Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police

speedgibsonAs a young boy, I was fascinated with the Danny Dunn series of booksDanny Dunn, Time Traveler.  Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine.  Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine.  Danny Dunn, a young boy, in a fictional New England city, had a professor-friend at the local University who was always inventing devices and substances (there is an invisible paint-themed book in the series, too).  One way or another Danny was left alone with the invention, and, curiously, he turns on the machines or uses the substance that is the theme of the book.  Adventure ensues.  It is the kind of adventure that catches a young mind (or not so young), and takes the imagination along for that adventure.

A friend (also named Alex) and myself, for a little while, have been aficionados of old time radio.  Alex is a fan of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  The series originally aired from 1949 into 1962, and featured a clever story device of reading an expense report.  It sounds boring, but the story unfolds from cab fares – you will learn why Johnny took a cab in the first place, to why Johnny needs to be reimbursed for a hotel.

I became hooked on old time radio by listening to the radio version of Jack Webb’s Dragnet. Webb cut his crime-drama-teeth in the film-noir, He Walked by Nightwhich helped kick start what would eventually be Dragnet.  The Dragnet radio program aired from 1949 into 1957, with 314 episodes produced. If you are familiar with the television version of Dragnet, you will know most of the radio versions’ storylines.  I hope everyone agrees that the stolen-baby-Jesus-Christmas-episode is an infuriating and all together inane episode — radio or television.

After Dragnet, I came across The Blue Beetle (terrible audio quality along with an annoying stereotypical Irish cop character), and pointed Alex at it, and through a bit of sleuthing, he came across Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police as a better series.

In that Danny Dunn sort of adventure-craft-way, Speed Gibson, is an intelligent, young teenager with a streak for adventure – and he has a pilot’s license.  Speed has an uncle, Clint Barlow, who, in the first episode, is revealed to be in the secret police along with his friend, Barney Dunlap.  The term secret is really only implied, as it seems that with every new person encountered, someone is blabbing about being in the secret police.

The series itself consists of two story arcs.  The first story, 100 episodes in length, you follow Speed, Clint, Barney and host of others along the way, travel to Hong Kong and other parts of Far East in search of the Secret Polices’ arch nemesis, The Octopus.   The second story, 78 episodes in length, you follow the gang to Africa to foil more of the Octopus’ evil plans.

As I listened to first story, I could not help but think about how the Octopus was a lot like Dr. Claw of Inspector Gadget.  As the story plays out, I feel that the creators of Dr. Claw had to, at bare minimum, take inspiration from the Octopus and his gang of inept henchmen.  There is little comparison on the protagonist side of Inspector Gadget, but the antagonist side, there is plenty to draw from.  The Octopus, like Dr. Claw, has a huge ego, and feels that at every move, he will easily trap his enemies with an overly complicated, yet, ultimately, easy to foil trap.  Upon nearly being captured by Speed and the gang, the Octopus slips away with a quip about ruing the day that Speed Gibson crossed him.

Aside from the simple plots, heavy reliance on coincidence, the use of shortwave radios, and having some of the worst “Chinese” accents of any drama, radio or television, Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police is a great serial to listen for at the office, or on a road trip.  Between the introduction music, the exit music and a recap of the previous episode, you get a solid 8 to 12 minutes of new, if slow moving, adventure.

You can find Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police on archive.org for free streaming or downloading.


My last write-up was a while ago.  Shortly after that post, Melissa and I headed to Gray Summit, Missouri, for the Basset Hound Club of America’s annual gathering.  This gathering is usually in a different place each year; in 2011, it was in Kentucky, last year, it was in Massachusetts, and next year, it will be in Wisconsin.

The trip to Missouri kicked off a strange bit of travel – completely planned – for myself.  We drove to Missouri – it’s an eight and a half or nine hour drive from Saint Paul – on Saturday, October 5th.  On Monday morning, we were at Purina Farms in Gray Summit.  By mid-afternoon, I was heading to the St. Louis airport – a friend of Melissa’s was kind enough to give me a ride there.

I was flying to Hibbing, Minnesota; my hometown.  Meghann, my sister, was already back in Hibbing; she had arrived from Japan earlier in September.  Our grandmother was turning ninety years old and Meghann had made plans for a photo shoot with our parents and grandmother.

