Horse Latitudes

Idle thoughts from the middle of nowhere


Alabama used to require that drivers licenses could only be issued in the county where you lived.

When my license expired in 1968, I was a student at Auburn, and I couldn't just go to the Lee County courthouse in Opelika to get it renewed. That would have been too easy. It would have made too much sense. Students were a lesser category of citizens who did not have the right to declare residency. The college made residency decisions on the students' behalf, in loco parentis. Colleges did not want students voting in local elections, so no way, Ida Mae.

After much directionless family discussion, it was decided that I could use my grandmother's house at the corner of US-231 and Rouse Road, as my address of residence. It was a mailbox on the main highway. The address was a rural route out of Titus, Alabama. You could look it up.

The conditions that my parents imposed on me for this maneuver included a prohibition on mentioning to the authorities that my grandmother owned a car and drove it every day. She was illiterate and therefore could not pass the written test.

When I got to my grandmother's house to explain this, her sister, my great-aunt Julia, was visiting, and she explained that it wouldn't work that way. My grandmother had a great falling-out with the letter carrier from Titus, and he had refused to stop off there for years. My grandmother carried out all of her post office dealings with the letter carrier from Equality, who served mailboxes on the side road. So my grandmother moved her mailbox from the big highway to the side road.

At this point there is a piece missing from this narrative, about how an illiterate person benefits from the services of the post office. My head hurts every time I try to tell this story.

Another piece missing is that my grandmother definitely lived in Elmore County. The county lines trisecting the wide spot in the road known as the town of Equality left some degree of ambiguity regarding which county or counties the town might be in.

Anyway, I drove to Wetumpka and passed the written tests and got a drivers license which stated that I lived in Equality, Alabama.

In spite of my best efforts, I graduated, got commissioned, and got sent to submarine school in Connecticut. But the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act said that I did not have to get a new drivers license, so I kept the one from Equality.

One day in Gales Ferry I took a corner too fast and skidded just a little bit, and a Connecticut cop pulled me over right away. He asked for my license and registration (don't get me started about Alabama vehicle title laws) and he said to me, quietly, "The only reason I stopped you was so I could get away from that domestic dispute back there. But now that I've done it I have to give you a ticket."

Then he burst out laughing and said, "Equality, Alabama, huh? Okay, that's such a good one that I'm letting you go."

2014 June 24
Auburn in the 1960s
๐Ÿˆ Freshmen could not play on the varsity teams. (example: Pat Sullivan)
๐Ÿˆ College football teams could only be shown on TV once a year. (Plus a bowl game if lucky.)
๐Ÿˆ The term โ€œIron Bowlโ€ had not been adopted.
๐Ÿˆ Aubie was just a pen-and-ink drawing, not an official mascot.
๐Ÿˆ Auburnโ€™s home games against Tennessee, Georgia Tech, and Bama were played at Legion Field.
๐Ÿˆ Men wore sport coats and ties to games and bought corsages for their dates.
๐Ÿ€ Any male student who brought a woman to The Barn for a basketball game got picked up by the crowd and passed above the other spectators by hand, all the way around the court. His date was untouched during his trip.
๐Ÿ” Undergraduate women had to live in campus dorms and had curfew every night. Men lived without rules.
๐Ÿ‘— Women were required to wear skirts or dresses at all times except when on the way to gym class, when they had to wear raincoats over their gym clothes.
๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ Draft deferments were more important than parking spaces.
The moon as seen from the south The moon as seen from the north On the left we see an idealized composite moon as seen from 40 degrees north and 70 degrees west, or somewhere generally near Nantucket tonight. On the right we see the same composite moon 80 degrees due south, near the Andes. Why the difference?

First, there is the different perspectives from two points on the earth that are separated by half of the earth's diameter.

Then there is the up/down flip because a person in Nantucket is looking at the moon from the north and sees the moon's north pole on top. A person in Neuquรฉn sees the moon's north pole on the bottom.

And then the left/right flip so the Nantucketer sees the sunlit portion of the moon on the left tonight, with a waxing gibbous moon. Una persona de Neuquรฉn sees the sunlit portion on the right.

It's the same moon at the same time.

2013 May 6
The Barn was the varsity basketball arena at Auburn from 1948 until 
1968. The Barn was the varsity basketball arena at Auburn from 1948 until 1968. If a guy took a date to a game, the guy was often picked up and passed hand over hand around the stands, circumnavigating the court, and returned to his original seat beside his date, without ever touching the floor. The woman was not inconvenienced, however, because all women on campus had to wear skirts or dresses, and it would have been ungentlemanly for the crowd to manhandle her that way.

2013 March 25
I drive a Prius these days, and one thing I was not happy about was that I had no way to monitor the coolant temperature. So I got a digital gauge that simply plugs into the On Board Diagnostic (OBDii) port under the dash. It works fine. I leave it hooked up full time, with the wire coiled up neatly and hidden. In fact, only the driver can see the gauge at all.

One thing I've noticed is that on recent mornings, in stop-and-go city driving, with the 40-degree weather, the coolant temperature in my Prius fluctuates wildly. I'll pull up to a long traffic light with coolant at 184F/85C, and with the engine off the heater draws a lot of the heat off the block. In general I see swings in the range of 155F/68C down to 117F/47C and back several times in my three-mile (5km) commute.

This is so very different from every other car that I've ever owned, which tended to maintain a constant coolant temperature regardless of the use of the cabin heater. And with no built-in gauge available, most Prius drivers probably just think that the heater isn't very good.

