Just take a few minutes and watch the video:
Acerbic observations on the state of the world, art, politics, and culture.
Just take a few minutes and watch the video:
Last week, I posted this query on Facebook.
The question arose after watching my good friend Jerry Vandiver delivered an otherwise wonderful performance of his music from the porch of his house in East Nashville to his friends and fans via Facebook Live. I say “otherwise” because the delivery was marred by what I consider the Cardinal Sin of Internet Video and a Scourge of Our Times surpassed only by the Coronavirus and herpes: ‘vertical’ video.
I will spare you all the diatribe about why vertical video is such an anathema. Suffice it to say that 9-out-of-9 video and photography professionals agree.
In Jerry’s case last week, he had is band socially-distant-spread across his lawn, but because the video was shot in “portrait” (vertical) mode, the bottom half of the frame was just empty street. Apparently when he tried to set his iPhone camera in “landscape” (i.e. horizontal, like the way we watch TeeVee) mode, the image got “flipped” so that it looked like everybody was playing their instruments left-handed. So Jerry settled on the “vertical” aspect, I threw a gasket, and posted the question above on my own Facebook page.
After a couple of days another Facebook friend, another singer/songwriter by the name of Bill Mann, posted the complete solution:
Let me break it down for you and simplify where I can: 1
These steps pre-suppose that you are going to use the front-facing (aka the “selfie”) camera for your broadcast – assuming you want to be able to see what is in the frame while you’re transmitting. This is OK with newer phones, like the iPhone 10 and newer, because the resolution of the front facing camera is adequate (though never as good as the primary, rear camera) for what you’re doing.
If you’re using the rear camera, you can skip steps 4-6, just make sure you have the camera mounted in landscape mode before you click the blue “start” button. You can’t change the orientation once the recording/streaming has begun.
Jerry and I tested all this out this morning, and discovered that it is only with that front-facing “selfie” camera that Facebook flips the image so that normal guitarists all look like they are playing left-handed.
Which, with the only exception being Paul McCartney, is another violation of the laws of the natural universe on par with vertical videos.
I hope somebody finds this helpful.
What is Spring without baseball???
Along with everything else that his been canceled or postponed, there is no baseball. No major league baseball. No minor league baseball, no Little League baseball. No hits, no runs, no errors.
I’ve been hearing that maybe the entire MLB 2020 season will be televised from (empty?) stadiums in Arizona and Florida. The Nashville Sounds should have had their opening day and my friends and I should be triangulating on our first game of the season. And my annual 4th (3rd) of July game? Could be canceled for the first time since 1999.
I’m trying to fill the void by reading Phillip Roth’s The Great American Novel, which is all about baseball (what else would the “Great American Novel” be about?). Yesterday I read a passage in which one of the characters waxes eloquently his objection to flood lights and night games, which passage I share with you here – as a reminder of what we are missing.
– – – –
The great Ulysses S. Fairsmith, renowned manager of the Ruppert Mundy’s in the Roth’s fictional Patriot League, and known throughout league not as Mr. Fairsmith but as Mister Fairsmith expressed his opposition to against the introduction of baseball played under artificial light rather than the bright natural sunlight that God himself had intended:
I do feel in every part around the league, on those golden days of sweet, cheerful spring, hot plenteous summer, and bountiful and benevolent autumn, when physically strong and morally sound young men do sport in seriousness beneath the sun, as did the two in Eden, before the Serpent in the Fall. Daytime baseball is nothing less than a reminder of Eden in the time of innocence in joy; and too, an imitation of that which is yet to come. For what is a ball park but that place wherein Americans gathered to worship the beauty of God’s earth, the skill and strength of his children, and the holiness of his commandment to order and obedience.
For such are the twin rocks upon which all sport is founded.And woe onto him, I say, who would assemble our players in our fans beneath the feeble, artificial light of godless science! For in the end is in the beginning, in the Paradise to come as in the Eden we have lost, it is not by the faint wattage of the electric light bulb that you shall be judged, but rather in the unblinking I of the Lord, wherein we are all as bareheaded fans in the open bleachers and tiny players prancing the vault of His Heaven.