The last time I flew into or out of Hibbing was August of 2000.  I was still living in Hibbing at that time and I was heading to Colorado to visit my cousins.  I remember flying south and seeing Lake Mille Lacs pass underneath as I headed to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.  That flight was rough; it was in a twin engine turbo prop.

Flying north from St. Louis to Minneapolis, farm fields stretched out under the airplane; small streams dart here and there; now and again, a river whittled its way through the landscape.

I have flown into and out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area many times; the trip to the west coast in July being the most recent prior to October.  By no stretch am I a frequent flier.  I fly more often than I did when I was in my 20s; as household income and my age have increased, the occurrences where I take flight have also increased.

For much of my life, the act of passing through the Minneapolis/St. Paul area was seen as an unfortunate have-to.  With Melissa having grown up in Saint Paul, and her parents having always lived there, the metro area turned into an occasional destination.  With move to the metro area now heading toward being eighteen months ago, it has turned into my new home and it’s a homecoming for Melissa.

The flight to Hibbing was odd; the doctor who had delivered me was on the flight along with several others who seemed vaguely familiar in that I’ve-seen-you-before-maybe-twenty-years-ago sort of way.  No turbo prop, this time.  It was a small jet.

The time in Hibbing was brief – around 36 hours – and then it was back to St. Louis; by the end of the week, we were back in St. Paul and soon there after, back to the daily routine.  Back to this place that is now my home.


Lawnmowers & Vespidae

Before leaving for Portland, I had been putzing with the lawn tractor and its mower deck.  The mower deck has a Rube-Goldbergian pulley system from taking power from the engine and directing it to the mower blades.  For a while (prior to traveling to Portland), I have been trying to get the right belt for the mower deck.  The mower itself is a Sears.  Its green color is not original, nor is the yellow mower deck.  The belt that was on the machine when my father-in-law was cracked and worn and continually slipped off. Amazon.com has been stellar with their selection of belts.  Props to Amazon for having belts listed by size and not simply the model of the machine they will fit.  I have bought several – different circumferences and different thicknesses.  Except for the last belt I tried, the others keep violently vibrating and slip off of the pulleys.  The last belt was simply too short.

With the far-back garage closed and the not-mowing-mower in said garage, Melissa was not able to get the grass cut while I was in Portland.  The grass also did not get cut the first week back from Portland.  This was more than nerve-racking for Melissa, and she had had enough.  We bought a new self-propelled push mower yesterday.

Melissa is a tomboy.  She likes things with engines – lawnmowers, tractors, fishing boats.  Whenever I would get the lawn tractor out to mow, inevitably, Melissa would wander out and ask if she could take over.

Like a kid with a new toy, I could barely get the few things I was carrying out and into the house; she wanted the new mower unpacked and working.

With the jerrycan of 92 octane gasoline empty after filling the new machine, I headed to a gas station; Melissa buzzed around the front yard with the new mower.

When I returned, she had moved into the backyard.  She had mowed in front of the entrance to the vegetable garden and was now mowing lengthwise in front of the chicken coop.

I had noticed a mole hole near the entrance to the garden several days ago.  I had made a mental note to fill it with dirt, but had since lost the mental note.  Walking to check the expansive Little Shop of Horrors-like squash plant (I have not had to feed it bodies, yet, but the plant is enormous, and, in the hot weather of several weeks ago, it was growing nearly 12″ per day) that had been looking dehydrated earlier in the day, I noticed activity around the mole hole – insects, flying insects, black and yellow flying insects.

A closer inspection revealed wasps.  Depending upon which entomology camp you follow, you call them Vespula alascensis, or you might call them Vespula vulgaris.  Either way, they are wasps.

Melissa had apparently, and unknowingly mowed over the mole hole that now contained the wasps.  Before I inevitably had to put wasp spray into their home, I set up a video camera and videoed them cleaning out the grass clippings that had landed at the entrance.

Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

For quite some time now, I have usually carried a camera with me.  The ubiquity of cameras in cellphones has helped. For example, I have an iPhone 4, which, in a pinch, can take quite nice photos.  For weekend excursions and trips that might have something interesting, I will take our Nikon D5100.  I purchased this camera before my 2012 trip to Japan.  Before that Nikon, it was a different Nikon – a D60.  But, for a number of years and prior to leaving Hibbing, it was a late 1970s Pentax ME 35mm.  I, more or less, usurped ownership of this camera from my father.  He had bought it new, and it was often part of outdoor summer outings in the mid-1980s.  Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 11.36.11 AM

I remember standing on top of a mining dump (these are large hills of waste rock and dirt from a bygone era of iron mining), we were near Kelley Lake on the outskirts of Hibbing, MN.  A side note, in the map, above, Kelley Lake is the marker on the left.  I stared off in the distance; my father stared through the camera and its 205MM zoom lens toward the east northeast.  He was looking at Minntac, the mine he worked at, at that time, located 21 miles away.

The camera was kept in a closet under the steps at the house in which I grew up.  In the early 1990s, before I was old enough to drive a car, I rode my bike.  I rode miles and miles everyday; often north to trails that ran along mine-owned properties.  Occasionally, we would cross over onto mine-owned property and go swimming in the then-abandoned-and-water-filled pits.

Friends and I would take photos of many things.  Water running out of a distant, long forgotten mine shaft – from the days when iron mining was conducted below the surface.  We would also photograph weekly mine-blasts, the abandoned foundations of the city that moved, and sometimes, we would end up in front of the camera.

While visiting my sister in Japan this past year, I was looking at a bookshelf she had in her living room; on the top shelf, there was a photo of me – I was on my Raleigh mountain bike, and I was wearing a backpack.  The photo was in black and white.  I stared at the photo.  I could remember where the photo was taken, and the approximate time of the year.

I was fourteen.  It was the middle of the summer of 1995.  My friend John F. and I were biking around Hibbing and we were following the railroad tracks that still cut through Hibbing; we were just west of the old depot building riding through puddles of water.  I believe it had rained earlier in that day.

John and I took hundreds of photos that summer, and of all those photos that we took, that one photo of my young-self that is currently sitting on a bookshelf in Japan, is the only one that I know of that has not been lost.


At the old homestead, in Proctor, we had a fence.  It ran, on the east, from the front corner of house – parallel to the front face of the house – to the property line.  A ninety-degree angle at the property line, and the fence ran up hill to the edge of the driveway.  A similar configuration of fence was on the westerly side of the property and house.  The fence was constructed of eight-feet long sections of lumber; the rails and stiles of each panel came together into a butt joint.  We stretched and stapled welded wire to the wood frame.

In back of the yard, directly in from of the driveway and from garage to the property line, we had a wood slat privacy fence; we also had a solid wood set of gates.

Our neighbor, across the alley from us, was a cantankerous curmudgeon.  There is nothing wrong with being a curmudgeon, there is nothing wrong with being a cantankerous curmudgeon, but he also happened to be a busybody.

I often thought of him as Jimmy Stewart’s character in Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  He was always sitting in his window; he was constantly aware of any motion or activity outside his window.  He would comment after the fact about the comings and goings of our house.  “I see you brought home some groceries two nights ago – about 6:00 pm; where do you go shopping?”

When it became apparent to him that we were putting up a privacy fence, albeit a short privacy fence across the back of the yard in front of the driveway, he got decidedly cranky.  “You know, Alex, a neighbor might take it the wrong way, you know, with you walling off your yard and all.”

I asked him if he had ever read North of Boston by Robert Frost.  I went on to say that there was a poem in this book called, “Mending Wall”, with the line “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Neighbor gave an half-annoyed, half-inquisitive “Who?”

The privacy fence went up, and the prickliness of the neighbor eventually subsided to his everyday-normal-baseline prickliness.

It worked very well.  It limited the snooping of those behind our yard, and helped block our view of our vehicles and whatever other random heaps of stuff we may have had in the driveway.

