Florida ...

A Month or So Between the Snows of Switzerland
and the Steam of Bangkok

February 2-11, 2001

Friday, February 2, 2001

... blending into and taking over

Saturday, February 3, 2001

Originally, this1 was my lead paragraph. As it is boring to all but Watcharee and I, it is now here (there?) where it belongs ... in a footnote.

My last issue of the IHT had a triple-header:

IN OUR PAGES: 100, 75 and 50 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1901: Unfit to Marry

NEW YORK A bill has been introduced in the Minnesota State Legislature providing that marriages shall be forbidden when either party has been subject to fits of any kind, insanity, consumption or certain specified diseases. The marriage of women over forty-five is prohibited, but no restriction is made for men. A heavy penalty is provided for violations of the law. The proposed law is intended to improve the race.

1926: Ever More Autos

PARIS [The Herald says in an Editorial:] The second "World Motor Transport Congress" is soon to be held, bringing together nearly 200 delegates from 50 countries. It is distinctly international, its aim being to broaden the world conception of motor transportation. People in America have been educated in the economic value of motorized transportation to such a degree that they are likely to forget that over a large part of the globe the automobile occupies a much different position than it does in their own country. For Americans the motor vehicle is symbolical of transportation in the broadest sense.

1951: Deputies to Duel

ROME A misunderstanding over a name, which resulted in a fist fight in the Chamber of Deputies, appeared to be leading to a duel between two Italian Deputies. Enrico Mattei accepted a challenge to a duel with Florestano di Fausto, who was slapped and called a "scoundrel" by Mr. Mattei in the halls of the Chamber. Observers have pointed out that both Mr. Mattei and Mr. Di Fausto are Catholics and that their faith forbids engaging in duels. Dueling also is illegal in Italy.

The same issue of the IHT (Feb. 2nd) carried a cute LURIE cartoon on the OP/ED page.

This week Newsweek updated its White House (West Wing) floor plan. Apparently, the room sizes and their shapes have stayed the same. The Clinton people took away no souvenir walls; nor did the Bush people build any additional buffers. It is interesting that the White House Counsel continues to occupy what appears to be the largest office in the building. Situated on one of the four corners its raw acreage appears to exceed even that of the Cabinet Room.2

1 We left from Zurich. In every past year our entrance and exit from Chateau d'Oex has been the Geneva airport. Habit ... unthinking routine ... it looked closer on the map; one or more of those things. And, it always entailed a medium length flight from/to the real exit (London, Frankfurt, Paris ... ). WatchareeUntil this January ... when our arrival in Europe was the Zurich airport. The 25-minute hop from Zurich to Geneva (which probably passed over Chateau d'Oex) was unnecessary and inconvenient; going from the front of a MD-11 to the three abreast of an Air Bus. Why not drive it?

The Zurich airport was not crowded. Swiss Air, the prime tenant (and our carrier from Bangkok ... and, to Miami), had the choice lounge location. Nestled just above the airport shops and overlooking the gates, it was an airport planner's sweetest example of where passengers can be best parked before flights. With many airports, the lounges appear to have been after-thoughts. For example, at my Bangkok airport the Air France facility is a day's hike from the usable gates. To be fair, many airport lounges are not dedicated to one carrier; sometimes they are shared by several ... occasionally they are run under contract by a third party (Miami is a good example). I could easily drone on about these things. I won't ... now, anyway.

Swiss Air's 116F non-stop from Zurich to Miami took ten hours and forty-five minutes. As it was an all daylight flight there was little to do but eat and read. At this point, a footnote to a footnote would guide you, dear reader, back to the top of the page to my in flight reading: the IHT and Newsweek.

2 If you look closely, you can just make out a little warren of bits and pieces and tiny spaces and windowless corridors just off Bill Clinton's Oval Office.

Sunday, February 4, 2001

"Signals From the U. S. Atomic Clock"! Yes, that's what it says ... right on the cover of the box. I bought it, right away. It was in the 'featured' case at Sharper Image.

"But, what is it, Alf?"