So, that’s what’s missing. Just one more reason we all feel so disoriented. Because it’s April, and there is no baseball.
Daytime, nighttime… Play ball already!
At 9AM I placed the scheduled FaceTime breakfast call.
I ate my bagel with cream cheese and orange juice alone at the table, looking out he window at the backyard, skimming the news and Facebook on my iPad
Incoming text message: “Overslept… lemme walk the dogs…*”
I’m watching John Prine videos.
Hello In There.
A wave of sadness overwhelms me.
This is the saddest I have felt in years.
I almost cried.
I don’t want to wind up like the old people in this song.
*the call came through about 45 minutes later. I’m better now.
“…ignore everyone who is posting productivity porn on social media right now….Let go of all of the profoundly daft ideas you have about what you should be doing right now.”
– – – – –
Update from West Bumfuque, StarDate 200330
I have basically not left my house for 18 days now.
My employer () closed all its stores on March 14 and there is no re-open date even on the horizon. I am beyond fortunate to work for a company large and prosperous enough to continue compensating its employees through the closure. I’ve had several video conferences with my colleagues. There is not much news but the virtual gatherings are a welcome respite. They like that I wear my silly top-hot with the rainbow ribbon.
I went to a “virtual AA meeting” via Zoom yesterday and was surprised how well that worked. #32years!
Instacart delivers my groceries (which I handle with rubber gloves and disinfect before storing); Amazon drops something on my doorstep a couple of times a week (nothing new there, really).
I have all the toilet paper I need, but the Publix where my Instacart order gets filled is completely out of ketchup. Of all brands and varieties. Gone, empty, nada. Civilization is treading on very thin ice indeed.
I haven’t taken cash out of my wallet for nearly three weeks.
I shower… most days. I wear clean clothes. Little victories.
I go for twice-daily walks around my neighborhood. If it’s sunny and warm in the late afternoon, I go for a “21st Century horseback ride” – I take my Mustang convertible out for a 40 minute spin over some of the backroads out here in West Bumfuque. “Sport mode” is great for curve-straightening. Giddyap, little pony car.
In the evenings. my go-to binges right now are “Outlander” Season 4 on Starz (via Amazon Prime) and “Cheers” on Netflix” (only 269 episodes to go; think that will get me through the pandemic?) On HBO I’m following along with “Westworld” – which is gorgeous and brilliant, but also incomprehensible without podcasts and recaps. “The Plot Against America” is equally brilliant, timely, and much easier to follow. “Plot’s” vision of a dystopian past run by humans is much more terrifying than “Westworld’s” vision of dystopian future run by robots.
I miss Colbert’s monologues. This week he has resumed his shows from his home, but the tone is different. I’m glad John Oliver is doing what he can from home, his monologue/diatribes work better without a studio audience.
I finished “Portnoy’s Complaint” and have queued up Phillip Roth’s “The Great American Novel,” which is about baseball, which we will otherwise be doing without for the foreseeable future.
“…ignore everyone who is posting productivity porn on social media right now….Let go of all of the profoundly daft ideas you have about what you should be doing right now.”
Ah, there’s the doorbell. Instacart has dropped my groceries off at the front door Lord, bless those souls for being on the front lines, they are every bit as vital as the nurses and doctors but not nearly as well compensated.
I’m going to put my rubber gloves on now…
… life goes on, Brah…
Look what I found in my front yard this morning.
I see that a lot of people in the Social Media Firmament have been using their platforms to post “Decade’s End” reviews. Here are the chapter titles from mine. Details will cost you coffee or lunch:
2010: Now What?
2011: Farewell, Brother.
2012: Are You Done yet?”
2013: The First Portals of Stone
2014: “Are you The Artist?”
