Category Archives: Worthy Websites

Conceivably this might be put under the heading “Reviews,” but the World Wide Web is really a wilderness of its own. Probably everyone has favorite places to go there; these are some of mine.

Pt2–MY MUSICAL TOP 100–AND YOURS IF YOU WANT

Pt2–MY MUSICAL TOP 100–AND YOURS IF YOU WANT

It’s a wide, wide world—musically, too.

Listening to a pioneering radio reggae program in the early 1970s, I said to my wife, “That guy Bob Marley is a GOOD songwriter.” In the 40 or so years since, he’s proved that to the world.
“Get Up, Stand Up” has become iconic and a worldwide anthem, besides being a good reason to get up, stand up, and dance.

This is another great reggae song from the 1970s. I gave a copy to a Middlebury Union high school kid who only weighed 160 pounds but was the quarterback and punter on the football team, an all-range scoring threat and wizard passer and the best defender I have ever seen on a high school court in basketball, and the shortstop and a pitcher on the baseball team.

My feeling is that Greek folk music has preserved something of the sound of the very first seriously thought-out music.

Markos Vamvakaris was an alienaris, as the Greek equivalent of beatniks were called in the 1930s—a virtuoso bazouki player (stringed instrument somewhat like a guitar and eventually a famous songwriter. He is said to have wandered the streets at night, unable to sleep because of all the thoughts crowding into his head. He survived World War Two and in time became a star in the world of Greek music. There are scads of “videos” of him on YouTube, many with Greek text, along with a couple of documentaries about him. It’s hard to pick one, but what I’ve linked to is from his youth, from 1937, and is a good representative.
I’ve followed that with a link to one in a collection of 121 examples of Greek rembetika. If you saw the movie “Zorba the Greek you know what kind of power this tradition has.

This is the music that accompanies the final scene of “Zorba the Greek:”

Klezmer goes into my bloodstream—on both sides of my family I’m Hungarian. Eastern European Jewish immigrants, their music influenced by that of the Rom (gypsies), blended that cultural stream with American influences to create a new tradition, which has developed an international following. One of my favorite musicians of all time is the early 20th century klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein, This is “Nifty’s Freilach,” the word being associated, like “frolic,” with joy.

This video, a violin solo of an old Hungarian klezmer piece, is not the best musical representative but it is accompanied by wonderful pictures of photos and art from the pre-war era.

Klezmer carries on. This is from an album by a New York City outfit, titled “Rhythm and Jews:”

In college, the girls in my wife-to-be’s dormitory would gather to sing folk songs, led by the daughter of a Bishop of Maine. This was one of the songs I liked best. I’m haunted by it because I have learned since that it was created for this country’s Yiddish National Theater, in 1941. When your house catches fire, GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT

Flamenco, sometimes called “the Spanish blues, may have been preempted in this country by more popular Hispanic genres. There may have been some influence from the Ottoman takeover of much of Spain; in Manitas de Plata’s long love lament “Little Moorish Girls,” one of the listeners is picked up by the microphone saying, “Eso es canto Moro!” (This is Moorish singing).
I grew up with flamenco. When the Brandon Free Public Library was lending out vinyl records, one was a boxed set of the work of Manitas de Plata (“hands of silver,” popular name for Ricardo Baliardo), which we kept taking out.. He’s too good to have been lost to time. Here are a couple of his pieces.
The first shows off the way flamenco playing has been partnered with flamenco dancing. There isn’t a video of the latter, but it’s easy to imagine.

This shows the handsome devil on British TV in 1971. Makes me think of the title of a piece by blues great Lightning Hopkins: “Watch My Fingers.”

There are various sub-genres within flamenco. This is another flamenco great, Sabicas, doing an alegrias.

Flamenco dancing and singing is chaste yet charged with the frustrations of love. It’s easy to see where the tango came from.

The “canto moro” I mentioned might owe something to the reciting of the Qu’ran. “Reciting” is a word used, but “incantation” might be more descriptive. This is one of the best-known sounds in the world, though most Americans aren’t familiar with it. Former Goshen, Vermont resident, the late Ahmad Abdul Aleem, played a recording of a master reciter and I bought it from him. It’s said that a skilled reciter can move listeners to tears; I don’t doubt it.

This is the complete 19th sura, 30 minutes long, about Maryam, the mother of Jesus. Part of this was on the record I bought. Merry Christmas.

While we’re in the Moorish part of the world: our word “lute” is related to the name of a stringed instrument still played in the Arabic World. There is a large repertoire of music for this instrument—I would compare the situation with Indian sitar music—but I’m not familiar with it. But I’ve linked to something by a master oud player and singer to illustrate the richness of the tradition. The lyrics, about peace, are worth heeding.

One of the tragedies of the warfare in Mali is what it may have done to the traditions of griots, as they are now known internationally—members of lineages of musician/storytellers who have for generations preserve the culture and history of the region. Some of the most skilled players of the kora, a stringed instrument more complex than the guitar often used by the griots, have toured in this country.
The Diabate clan is one of the best-known of the griot (jeli) names. This is Mamadou Diabate:

West Africa has the guitar, too. Slavery and what came before slavery made the blues possible. Here’s Boubacar Traore doing “Mariama,” part of a big compilation of African pieces.

Influences and collaborations cross oceans now. One that’s in my top list is from “Timbuktu Blues,” an album that brought together American Ry Cooder and Mali’s Ali Farka Toure. A Public Radio International program used the opening of “Diaraby” as the theme music for their geography quiz; I found the music gripping, contacted the program, and found out the source. (Answer to the Geo Quiz: Timbuktu is an ancient city in Mali, important for centuries as a key point on cross-Saharan trade routes.) I could tell without any translation that, like many blues songs, it was about the pain of love, but an Internet comment provided this information: “The vocals tell the story of a couple fighting to overcome obstacles to their love, the biggest of which seems to be their respective families (and yes I do speak the language). R.I.P. King Toure. You are forever.”

Now listen to this:

This is Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly, doing “The Grey Goose.” On the surface it’s a children’s song; What I have read and believe is that it was slave code for their endurance some day letting them go back to Africa. Top 100.

In spite of everything, when World War Two came black soldiers and sailors and aviators (look up the Tuskeegee Airmen) fought like wildcats. This is Leadbelly doing “Mr. Hitler:”

Son House, “American Defense.” “ No use of shedding no tears, no use of having no fears—this war may last you for years.”

Not all blues love songs are about troubles. Definitely in my top 100 is “Sweet Jivin’ Woman” by Blind (Arthur) Blake. “My friends all tell me, don’t listen to no woman-talk…But a sweet jivin’ mama makes me pick up my bed and walk.”

