2003 Notebook: Weak X
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5 March 2003
No. 5,118 (cartoon)
You look atypically cheerful.

Everything’s always brighter at night.

6 March 2003
Military Education
All the lads down at the pub were decrying the moves to militarily annex Iraq.

“It’s the poor bastards on the ground I pity,” Trevor said. “They go into the military with no education and come out with even less. And that’s if they come out.”

I figured this was one of those occasions when it was best to keep my mouth shut, so I did.

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7 March 2003
George Harrison Organs Ltd.
I happened to walk by George Harrison Organs Ltd. in Sunderland, England; the business was closed. I asked the merchant across the street when the store would reopen.

“They’ve stopped trading,” he said. “I heard their supplier went out of business.”

As I continued down the street, I wondered whether I was the victim of a macabre joke.

8 March 2003
The Hole in the Eye Quiz
I was leafing through a magazine when I came across a small quiz.

    What’s the name of the hole in your eye that admits light?

    1. Iris
    2. Choroid
    3. Lens
    4. Retina
    5. Sclera
    6. Pupil
    7. Cornea

    (Answer on page 49.)

The test annoyed me. I was pretty sure it wasn’t the retina. As a boy, my first serious camera was a Kodak Retina IIIc, so I know that retinas capture images. I also ruled out “choroid” and “sclera” because I never heard of them; I guessed that they were nonsense words added just to confuse people. I suspected the correct answer was either “iris” or “lens,” but I wasn’t sure.

I was so frustrated by my ignorance that I threw the magazine in a rubbish bin instead of turning to page forty-nine. Although I remain ignorant, the hole in my eye that admits light still works just fine, even if I don’t know what it’s called.

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9 March 2003
Bad Sculpture Presentation
A hideous sculpture greeted me when I entered the urination chamber at the Sunderland Academy of Art College. Some poor student, presumably desperate for an exhibition venue, had put his monstrosity beside a broken cloth towel dispenser. The useless towel machine was much more rewarding visually and conceptually than the mediocre student work; that just made the third-rate sculpture look even worse.

To his credit, though, at least the would-be artist at least had the sense not to display his work beside the row of magnificent porcelain urinals.

10 March 2003
Too Fast for Mountains
Adam has a fancy new camera, and it’s too damn fancy.

Adam showed me some landscape photos he made, and asked me why the backgrounds are completely black, with no detail whatsoever. I put the negatives in a densitometer and, sure enough, the area of film that should have contained pictures of huge mountains had apparently never been exposed to light. Nevertheless, the daffodils in the foreground were properly exposed.

After a lengthy investigation, I finally discovered what the problem was. Adam was using his fancy camera’s top shutter speed of one sixteen-thousandth of a second. Since light travels at 299,792,458 meters per second, it only travels 18.737 kilometers at Adam’s fastest shutter speed. And thus the light from an object over nineteen kilometers away doesn’t have time to reach the film.

I told Adam he should probably use a slower shutter speed, and should definitely never, ever make a photograph with daffodils in the foreground.

11 March 2003
A Heap of Archives
David Vestal is one of my favorite authors, and role model as well. He’s a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, and publishes a periodical called Grump. I’ve heard rumors that Grump has one hundred subscribers, a number I hope to reach some day, probably about the time I become a real grump myself.

One of the reasons I enjoy Vestal’s writing is that he never hesitates to add interesting observations that have nothing to do with the nominal subject of the piece. In his “Filing Negatives” article, for example, he throws in this parenthetical aside.

    (Etymological note: in Portuguese, the word for “archive” is “acervo,” which means “heap.”)

I figure any writer who can write an engaging article about filing negatives is a damn good writer.

12 March 2003
A Brilliant Way to Go
I’ve been receiving a deluge of mail about the old Need Another Seven Astronauts joke I repeated. Each of the four letters scolded me for exhibiting poor judgment, bad taste, gross insensitivity, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I considered, then ignored, the criticism; that policy has always served me well. And anyway, most of what I do shows bad judgment, poor taste, gross insensitivity, and so on.

As for the seven late astronauts (or fourteen, going back to 1986), I think I’d be willing to give my life for a trip into space. Maybe when I’m pushing eighty. According to urban legends, some Inuit communities say goodbye to their old and infirm by sending them out to sea on an ice floe. To answer Robert Frost’s fire or ice question, I think a one-way trip to the sun would be a brilliant way to go.

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©2003 David Glenn Rinehart