2015: The Pull of Portlandia
2016: The Surviving Spouse Comes Home After The Funeral
2017: The Dead Cat Christmas
2018: The War Of The Roses
2019: Life Is Better With The Top Down.
2020: Now What?
This is where the story begins, on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Santa Cruz California, on a warm afternoon in the late summer of 1973.
I had graduated from a branch of Antioch College near Baltimore, Maryland, in the spring of 1973. In the course of what passed for my higher education – in between all the joints I rolled and smoked – I was one of an emerging global cadre of long-haired, hippie-radicale “video guerillas.” My classmates and I experimented with a new media paradigm, using the very first portable video recorders – the Sony Porta-Pak – to create programming for public access on cable TV.
Our text book through that era was periodical out of New York called “Radical Software.”
The 8th edition of Radical Software was published in the spring of 1973, just before I graduated from Antioch. That issue was dubbed the “VideoCity” edition” because – as I learned within its pages – electronic video was invented there in the 1920s.
And that’s where first I encountered a name which would ultimately become a primary preoccupation of my adult life: Philo T. Farnsworth.
It was in these pages that I first learned of the 14 year old farm boy with the cartoon-character name who figured out in 1921 how to bounce electrons around in a vacuum tube in order to transmit moving pictures through the air. I learned about his struggles to perfect his invention and his fights with RCA over his patents. I saw images of a pre-history I had never seen before, and wondered then, as I still wonder now, why is his name not more familiar and why his story is not more frequently told.
After barely qualifying for a Bachelor’s degree (did I mention that I majored in joint-rolling?), I packed my guitar, a 35mm camera, a pair of hiking boots and a few changes of underwear into my Volkswagen Sqareback and spent the better part of the month of August driving across the country, intending to seek my fortune in the actual TeeVee industry in Hollywood.
When I arrived in Los Angeles at the end of August, I joined up with Tom Klein, my former college roommate, who was a native of LA, and we started working on some public access video projects out of Santa Monica.
Sometime in mid-September Tom and I took a little road trip up the California coast, to meet a fellow video guerilla who ran the public access cable channel in Santa Cruz and went by the assumed persona of “Johnny Videotape.” I have no recollection of this character’s actual name, so for the purposes of this story, we’ll just call him “Johnny.”
“Johnny” knew a fellow named Phil Geitzen, who had edited that “VideoCity” edition of Radical Software. And Geitzen was acquainted with Philo T. Farnsworth III – the oldest son of the Philo T. Farnsworth who had invented television, who had died in 1971, just a couple of years before all of this was happening.
Johnny and Tom and I went on a little hike through the Santa Cruz mountains, and stopped on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
As the the three of us sat on a large rock amid the scuffy California brush, Johnny regaled us with stories that Phil Geitzen had heard from Philo T. Farnsworth (the third) about Philo T. Farnsworth (the second).
And it was there, on this hillside in Santa Cruz, looking out at the blue horizon in the late summer of 1973 that I first heard the expression “nuclear fusion.”
At a time when conventional nuclear power – what the Eisenhower era reverently extolled as “Atoms for Peace” – was just beginning to encounter cultural push back for its freshly perceived dangers – in other words, during the time when the expression “meltdown” was just beginning to enter the lexicon – I learned about the most fundamental force in the entire universe.
Johnny explained that “fusion” is the opposite of the more familiar “fission” that burns in the core of conventional nuclear power plants.
Fission splits heavy atoms like Uranium or Plutonium into lighter atoms; the combined mass of the split-off, lighter atoms is less than the mass of the original, heavier atoms, and that difference in mass is released as energy in accordance with Einstein’s famous formula, E=MC2.
For the record, fission does not exist anywhere in nature; its presence here on Earth is an entirely human fabrication.
Fusion, on the other hand, is the most natural and common phenomenon is the entire universe. Fusion is the process burning within our sun and every star in the heavens.
It seems as if God, when he got bored being God all by himself and set about to create a Universe that could provide some companionship, when he was sifting around for a way to “let there be light,” he actually started with the idea of fusion.
