn activates our receiver for our surround sound speakers.

I was delighted that we could tell the Google Home Hub to turn on the TV and command it to play various YouTube videos. So we didn’t have to yell at the Hub in the kitchen from the couch, I bought another Google Home Mini and placed it on the TV stand. Now we can look at the title of the YouTube clip on one of our iPads and command the Google Home Mini to turn on the TV and play the clip.

We often have to help the Chromecast figure out which clip we want

It does struggle more with playing the correct YouTube video than playing the correct song from the streaming music service, but thankfully shows thumbnails of likely matches on the screen and asks us to say the number of the video clip we actually want to view. Overall, it beats fussing with the Apple TV and Airplay. I haven’t tried watching any movies with it yet, so I don’t know if we’ll be lured away from our current reliance on the TV’s built-in Amazon app or the Apple TV for renting and streaming movies.

I cancelled my Amazon Music subscription this week, and have retired all of the Amazon Echo devices except for the original gift on my nightstand. But there’s a Google Home Mini next to it. If I could only set the alarm on it to my liking, our last Echo would fade away. ¡Viva la revolución!

 

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Time for a break

October 18-20, 2018

Mid-October’s Fall Break in Oklahoma doesn’t coincide with our autumn colors, which don’t peak until late October and November. But it is still well-timed for us school folks, as we are ready for a respite after completing a quarter of a new academic year. Supporting and troubleshooting new technology services and helping with core curricular assessments has kept me scrambling, while Wendy and her Student Technology Support Team have ramped up to help dozens of high school students each day with their various Chromebook issues.

Home Improvements

On the home front, we had to shift most of our belongings earlier this month for new carpet to be installed. Meador Manor still featured its original 1981 salmon-colored saxony carpet. I didn’t have the money to replace it when I bought the house in 1994, and later put up with its traffic patterns, worn out pad, and even some torn seams to avoid the expense and disruption of replacing it. This fall’s hard-earned pay raise finally prompted me to take Wendy shopping for something better. We opted for a busy frieze carpet that disguises dirt and feels luxurious. Sooner Carpet installed Dreamweaver Stratosphere Leather carpet with new padding, and we are delighted.

Now that we finally have carpet worth saving, we have invested in protective mats for our rolling chairs, put down a tarpaulin and moving blanket to protect it in Wendy’s painting area, and moved our shoe rack to encourage us to change them when entering and thus avoid traipsing in dirt.

The consequent shifting of items and furnishings led us to purge some things we no longer used. I still read a book or two each month, but mostly using the Kindle app on my iPad or my Kindle Voyage. So after selling off 200 books in 2010 and donating over 700 to the public library in 2016, I boxed up even more of my books for donation. I’m now down to about 200 books on my shelves, having shed about 85% of my original collection.

Other home improvements this month include a new headboard, lamps, and nightstand for the guest room and installing an exhaust fan in the office window for Wendy to use when she is applying resin to protect her paintings.

With work and home improvements dominating our days of late, we planned our break to emphasize our hobbies.

Monarchs in Wichita

Slideshow | Photo Album

I took off Thursday in more ways than one since I took a vacation day and headed out to Wichita, Kansas while Wendy relaxed and painted at home. I was drawn there to the Botanica community gardens, which were started in 1987 by the Wichita Area Garden Council and the City of Wichita. They have grown to almost 18 acres and feature a butterfly garden, so migrating Monarchs were feasting there as part of their annual migration to central Mexico.

Monarch feeding in Botanica

I got various shots of them feeding on asters and resting amongst the mums.

Monarch in the mums

I enjoyed seeing a cute little ladybug and of course took some shots of roses for Wendy, including a bud and bloom of Fired Up.

Fired Up rose

Lake Leatherwood

Slideshow | Photo Album

Wendy loves painting at home, but also was ready to get away. I knew she would enjoy hunting in the Ozarks for rocks with crystals, so we headed there for a short getaway.