Blind Blake does some great comic songs, too, like “That Will Never Happen No More.” Don’t know who’s doing the rhythm on the spoons or bones.

Speaking of comedy, the jug band was made for fun. Using improvised instruments like the washtub-stick-and-G-string bass, the washboard for rhythm, and the jug instead of brass, the early practitioners created a genre that has never disappeared. I consider the Dixieland Jug Blowers the best. “House Rent Rag” is their version of a gospel revival meeting:

Their 1926 numbers “Boodle-am-shake” and “Banjoreno” to my mind evoke the heyday of the 1920s better than anything else than videos of the Lindy Hop. I’m linking to “Banjoreno” because it is purely instrumental, but absolutely characteristic of the era—I’d say work of genius. Think of it if you read, or have read, “The Great Gatsby.”

And there are the blues songs about what poet William Carlos Williams called “the hard give-and-take” between a man and a woman. I’d match the verses in the 1927 song “James Alley Blues” by Richard “Rabbit” Brown with anything ever done on the subject.

The country blues tradition has its translators, in the sense that modern musicians who have been drawn by its power rather than pushed by experience, have done some very good work. The one for which I have the greatest esteem is Martin Grosswendt. I had no knowledge of him when he came to Middlebury, Vermont’s Renaissance Folk Club in the early 1980s. He got onstage, took out his guitar, and said “I just drove up from New Jersey so I don’t know how this is going to sound. (He lives in Rhode Island; as of 2013 he was still performing.)
He took a couple of back-beats and went on a tear. After his blues-heavy concert—he is particularly good at summoning Blind Blake–I told him, ”You’ve put a new grin on my face.”
It irks me that Greg Allman’s version of the Sleepy John Estes song “Floating Bridge” became a national hit and Grosswendt’s arrangement, which is sheer genius, remains almost unknown. I couldn’t find a video of that, but here is an example of how he brings the Deep South to life, this time playing the banjo.

Some of the best musicians of the blues era were on the opposite side of the aisle, so to speak, being primarily religious musicians. One of the best was the Reverend Gary Davis. Copyright issues blocked “Motherless Children,” but this is a good example of his talent. Note how this points toward rap.

Blind Lemon Jefferson, aka Deacon L. J. Bates, was another musician whose steady playing echoes the driving power of railroad engines. This Top 100 example, “True Religion.” includes a reference to the unstoppability of the railroad, as a metaphor for death—something found in other songs of the era (you see Gospel Train” in some of the titles), both black and white.

Mississippi Fred McDowell was another black musician rescued by the Sixties and brought to national attention. This 1969 recording “Shake ‘Em On Down” is electric, in more ways than one. Top 100.

Bob Dylan learned from the blues and from the folk tradition generally then went so far beyond them that he came to be as close to the voice of my generation, of the Sixties, as anyone could have been. I remember one issue of my college’s student newspaper (whose editor at the time has become an Atlantic Monthly and National Public Radio commentator) used the titles of Dylan songs for every article.
The albums he put out before as motorcycle accident halted his momentum cross the line into poetry, in my opinion. Some of his love songs are the wittiest verses of the kind since Shakespeare’s contemporary John Donne.

There are so many songs I couldn’t do without, but I’ll start with one—“It’s All Right, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”–that conveys the authentic feeling of many young people coming out of the house and facing the cross currents of those times.

Likewise the surrealism of Tombstone Blues,” though I would say the John the Baptist verse applied equally well to the Bush administration’s policy on interrogation.

The people I admired most in the Sixties were fearlessly willing to confront hypocrisy, phoniness, and thoughtless behavior. Dylan was one of them; “Like A Rolling Stone” exemplifies what I’m talking about.

Some of Dylan’s love lyrics are wickedly witty, especially those in the album “Blonde on Blonde,” but his mastery showed in his ability to evoke many emotional shifts. “Someone Who Has Had You on His Mind,” for example: “When you wake up in the morning, baby, look inside your mirror/ Oh, you will not see me, you know I won’t be near you/I’d just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear/As someone who has had you on his mind.” It was good enough to win Joan Baez, who sings this version:

One of my top 100 songs, “All My Trials,” was done by Baez, as well as many others. It originated in the Bahamas. I remember saying to myself, “It would be worth all the trouble of learning to play a guitar just to do this song.”

Baez did a fine version of “Lowlands” on an early recording, but she learned it from Odetta:

That leads into the next piece. On the album “The Real Bahamas II,” which I happened to run across in a record bin, there was a song that’s well up in my top 100: the Pindar Family’s “Take Me Over the Tide.” I couldn’t locate a YouTube video, but there’s a sample and a chance to buy it at

http://www.virginmedia.com/music/browse/various-artists/songs/918114

The trials and tribulations. This is top 100, alas: “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” done here by Odetta:

Blind Blake’s “That Will Never Happen No More” has reminded me that I should include two anthems of female empowerment in this listing: first Enya’s “Sail Away” then Joan Jett and the Blackhearts doing “I Love Rock and Roll.” Women are central, nor subsidiary, as far as I’m concerned.

I haven’t listed much rock-pop music, but some in this group are in my top 100. These are in no particular order.

The Rolling Stones, “Mother’s Little Helper:

The Beatles, “Things We Said Today:”

Lothar and the Hand People, “Machines,” which includes one of the great rock videos:

The Doors, “People Are Strange.” Personal reasons here: this is how it felt my freshman year in college, raw country kid in the city, scholarship-and-work kid in a college with a lot of rich kids.

The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Coconut Grove.” How the Sixties often felt, later in college, after I met my intended..

Bo Diddley’s version of the lullaby “Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word,” though it might be hard to recognize. A lot of people imitated the rhythm of this after it came out in 1955, but no one did it like Bo.
It’s simply titled “Bo Diddley.”

“Sweet Dreams” by the Eurhythmics. I can’t say much for most of the melody, harmony, and rhythm except that with the words, they form a relentless insistence on the insanity of the world today as seen by the young.

Abba, “Take A Chance On Me,” one of the most compelling rock love songs:

Blondie, “Heart of Glass,” brings back for me the intensity of the era just before AIDS hit, especially in the cities. It’s one of the two rock songs that for me epitomize the urban Seventies. (The Back to the Land movement lived in a different world.)

The other (speaking of female empowerment) is Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff.”

