Tuesday, March 30, 2010

From Day 0 - Part Seven

Just about the same time I was discovering girls, my Dad was instructing me in something far less complex; firearms.

Pictured here is a Winchester Model 67, single shot, bolt action rifle chambered for .22 short, long and long rifle. My dad purchased his for a mere six dollars in the late 1930's through a Sears and Roebuck catalog.

This was the gun I first learned to shoot, and admittedly I was pretty good. Taking a squirrel at 100 yards was not unheard of. Considering all it had were the old iron sights, that was pretty good.

Even today I have an old 67 being restored.

Search as I might, a certain posting has been lost. I would have bet anyone there was a posting about this next event in my life. Apparently not.

If you look back to this post, there is a picture of my grade school. To the lower left is a ball diamond, complete with lights, bleachers, refreshment stand and even an outhouse. In fourth grade it was little more than a backstop overgrown with vines and brush.

Toward the end of my fourth or fifth grade there was a favor burning in my soul. A desire beyond anything else. OK, it was just a thought, but all the same, I wanted to play baseball. It is a relatively quiet sport; nothing like the basketball I failed at.

My Grandfather, pictured here with my brother and myself on his farm, was the prime target. He loved baseball and was a fan of the Chicago Cubs. So, long story short, in 1977 or so, I asked him to start a baseball team.

Within a year we were playing softball on a manicured field, lights were installed, the backstop rebuilt and bleachers cobbled together. We played softball. Starting as a short stop, the catcher didn't like the position so I took it. We had one pitcher, and one catcher. That made for some very long summer games.

In another year there were outhouses and a refreshment stand on the site. We were not the only team playing on the diamond. Now there were several adult softball teams sharing our field.

I last saw the field in 2005 and nearly 30 years after a simple request of a fifth grader to his grandfather, it was still in use.

During the second season I arrived home after hunting or walking the woods or some other activity, to find my Mom on the phone sobbing and speaking to someone in barely understandable words. There was little I could do to calm her, she just rubbed my head.

Something bad had happened, someone or something had died; it was all quite unclear. After she hung up the phone and composed herself, she asked to speak to me. The numbness started but from where, I was uncertain. "Kenny, Mike is gone," she said, tears still welling in her eyes.

"Gone where?"

"There was an accident, Kenny, in front of your Uncle Milo's house. Mike was riding his dirt bike and a truck hit him."

Mike Butler was our pitcher and a close grade school friend of mine. This plaque is on the refreshment stand at that ballpark.

From Day 0 - Part Six

Not long after meeting my lover for the first time, and just before discovering girls, my inner geek started showing himself. Many recess periods were spent browsing the little school library. Then there was the mysterious object in the corner. The front door was thick glass with a switch for some sort of blower on the top. Inside was a sink and bottle upon bottle of things like this.

I had singularly discovered a hidden gem. This little school had a fully stocked chemistry lab, including something I believe is called a fume, or exhaust hood.

My first experiment, at the age of eight, was the effects of extremely weak solutions of Thorium Nitrate on petunia plants. Result: they don't grow so well.

After that, a solution to my shyness was discovered; reading and science. I still remember the look of my fourth grade substitute teacher when I asked her to explain the Lorentz Contraction.

Ah, the Musser Public Library in Muscatine, Iowa (pictured here). About once every month we went into town to buy groceries and other necessities. While my Mom and Grandma, shadowed by my brothers and sisters shopped for freezy-pops and milk and other necessities, I was here.
My shyness mattered not in this place of knowledge. Here I discovered ham radio and computers and electronics and physics; and Isaac Asimov.

My reputation as an oddball had begun.

As the other boys were trying to get girlfriends or take up sports, I was reading Asimov and Bradbury and Sagan.

Shy, non-athletic oddballs with penchants towards science do not tend to be 'chick magnets.' At the time, I was good with that.

From Day 0 - Part Five

Yes, before I discovered the fairer sex, before my first girlfriend, unknown to my seven year old self, we met. It was a tempestuous first encounter, and all subsequent meetings are as such. She raises something deep and visceral and primal in my soul.

Alas, we have not seen each other in about ten years. I look forward to our next encounter.

Ah, the fairer sex; girls; women. It was a basketball practice at the little Eliza Grade School when I felt the gentle nudge of hormones. Not being terribly athletic, anytime I managed to accomplish a save or score a few points was cause for celebration. We were skins. The ball went wild; a mob of ten boys all around me scrambled to control the sphere. I jumped with all I had through the mob. With one swift flash of my hand, the ball was smacked directly toward our team captain. He went up... SCORE!

