For Whom The Clock Tower Bongs

More than two years ago, the clock tower of St. Mary Catholic Church, located less than a block from our house, was struck by lightning.  It was apparently a massive lightning strike, because it not only froze the hands of the clock, it also affected the structure of the roof and the church itself — necessitating the closure of the church building and large-scale renovation work to repair the damage and allow the church building to reopen to parishioners.

220px-saint_mary_of_the_assumption_catholic_church_28c-bus2c_oh292c_exterior2c_springtime_2We’ve been following the reconstruction work with interest, because St. Mary is our neighbor and a key part of the German Village community.  At first, progress was slow, as money was raised and plans were developed, but then a construction crew moved on site and the pace of work accelerated.  Most recently, we saw the crew working on repouring and reconfiguring the outside entrance steps and then repairing the sidewalks outside the church — which indicated that the crews had completed the difficult interior roof and structure work and were getting close to finishing up and putting the church into a position to reopen.

Last week Kish and I were sitting outside, enjoying a night were the temperature had skyrocketed to the low 60s, when I heard the deep bonging of the St. Mary clock tower bell for the first time in a long, long time.  Of course, that meant that the clock in the clock tower had been repaired and was once again telling the correct time.  It was a welcome sound, indeed — indicating that our neighborhood was whole again.

Welcome back, St. Mary!

 

Curious Developments

It’s been a weird few months in Columbus, and here’s the latest curious development– spiky green objects are thrusting upward from the soil here and there, and occasionally they have bright, colorful objects on top of them.

Has anybody else seen these disturbing items? Local authorities have been alerted!

Indexers And Thumbers

Have you ever noticed that people send texts in two different ways?  (And I’m not talking about overuse of emoticons, either.)  Some people use their index fingers to tap out their messages, whereas other people use their thumbs.  And people never seems to vary how they do the texting, either.  You’re either a thumber, or an indexer.

stop-texting-with-people-when-youre-not-interestedWhen you think about it, it’s a bit odd that there is no universally accepted method for efficiently and correctly performing what is now a widely used form of modern communication.  It’s like watching someone sit down at a keyboard and then use a totally unknown approach to quickly and accurately typing out a document — say, by positioning their hands at each side of the keyboard or coming in from the top, rather than the bottom.  Or handing someone a cell phone and watching them use the buttons to send a message in Morse code rather than speaking.

Both the thumb approach and the index approach seem to be equally functional — although, being a thumber myself, I firmly believe that the thumb method allows faster messaging.  I wonder if the two methods exist side-by-side because texting is still a relatively new form of communication and we’re in the VHS versus Beta phase, where standardization hasn’t set in.  The fact that there isn’t vocational training on texting — at least, to my knowledge, not yet — probably also contributes to texters having more freedom to develop their own favored method.

One thing is clear, however — thumbing versus indexing definitely has a different look.  The index approach to tapping out a message is far more genteel and elegant, with the three unused fingers of the hand dangling to the side of the phone, giving the same kind of look projected by blue-haired sophisticates who sip their tea from delicate china cups with the pinky extended.  The thumb approach, in contrast, treats the cell phone like a sturdy hand tool that you grip tightly and use to mash out a message without a second thought.

One approach is high society, the other is blue collar.  Me, I’m a blue-collar guy.

Smoky Row

The buses operated by the Central Ohio Transit Authority are equipped with outward-facing electronic signs at the front of the bus, above the driver, that tell people waiting at bus stops where the bus is going.  When I walk to work in the morning, I see buses that are heading to Kenny Road, or East Main, or Hilliard, or West Broad, or Rickenbacker.  These are all familiar street names and locations for Columbus residents.

pride-of-the-smoky-rowMy favorite bus name, however, is “Smoky Row.”  It’s got to be the best “end of the line” name in the COTA arsenal.

Where is Smoky Row, exactly?  I have no idea, even though I’ve lived in Columbus for years.  It could be north, east, west, or south.  And unlike other COTA bus destinations, Smoky Row has a certain lyrical, almost mystical quality to it that sounds like a Hollywood movie from the ’40s starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  You could easily see Smoky Row in big print up on the screen as the movie credits started to roll.

And the fact that Smoky Row is an actual destination in the Columbus, Ohio area adds to the mystery.  You wonder how Smoky Row got its unusual name.  Is it a low-lying area that is frequently obscured by morning mist, or was it once home to lots of smoke-billowing factories?  And what’s there now?   Smoke-filled nightclubs, perhaps?  Hookah joints?  Hipsters puffing away on their smelly vape devices?

I’m sure that, for patrons who take the number 74 bus every day, it’s just another boring bus ride — but for me, boarding the bus to Smoky Row would seem like the ticket to adventure.

TMI, 40 Years Later

Forty years ago today, the “incident” at Three Mile Island Generating Station in eastern Pennsylvania occurred.  Due to a series of small-scale mishaps with cooling systems, the radioactive core of a nuclear reactor heated up to alarming temperatures and suffered a partial core meltdown. Fortunately, the overheated radioactive material itself was contained in the core and did not escape to the environment.

towers-1979The concern then turned to what to do radioactive gases that had been generated.  For days, “Three Mile Island’ dominated the news, with news reports always featuring the forbidding cooling towers venting steam in the background.  Ultimately, some of the gases were trapped in tanks, but other gases were vented to the atmosphere after migrating through a series of filters that were supposed to trap the most dangerous radioactive elements.  Residents were instructed to stay indoors, with the windows in their homes closed, but there was great concern that exposure to the gases could cause all kind of health issues.  People panicked, and thousands of frightened people fled the area.  It was one of the first instances of major federal government communications failure in the modern era.  Eventually, President Carter visited the site to let the general public know that the situation was under control — but by then the perceptual damage had been done.

