Thursday, August 27, 2020

Vehicles I Have Owned

 Here is a list of the vehicles I have owned over the years, some with photographs. 

1959 Chevy Truck with flat bed
1972 American Motors Gremlin

 Plymouth Arrow 
Plymouth Satellite
Isuzu diesel pick up truck
Geo Metro
Ford 150 pick up truck

Nissan Frontier pick up truck

Hyundai Accent

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Memories of Computers Past

Just thinking about things from a computer past:

Windows 3.1
Alta Vista
America Online
    (Thanks for all the free 3.5 inch floppies that I reformatted for other uses)
"You've Got Mail"  (which became a major motion picture.)
Filemaker 2.0
Texas Instruments
Vic 20
Commodore 64
Radio Shack Tandy Computer Model 4
Deskmate GUI
Macintosh 512K

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Sam's Quantum Switch

Every so often I write a science fiction short story. I've  written a bunch of them over the years. Here is the latest one. It's called

Sam's Quantum Switch

John Laraporte is one of the big names in high technology. I have no idea what he does, and I doubt I would understand it if I did know what he does. I only met him once, but this isn't about him.

It's about Sam.

Sam is a guy I have known since college, and although he gets a little dense at times, we always got along okay. He was a theoretical physics grad, and I received a  degree in English. We played chess sometimes, and sometimes we had a beer or two, but that would usually bring out the obsession that Sam has with quantum switches.

To say that Sam was fascinated with quantum switches would be an understatement. He always really wanted me to understand what quantum switches were, what they did and why they were important, but that was always way over my head. I never was really sure whether quantum switches are actually real. They could be real things, or imaginary things or theoretical things. Sam never really made it clear.

I didn't really care, but Sam often tried to explain them to me so that I would care. Those discussions would more than likely result in a mutual putting it off to another time.

As best as I could figure out, quantum switches were important because they had something to do with the progression of time. According to Sam, they were the gatekeepers of the "what comes next." At least, that's what I got out of Sam's numerous attempts to explain them to me.

They were important to Sam, and far be it from me to question that importance.

So it was that one day  Sam and I were finishing up lunch in the cafeteria in the McCullum Building in downtown Sacramento. He had an office there up on the third floor, and we had lunch together three or four times a month. 

 "Have you seen the new article on quantum switches in this month's Science Magazine?" he asked as we walked out of the cafeteria on the ground floor. 

"No, I must have missed it," I laughed. 

"Well you should read it," he said, "important stuff going on. I have a copy of it in my office, if you want to borrow it."

I said sure. So we both got into the elevator to go up to his office, and at the last moment John Laraporte got into the elevator also and pressed the top floor button.

I could see Sam react when he realized that he was in the same elevator as John Laraporte, who just happened to be Sam's Most Admired Person on the Planet.  Apparently Laraporte was going up to the top floor to meet with some big wig in the super high tech world.

The elevator came to a stop on Sam's floor, the doors opened, and just before Sam stepped out, he paused, turned to Laraporte and said, "Quantum switches are flaky across their axis." Then he turned and went out the door, and I followed him.

Laraporte's face expressed a kind of shocked-look as the elevator doors closed.

"What was that?" I asked Sam, and he laughed and shrugged it off. "Just wanted to give him something to think about," he said.

We went into the reception area at his office, and he went inside to go get the magazine. Sam came back out and handed me the magazine. "It starts on page 47," he said.

"Does it have pictures?" I asked.
Just then, John Laraporte cautiously opened the door to the office, scanned the faces of those in it, and when he saw Sam, he entered and came right up to us.

"What you said on the elevator...." Laraporte told Sam, "Quantum switches aren't flaky. No one's ever found flakes."

"No one's ever looked for dimensional signature residue," Sam told him in response.

Laraporte stood silent for a moment, thinking over what Sam had said.

"Can I talk to you for a moment?" he asked.

"Sure," Sam said.

Laraporte pointed upward, "Up in my office with some of my engineers?"

Sam looked at me. "That'll be great," he said to Laraporte, standing up and heading for the door.