Tammy screamed, "Way to go, Ken!"

After practice, I seem to remember a hug or two from her and a few other girls. She asked me to the Sadie Hawkins picnic the following year. We spent a little time together and perhaps held hands; typical grade school behavior for the time. I was awkward, and still am in the romantic arts. After fifth grade, we were merely friends.

In 1984 or 1985 my fiance and I were driving home from college for a few days of R&R. We round an S-curve not far from our destination and we meet my first girlfriend, my friend, driving the opposite direction. We all wave.

Arriving at our destination a minute later, we get out and start chatting with my fiance's friend. In the distance rose a tall shaft of black smoke near the road we had just been driving.

A grain truck had swerved, out of control on the S-curve. My grade school friend had no where to go; no escape route. They collided head-on. They identified her body by a small tattoo on her foot. May you rest in peace, Tammy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

From Day 0 - Part Four

Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself yet again.

Sometime just before my first sister was born, I was treating my Dad's John Deere Model A tractor as if it were a jungle-gym. Oh, the glories I could sing of; balancing on those huge tires; bouncing on the seat; sitting on the very front top of the radiator; swinging upside down from the steering wheel... Well, maybe not that last one. While attempting this trick, my leg slipped and gravity had its way with me. While plummeting to the ground, my head had a chance encounter with the flywheel cover.

Some people believe this is one of the primary causes I am the way I am. Honestly, I believe a more probable cause would the head trauma suffered from running full-steam into a very stationary cottonwood tree. But, again, getting ahead of myself.

The man you see on the right caused a great deal of trauma in my childhood. Living in a rural area does not lend itself to a plethora of television stations, especially in the early 70's. Our black & white television could receive channels 4, 6, 8 and 12; CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS respectfully.

Mornings when there was no school were spent doing early morning chores, watching Sesame Street at 8, Captain Kangaroo at 9, and then off to some tomfoolery out of the house.

What to my horror when Captain Kangaroo... The CAPTAIN!!!! How??? Why????!?!?! The Captain was preempted for the Watergate hearings!!! OK, I am over it...

My kindergarten through sixth grade was spent at this little school in rural Illinois, just west of Eliza, Illinois.

Since my kindergarten class was only a half day, the dozen or so five year old bundles of energy were driven home on a short little panel van, alternatively in a little yellow bus.

Yes, I rode the short bus.

This is where I discovered girls.
This is where I discovered that I was not cut from the normal skein of cloth most others are.
This is where I discovered that I was a budding geek.
This is where I met my first girlfriend.
This is where I met a very good friend that died in a motorcycle accident.
This is where I changed a thousand lives.
This is where I met my lover.

Nice cliff-hanger, eh?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

From Day 0 - Part Three

Here is a great photo of my Dad, myself and my Mom. Taken in 1967, the background shows what I believe is Weed Park in Muscatine, Iowa. If you look carefully in the background, there is the Mississippi River.

Weed Park was a fantastic place of wonderment, adventure, freedom and pure terror. Back in the days when less attention was paid to what the kids were doing, we would roam the park from North to South, East to West. Sometimes we would sneak away to a small spillway and play "Fort."

The "Barrel of Fun" ride was not really a barrel and really never much fun. It was a large wooden cylinder made of 2-by-4s, in this 'house,' constructed so people (and some very unhappy kids) could walk into this cylinder and spin it. Even at the time, all I could think was, "How much fun could one have running in a human-sized hamster wheel?"

Then there was an item of pure terror; four corrugated pipes, intersecting at 90 degrees in the center, in an "X" shape. On top of this was a large mound of dirt. This contraption, obviously constructed by the devil himself, cause unimaginable nightmares. Inside the pipes, constructed so the hapless children could crawl through, never to be seen again, the atmosphere was cool and dank and smelled of a cacophony of biologic and bodily fluids. Even at the manly age of eleven, I would run away when one of my older playmates would try forcing me in one of those gateways to the netherworld.

Of course, it was a relatively harmless contraption for the day. I still firmly believe the devil himself constructed it, and will discuss it no further. :-D

As an adult I truly try living without regrets. The mistakes made are learning tools. The mistake is recognized, precursors and causes identified and analyzed, apologies given where necessary, and I move on.

It was 1982 in Weed Park. On this sunny summer afternoon my girlfriend and I were out enjoying the day while most of my family were under a shelter, visiting and catching up with everyone's news.

We came back to the shelter for some tea after a long walk, when my Dad (picturedabove) made a snide comment about my long hair. Mind you, my "long" hair did not even cover my ears. What the comment was, I do not recall. For all that matters, it could have been a relatively minor jab, not really intent on injury.