Now, in St. Paul, we have a bit more space.  In Proctor, we fenced off half of our little-under a quarter-acre and that included a house in that footprint, as well.  At the new place, we have over an acre.  The main yard area goes from the road in the front, past the house and a couple hundred feet (~ 60 meters) back where it meets the wooded area of our property.  From the edge of this yard-clearing, to the property line is another hundred feet (~ 30 meters).  This area is heavily wooded and has a diverse collections of flora and fauna.

After returning from Boston, at the beginning of October, we started to sink fence posts.  Work, fleeting day late and school got in the way of working on the fence during the week, so, each weekend, weather depending, we put in time.

Two sets of weekends, and the posts were in the ground.  We would start on fence panels.

The constructions of the panels was identical to those we used at the old place. The only exception would be size; the panels are a foot and a half taller.  Melissa eventual plans for a coonhound; coonhounds like to climb.

A weekend here, a single Saturday there, the panels went together.  Hugging the slope of the ground where needed; we put a pair of five feet wide gates at the front of the yard to drive a vehicle into the yard.  The gates are set at a 5° slope to match the ground.

A third of the way through the fence project, it snowed and briefly became cold.  We were almost certain the remainder of the fence would have to wait until spring.  Luckily, the weather turned nice, and we were back in action.

With the help of Melissa’s dad (throughout the project, actually), a really nice Saturday, and some extra long electrical extension cords to reach the back of the property from the house, we finished up the fence.  The hounds were released and ran and ran and ran for the remainder of the afternoon after we finished.

During the construction of the fence, we got to know our neighbors a little better; they came to see the fence and chat.  Very nice people, but we will need time to find out if our good, new fence will result in good neighbors.


Hershey’s Chocolate – A Digression

Earlier today, I was out in the back of our property; we have an old garage, an old, rotting pile of wood, and a fire-pit, among other things.  I had a nice fire going in fire-pit; even though the logs are very much to the point of crumbling, they still burn quite nicely.

Our nieces and their mother stopped by the house at one point.  The girls came running out to the back to see the fire.  I tossed another log on.  The nieces kept asking if we have any chocolate bars, graham crackers and marshmallows.  They wanted to make s’mores.

Luckily, unknown to the two of them, Melissa, my wife, was out and about and was bringing back those three different ingredients.

I shifted the red embers to make a nice place to toast marshmallows.  I pulled

the pack of chocolate bars out; Hershey’s Milk Chocolate.  I realized that something was slightly different with the packaging.  I had noticed this before, but it had not really registered.  The bars were wrapped in a plastic film.

Maybe it is because it is November, and as a youngster, November meant deer hunting.  Deer hunting meant staying in Side Lake, MN, traveling to Angora, MN via the Dean Forest road, eating lukewarm beef stew from a Stanley widemouth thermos, and having a Hershey’s bar after the stew.  The Hershey’s bars were packaged with a paper wrapper and under the paper, wrapping the

This lack of foil and paper around the chocolate bar was slightly disturbing; it seemed wrong that Hershey’s would have meddled with such a simple, yet classic packaging.

Upon a little bit of Internet sleuthing, it turns out that Hershey’s discontinued the foil-and-paper in 2003.  Apparently, I have not been paying attention to what is in vogue for candy packaging for nearly the last ten years.  Further reading revealed that by beloved foil and paper wrapper had less than a twenty year run.  Starting in 1984, the foil replaced a white glassine inner paper.  So much for “tradition.”  I was how long the godawful plastic film will be in use before it, too, is replaced with something more obnoxious.

On a tradition + chocolate note, a book I read a couple years ago comes to mind: Chocolate Wars, by Deborah Cadbury.  It is a fascinating look at the capitalistic world of chocolate oligopolies over a 150 year period.


Disruptive Forces

We are back in Minnesota after spending a week or so in the Boston, Massachusetts.  Our mode of transportation was an automobile.  I am not fond of commercial radio and I have been trending toward financial/monetary podcasts as well as political podcasts.  Of the podcasts we listened to, I kept noticing a common idea that threaded its way through them.  The idea or tacit notice would popup here or it would popup there.  The idea is not new, it is not even that exciting.  Nassim Taleb, Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute, wrote a book on the subject called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.  I lean more toward a less eloquent sounding name: disruptive forces.