I couldn’t find my top pick for a back-to-the land song, the Holy Modal Rounders’ “Same Old Man,” which has the lines “Yes, I’m certainly glad to be home;/ New York City can continue on alone.”
The Rounders were psychedelic goofballs, but they knew their stuff when it came to folk music. I couldn’t find top 100 “Bound to Lose,” either—it’s about riverboat gambling, and uses its refrain with terrific effect. They could pen memorable verses to old songs, like one in “The Cuckoo Bird” that effectively uses a two-beat line–which I can testify as a magna cum laude Ivy League English major is very rare: “Sometimes/ I wonder/ What makes women/ Love men./ Then I look back/ And I wonder/ What makes men/ Love them.” Great duo; worth getting a CD.

That last verse has its counterpart in a Muppets number that’s in my top 100. Here are Rowlf the Dog and Kermit the Frog with “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along:”

Back to the Land and back to folk music went together. For all the gardeners out there, I recommend Doc Watson’s version of “Ground Hog.”

It’s worth remember that a lot of the back to the land work was and is done by people who have never left the land but don’t have any of their own and have to keep moving. Woody Guthrie immortalized the Dust Bowl refugees of the 1930s, writing many moving songs, but I don’t think any are better than his 1944 “Pastures of Plenty”—an American “Meadowland” of sorts. If your only knowledge of the Dust Bowl is from a page or so in a high school history book, find a documentary video—those dust storms were astounding. Hitler thought Americans were soft and wouldn’t make good fighters; he wouldn’t have last a week in the Dust Bowl.

One of the best environmental songs is Tom Paxton’s “Garbage,” sung here by Pete Seeger:

John Kenneth Galbraith once said the American system was based on a balance of power between business, labor, and government. The ability to shift jobs overseas without any requirements for worker welfare or environmental safety has come close to destroying organized labor as a countervailing force (Galbraith’s term) and income inequality has soared.

One of the musicians mostly stalwartly pro-labor has been Britain’s Billy Bragg. His “The World Turned Upside Down,’ also known as the Diggers song, is in my top 100. Rarely has electric instrumentation been used more effectively.

The classic labor song is “Which Side On Your On?” Many people have done it, but as far as I know Florence Reece was the first. At the age this was recorded she’s creaky and squeaky, but the determination is ageless.

In the other half of this, I said that Bob Dylan’s “North Country Blues’ was a brilliant portrayal of how a town dies when its main source of work goes away. Another is veteran labor and community organizer Si Kahn’s “Aragon Mill.” This is where you can find him singing it. The Vermont group Woodchuck’s Revenge does a wonderful version, with Kristina Cady’s fiddle adding poignancy to an already powerful song.

I would be remiss in mentioning something British without including something Irish. I’m linking to “The Belle of Belfast City” because of the subtly of the lyrics. Note how in a few words the girl goes from disliking boys to being flirtatious to settling on the one who really cares about her. This is Kirsty MacColl:

In more rural times, it was very important for boys and girls to court and marry and start families. On the surface, “Leatherwing Bat” is just a kids’ nonsense song—but pay attention to the lyrics. Pete Seeger’s version is in my top 100.

Something Scottish, a very old song by the great Ewan MacColl, “The Gardener Chyld.” (Yes, he was Kirsty MacColl’s father.) Unusual melody, with notes more typical of a refrain at the front of each verse. More courting: it’s pitiless tale of a poor boy getting shot down by his lady-love. It opens with her in her father’s doorway holding a switch, and along he comes with a rose—guess who’s dominant here. He gets slamcraggled. I like the melody enough to have written a song to it. Last verse: “Trapped in our time like ants in amber/ We tried to rise above it all/ But in the end took consolation/ There was not that far to fall, for us/ There was not that far to fall.”

Another great tale of woebegone courting, top 100 for me, came from the duo of Carter and Young in 1930: “A Lazy Farmer Boy:”

A last courting song, “Swing and Turn,” by Jean Ritchie backed by Doc Watson, with one of the great refrains. Top 100.

This has gone on long enough, so I’ll close with something ultimate: from the Monty Python movie “The Meaning of Life,” “The Galaxy Song:”

pt1–MY MUSICAL TOP 100–AND YOURS IF YOU WANT

pt1–MY MUSICAL TOP 100–AND YOURS IF YOU WANT

For years I have been saying from time to time, “That song is in my top 100,” without ever trying to make a definitive list. When I upgraded my computer this year, I discovered that a fair number of the “videos” on YouTube were actually audio with still pictures to fill the screen while they were playing. Among them were some of my all-time greats.
Most, though no meas all, are from folk music, including world music. Some are there only in memory, technological change having rendered obsolete the methods of recording them. To know folk music is to know heartbreak—there are so many things you’ve heard and cared deeply about that you can’t share.
But some you can, and that is the purpose of this set of YouTube Internet addresses. Of course these, too, will at some point become ethereal, but perhaps not for a while. What follows is not in any definite order, though I have tried to keep things grouped.
For any young writers who might be tune in: I guarantee that if you through the two parts of the compilation, your musical horizons will have expanded, and very possibly other horizons as well.

“Crossroads”
Robert Johnson

They finally put his picture on a postage stamp, with his cigarette digitally edited out. There aren’t many recordings—he died young, poisoned by a love rival—but those that remain are foundations of the blues. He was said to be able to play anything after hearing it once, but there are passages of his that no one has been able to play better. One of them follows the first line of “Crossroads,” a number that has come to stand for his restless, doomed wanderings.

“Preaching Blues”
Robert Johnson
“Preaching Blues” isn’t about preaching, it’s the ultimate expression of what “the blues” were, and are. Listening to this, I’m amazed that so much intensity could be packed into one person. You probably didn’t know that “blues” could be a six-syllable word; then gain, maybe you never had them long enough.
The song includes some of the best blues lines ever written. “The blues is a low-down aching chill; if you never had them (guitar notes fired like two arrows) I hope you never will.”

That url is part of a series of Robert Johnson videos, some of which have slide shows with them that are worth watching. I’m mentioning that so I don’t have to take up too much of this with his work. But one more:

“Traveling Riverside”

This is as close to putting raging sexual desire into music as anyone is likely to come. The guitar accompaniment to the words is indescribable, except perhaps to say it’s sheer genius.

“Travel on, poor Bob, just can’t turn you round.”