I left the house within a few weeks.

Here in Weed Park, a decision was made, a mistake. Two years later the mistake was recognized, the precursors and causes identified and analyzed. There could be no apology given. The farm was gone, and my father as well. The family farm was sold just weeks before he passed in 1983. Dad, may you rest in peace. I will always be your "Lil Slugger."

From Day 0 - Part Two

At a very early age I acquired a skill that would serve me well. Even at a year and a half, I could stir and bake and cook with the best of the pre-schoolers.

In this picture, a batch of home made bread is being prepared for baking. To this day, I still enjoy baking bread. As a matter of fact, currently my little apartment was filled with the sweet scent of cinnamon apple oatmeal bread; my own recipe.

Yes. Yes, indeed I was a farm boy

On the left is a pic of me on a path that I learned well. To the left is a pond that my dad built. To the right was the house and farm buildings.

On the right is a picture of me holding tight to my brother, making sure he doesn't fall off. The pony we were on was named Windmill. He and I have history. I learned to saddle and bridle and ride on old Windmill. Then on one fateful spring day, he and I were out surveying my domain, or as much domain an eight year old can have. A neighbor horse runs up in her pasture and commences whinnying and making a horse version of a challenge. Windmill bucked me off and charged over to the horse.

Within a week, Dad traded Windmill for a cow.

Heavy equipment and farm machinery were as common to me as a video games are to modern kids. At ten or so I could drive a John Deere Model A and Model B tractor, and reasonably, for a ten year old, drive a Caterpillar D-21 bulldozer. Well, I think it was a D-21, maybe a D-25. It has indeed been a while.

The smell of burning diesel and fresh soil and fresh air, the sound of the birds singing and a chugging engine, the clear sky, the green trees and grass and underbrush; these things are embedded in my being. They are close friends; ones I hope to visit soon.

Razor, from Day 0

A few people, both on-line and off have asked me, "What's calling?" Well, the answer is quite simple but requires a bit of context. That being the case, I will bore you all with a photo history of yours truly, Razor. It will require several posts, so if you don't wait with baited breath for the answer, who could blame you?

Where am I? Physically, I mean? I live in Las Vegas. The mecca of gambling and nightlife of North America; bright and shining, with no closing time, is certainly not where I grew up.

This isn't always what Las Vegas looked like (believe it or not.)
This picture of the Las Vegas Strip, taken in 1951 (courtesy of photosfan.com) shows an early Las Vegas. The Dunes Hotel no longer exists; in it's place is the modern day Bellagio.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

My Mom and Dad met in 1964 and were married early in 1965. She was working at the little rural general store in Eliza,Illinois and he worked the small family farm a few miles away.

I was born in this little hospital on a chilly spring morning in 1966. I was the first born of two brothers and two sisters; five kids in all. (photo courtesy of CardCow)

Initially I was a sick baby. According to doctor's notes, it was something akin to measles and asthma. After a few weeks, as confusing as the illness was to my parents and the doctors, it was gone. Throughout the next five years or so, the asthma would still be a problem. Luckily I grew out of it.

After being medically cleared to go home, my Mom and Dad brought me home, where I would spend the next 17 years of my life.

This 60 acres of rural Illinois fields and woods and streams had been in the family since around 1870. It was my home in all senses of the word.

This aerial photo from 1955 does not do it justice. (Photo from American Aerial County History Series No. 22 by John Drury, published by The Loree Company, Chicago, IL)

I was a typical farm baby. Here I am at my first family reunion, obviously sleeping off whatever home-brew is in the jug next to me.

The outdoors was my friend, showing a natural affinity for the farm and nature. The house was old and not terribly modern. While there was plumbing supplied with water from the well, toilet facilities were out back in a small building. Yes, we had an outhouse and took baths in the back porch. Generally this was not an issue, but Illinois winters proved a bit challenging.

In 1968 the family increased by one; my brother Lem was born. His real name was Charles Lemuel but this was never really accepted. As a matter of fact, to this day he will not even answer to Charles or Charlie or any version of the name.

First memories vary for many people. Mine is of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 16, 1969. The old black and white television crackled with static as it displayed the astronauts exploring the lunar environment. It fascinated this three year old beyond words, and placed a firm fascination of science and exploration into my mind.

Remembering the LEM clawing and screaming against the lunar gravity, bound for home, is a memory I hope will never fade.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Experiences...

New experiences are not always enjoyable.

Early last week my ex asked me to come over and help her with the cat. He is getting a bit old and has a cone around his head so he doesn't lick a nasty raw spot on his tail. She just needed someone to hold him while she dressed the raw spot. No problems.