About 18 month ago I saw it. I had to have it. It's a clock that continuously gets the 'word' from all those American satellites ... which, in turn get the 'word' from America's atomic clock. TimepiecesLocated beneath miles of granite somewhere in the Rocky Mountain Time Zone, this huge clock has just a few tiny lukinium (I made this part up) atoms that vibrate or shake at a predictable rate: so predictable (and, thus measurable) that things as short as 0.00000000000000000001 can be timed. Anyway, at the far end of this long line of passed on 'tick-tocks', my little Sharper Image clock gets itself refreshed with every satellite pass ... and, twice a year, it gets moved up or down an hour. Armed with such accuracy, it commands the center stage in my world.1

Every few months when I come back to Florida, where my wonderful proxy clock lives, I check my watch against it. Today, I want to share with all of you this: my wrist Seiko was 'fast' by just 2 seconds after being all on its own from November 10 to February 4. That's just 2 out of 7,430,400 ticks ... or, one part in 3,715,200. Are you impressed? Watcharee was not.

1 Resting nearby is my GPS. It too relies on my government for food. Unlike my clock, which never rests in its count of the relentless flow of seconds, my GPS gets to hibernate for big chunks of the year. And, as the location of my house does not change (N 26' 06.957", W 80' 06.912"), when I occasionally press my GPS into service it never grumbles. Sure, it's never asked to come up with a new axis ... a quick reassuring look that the pool and the yard are in the same place, nothing unrecognizable around it ... then a yawn, and a "Yep, you're still at just above 26 north and just to the left of 80 west." Then it's back to sleep.

Monday, February 5, 2001

While we were in Switzerland an important conversation took place in the White House. My friend, Paul Fjelstad, has developed a clever system for monitoring conversations that take place in the West Wing ... in particular, the Oval Office itself.1 We want to share it with all of you [I especially want to bring these high level words to the attention of my Bangkok landlord].

According to Paul's transcribing machinery, this exchange took place almost immediately after the new Thai ambassador presented his credentials to the President.

The President: "You know, we're going to Bangkok ... in June, I think. June, Charlie?"

Charlie: "Yes, sir."

New Thai Ambassador: "You're staying at The Oriental."

The President: "Best hotel in the world, right?"

New Thai Ambassador: "Your own James Michener wrote many of his books at The Oriental. And one of his typewriters remains in the suite they named for him."

The President: "Is that right?"

New Thai Ambassador: "Yes, sir."

The President (to staff): "Let's make sure I see that."

Charlie: "Yes, sir."

There is no doubt that the words of "The President" are, in fact, the words of Mr. G. W. Bush. His unprompted awareness that The Oriental is the place to stay clearly shows his grasp of the whole Asian scene. [And, I ask you, dearest reader: does this new evidence now elevate my own observation of former VP Quayle on The Oriental's "Stairmaster" from mere mindless gossip to something more?]

A final note on this exchange between our new President and the man chosen by the King of Thailand to represent Bangkok in Washington: Are the words, "You're staying at The Oriental", declaratory or interrogatory? Cold print does not reveal whether the Thai Ambassador is ordering the man in the Oval Office to stay at The Oriental ... or, is he just trying to confirm something that he may have heard on the Washington cocktail circuit. The direction of Thai/American relations may very well depend on whether a question mark or an exclamation point was intended. The reader is well advised to watch the futures market in Thai Bahts ... my own experience has been that the people who profit from the woes or joys of other people's currencies are best placed to sort out the tea-leaves of international affairs. Parenthetically, I have stuck (as you may have noticed) a 'neutral' period to end the Ambassador's sentence. Help is needed on this. Andy, do you have any well-placed 'ears' in Georgetown or Bangkok?

1 Apparently, the producers of the highly popular TV show, "The West Wing", employ a similar technology.

Now that I'm unashamedly in the gadget mode, there is no reason for me being shy about the little lenses that I just found for my Nixon Cool Pix digital camera. Paul, Mike, Annie and I have these Cool Pix machines. We love them. More than half the pictures that you, dear reader, have seen on these pages have come from Nikon Cool Pix cameras. My stock camera (Model 990) comes with a zoom lens with a 'range'2 of about 38mm to 115mm.