“Lyke-Wake Dirge”
The Young Tradition

Shifting a third of the way around the world, the Lyke-Wake Dirge is the music that plays in my head during the All Hallows-All Saints-Samhain-Walpurgis time of the year. There’s a historical document that indicates it was sung in 1616, but general agreement considers it much older. Sung in an ancient Yorkshire dialect and in an ancient style of harmony (parallel fifths, unaccompanied) by a trio that includes the formidable folk presence Peter Bellamy, it speaks of what happens to a soul after someone dies. Besides confronting the flames of Purgatory on the journey toward Heaven, the spirit must cross Whin Moor, an upland area that is home to shrubs with sharp thorns (whins). “If hosen or shoon thou gavest ain/ Then sit ye doon and put them on…/But if hosen or shoon thou gavest nain/ The Whinny will prick thee to thy bare bane…” The Bible: “If you refuse those in need, you refuse me.” The LykeWake Dirge isn’t “spooky” as some kind of costumed fun, it’s in tune with the nature of that time of year, when the leaves and the light fall together and the cold and wind join forces and strengthen. Skip the Halloween parade, read the opening chapter of Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native,” then listen to this.

Halloween idea: leave the lights off and some windows open and crank up an Australian aboriginal didgeridoo player. This recording includes a very good slideshow tour of the Oceanic continent.

Another great evocation of that season is the opening of “Witch’s Hat,” by the Incredible String Band, another British group. I was fortunate enough to see them twice in the Sixties; I believe they were every bit as creative as the Beatles, in unique ways. I am including this piece in my Top 100 because it is the single best music evocation of childhood of childhood that I know (though in that regard I would also point to Debussy’s “Children’s Corner Suite”). There is a chord here that I have never encountered anywhere else. YouTube has a compilation of 97 videos titled “Top Tracks for the Incredible String Band” if you want to delve further.

Another very old song, dating to the 11th century, is sung in Catholic churches at Easter. I first heard “Victimae Paschali Laudes” in a college course on the history of music, which means it was included as classical music, but it’s such a pure expression of absolute faith that I associate it equally with the more emotional folk tradition. “Tell us, Mary what did you see on the road?” But the Latin is far more poetic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_ggghrIF7A

Thinking of the Sixties, I also saw John Fahey twice. Exhibiting less guitar wizardry that the better-known Leo Kottke, another guitarist who learned well from bluesman Mississippi John Hurt, Fahey was a better composer. His “Great San Bernardino Birthday Party, a long instrumental piece I have so far been unable to find on You Tube, is to my mind the best single evocation of the spirit of the Sixties. Its opening and closing served as the processional and recessional at my wedding in 1971.
But there is another of his pieces I’m putting here, which bears the fanciful and completely non-descriptive title “Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Philip XIV of Spain.” I heard it first at one of his concerts. He took out a guitar he said was made of a particularly resonant kind of Hawaiian wood and started doing “bottleneck” slide guitar playing, and I went into some kind of trance state. Literally I did not know left from right, forward from backward, up from down. I was not hearing the music, it was going up and down my spine.
There was a musicological reason for this, I was to learn later. The Western musical scale has been “tempered,” its pitches slightly altered from what they would be if they followed the actual vibrational pitches, so thenotes can harmonize over a wide range. (When my son was one year old he toddled over to the piano and started using the fingers of both hands to play octaves—historically the first kind of harmony to appear in the history of Western music.) The piano wouldn’t have its 88 keys without tempering. Musical traditions that emphasize melody rather than harmony, notably Indian classical music, regularly employ tones that Western musicians touch on by “bending” notes. Or, as black musicians did in the 20th century, by using guitar slides. I was hearing and responding to a massive influx of those missing notes.

Man cultures use a mouth bow or mouth harp of some sort to access interesting twangy tones. This is in a set of 70 videos, from many countries, featuring what we call the Jew’s harp or jaw harp. Olga Prass is performing at the 7th International Jew’s Harp Congress Festival in Yakutsk in Siberia in 2011.

Fahey is the link to another Top 100 performance: Big Boy Cleveland’s (title created by others later) “Quill Blues,” because Fahey included it in something he put together using the piece, the sound of a “singing bridge” near Memphis, Tennessee, and some of his own playing.
Cleveland improvises this in 1926 on a very primitive pipe made of a feather quill. The range of his notes, their accuracy, and the pattern they form are phenomenal. I wish I knew more about the man behind the music.

Perhaps it wasn’t an accident that Fahey used a bridge near Memphis, whose Beale Street was in the 1920s the kind of freewheeling place that Greenwich Village in New York City was during the folk revival. Charlie Poole of the legendary string band
Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers sang at the time about Beale Street “I’d rather be there/Than any place I know…And it’s going to take a sergeant (of the police)/For to make me go.”
More from Charlie Poole later. Here I’m including something I think could only have been recorded on Beale Street because in that era of the Jim Crow South, what’s said in one verse could get a black man lynched. Papa Harvey Hull is singing—he used a fake name for the record label—backed by Long Cleve Reed, one of the best of Beale Street’s musicians. You can hear Reed feeling around for the best accompaniment then coming up with something unforgettable.
The verse that gives “France Blues” its name is buried among others about death and mourning that are moving in and of themselves, but then comes the one about France, like Mohammed Ali’s “phantom punch” that knocked down Sonny Liston.
During World War One, black soldiers on leave in Paris found that the French prostitutes had no prejudices against black men. You won’t read about this in histories of the civil right movement, but it was a breakthrough. On a personal note, this was one of two pieces played on my college radio station’s folk show that swung me to folk music (the other, Penny’s Farm, will come later.

More typical of the black experience in those years is one of the most heartbreaking songs I know. Given the title “Poor Boy,” it is played and sung in prison, musician unknown; it is about a man having to tell his mother he is penitentiary bound. Alan Lomax recorded it in 1939.

Another of the great witness sons from the pre-World-War-Two era is Son House’s depiction of the Southern injustice system “County Farm Blues.” I’m amazed that he dared to record it. The song is a night haunted by the whites of the eyes of terrified blacks.

Alan Lomax recorded the work songs that prison chain gangs used to work in rhythm and to keep up their energy. You can hear the fatigue and energy in this field recording, along with the kind of thoughts about women that men in prison are likely to have.