It took about a month until the engineers at the site had the coolant systems under control, but the aftermath of TMI lasted for years.  There was significant litigation about the possible health effects of the incident, although authorities eventually concluded that the only significant exposure was experienced by four employees at the TMI plant.  Concerns about widespread birth defects and the development of radiation-related illnesses turned out to be unfounded.  In the meantime, clean-up operations lasted for almost 15 years and cost nearly a billion dollars.

TMI was the worst nuclear incident on U.S. soil.  In terms of its health effects, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Chernobyl incident, and many people now living in America either weren’t around when it happened or have forgotten about it.  But TMI has had one lasting impact that is undeniable — since it occurred, no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States, and every time one is considered, the grainy black and white photos of the TMI cooling towers with steam rising from them get displayed.

But as America increasingly focuses on lessening its carbon footprint and relying on renewable energy sources, nuclear power is cited more and more frequently as something that has to be considered as part of the solution.  Technology has changed a lot, and for the better, since 1979, and people also have come to realize that nuclear power offers some significant environmental advantages over other forms of power generation that are dependent upon fossil fuels.

Maybe now it is time to let TMI and those scary photos of cooling towers fade into the past, and take a fresh look at nuclear power without being hamstrung by 40-year-old fears.

Backpack Awareness

Once, backpacks were the exclusive province of hikers, Boy Scouts, and schoolchildren.  Now, thanks in large part to arguments that backpacks are better for your back and your posture than shoulder bags or briefcases, backpacks have made significant inroads into the general population.  You regularly see them being used by businesspeople, travelers, and cyclists.

airline-passengers-who-have-too-much-carry-on-luggage-3-1080x675There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with backpacks, or with trying to help your aching back.  The problem arises because people who wear backpacks often lack the spatial awareness that should accompany donning a bulky, typically overstuffed item that may jut out a foot or more from their normal back and shoulders.  (And that’s not even taking into account items that may be hanging from the rear or sides of backpacks, like Camelbak water bottles, canteens, or food pouches.)  This isn’t a big problem with respect to hikers and Boy Scouts, who are out with their backpacks in the great outdoors with all the room in the world around them, but it can pose problems for those of us who encounter backpack-wearing people in small, enclosed spaces — like airplanes, or restrooms, or elevators.

On recent trips I’ve seen countless instances where backpackers have made a quick turn in the aisle of an airplane during the boarding process and clouted seated fellow passengers in the side of the head.  I’ve witnessed a collision caused by a backpack-wearing guy retreating from a urinal directly into the path of an approaching user, and a backpacker on an elevator invading the space of other passengers and squeezing them back into the rear wall.  And I’ve seen lots of mishaps in the backpack donning and doffing process, where the casual swing of the backpack onto or off of the shoulders causes it to knock into people, books, cellphones, luggage, and even comfort animals.

Backpacks are here to stay, so the most we can hope for is that backpack-wearers develop the necessary spatial awareness and remember that, when they are carrying their backpack, they’ve become human humpback whales with the related, increased space needs.  Perhaps the backpack manufacturers of America can sponsor training to help backpackers navigate among the rest of us safely, without doling out head shots and getting dirty looks from people (like me) who don’t like having their personal space casually invaded.

The GOT Countdown

On April 14, HBO will broadcast the first episode of Season 8, the final season of Game of Thrones.  All dedicated, borderline-obsessed GOT fans will then have the chance to savor six new episodes that will wrap up the TV version of the story of the Targaryens, Lannisters, and Starks.  (Don’t even get me started on when we might get the next installment of George R.R. Martin’s book series that launched the TV show, which has been the subject of almost as much speculation as the Mueller Report.)

jon_snow_and_daenerys_targaryen_got_png_by_nickelbackloverxoxox_dcrioxu-preI’m interested in seeing exactly how the story comes out, of course.  (Hey, I sure hope the living somehow defeat the Night King and his Army of the Dead!)  Mostly, though, I’m just curious about who is going to even survive until the story’s end.  There are so many characters on the show it’s hard to remember and list all of them, as we realized when we were talking about the show with friends over the weekend.  (Don’t forget Grey Worm, or Tormund Giantsbane, or Podrick Payne, or Eddison Tollett of the Night’s Watch!)  And one thing has been clear about Game of Thrones from the beginning, whether you’re talking about the books or the TV show — even leading characters get knocked off with Grim Reaper-like regularity.  And since it’s the last season, I’m guessing we can expect a real bloodbath, and maybe a colossal battle or two in which multiple characters that have gotten a lot of screen time get mowed down.

Because it’s clear that many characters are going to be stabbed, hacked, hung, immolated by dragons, poisoned, or have their throats deftly cut by Arya Stark, I find myself putting the characters into death-related categories.  There are the characters that need to get killed to satisfy the bloodlust of the viewing audience (Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, the Mountain, and Qyburn, Cersei’s evil wizard/chemist/mad scientist), characters that you know are going to bite it at some point, but at least are likely to die in heroic fashion (Beric Dondarrion, Brienne of Tarth, Ser Jorah Mormont, Varys, Theon Greyjoy, and probably Gendry, King Robert’s hammer-wielding bastard son), and characters that you would be really angry to see get killed but you know deep in your heart that it could happen because the show likes to throw shockers at you (Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark).  There are characters that you don’t want to get killed but, if they must, you hope that they get some richly deserved revenge first (Asha Greyjoy and the Hound).  But what about the Khaleesi?  Jon Snow?  Sansa Stark?  Missandei?  Ser Davos Seaworth, my favorite?  Creepy white-eyed Bran?

One of the great things about Game of Thrones is its utter unpredictability, from the point Ned Stark got beheaded through the Red Wedding to the present.  And we’ve got less than three weeks to go before we start finding out.