I tagged along with them as they rode the elevator up to Laraporte's Sacramento office, an expansive set of huge desks facing huge windows. Laraporte took Sam back into the private offices, and I saw Laraporte speak to his secretary.

Then they went into what looked like a conference room, and moments later four or five engineer-looking types converged on the door of the conference room and went in.

That left me standing in the front reception room with the receptionist looking at me. "Would you like some water?" she asked.

"No thanks," I said.



She pointed me to the coffee room and then went back to answering phones. I poured myself a cup and sat down. Even in the coffee room there was a chalkboard with mysterious scientific markings on it, a bunch of numbers and mathematical symbols that I had seen in various science fiction movies over the years. I got my phone out and started checking my Twitter feed.

About a half hour later, Laraporte and Sam came out of the conference room, with Laraporte heading one way and Sam seeing me in the coffee room. He came over and apologized.

"Damn, Chris, I didn't mean to leave you like that. You should have gone on home. I'm sorry but I kind of got caught up on this quantum switch stuff."

"No problem," I replied. "You okay? Looks like things are starting to happen."

The four or five engineers came out of the conference room with stacks of paper under their arms. They headed for their desks, some of them getting on their computers and the others getting on their phones.

"Yeah," Sam said. "We're flying up to Los Palomas to his main office to talk with some of his hyper-dimension experts. They want to draw up some charts and diagrams and that sort of stuff."

"So the quantum switches are real, then," I said.

He smiled. "Hope so. We're wasting a lot of computer time if they aren't." He paused. "I'll be all right, don't know when I'll get back, though. I'll give  you a call."

"Okay," I said.

He went back into the office area and started talking to one of the engineers sitting at his computer, and I headed slowly back out to the reception area.

"Thanks for the coffee," I said. The receptionist smiled and waved good-bye, and I walked into the elevator.

That was the last time I saw Sam.

The next day his landlady called me. "Hey, are you Chris? You know Sam? He left me your phone number as an emergency contact." she said.

"Yes, I am a friend of his. Is anything wrong?" I asked, concerned.

"No, well, maybe," she answered. "Some guys came by his apartment to pick up some stuff. They had the key to his apartment, told me he would be moving out at the end of the month, going to work for one of those big technology companies upstate."

"Yeah, that's not really surprising," I told her. "He was talking to one of the big wheels yesterday."

"Well they filled up two boxes of personal stuff and headed out, said somebody else would be coming to get the rest of the stuff in a couple of days," she said. "You know anybody who needs an apartment?"

I said no, then hung up the phone. It looked like Sam had found himself a new job talking about his favorite subject.

A few days later, Sam left a message on my voice mail.

"Chris, wow, things are really going great here. I'm living on campus, got my own office and lab, and the  time-manip crew is already treating me like one of the guys. Maybe you can visit me sometime... if you can pass the security clearance. Ha! I'm joking. Well, maybe not. I'll check. Call you in a few days."

That was the last time I heard from Sam.

The next day a rather important looking dude knocked on my door. He was carrying a briefcase and had a very stern look on his face.

"Can I help you?" I asked as I opened the door.

"You Chris Bryant?"

I said yes.

"You know a Sam Clarke?"

I nodded.

He entered my apartment, sat down on the sofa and proceeded to open his briefcase.
"I've got some papers here for you to sign, Mr. Bryant."

"What about?" I asked.

"This is a non-disclosure statement regarding any conversations or information you have shared with Mr. Clarke regarding his scientific inquiries."

"You mean his thing with quantum switches?" I laughed.

The gentlemen frowned. "Precisely that," he said. "And any other statements he may have made regarding any other technological matters in the presence of John Laraporte of Laraporte Research Inc."

"Like in the elevator," I laughed.

The gentlemen frowned again. "This is no laughing matter. Statements you may or may not have overheard are of high critical importance to national security. We need you to sign these documents contractually binding you to never discuss or mention anything regarding Mr. Clarke and Mr. Laraporte."

"No thanks. Don't think I want to sign anything like that, at least until I talk to Sam," I said.

That didn't sit well with him at all. "You won't be talking to Mr. Clarke again about these matters," the gentleman said. "You really need to sign these documents to protect yourself."

I looked at him strangely. "Look, I don't know anything about quantum switches or flaky axles or any of that stuff."