One of the best representations of those work songs comes from the Georgia Sea Islanders, who until the construction of a bridge linking them with the mainland kept alive black traditions that had vanished elsewhere. Here their leader Bessie Jones, one of the truly great female singers, performs some of the most telling of the work song verses, which she heard growing up in Georgia in the 19-teens, as “Sink ‘Em Low:”

I haven’t been able to find my favorite work song, a gang of gandy dancers, as they were known, putting down railroad tracks and driving spikes to secure them to the ties—giving the words the title “Lining Track. The white boss didn’t know the meaning hidden in the words: ”If I could, surely would/ Stand on the rock where Moses stood/ (Hey boys, won’t you line it?/ Ho boys, won’t you line it?/ Hey boys won/t you line it?/ Well-a we’s-a-go linin’ track.) Moses stood on the Red Sea shore/ SMOTE that water with a two-by-four..”
The escape of the Hebrews from slavery. I once saw a sixth grade singing book with “Lining Track” in it, but they had rendered the refrain as “See Eloise go lining track,” missing completely the poetry in the actual work song’s contraction.
The legend of John Henry took off from the prowess of those railroad-building sledgehammer men. There are many versions, but the one I’ve listened to again and again for its unique driving power was done in 1944 by the supersession unit of Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, and Leadbelly.

There are so many unknown work gang songleaders and fine but lesser-known bluesmen. I have no idea who did the unaccompanied solo “Niggers ain’t got no justice in Atlanta, and I don’t know where you could hear it. The only reason I know about it is a10-watt MIT student radio station program in the 1970s “Country Blues and Politics” (which I was able to record 40 miles away because I had an antenna an engineer friend had given me) that featured field recordings by Delta X (Stephen Michelson), himself a wizard blues player.
You have to imagine a man in a recliner chair with his young son, so young he can lie on the man’s chest, singing in as deep a voice as he can
“Well if you go to Atlanta boys you better walk right
Down in Atlanta
Well if you go to Atlanta boys you better walk right
Down in Atlanta town
Well if you go to Atlanta boys you better walk right
Well you better not gamble and you better not fight
Niggers ain’t got no justice in Atlanta
And on for six more verses.
The only kid in Vermont, maybe ever, to have that as a lullaby. In high school he played trombone and bass horn; in his rock band, the electric bass.

White sharecroppers had a hard time of it in the Deep South, too. This is by a 1920s group called the Bently Boys, about whom almost nothing is known. Musically, it’s extremely simple: except for two notes, it can be played in the key of C, but it’s in the key of A+ for storytelling.

The vile part of Southern history can’t take away the heritage of their great string bands, as these acoustic units are now known. Maybe the best-known is Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers. They did a lot of things that continue to inspire folk musicians, but I thought I’d specifically point to “He Rambled.” (Their version of the ballad of Frankie and Johnny “Leaving Home” was part of those college AM radio folk program broadcasts that convinced me of the genre’s value.) If you listen to a collection of the Ramblers’ work, you may end by feeling as I do that the mindset of rural America in those days was in many ways kinder and gentler than today’s. Who would write a song now about someone waiting for a letter that never comes? Who would craft a song about a girl’s habit of chewing gum and leaving wads of it around that ends with the revelation that the singer is talking about his wife? My late father grew up on a small farm in northwestern Pennsylvania in the late 1920s—the song I’ve linked to was recorded in 1929–and always insisted that their neighbors had been the friendliest, most helpful folk he had ever known. Listening to Charlie Poole, I’m inclined to believe him.

This is a Charlie Poole railroad song, “Bill Mason.” The ending is superb: “He came around the curve a-flyin’/ ‘Bill Mason’s on time tonight,’” and the rest is left to your imagination.

Another musical plus for the South was its preservation of shape note singing, which is now widely known and actively practiced her in Vermont. It originated with professionally trained musicians who wanted to make four-part harmony singing accessible to people who could not read music. They devised a system in which each note (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) was represented by a different shape. Once singers learned to associate the shapes with the notes, they could sing a wide variety of songs—and they continue to do so, sometimes at all-day gatherings. There is a famous shape note hymnal called “The Sacred Harp” which is still used today, to the extent that the music is sometimes called Sacred Harp singing. I’m posting here links to two of my favorites among these fierce, full-throated performances, of the hymns “Rocky Road” and “Wondrous Love.”

I said “fierce” and I meant it. “Babylon” would do as well for a battlefield marching song as a church hymn. To illustrate the popularity of this sort of choral singing, I’ve posted a link to a video from Cork in Ireland.

I don’t want to leave the subject of martial music without including “Meadowland,” a song that rallied patriotic love of Russia during World War Two. Appropriately, it’s done here by the Red Army Ensemble in 1965.. For more of what the Nazis (and Napoleon and the Teutonic Knights) ran into in Russia, listen to the Montagues and Capulets section of Prokofiev’s music for the ballet “Romeo and Juliet.”

When it comes to choral performance, I would be remiss in not mentioning Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The group came from Laydsmith in South Africa, the black ox was the strongest farm animal, and “mambazo” has to do with chopping down—which they did so successfully to their opposition in singing competitions that they were excluded from them. Paul Simon included them on “Graceland” and they took off from there.
Founder Joseph Shambalala said when he retired in 2006, “In the early 1960s I had a dream of a type of singing group that I wanted to create. Not just a dream, in the wishful way, but an actual dream while I was asleep. This beautiful dream led to the creation of my group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Now, some forty-five-plus years later this original dream has led to so many more dreams. We have been awarded Grammy Awards, represented our homeland of South Africa at many prestigious events, including accompanying Nelson Mandela to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, traveled the world so many times and most importantly, spread a message of Peace, Love and Harmony to millions of people.
This was never a dream a black South African could ever imagine.”
This is their performance of “Homeless” at the Nobel Prize award ceremony:

Regarding harmonization: “Winken and Blinken and Nod,” recorded by sisters Carly and Lucy Simon, is about as close to perfection as harmony singing can get. It was a top 10 hit in San Francisco in 1964. For me, one of the precious qualities of the Sixties was vulnerability, and the audacity of thinking that a nursery rhyme was worth turning into song lyrics exemplifies it.

Family singing like the above can bring a unique kind of unity to a performance. One of the best groups in this regard was the Carter Family. “Single Girl, Married Girl” is one of most truth-telling, heart-breaking songs I know. It’s also an illustration of something a lot of 21st century recording artists seem to have forgotten: the power of simplicity.

Anyone who knows anything about folk music knows Doc Watson, who hailed from Deep Gap, North Carolina. To begin with, he was a phenomenal guitar player. He came to Rutland, Vermont once and I took my one-year-old son to hear him. The boy was too restless to stay, but he was impressed. The next day he summed it up in two words: “Dekatar—FAST!”
Watson has also been a wonderful wordsmith. His version of the old English ballad “Matty Groves” conveys his ability to put together verses of an oft-told story in the most effective way and phrase things memorably. “Matty Groves” is a tragic love story, set in motion when Lord Daniel’s page boy overhears his master’s wife’s lover telling a companion that he will be with her that night, when Lord Daniel is away. The boy decides that his master should know about this “before I go to bed.” He’s only a child, he’s thinking about his bedtime—the characterization, in just a few words, is perfect. The way he tells Lord Daniel what is happening—“Matty Groves is in the bed with your wife/and their hearts both beat as one”—could not be bettered. And so on. For those who want to look it up, Doc Watson also did a comic hillbilly version of the Eternal Triangle story called “Everyday Dirt” that likewise has some wonderful lines in it.