In The Beginning…
God must have said to himself, “First I’ll create hydrogen. Easy. One proton, one electron. Then I’ll add a neutron. Then I’ll take two of these hydrogen atoms and press them together into an entirely new element. The result will be all the heat and light I need to create an entire universe!
God clapped his big hands together, and the universe went “bang.”
That’s all God had to do. Create hydrogen atoms in infinite abundance and then hang gigantic balls of hydrogen thoughout his new Heavens, compressing those balls of gas with the gravity of their own mass until the atoms fused together into a second element and presto: there was light, and there was heat.
And God saw that it was good.
Some 14 billion years later, human scientists would name that second element “helium” and a Jewish patent clerk in Germany would calculate the awesome amount of energy released in its forming in the most famous mathematical equation ever written.
Over eons the stars did the rest of the work: forging an entire atomic chart of other elements, and then condensing those elements into planets. Over the course of several billion years (which might seem a mere six or seven days to a cosmic diety…) that process would eventually, produce organic, carbon based “life” forms that could carry and transmit that same energy.
God finally had himself some company, and on the seventh day he threw a party.
Look out at the night sky, and all you see, as Carl Sagan might have put it, are billions and billions of deep space fusion reactors. Along with sex, fusion energy is the most natural creative force in the Universe.
OK, back to that bluff overlooking the Pacific in the late summer of 1973.
Fusion, as Johnny had learned from Phil Geitzen, as Geitzen had learned from Philo Farnsworth III, offers mankind the promise of a clean and (relatively?) safe source of industrial energy from a virtually infinite fuel source. The hydrogen isotopes in sea water – the most abundant resource on Earth – store enough fusion fuel to power advanced civilizations for millions of years. And even though fusion is an atomic reaction, it presents none of the hazards or toxic byproducts that fission plants produce.
Johnny Videotape explained to Tom Klein and I that modern science has been trying to harness this fusion energy for useful purposes here on Earth for several decades – the obvious assumption being that if we can harness fission to generate electricity, then surely we can harness fusion toward a similar end.
Or maybe not?
Science has figured out how to harness the very unnatural process of fission into both controlled and explosive devices. The controlled devices are all those nuclear power plants, all those Three Mile Islands, Chernobyls and Fukushimas – all those meltdowns waiting to happen, and all that radioactive garbage that nobody knows what to do with. The explosive devices, well, that’s Trinity and Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The only fusion devices mankind has managed to perfect are the explosive ones. The hydrogen bomb. The monster of incineration that its architect, Edward Teller, liked to call “The Super.” Great for wiping out entire cities; not so great for powering them.
A controlled fusion reaction, one that could produce the same megawatts of electricty that we can get out of a conventional nuclear power plant? That has proven much more difficult to deliver.
Because: As a heavenly star is a fusion reaction, so an earthbound fusion reaction is an artificial star – and thus presents a cosmic riddle:
How do you bottle a star?
What sort of vessel can you create that is capapble of containing a seething atomic inferno as hot as the sun? What sort of container could withstand such heat without disintegrating? Conversely, what sort of bottle could contain a star that would not ultimately extinguish the star simply by coming in contact with it?
That is the quandary that Johnny Videotape presented that warm afternoon on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz, California in the summer of 1973.
And the reason Johnny was telling us all this was because he had learned from Phil Geitzen, who had learned from Philo T. Farnsworth III, that Philo T. Farnsworth II – the man who as a boy had invented television – had spent the final decades of his life solving the riddle!
Philo Farnsworth had figured out how to bottle a star.
Now the story becomes rather apocryphal. Here is the story Johnny told, as I recall it 46 years later:
Picture Philo T. Farnsworth working alone in a makeshift basement laboratory.
In the doorway, his young son reverently stands by and watches as his father fires up his fantastic ‘star-making machinery.’ Before their eyes, the unthinkable materializes: the artificial star.
Together they watch the vibrant, shimmering light, and a knowing gaze passes between father and son.