He looked alarmed. "Look, Mr. Bryant, we will pay you $50,000 to sign this non-disclosure agreement to protect us and yourself both. This matter is extremely important and a high security concern."

I thought about that for a moment. Then I politely suggested that he close his briefcase, go to the door and exit before I called the police. He did so. "Next time I talk to Sam I will tell him about you and your stupid non-disclosure agreement," I said, closing the door.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not sure that was a good idea to do that.

A few weeks later I called the main office of Laraporte Research and asked to talk to Sam, but the call didn't go through. He was busy or away from his desk. I did do an online search of his name last month, and he was listed as the Director of Level One Research with the company, so it looked like he became a very valuable employee. 

This month, though, things are different. His name is no longer on the company website, there's nothing coming up on any online search of his name, and even our old university has scrubbed any mention of him from their online records and alumni database. It's almost as if he never existed.

Sure miss those chess games and beers.

Friday, July 24, 2020

When Up Became Down

Every once in a while a civic club would request that I would come and speak to them. Since I was the local newspaper editor, they must have thought I would have something enlightening to share with them.

That was not usually the case. It had been drilled into me in journalism school to give the facts, stay objective, and don't show any favoritism. So that made a pretty dull talk whenever a group asked me to share my thoughts on things going on.

There was an opportunity that arose when the local businessmen's group asked me to address them, and instead of giving them a serious talk, I thought I would give them a humorous talk, something to make them laugh and have a better day than what all the serious information would afford them.

That, as it turned out, was not a good idea. They expected a serious talk, and when I gave them my "upside down" talk, they didn't quite know what to think of it.

The "upside down talk" had two major components.

First, it was explained that the latest scientific discoveries had revealed that up is down.

Anyone knows that when a light image passes through a convex lends, it turns the image upside down. Looking through a magnifying glass at a distant view proves that. Well, if that's the case, then the image on the back of your eyeball is upside down. Scientists had always assumed that the brain always turns the images rightside up while you are looking at it, but further research could not verify that was actually the case.

So everything we are looking at is actually upside down. That makes up, down. It also makes left, right. This means that gravity makes things fall upward.

The second component was that the direction north was actually south. When we look at a compass to see what direction we are facing, the north end of the compass needle points north. But every high school science student knows that the north end of a magnet repels the north end of another magnet, and the south end of one magnet is the one that is attracted to the north end of another magnet. So every compass on Earth has a needle where the north end points..... south.

That means the north pole is actually the south pole and that North Dakota is below South Dakota. That also flips the directions of East and West. So all those cowboy movies are actually "easterns" instead of "westerns," that the northeast United States is actually the Southwest United States and the words to the song "Buttons and Bows" are really messed up ("East is East and West is West, and the wrong ones I have chose....")

Fortunately when those two components are combined, some of the inconsistencies are made right again. But not all of them. The world in many respects is indeed upside down and we don't have to look far to realize that.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Northlake Welcome Center

In a never ending quest to provide people with information about St. Tammany Parish, a few friends and I opened the Northlake Welcome Center on North Causeway Approach in the mid-1980's. It was located in a small tan brick building on the east side of the major roadway, just a few blocks from Lake Pontchartrain.

We filled it with brochure racks offering brochures and business cards of a wide variety of businesses, motels, tourist attractions, real estate agents and other items of interest to people driving off the north end of the Causeway.

The Northlake Welcome Center staff included Karen Hays, myself, and a couple of others, but as time went on, those volunteers had others things to do than wait for people to walk in the door. 

It was successful at the beginning, but as time wore on, it became seasonal and the traffic dwindled. We were asking local community supporters and businesses to advertise on a monthly basis, but it wasn't enough, so we had to close the doors on the operation. 

A few years later the St. Tammany Tourist and Convention Commission opened up a tourist information center over on La. 59 north of Interstate 12, spending a lot of money on a building of considerable architectural presence, basically a backwoods camp style structure on pilings over a swamp near Koop Drive. 

It helps if tourist welcome centers have some sort of government funding in the form of a dedicated tax base, I guess. The Northlake Welcome Center did not have that and although it was fun to do and we met a lot of great people, it was just ahead of its time. 