“Warm and Windy” is an example of Doc Watson’s note-perfect, dynamically perfect, ideal-tempo playing. The video focuses on his fingering—it’s a guitar lesson. Go ahead and try to do it as well. Remember, you’re watching how he does it, but he’s blind.

Dave Van Ronk was another folk musician with the ability to take an old song and craft verses that give it life—in his case, enduring life. “Duncan and Brady,” the story of a mean cop getting paid back, has one of folk music’s most memorable refrains: “Well, he been on the job too long.” Notice how the guitar accompaniment ends one section then immediately poises the song to begin another.

Creating new and better ways of telling old stories is itself an old story, going back to Homer’s version of Greek war stories in the “lliad” and “Odyssey” and before. The Bible furnishes the material for one of Van Ronk’s finest, “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well.”
It’s done slowly, with an exquisite guitar patterns that repeat and create a unique space in time inside which the story unfolds.
And there is a moment that says worlds about the spirit of the 1960s. Van Ronk, with his voice set to spring to the next words, gives a little yip. It’s the spirit of pure joy, built up to a point where it can’t be contained and bursts out. It’s one of those instantaneous moments, like the one in Ozu’s film “Tokyo Story” when the bus flashes past in the other direction, that carry feelings and meanings beyond any words.

There was time in the Sixties for songs that took their time. One of the best, from the Jefferson Airplane in 1967, “Coming Back to Me,” is completely at variance with people’s images of rock bands (Jerry Garcia interview at that time: “I like to play loud”) and is a wonderful love song.

Another quiet song, from Stephen Stills in 1970—“Four and Twenty.” Generation X, Y, Z—you’re far from alone is feeling the pain of growing up with marital strife.

Continuing with songs that take their time, here’s one of my favorites from one of Bob Dylan’s early albums—“In My Time Of Dyin’.” Had he chosen to be simply a folk musician, I think he still would have achieved greatness. The people who saw him in little folk clubs were lucky.

About the same time there was another impressive rendition of a song on the same subject, by Pat Sky, whose first album to the best of my knowledge didn’t cross over to CD: “You’re Going to Need Somebody On Your Bond.”

While I’m on the subject of death: when Ralph Stanley’s performance of “O Death” became famous because of its appearance in the movie “Brother, Where Art Thou?” I tried listening to it and couldn’t get all the way through because I knew the version done by Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Islanders, which is driven by deep faith:

Dylan, whose work could take up a lot of space in this compilation, showed early on that he was indeed following in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie by writing memorable songs. “North Country Blues” is the best song I know about how foreign competition has destroyed many American working-class towns. The concluding line is poetic ambiguity at its best: there’s nothing left in HER either.

The iconic Jefferson Airplane song is “White Rabbit,” from the early days of people experimenting with taking LSD. Whatever you think of doing that, there is no mistaking the courage of the first explorers, which comes through in this performance, especially through the look in singer Grace Slick’s eyes. It was a generation in which many of those whose parents survived artillery fire went through explosions of a different kind when they launched into the new frontier of “inner space.” For the record, I never took LSD, not because I was against it but because I did not think I was psychologically stable enough to handle it. A fair number of those who did went on to spiritual traditions that involve meditation and experiences of enlightenment. I went to Zen meditation and concomitant experiences without being pushed in that direction by hallucinogenic drugs. There was one time, during a period when I was meditating very intensively, when in a dream my mind set itself the challenge of producing the same kind of cascade of visual images that people had reported happening during “trips.” As many, many people insisted: it isn’t the drug that creates the experience, it’s the (mind)”set and setting.” Anyone who is seriously thinking of taking LSD should get a copy of Lisa Bieberman’s manual “Session Games People Play,” which suggests wise guidelines that were widely ignored during the teenybopper phase of the LSD craze. (It’s still online as of 2013 at http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=67996.) The imagery in “White Rabbit” comes from Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice in Wonderland,” read by children and adults alike.

Memories of the Sixties: in the evening, the president of the co-operative house where I Iived in college would climb out through the window of his room with his banjo and sit on the roof of the entrance to the three-story wood-frame house and sing the Phil Ochs song “Crucifixion.” It was riveting: people walking along the street would stop to listen and people who lived along the street would come to hear it. Fit THAT into your stereotypes.

Yes, there were drugs. Yes, I inhaled. Jamie Brockett’s “Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic” isn’t played over the air because it’s flagrantly politically incorrect, but the part where the captain goes walking around the wheelhouse is the best re-creation I know of what it felt like to have marijuana take effect.

The right wing had done its best to demonize the Sixties as a time of rampant personal selfishness, ignoring all the experiments with communal living and, more sustainably, all the arts and crafts and social service groups that were founded then and are still doing good work. I remember that one of them, Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA) became so good at community organizing as part of their ant-poverty efforts that Nixon, seeing a political threat, gutted the program.
In the area of folk music, there were musicians who went into the South and looked in the dusty bins of bypassed stores to find the “race records,” the music put out by recording companies under special labels that appealed to the “Negro” market. Then they listened to those records. On some, there was information that helped them find the people who were recorded, some of whom were still playing.
Mississippi John Hurt, “Avalon’s my home town, always on my mind.” They went to Avalon, Mississippi and found him. They brought him out of retirement to record more songs and appear at folk festivals, and to inspire guitar players for decades to come. Listening to those old records, some of them asked, “But who’s the other guitar player? There was no other guitar player—those old-tike black bluesmen were just that good.
Here’s the original “Avalon Blues.” If you like it, thank the Sixties.

Walter “Furry” Lewis, 1893-1981, was another great bluesman brought to fame by the so-called Blues Mafia. “Kassie Jones,” the name of the song changed from Casey Jones to avoid copyright problems, is one of the many old-time songs that talks about the railroad. Listen to the absolutely regular beat of this song, for which I believe the steam engine, the most powerful machine of those times, provided a model–teaching the lesson that steadiness empowers. On top of this the lyrics, in non-standard English but in poetically adept phrases, stand out as the figure against the regular accompaniment’s ground. Robert Frost theorized and wrote in a style that interplayed the variations of sentence structure and background meters. At about the same time, the great blues artists worked with similarly interconnected patterns.