I have just now added three Nikon "converter" lenses:

The TC-E2 is a telephoto converter; when screwed into the filter thread of the base lens the whole thing is turned into a 230mm telephoto. Again, this number is the 35mm equivalent.3

The WC-E63 is a wide-angle "converter". This turns the picture-taking machine into a 24mm eyeball.4

Finally, what about the Fisheye "converter"? Here, it is just 8mm.5

For anyone who cares little about the arcane world of formats and faux formats, 'angles' are much more logical. How widely or how narrowly tapered is that light wedge that is hitting my lens? When I look at the pretty pasture or at the fun filled room ... and I spread my arms ... how big is the angle? What fits in the picture?

Well, it ranges from 183 degrees for the fisheye to 16 degrees for the telephoto.

This will mean a little more when you look at these pictures. Shot from my house in Florida, they show the home across the water as being either nicely pushed off to the horizon or sucked disturbingly close to my own window.

Normal Wide Tele More Tele Fishy More Fishy

These small versions started out as 1024x768 uncompressed files like this one [315k JPEG]. The little half-inch CCD chip stores a lot of detail, considering its size.

2 This 'range' is based on what it would be if it were a 35mm camera. As everyone in the world is familiar with 35mm specifications ... (to the exclusion of all others, especially anything in the really weird world of digital "no-film-no-shutter-no-transport-no-rewind-no-click" cameras) ... digital camera makers 'pretend' that the things you buy from them sniff of 35mm.

3 48mm in weird specs.

4 Or, 5mm in strange stuff.

5 A barely measurable 1.2mm in this digital format.

Tuesday, February 6, 2001

"The Anti-Christ is alive and living in the U.S.!"

And, just below it, in equally eye-catching type:

"The day, hour & minute Jesus will return to Earth this summer!"

Repent! The End Is Near!The bag boy at Kwik Chek took offense ... right away ... the words were out of his mouth before there was any eye contact ... he didn't even pause to see if a supervisor was anywhere around ... and, the girl at the cash register just kept ringing up my other stuff.1 [Look, I was quite innocent in this whole thing. Watcharee and I had pretty much finished our shopping ... it was near midnight ... only a few people were in the store ... and, there it was: the current (February 13) issue of the Weekly World News. Conveniently located right next to the razor blades and batteries)3, my reflexes added it to the conveyor belt. By any Lantana standards it had a very benign cover ... mostly snippets about the Devil, God and the end of the Earth.]

"Who is da anti Christ?" asked the bag boy. And, not waiting for an answer: "Christ coming to earth in the summer?" Both were said with a sneer.

Not wanting to develop this into something complicated, I said: "It's sort of a humor newspaper ... ."

"Some people's sense of humor ... ."

This was taking an uncomfortable turn. My little procession of Zip-Lok bags was advancing slowly through the bar code reader.

"One Zip-Lok ... two Zip-Lok ... three Zip-Lok ... " All this was just-under-his-breath, as he dropped them into the bag one by one. He did a little 'thumbs-up' as each one hit the bottom of the sack.

I paid with cash ... faster and more anonymous than plastic.

At home I read, "Jesus Christ returns to Earth on 'sevens' this July." Professor Philippe Garoche, the lead scholar on this "newly unearthed scroll containing parts of the Book of Revelation," said that the "precise instant of The Savior's return is set for the 7th minute of the 7th hour of the 7th day of the 7th month ... " He went on to explain that Jesus will conveniently appear "simultaneously to everyone on those 'sevens' locally, regardless of time zone."

1 A conveyor belt full of freezer-strength Zip-Lok bags ... one of the few absolute necessities in life that is not available in Bangkok.

2 There are male and female checkout lines. The male ones have batteries and razor blades. The female ones specialize in junk candy and diet magazines. Queuing blindly, you have a 50/50 chance of getting your type.