Outside, it is in the low 40s F (~5.5 C), but I am sitting in our living room; we have a nice fire going in the fireplace.  With a dip into the mid-30s (~1.6 C) on the docket for this evening, a nice fire feels, well, quite nice. We are burning wood from our property – walnut, apple, and cedar, but mostly, we are using buckthorn (pdf).

In Minnesota, at the Federal government level and in forty-five other states, buckthorn is considered a “noxious weed.”  The designation of “noxious weed” is a way in which governments can apply a whole host of existing laws and regulations without explicitly codifying Rhamnus cathartica L. in legislation.  Noxious weeds are generally considered detrimental to economical or societal wellbeing (Cannabis sativa, for example, is classified as a “noxious weed” in many states; whether Cannabis is detrimental economically or societally, is, in an of itself, a completely other topic). This means that there are regulations in place to disincentivize the further dissemination of buckthorn and the others on the list of noxious weeds.  Even the penalties associated with the laws and regulations that are supposed to govern willfully and knowingly the spread of noxious weeds and invasive species (both flora and fauna) can be viewed as an attempt at a disruptive force.

With this idea of disruptive forces bobbling around in my head for most of our time in Boston and on the road to and from Boston, we were driving through Chicago, Illinois, last week, I was listening to a podcast of Science Friday.  The segment that struck me as being particularly fascinating was the discussion and pitching of Steven Strogatz‘s new book, The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Mathematics from Zero to Infinity.  Steven is a Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  The book itself sounds quite interesting – as the playful title might suggest, it is a book where you get a smattering of mathematics without having to hold a bachelors degree in mathematics; you will not be held to know a Bernoulli differential equation from a Bernoulli trial.

\Huge{\lim_{x \to \infty} \dfrac{1}{x} = 0}  The segment that I piqued my curiosity was that of the discussion of zero and infinity. It is common place, nowadays, to simply disregard zero as that number that is after negative one but before positive one.  It is a special number – multiply any number by zero, and you get zero.  Add zero to a number and you get that same number back.  And, of course, there is infinity.  It is universally accepted by all but a fringe; infinity, however, can still be a difficult concept to get one’s noodle around.  Infinity, like zero, has special properties.  Divide any regular number by infinity, and you get zero back (the calculus limit, above, is a way of expressing this).  Infinity minus one is still infinity.  There are other properties, as well.

What does zero or infinity have to do with disruptive forces?  You need only to look at the late-medieval into the early Renaissance-era Europe and the Catholicism that ruled academia and most aspects of knowledge, life and thought of that time.  Giordano Bruno, an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, and for his time, a free thinking radical.  Bruno was born in 1548 A.D. and became an ordained priest by the age of 24.

Among Bruno’s “crazy” ideas that caused the Church to get all-up-in-his-business was how he considered infinity to exist outside the context of God.   The Church felt this notion, this belief was disruptive enough to warrant an inquisition.  Remember what Monty Python character, Ximénez shouts, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”  And of course, the end result of his trial by this Roman Inquisition was rather disruptive for Bruno’s continuation as a living person: he was burned at the stake for being a heretic.

Let us jump back to invasive species.  When you think of invasive species, if you are in eastern Minnesota, you might think of lamprey or zebra mussels.  If you are in a cohort of beekeepers in Ontario, in and around Thunder Bay, you will likely think of another pest: Varroa destructor, also known as, varroa mites. With an importation ban on honeybees from the United States to the south, and geographic isolation – 700 km to the east and west from most populations, Thunder Bay was on the short list of outposts of varroa-free honeybee colonies.  Varroa first made it into Canada in 1989, but because of Thunder Bay’s isolation  and because of the watchful eyes and ears of one zealous beekeeper named Jeanette Momot, the area stayed mite free…until the late summer of 2012.

Searching through my emails and group message posting to construct a timeline, I first noticed something was a miss with my friends in Thunder Bay when, by chance, I noticed a terse posting from Dean Harron (I last wrote about Dean in my North to Ontario post) referencing a conversation he and I had started on April 8, 2012.  More digging into posts; I found the conversation Dean was referring to:

However if we import bees from the south we all will not have any bees or beekeepers in the North at all. Alot of time and patience has been devoted by our senior beekeepers to have it remain this way, however there are some beekeepers that do not agree…what a shame!  We hope their egos will be satisfied when this destruction happens in the Northwest [of Ontario].  It will not be beneficial to anyone to say the least.