Of course this doesn’t just happen in American music. In 1972, “The Harder They Come” introduced Jamaican reggae to the general public, a film with one of the best soundtracks ever. Among the classics there was “Rivers of Babylon,” a Biblical psalm set to music by the Melodians.
Truly to hear this, you should either listen on headphones or have a music system with excellent stereo separation. In the “song of freedom” section, two voices divide, singing the same lyrics differently, then for the words “We’ve got to sing it together” they unite, in a way that makes the words resound.

Getting back to the blues, another “home town” song was Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” (it’s in Georgia).

Some of my Top 100 are performances. I don’t think it’s likely that I will find anything as intense as Johnny Cash recording at Folsom prison and starting with “Folsom Prison Blues.” When the voices of these men doing hard time rise at the words “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” you know you’re in a different world entirely. This is a link to the entire album, but it starts with the song to which I’m pointing.

Watch the movie “Monterey Pop”—that festival’s music, on 1967, was better than Woodstock’s. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” by Otis Redding will show what I mean.

Jimi Hendrix was to the Sixties as Robert Johnson was a generation earlier: a natural-born musician and phenomenal guitarist and performer. I think he was at his peak when, at Woodstock in 1969, he changed forever many people’s image of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When the people promoting World Cup soccer the year it was based in this country did a video announcing it, they used the first six notes as the introduction. There is a right way to blow a train whistle approaching a crossing, there is a right way to play Taps (which Hendrix incorporates into the National Anthem, an even more telling anti-war statement than the piece’s re-creation of “bombs bursting in mid-air”), and there is a right way to do the notes of “Oh, say, can you see;” you know it when you hear it, and at Woodstock a half million people heard it.

Some of my top songs are there because of the words more than the performance, though I have tried to put outstanding versions here.

There are many dire plaints about coal-mining, but none better than Peggy Seeger’s account of a collapse in Springhill, Nova Scotia “Springhill Mining Disaster,” done here by Martin Carthy. The last two lines are among the best conclusions in all folk music.

Disasters: when it was announced that the Allied invasion of Normandy had begun, British celebrity Lady Astor called the British soldiers in Italy “D-Day Dodgers.” In fact the Eighth Army (and their American counterparts) had fought a brutal campaign in the mountainous terrain against highly effective German troops. One of those British soldiers wrote a song in response, using the melody of Lily Marlene,” the favorite song of ordinary soldiers on both sides in the European war. The outrage in “D-Day Dodgers” is quiet and understated for the most part, but the climactic line is a knife-thrust, with a degree of sexual innuendo that makes it one of the most effectively vitriolic lines in folk music.

As a prelude, read the World War Two correspondent Ernie Pyle’s account of fighting in Italy here:

http://www.pbs.org/weta/reportingamericaatwar/reporters/pyle/waskow.html

The song:

For comic relief, I’ll turn to MIT math professor, student of musical theater, and songwriting genius Tom Lehrer. He wrote and performed a lot (please pardon the non-quantitative terminology, Tom) of wonderful things, but in honor of the recent selection of a new Pope (as of March 2013) here’s the “Vatican Rag;”

Some of the best-written lyrics in recent decades have come from Lou and Peter Berryman. The refrain in “Squalor” is as good as it gets.

Among the best-written of the old-time songs was picked up by Patrick Sky, “The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife.” Note the attention to detail: “Off to Hell he went, clickety-clack”—cloven hoofs. And the way things are phrased: “I’ve been a devil most all my life/ But I never knew Hell till I met your wife.”

I’m going to close part one here because my computer is telling me the word-processing file is getting so large it’s causing problems. I hope not for you.

SAUDI ARAMCO WORLD

SAUDI ARAMCO WORLD

Just as promised it came free of charge. And it has come free of charge every month, as promised. Not only that, the DVD with every back issue came as well, again free of charge.
Well, maybe not entirely free. I buy gasoline for my car, and the magazine is financed by Saudi Aramco, “the oil company born as an international enterprise 75 years ago,” as they say on their masthead (that’s the part that tells you about the publication itself).
In other words, this is part of their public relations effort. Advertising focuses on specific products in the short term, marketing aims to bring in customers who will stay despite changes in and of products, and the public relations department attempts to change perceptions of the company over the long run. Public relations is, to put it another way, slow-pitch-softball spin.
So the reader of Saudi Aramco World must remember, as the reader of Vermont Life must remember, that some topics will have to be researched elsewhere. That said, both magazines are enjoyable publications that broaden understand and appreciation of their worlds in ways that are, if partial, also pretty much harmless.
The masthead says S.A.W. is distributed “to increase cross-cultural understand.” More specifically, “The magazine’s goal is to broaden knowledge of the cultures, history and geography of the Arab and Muslim worlds and their connections with the West. Saudi Aramco World is distributed without charge, upon request, to a limited number of interested readers.”
I first encountered S.A.W. at the Rutland Herald office in Rutland. Bi-monthly copies, their editorial usefulness past, were put on the free rack for anyone to take. (You’d be amazed how much stuff comes to a daily newspaper each day; keeping all of it, or even the most meritorious, would be physically impossible.) Out of curiosity, I took one, then others as they appeared every two months.
Fast-forward two decades: living in another town, but with broadband internet, it occurred to me to see if the magazine still existed. It did, at www.saudiaramcoworld.com, which had the latest monthly issue, a photo archive, a classroom guide, a suggestions link, and a “subscription” section that said “The print edition is free.” Clicking on this, I found addresses, fax numbers and the information that the free subscription last for two years. An email request for a subscription isn’t possible because, they said, U.S. postal regulations require a date and signature. Chances are the free issues can come for more than two years: “There is no charge for renewals, and there is no limit to the number of sequential renewals you may request,” they say. The form to request the DVD came in one of the printed copies.
So, why choose to spend time with this slick magazine that has had oil money pumped into it?
On a first impression, the photographs are likely to impress. The only reason they don’t rival those in National Geographic is that S.A.W. includes a lot more smaller pictures than N.G. to illustrate what is said.
The articles likewise aim to inform, at a level that presumes an interest in art and history. That doesn’t mean they never try to shed light on controversial topics. In one issue an article titled “The Virtual Immigrant” described how deregulation of international calling rates brought down prices to the point where major American-based international corporations like GE were able to set up calling centers, then associated bookkeeping units, then outsourced offices in engineering, sales and marketing, publishing, scientific research, mathematics and legal services in India (which has a major Muslim population). The Bangalore torpedo, so to speak.
Other articles in that issue: “A Virtual Walking Tour of Al-Sharif” (better known to Westerners as Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock mosque); “A Global Guide to Islamic Art;” “Uncovering Yenikapi” (in Istanbul, excavations for a mass-transit hub revealed a lost Byzantine seaport, together with 30 shipwrecks and their cargoes); “I, The Sea Tramp,” a fictitious autobiographical account of a Fourth Century sailing ship’s voyages to ports on three continents); and the usual description of upcoming “Events and Exhibitions” that spans four continents (United States included); and the usual Classroom Guide written by Julie Weiss of Eliot, Maine with help from The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University (for instance, “How do written words and visual images combine to tell a story?”).
Not a word, as far as I’ve been able to see, about Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, the Iraq-Afghanistan problems, or the Taliban—which I find refreshing. News about the three subjects in question has become like the sound of hail on the roof: perhaps intriguing at the start, but wearisome in the long run, and troublesome in the long run because such news blocks consideration of other relevant matters.
Again, the Internet address is www.saudiaramcoworld.com. Salaam!