Friday, May 8, 2020

Adventures in Genealogy

A few years ago I was bitten by the genealogy bug, and I joined Ancestry and started putting together a family tree. My grandfather's name was Joseph A. Barthet, and he was born on October 23, 1884, in Donaldsonville, LA. He died in New Orleans in 1966. 

Apparently, there was another Joseph A. Barthet, possibly my great grandfather, who was a photographer in Labadieville in the late 1800's. The Louisiana Digital Archives has several photographs by the "Barthet Brothers Photography Studio" in its collection. The photographer credited with some of the shots was Joseph Barthet.

So a reasonable person would think my grandfather, who was an auto mechanic (he worked on Greyhound buses) was somehow related to Joseph Barthet, the photographer. My grandfather was from Labadieville, as shown on some old family documents I have in the family file folder, and the photographer worked in Labadieville.

This was way back in the early days of photography. I remember being told that my grandfather was at one time a traveling photographer who would go from town to town and take pictures of people at fairs and carnivals. 

Surely he is related to the Barthet who opened a photography studio with his brother in Labadieville. Either way, I found that interesting, given the fact that I have been a photographer all of my life. Here are some Barthet Brothers photographs in the state archives.Click on the image below to make them larger.

Joseph Barthet was also listed as Postmaster in Labadieville in 1928, but he died in 1933 and had to be replaced. 

Attenuating Patch Cords and other Dinosaurs

Years ago, from time to time, I needed to use an attenuating patch cord to dub the sound from an audio source to a tape recorder. It was about three feet long, black, with a mini-plug on each end. It would transfer the audio signal from the earphone jack of a tape player to the microphone jack of a tape recorder, lessening the strength of the audio along the way so as not to overpower the microphone level.

Now I have dozens of old cassette tapes with interviews, radio broadcasts and other memorable stuff, and I need to take those analog signals and transfer them into the computer. Well, after looking for my 30 year old attenuating patch cord which I bought at Radio Shack for a buck or two, I couldn't find it, so I thought I would just order one off the internet.

Man, am I getting old. Searching for an attenuating patch cord brought in lots of results, but nothing that even resembled what I used to know one as. Half of the search results were for things that I had never heard of, the other half was for professional audio processing, costing ten times more than I wanted to (or expected to) pay for one. There were even optical attenuating patch cables. I tried to imagine what that would be for, but I gave up.

But I did get a laugh out of one webpage that defined the function of an attenuating patch cord as a cable that "attenuates" a signal only in one direction, down. It does not attenuate the sound level upward. Well, duh. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Photo Processing Technical Notes

This picture of Tugy's Bar in the Southern Hotel building in Covington was taken in the mid-1970's, some 45 years ago. 

Click on the image to make it larger.

 Here are some technical notes on the processing of that photo:

The picture of Tugy's Bar at the top is just a small portion of a decades old slide of the Southern Hotel. The slide was dirty, dusty, and its color was deteriorating. Here's the process I went through to get it cleaned up a little.

1. Zoomed in on Tugy's Bar, cropped out the rest of the Southern Hotel building.
2. Ran a sharpening filter to help sharpen the focus.
3. Blue splotches were everywhere, hundreds of them, the result of the color dyes breaking down. Instead of trying to color correct the hundreds of blue splotches, I switched the whole thing over to black and white, making the blue splotches gray. Then I selected out specific areas and blurred them to smooth out the splotches. 
4. In a quick three hour re-coloring session, I tinted all the picture elements ( the buildings, the cars, the street, the trees) back to a natural color.
5. I retraced the letters on the signs. 
6. Then I ran the whole thing through a watercolor painting filter to increase the artistic look and take out the last few slide imperfections.

Here's a procession of the different image processing stages

Friday, April 3, 2020

Hammond Downtown CloseUp 1984

In 1984 I drew a detailed map of downtown Hammond with all the buildings and all the businesses named. The central business district association was so delighted they bought it on sight. I have posted the entire map before on this blog, but I thought I would show some close up views of the businesses. Click on the images below to make them larger. 

Hammond History Book & The Map

Hammond Maps