P.S. Having finished reading this week's WWN, I've started to play with Photo Shop.

Negative Screwmaids

Wednesday, February 7, 2001

No one noticed! No one cared? More likely, no one even looked. If the 'response' rate to an offer for a fully paid trip to Bangkok and Australia (combined with the glory of having one's likeness forever floating above the earth) was barely a single digit ... well then, should I be surprised that no one pointed out that my Seiko watch and my Sharper Image Time Machine were actually 12 hours and 2 seconds away from each other ... not just two seconds? Anyone?

Mr. R. Neale Lind, of the authoritative Weekly World News, reports in this week's edition of the paper that woolly mammoths, until now seen only in the flash freezer section of glaciers, have been recently spotted walking around in Thailand:

BANGKOK - Giant woolly mammoths, thought to be extinct for millions of years, Mammoth?are still walking the Earth in the jungles of Thailand.

The electrifying news comes from veterinarian and noted conservationist Dr. Prasit Molchat, who says "the possibility is very high" that the hairy Stone-Age elephants still exist. The evidence was presented to Dr. Prasit by Thailand's royal family.

Princess Rangsrinopadorn Yukol showed Dr. Prasit and other animal experts a series of aerial photos of some large elephantine creatures that she took while flying over the Omkoi district.

Authorities who have seen the photos are split on whether the beasts are indeed woolly mammoths. But Dr. Prasit is convinced the subject is worth pursuing.

The search for them is expected to begin later this month, Thai government sources say.

My girlfriend, Watcharee, was skeptical. Remember, dear reader, Thailand is the land of her birth ... and she should know what's right and what's wrong when foreigners write about her own backyard. So, if it comes down to either believing Mr. Lind and the WWN OR Watcharee ... well, you know which way I am going to go! Suffice that her observation that royal 'families', like any 'families', have branches and roots that go off in many directions and to far-away places. The degrees of consanguinity between say, "A" and "B", should be considered when attaching credence to someone on the basis of gene similarity. Also, the picture of the beast looked like a fake ... and, not at all like it was an aerial shot, unless it was taken from something that crashed [hmmm ... the fuzzy tusker does appear to have just discovered something untoward in his own patch of the forest].

We will continue to follow this story.

P.S. Do not forget July 7th! It's only five months from today. Mark it on your calendar. Seven minutes after 7 in the morning should snap you right smartly out of your sleep.

Thursday, February 8, 2001

NEWNES is in Bangkok. "Survival Tips", too. "Saints", as well. To buy the IHT I have to go to a newsstand on a street that has horrible parking.

Last night I went to Liberties (www.liberties.com) to buy a book ... to fill this gap. A Portable ApocalypseThere I found "A Portable Apocalypse" ['a quotable companion to the end of the world'].

Do you remember, yesterday I signed off with a reminder that everybody's breakfast on July 7th was going to be disturbed? That some strange wire-feed into Lantana has allowed the WWN to be the first to warn Kwik Chek shoppers that bulk purchases may not be necessary? That "lead Revelations researcher", Professor Philippe Garoche, now gives us just shy of five months to sort things out?

Allan Appel, the compiler and editor of "A Portable Apocalypse", gives us hope ... this from C. S. Lewis ["The World's Last Night"]:

The doctrine of the Second Coming is deeply uncongenial to the whole evolutionary or developmental character of modern thought. We have been taught to think of the world as something that grows slowly toward perfection, something that "progresses" or "evolves." Christian Apocalyptic offers us no such hope. It does not even foretell ... a gradual decay. It foretells a sudden, violent end imposed from without; an extinguisher onto the candle, a brick flung at the gramophone, a curtain rung down on the play "Halt!"

P.S. The February issue of Balloon Life magazine has a cartoon that isn't terribly funny or clever. But, in real life (back at Chateau d'Oex), there flew a Cameron designed balloon that took it one step further.