When he is satisfied that he has done all that he can do and seen all he needs to see, the father shuts off the machine – and begins to dismantle it.
He removes a critical piece from the machine, and places it on a high shelf somewhere in the lab where nobody will ever find it – so that the machine will never operate again.
And then he takes the secret to his grave.
That story landed like a harpoon in my heart.
I am hooked on it still.
And that is why the website fusor.net has been around for more than 20 years.
And why I have been telling this story to anybody who’ll listen for nearly 50 years.
It’s an odd obsession, to put it mildly.
Two years after that afternoon in Santa Cruz, I tracked down the family of Philo T. Farnsworth.
In the pursuit of the fortune that had lured me to Hollywood, I had landed on the idea of making “a movie for television about the boy who invented it.”
That project has its own curious origin-and-dead-end story; That the most effective story-telling medium ever devised has yet to tell the story of its own fascinating origins remains its own bizarre mystery.
For now, suffice it to say that in July of 1975 I flew to Salt Lake City, where I was greeted in a modest-but-cluttered home by Philo Farnsworth’s widow Pem and two of her skeptical sons – the oldest, the aforememtiomed Philo T. Farnsworth III, born in 1929, and Kent, the youngest who was roughly my age. That trio of Farmsworths were the primary keepers of the family treasures (they are all deceased now).
Over the course of the next two days – and the next several years – I began to learn the untold story of the true origins of electronic video, and of the titanic struggles that accompanied its arrival in the world during the 1930s.
And over the course of those years Philo T. Farnsworth III became one of my best friends.
There are so. many. stories. I wish I had time to tell you the story of “The Prince, The Inventor, and The Egg.” I can only say now that Philo was one of the most unique individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing until his untimely death in 1987.
Philo possessed unique insights into his father’s legacy. Though P3 (as he was often called) lacked his father’s mathematical prowess, he was an inventor in his own right and offered me keen insights into the inventive process that inform my own work to this day.
But in those first encounters, it became readily apparent that the entire family, and Philo III in particular, were fervently protective of their father’s legacy, and from the outset quite reluctant to discuss the fusion research – the star in a jar – that consumed the final decades of his father’s life.
But over time, time I would earn the family’s trust and learn the truth underlying that apocryphal story.
As we got to know and become comfortable with each other, I finally got around to telling Philo the story that Johnny Videotape had told me, the story that he had heard from Phil Geitzen that Phil Geitzen had supposedly heard from the lips of this very same Philo Farnsworth III.
The story, he said, was indeed apocryphal, and perhaps a bit broadly drawn. The details were well off – Philo III was hardly a child, he was in his mid 30s during the years when his father was experimenting with fusion. But he also confirmed its essence when he said, simply, that “the patents are incomplete.”
Think of a patent as a text book. A well written patent should instruct somebody skilled in the underlying arts how to build the novel device disclosed therein. But if critical details are left out of the patent, even the most skilled practitioner will be building a device that falls short of its intended purpose.
In other words, filing an incomplete patent is much like taking a critical piece out of the machine and placing on a high shelf where nobody will ever find it.
Philo first told me about those incomplete patents sometime in the mid 1970s. But it was another 15 years before Pem Farnsworth, who had been at her husbands’s side during all the important moments in his career, would confide in me the story that is the climax of his biography.
In the summer of 1989, I returned to Salt Lake to help Pem and youngest son Kent put the finishing touches on “Distant Vision” – the memoir that Pem had begun writing when I first met her in 1975.
And when we got to the “second chapter” – the decade devoted to fusion energy research – Kent and I could both tell that Pem was withholding something, a critical detail she was reluctant to divulge.
Finally, we sat Pem down with a cassette recorder and coaxed from her the story of a night in 1965, when Philo brought her back to his laboratory that was, in fact, in a basement in Fort Wayne Indiana. Once past the night watchman and settled in behind the controls, Farnsworth opened the electrical ciruits feeding the reactor and adjusted the controls. And then the strangest thing happened: he withdrew the electrical current, and the reaction just kept on going.