2013 March 14
The mind reels at the amount of the world's information bandwidth that is being used to transmit what is, in effect, two bits a day coming out of a chimney in the Vatican.

2013 March 13
My first experience with the San Francisco Municipal Railway was in 1975 when I went out to catch the bus from Hunters Point Naval Shipyard to downtown. There were two buses waiting there. I made the correct assumption that the one in front would leave first. I got aboard and took a seat, but there appeared to be no driver.

After a few minutes, the driver suddenly jumped up from the very rear of the bus where I had not seen him sleeping. He ran to the driver's seat, started the engine, slammed the shifter into gear, tore off down the street, and shut the door, in that order. We took the city streets like an obstacle course, or like a skier in a giant slalom competition. He asked me, "Was there another bus in the slot behind me?" I told him that there was.

The driver asked where I wanted to get off, and I told him Mission Street. We then skipped every bus stop from the shipyard to Mission Street. We were going 55 mph in the left lane up 3rd Street, passing lots of people waiting at the bus stops.

As he stopped to let me off at Mission Street, he said, "I almost slept through quitting time!"

2013 March 12
In 1975 I was working as a hardware design engineer for The Four Boomerangs, and it was a hard time for engineers. The war in Vietnam was ending. The moon landings were history. The supersonic transport program was cancelled. There were few jobs. At one point we had so little to do at the office that I spent five months as a computer programmer working on a project for a Defense Department client.

All of us on the project, hundreds of us, civil servants, all the various contractors, everybody, shared the same userid and the same password.

One Monday I arrived at work to discover that nobody's programs worked, mine included. When I asked, I was told that Computer Sciences Corporation had transferred all of our files from their Houston data center to the one in Chicago. And while the interpreter in Houston had been rather Neapolitan in its attitude toward programming errors, the one in Chicago was more Teutonic. So a little debugging was in order.

2013 March 11
When we were on vacation in Quebec last year, we noticed that the city of Montreal figured out an elegant way to recycle old cannon barrels.

2013 March 9
Forty years ago a blacksmith at Mare Island Naval Shipyard gave me a working definition for the common phrase,

"Close enough for government work."

2013 March 8
A penknife is shown on the left, and a jackknife on the right. There are apparently a vast number of different ways to play mumbletypeg, but the version I learned required a jackknife.

Open the knife with the short blade straight out, and the long blade at right angles to the handle and the short blade. Lay the knife on the ground with the long blade straight up. Slip a finger under the end of the handle and flip the knife into the air. Points are scored if the knife lands with a blade stuck in the ground and the handle in the air.

Most other variations of mumbletypeg were much more dangerous.

2013 March 7
This is the figurehead from an old sailing ship. This homage to the gods of the Greek pantheon is unidentified, but I've decided to name her Apostrophe, the Goddess of Elision.

2013 March 6
Anybody can figure out what this handle does.

A very few of us know how it does it.

2013 March 5
In 1998, when Hurricane Georges hit land, the mayor of New Orleans declared a 72-hour curfew. This trapped me in the Hyatt Regency with a view of the Superdome.

Since I live in San Francisco, normally I think of emergency preparedness in the context of earthquakes. Seeing the preparation for, and the results of, a powerful hurricane, was very educational.

The experience also helps me appreciate the motto of the local occasional underground newspaper.

2013 March 4
According to this article, the "Caucasian wingnut" is in the least endangered category.

Pterocarya fraxinifolia

2013 March 3
Google has leaked the story of their stunning achievement in molecular technology, the eight-sided snowflake. (See illustration: Google Doodle from December 23, 2011.)

2013 March 2

This note was on an old blueprint at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The handwriting in the last sentence does not quite match the rest of the note.

2013 March 1
This is the fire hydrant on the corner near my house. If my house is ever saved from a fire, this will be the hydrant to thank.

This hydrant has two notable features. First, it has no freeze protection. That is rare in hydrants at this latitude. Plus, that knob at the top? Yes, that's to provide the firefighters with a place to tie their horses.

2013 February 28
A couple of years ago we spotted this sign alongside Park Presidio Boulevard in San Francisco.

2013 February 27
This is a structural detail of the foundation of my late grandmother's house. The house has always been perched like this.

I must say, though, that the new owner's taste in paint is striking. Grandmama's house was never painted while she was alive.

Now that I live on the west coast, and am familiar with the building codes for seismic zone 4, I quiver to think of how many generations of my family perched on these piles of rocks.

2013 February 26
I clicked on a Blogger page that was slow to load, so an animated graphic showed some gears turning. That's actually a good concept for such an image. But they took their potentially good idea and botched it. Let us count the ways in which the animated graphic fails to depict the reality of a physical gear set.

There are two pinions: Good.
The tooth count on the driver is not prime: Bad
The tooth count on the follower is not prime: Also bad
The driver has an even number of teeth: Worse
The follower has an even number of teeth: Also worse
The driver and the follower have the same number of teeth: Even worse

But now we add a feature which takes us beyond good and bad, and into fantasy: The two pinions have the same number of teeth, yet THEY HAVE DIFFERENT CIRCUMFERENCES.

Sorry. I'll shut up now. Please ignore the mechanical grinding noise in the background. It won't last long.

2013 February 25
The author is a Registered Professional Engineer. He has a commercial pilot's license, he has been the Weapons Officer on a submarine, and he has a good spam filter.