I go over and help. With the cat now roaming around the apartment all pissed-off, I walk into the bathroom to use the facilities before leaving.

When I walked out to leave, this is what I saw. Well, rather similar anyway. Imagine the left side of this prism only, in your far left peripheral field of vision. The shimmering colors seem to radiate from a point equidistant from the ends, where it resembles a bright flashlight being shown through a fan.

Officially this was something called an Optical Migraine. Generally it is the presentation of symptoms related to a migraine, without the severe pain. Since then, there has been a dragging, dull, 'dry' headache in the back of my skull, difficulty sleeping and a bit of depression. Nothing to worry about right now, as allergy season is starting to kick off here.

If this headache is still going on in a week, I am to go back and see my Dr. again. Where did I put that Ibuprofen?.....

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Ride out to Hoover Dam

There was simply no resisting.

My last attempt to ride Hoover Dam resulted in Bikus-Interruptus due to Christmas Day traffic. With the new camera and temps in the low 60F range, there was only one thing to do. Ride and video it.

While there was more traffic than I like, it was a nice ride down the canyon, across the dam and into Arizona. The cause of the lighting issue with the camera became apparent this afternoon while looking at, and editing the video. With the camera mounted 90 degrees, it's aspect ratio is taller than wide. Thus, it is receiving more light from the sky than if it were mounted horizontally. The electronic shutter closes just a bit and makes the landscape look dark in many places.

The program I use to edit and render, Microsoft Movie Maker, adds to the problem and darkens it more, with each reduction in quality.

So, next week I will order the proper mounts from GoPro to mount it horizontally to my helmet.

The windscreen mount experiment failed. The video from the camera while attached there was so shaky as to be pretty much worthless. However, it was horizontally mounted and the lighting was fine.

At any rate, here it VLOG 5 - My ride to Boulder Dam.

Oh, about 1 minute in, and at the end, note the nifty new bridge being built over the dam! When it is complete and traffic is flowing, the dam will likely be cut off from all traffic except tourists.

P.S. The song is Blue Sky Blond by Thieves and Villains.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

GoPro Hero Wide 5MP - Initial Results

So, I like to video my rides. Unfortunately stuffing my big-ish camera into my helmet and taking mediocre videos is a bit disheartening. Several months ago there was a sale here, on the GoPro Hero 5MP camera set for $165. Cool, but not $165 cool.

As luck would have it, one came up for sale for only $120 on CraigsList. So, to me, it IS $120 cool. (I would have rather had the previous owner's custom Aprilia for $120, but, hey...)

It is a rather small camera, with no fancy color display; just a mechanical viewfinder, LCD mode and status indicator on the front and two buttons. The one on the front is power and mode. The button on the top is for shutter and options.

The camera comes with a plethora of mounting options and a water tight case. The image above shows the camera in it's water tight cast. According to the manual it can be submerged by up to 30 feet of water and continue to record. GoPro Hero Wide Web

At any rate, here is a sample video I took this morning. This version of the Hero has a wide angle lens that presents a different perspective, for me anyway.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

What, Where? (or Craziness on the Interweb)

In life, WTF moments happen along from time to time. For some reason riding a motorcycle regularly seems to bring these out of the woodwork. Seemingly everywhere a rider looks is a potential WTF moment. As an example, there used to be a giant billboard on the strip near the Circus Circus Casino that read, "Vasectomy!!! It's easier than you think!"

Seriously... Is the Las Vegas Strip a prime spot to advertise cheap Vasectomies???

Well, today, according to the World Wide Weird, I discovered some fantastic things about some towns in Illinois. According to Google, these services or things are available:
  • Private Investigators
  • Foreclosures
  • Travel Deals
  • Open Houses
  • Employment Opportunities
  • Concerts and Shows
  • Home Rentals
  • Middle Eastern Singles & Dating
  • Native American Singles & Dating
  • T1 and even DS3 Telecom Services
  • Taxi Services
  • etc... ad absurdum...
What are these towns? Arpee, Illinois is one of them. Never really a town, it was a railroad stop and junction in the mid and latter 1800's. The other really was a village; Sunbeam, Illinois. This place was populated by only a few people in the mid 1800's. By the early 1900's it was a prarie ghost town.

This sort of internet junk could easily throw off someone trying to do research. Imagine what a less than ardent high school student could write about these two places if their only research tool was the internet.

"Was founded in the mid 1800's and now has a flourishing mixture of Middle Eastern and Native American cultures..."

Welcome to the internet... Could this really be the wasteland of the 21st century?