Pem and Philo watched as the needles in various gauges pinned at the limits. And when the needles finally settled down, Pem told us that her husband turned to her and said, “I have seen all I need to see…”
Weeks later, he filed the patents that his son descibed to me as “incomplete.”
It is quite common when reading of contemporary fusion research to encounter the skeptical caveat that “fusion energy is 20 years in the future and always will be…”
But I have met the family of Philo T. Farnsworth – the man who, as a boy, arrived on this planet with the unique insights that delivered electronic video to the world. I have looked them all in the eye and I have seen and felt the abiding reverence they hold for the legacy they are protecting and the secrets that Philo T. Farnsworth took to his grave.
And I share their conviction: fusion energy is not 20 years in the future.
The path to fusion energy was found 50 years ago and we missed it.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Above, “Star Mode” in one of the many amateur and student science projects
that have kept Farnsworth’s approach to fusion alive for the past 20 years.
This work has been fostered by a website I created in 1998: Fusor.net
I didn’t know if we were going to observe Christmas or exchange gifts. We never talked about it, but I bought her a few things anyway.
And then the cat died. The week before Christmas. He’d gone out that Friday night and didn’t come home. Saturday morning, she got out of bed early and went out to look for him.
And then she stormed angrily back into the bedroom while I was still asleep. She screamed at me: “Get up!”
Half awake, I muttered: “What’s going on?”
And she screamed at me again: “He’s DEAD!”
When she’d first brought him home several years prior, Ann was determined that Wonkie was going to be an indoor cat. Wonkie never got the memo. At night he’d sleep between us in our bed, but in the morning he pawed at the windows and pounded on the pet door we’d nailed shut. He was a predator. He needed to go outside and kill things. That was Wonkie’s buddha-cat nature, but she was determined that he would be what she wanted him to be. Buddha be damned.
She eventually relented and we started letting him outdoors . He’d hide under the pine tree in the back yard, jump out and pounce on birds and chipmunks, then scatter their feathers and bloody entrails around the house.
But giving Wonkie more time in the prison yard came with an unspoken price: if ever he didn’t come home, that was gonna be my fault.
He’d be a little slow to come back to the house some nights before we went to bed, but we had a rattle – cat treats in a sealed glass jar – and we’d call him and rattle that jar and eventually he’d show up and then we could close the door and he’d come upstairs with us.
In the summer of 2016, Ann decided she needed to be closer to her two grown sons and only granddaughter. After nearly 20 years together in the same house, she packed up her SUV and moved to Portland, Oregon in what was understood at the time to be a one-way trip. She left the pets (two cats, one dog) behind. There was no indication that she was ever coming back for them. They were my concern now. Since I was rarely home, I had to foster the dog, and eventually sent her out to Oregon. The cats I kept.
The second cat was a recluse. She just hid in the basement. Wonkie was a companion.
At night, Wonkie often perched on the pillow over my shoulder – in the place where Ann’s head was supposed to be.
Eight months later – when things in Oregon didn’t work out like she’d expected them to – Ann came back to Tennessee. Much as the decision to depart had been unilateral, so was the decision to return – but she really didn’t come back to the marriage. She came back to the house. There was no amount of counseling or therapy could close that disparity.
And then it finally happened. Wonkie and I had been fine, alone together or all those months. But that Friday night, a week before Christmas, Wonkie went out and didn’t come home. Ann got up the next morning and found him frozen in the ivy bed at the end of the driveway – like somebody had hit him with a car and placed him there.
She found him and came back into the bedroom where I was still sleeping and she screamed at me “He’s DEAD!” Like I’d gone out while she was asleep and run him over with my own car.
Like penance, I was compelled to dig a hole under the pine tree in the back hard and bury him in the frozen ground.
The following week, come Christmas morning, there were gifts waiting for her. But there was nothing for me.
Not even the lump of coal I surely deserved for killing her cat.