Friday, February 9, 2001

Tardy? In a way, yes. Each year my daughter, Annie, creates a few calendars out of her stock of photographs from various recent trips. As Elephant Polo and the Alpine Hot Air Balloon Festival take place right at the end of the year or at the beginning of the next year, her things usually don't get ready until February or March. Sometimes she makes a 12-month (flip-the-page) calendar to go along with her one-year/one-page one. This year that effort is taking more time.

Here are two of her contributions to 2001.

Saturday, February 10, 2001

I collect corkscrews; not balloons!

Yesterday the postman came. He brought me a 'knight' ... one to match the one that I 'found' a dozen years ago in Dania for about 1/16th the price that he recently fetched on e-Bay. He, like all of his brothers,1 is a corkscrew. Manufactured back in the 40's and 50's by the Syracuse Ornamental Company (Syroco) of Syracuse, New York, these smiling2 wine assistants are "compression molded with a composition of wood powder and thermoset resin".3 However, I know of no one who has actually used one of these corkscrews to pull the cork out of a bottle.

1 Other 'characters' in the line-up include the 'Top Hat', the 'Waiter', the 'Monk', the 'Clown', the 'Indian' and the very hard to find 'Golden Knight'. Readers who want to know more about these guys should go to page 249 in Don Bull's THE ULTIMATE CORKSCREW BOOK. Wirtz, Virginia (USA), like Lantana, Florida (USA), is a town with one industry: in the case of Wirtz, it is THE font of last resort for 50 pretty strange people.

2 The 'Indian' is never seen 'smiling'. Whether this is due to a long ago scalping of the mold-maker's grandmother, a stab at facial variety in the product line, or something to do with an anti-litter campaign ... we'll never know.

3 South Florida roaches find this composite tasty. But, a preventive three-second spray with Raid Ant and Roach Killer will ward off attacks like this one. Fortunately, my entire Syroco family will be moving to Bangkok next month. New perils await them.

Sunday, February 11, 2001 ["Vicky" Slaps the Cold Marble Day, plus one week]

It was exactly a week ago today. I missed it ... through no fault of my own, I must add. You see, my trusty NEWNES is back at The Oriental ... and, I know of no other compendium that would have dug in this direction and at this depth. My friend, Andy Page, reminded me that a century has passed since Queen Victoria was allowed to start her "pourriture noble":


Last Sunday was actually 100 years since Vicky was laid beside her beloved Albert in Windsor Great Park!

'Twas opened for the day ... 3,000 people queued for a peep!


It's unclear whether this is the end of "Vicky" for another century. Normally the last "CR" would be thrown at the time of death; but being a queen, it's understandable that other days must be observed. Andy's "... laid beside her beloved ..." suggests we are now at the final bit ... that there is no more. However, all those people who ... "queued for a peep!" hints that something else has to be done before it's all dark where she sleeps. At a minimum, a door has to be caulked.

Yesterday I pushed my way right into corkscrews without any attempt to taper out of ballooning. This was wrong! I should have been more gentle ... less abrupt. Perhaps these two illustrations will help:

The more colorful one is the obverse of a postcard sent to Mr. J. Cushnie, 48 Church St., Concord, N. H. Mailed from Alton Bay, N.H. on July 3 (4 PM), 1908 ... and franked with a one cent stamp ... its only message is a cryptic one. The dangling dog is heard (seen) to say "Gee! This high life is killing me." Though these words were clearly the creation of the illustrator, the card's sender penned (and underlined) the word "Me" directly underneath the sketch of the dog. Can we assume that he (or she) is divorcing himself (or herself) from the 'goings-on' in the balloon? Or, does the sender feel ... cheated ... wronged ... left out? Perhaps we'll never know.

The second illustration is from the inside cover of the Watney 'bible'. Originally, an illustration from Punch Magazine, I 'doctored' this drawing back in '781 so as to have the balloonist worried about the loss of the corkscrew ... not the plunge of the bathroom sink.

Click for larger version

1 1978 was the year that the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts (ICCA) had its AGM in Florida. As a co-host, this was my contribution. In 2001 the ICCA will return to Florida. As a nominal co-host, I will probably do even less to make it a success [apologizes to Ken Hark].

Next: Part II

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