It rained steadily throughout the drive eastward, so we stopped to see the exhibit Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. We both liked the vivid colors of The Storyteller: The Artist and His Grandfather by Norval Morrisseau, in which a Mayan influence was evident. His grandfather, the figure on the left, was a member of the Mideiwiwin Society who taught Norval traditional Anishinaabe religious doctrines and practices.

The Storyteller: The Artist and His Grandfather by Norval Morrisseau

The break wasn’t long enough nor had I planned ahead sufficiently to book a cabin at our preferred resort of Sugar Ridge at Beaver Lake. So I booked us for one night at a nearby hotel. The view was the best thing about that place, enough said.

Beaver Lake view

But at least it put us close to Eureka Springs’ Lake Leatherwood, where we could hike to a stream and Wendy could hunt for rocks while I took some shots by the dam.

The weather cooperated by turning bright and sunny on Saturday. After a nice breakfast at the Sweet-n-Savory Cafe, we drove over to Lake Leatherwood and hiked up the Beacham Trail. While Wendy hunted rocks, I ventured over to the dam and down to its base.  I got shots of the flowing water and sunlight streaming through leaves which had begun to show traces of fall color.

Lake Leatherwood Dam

The recent rain meant West Leatherwood Creek was flowing well. Folks were out on the water in paddleboats and canoes, and I always enjoy the powerful perspective found at either end of the linear dam.

Perspective

Luna moth caterpillar

Bugs were minimal this time of year, and butterflies were enjoying wild asters. As we were making our way back to the car along the Fuller and Fishing Trails, a large caterpillar inched across our path. Someday it will become a Luna moth.

It was great to be back on the trails after months of avoiding them in prolonged summer heat. We needed the break and now can make it through the next four weeks of work until we get a week away for Thanksgiving.

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A Historical Trivia Challenge


September 23, 2018

Bartlesville is the seat of Washington County in northeast Oklahoma. The county is a north-south strip that is only about 10 miles wide and 40 miles long. The smallest county in the state, it lies along the eastern border of Osage County, the state’s largest. Named after George Washington, the county was formed at statehood in 1907 on land that had once been controlled by the Caddo, served as buffalo-hunting grounds for the Osage from 1760-1825, and then was part of the new Cherokee Nation after their forced relocation from Georgia.

Washington County is the smallest in Oklahoma

The first verified school in the county opened in 1874 at Silver Lake, one of the few natural lakes in Oklahoma, just south of modern-day Bartlesville, back when it was still Indian Territory. These days, the county is dominated by four school districts which serve 8,300 students. So how many one-room schools do you think operated in the county from 1874 through the closing of the last ones by the 1950s?

That was the first of a series of trivia questions I posed earlier this month when I was asked to share some history of the rural schools with the Washington County Retired Educators Association. Their request was prompted by my presentation to them a year earlier on the history of the Bartlesville schools.

School history can be a bit dull, even to an audience of retired educators! So my preparation including hunting for unusual things to highlight. The Bartlesville Area History Museum has a great book called Over a Century of Schools in Washington County: Gone But Not ForgottenThat was extremely helpful, but I also consulted the vertical files in the History Room at the Bartlesville Public Library.

Among the tales I accumulated were:

  • In 1912 a district saw its expensive school, which was less than two years old, burn up with the fire department forlornly looking on, unable to spray a drop of water on it.
  • The two largest oil tank farms in the world once enabled two county districts to build four rather fine school buildings, only one of which is still standing a century later. One of those districts had a fellow build the first school buses in the state, but they were all horse-drawn.
  • A tornado flattened one school in the 1930s while its two teachers and 70 schoolchildren sheltered in a ditch across the road.

That spiced things up, and I threw in additional trivia questions designed to confound my audience. If I have successfully whetted your appetite, dig in with my Google Slides presentation:

 

You can find much more information on Washington County at my long-standing history site of BartlesvilleHistory.org.

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