The “senior beekeepers” Dean speaks of include Jeanette Momot, previous written about in the same North to Ontario post, and himself.  Saying that the senior beekeepers were devoted is putting it lightly.  In June of 2011, I had an email conversation with Jeanette; I asked her about the history of the Thunder Bay bees.  She replied with a lengthy and interesting history of the bees, her background and a self-deprecating shot at her bee-addiction:

I started grad school in the Entomology Department at Iowa State University with Walter C. Rothenbuhler in March of 1962, where he was working on hygienic behavior of honeybees.  It had been found that this behavior made them resistant to the devastating disease American foulbrood, which had destroyed countless colonies in the states previously.  I spent the summer of ’62 working with his group on this problem at Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.  Then he was offered a position at Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, and several of his graduate students were invited to transfer as well.  So I was involved with these studies until 1964, when I received my M.S. from Ohio State.  I worked for the USDA in Fargo, N Dakota on insect control problems for a couple of years, then married and wound up back in Columbus among the bees.  We moved to Thunder Bay in 1975, but didn’t have bees until we purchased our country property in l977.  We have been keeping bees, producing honey and raising queens ever since.  Of course, I always looked for hygienic behavior in the queen mother used for the bulk of queens produced, as well as wintering success, gentleness, and honey production in the progeny, but also tried to raise a queen from each colony as well, to keep the genetic diversity.  That works because queens mate with 15 to 20 drones each.Inbreeding would lead to poor brood viability.  If the colony wasn’t hygienic, I would replace her, of course.  We had a wide assortment of bees here in the Thunder Bay District.  I was partial to the Buckfast line developed by Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey in England.  I was able to acquire Buckfast bees from Weaver’s Apiaries in Navasota Texas, and I would usually buy some queens from them each spring, until the border to Canada from the U. S. was closed in 1987.  We also had Mraz bees, Carniolans from Hawaii and elsewhere, Caucasians, Italians — we tried everything.   I always raised some queens, but since 1987 have produced all of my own queens, as well as many for the local Thunder Bay District beekeepers.  We worked hard to keep our area free of mites, and have succeeded so far.  I  also sold some bees to Mn beekeepers along the north shore of Lake Superior for many years, and they must like them, as they keep coming back for more.  We are one of the few mite free areas left in the world, and are having a hard time convincing our government to protect our status.  It is also too bad that we cannot send nucs across the border, as it is very difficult to shake packages of bees in 50F weather, and we have that and colder even at the end of May.  Our biggest problem is the weather, the long cold winters and our short growing season.  Of course farming methods, cut before bloom to keep the protein content of the forage high doesn’t help either.  July used to be the best month for honey production; now it is often our worst.  But beekeeping is still very addictive;  I have been trying to quit for about 10 years now.  Maybe it is an obsession!

Jeanette Momot – June 20, 2011

Jeanette has been the driving force behind keeping mites out of the Thunder Bay region.  She has gone to great lengths to preserve her work; she mentioned once to several of us that she had a mole at the post office in Thunder Bay, and if someone had honeybees mailed in to the region, she would get a call from this mole.  She would then contact the person who purchased the bees and explain the potential harm these non-Thunder Bay bees could pose to everyone’s apiaries in the district.  She would then go one step further; if the person would agree to destroy the package of bees, she would replace it for them with a package of local bees plus a queen at no charge.

Thus, twenty-five years of work is now threatened.  Late this summer word started to trickle down from the Thunder Bay region; varroa mites had arrived.  This unfortunate happening will go unnoticed by the scores of Canadian tourists that pass through Thunder Bay on their way to points south – like for the shopping excursions into Duluth, MN.  A small handful of dedicated hobbyist beekeepers in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, have taken notice and are now trying to measure the situation, gauging what to do next year for they made annual treks north of the border to obtain fresh packages of mite-free bees and queens.  It is a disruptive force select handful of fellow beekeepers.