GIZMAG—THE GOOD NEWS

I’m so sick of bad news rehashes that most of the time when they come on the radio I turn them off. For anyone else in the same condition, here’s a way to tune in to a completely different frequency: go to http://www.gizmag.com and catches glimpses of a better future—only the future is now.

The site aggregates news of advances in science and technology, examples of the sort of ingenuity that the world needs to survive. Usually there is a link to the original source. It’s possible to subscribe to the site, at no charge, and receive regular emails with summaries of new discoveries and improvements, messages which have links to facilitate reading the full articles.

The best way to illustrate the encouraging coverage of this wellspring of good news is to quote some examples (for the sake of readability, some of the more technical material has been edited out).

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Ready to be amazed? According to Ultra-tech, a Florida-based containment provider for chemical clean-up and waste management, its new Ultra-Ever Dry coating is an amazing product. The coating is “super-hydrophobic” and “oleophobic,” meaning it repels almost any liquid on a wide range of materials, including – but not limited to – hammers to boots and gloves as you’ll see in the following video demonstration.

The two part Ultra-Ever Dry system creates a near invisible barrier of air over surfaces on the nanoscale. These surfaces can range from refined oil, wet concrete, water, mud and other liquids. In industrial application Ultra-Dry could prove ideal for specific applications, like when you drop your hammer in mud, and then step in the mud in your boots, and reach into the mud with your work-gloves.

Water proofing products and barriers are not new but according to the manufacturer, Ultra-Ever Dry has improved adhesion and abrasion resistance compared to previous iterations. The supposed adhesion and abrasive resistance traits then allow for a more diverse range of uses. Other claims include anti-icing, anti-corrosive, anti-contamination and self-cleaning capabilities.

Researchers have developed a new advanced Lithium Ion battery that will allow mobile phone and laptop computers to be fully charged in seconds. Electric car batteries may be charged in as little as five minutes, removing one of the main barriers to wider uptake of EVs. Solar and wind power generation could also benefit as better batteries could be used to store surplus energy.

MIT researchers Byoungwoo Kang & Gerbrand Ceder have discovered a way to make a lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery charge and discharge about as fast as a supercapacitor. In a typical lithium ion cell when a current is applied to charge the cell, lithium ions move away from the cathode compound and are trapped at the anode storage medium. When the battery discharges producing current, those ions travel back to the cathode medium and in so doing produce current flow.

Speed of charging in typical lithium-ion cells is slowed by virtue of the fact that it takes time for the lithium ion to move off the cathode material. Various techniques have been tried to increase that speed including the nanoparticle doping strategy that A123 Systems uses.

The scientists noted that lithium iron phosphate forms a lattice that creates small tunnels through which the lithium ions flow, but that although the cathode seemed ideal it still took some time for those ions to travel. The novel solution they devised was to create a lithium phosphate glassy surface to coat these tunnels. This glassy surface acts as a speedway that rapidly transports the lithium ions on and off the cathode.
This new ability to charge and discharge lithium-ion batteries within seconds blurs the distinction between batteries and ultracapacitors. Besides being able to charge one’s cellphone in seconds, this will have a major impact on electric cars. If electric grid power was available, an electric car with a 15kWh battery could be charged in five minutes. This would require the delivery of 180 kw of energy in that time frame.

Two companies have already licensed the technology one of which includes A123 Systems. Because it involves a new approach to manufacturing lithium-ion battery materials, rather than a new material, it could be ready within two to three years.

A minimally invasive therapy that could help fight cancer may be on its way with the development of the first hollow gold nanospheres that actively search for and burn tumors. Researchers believe the new technique could prove particularly effective against malignant Melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer responsible for around 48,000 deaths worldwide each year… and numbers are growing.

The nanospheres are equipped with a special targeting peptide, a protein fragment which draws them directly to melanoma cells while avoiding healthy skin cells. The nanospheres collect deep inside the cancer cell and heat up when exposed to near-infrared light, effectively cooking the tumor. Studies with mice have shown that nanospheres with the targeting peptide did eight times more damage to skin tumors than nanospheres without.

The next step will be trials of the nanospheres in humans although extensive preclinical toxicity studies will need to be conducted first. Clinical use may still a long way off, but with similar techniques in cancer-fighting nanomedicine under development elsewhere we can expect to hear a great deal more about this new branch of medicine.

(Geoffrey Von Maltzahn, a PhD candidate from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) developed this. He also pioneered the creation of polymer-coated gold ‘nano-antennas’ designed to be injected into the bloodstream to target and destroy cancerous tumors.)

Von Maltzahn’s new method involves injecting nanomaterials, which are materials on the scale of one ten thousandth of a millimeter, into the bloodstream. These tiny gold ‘nano-antennas’ gradually concentrate at the site of the tumor by infiltrating pores in rapidly growing tumor blood vessels. Near-infrared light can penetrate the surface of the skin, and shining it on these nanoparticles causes them to convert the light energy into heat, heating up the particles and destroying the cancer cells they have conglomerated around. Using this method researchers have been able to target and completely remove one hundred percent of tumors in laboratory mice, without harming any healthy cells surrounding the tumor.

Von Maltzahn has also pioneered a second nanoparticle-based invention designed to utilize a more natural approach to seek and deliver therapeutics to cancer in the body. Looking to the swarming activities of ants, he has designed a simple set of particles that communicate with each other whilst in the body and collaboratively detect and destroy cancers. One particular two-step approach that he has demonstrated involves harmless ‘scout’ particles that travel around the body with the goal of finding and broadcasting the location of cancer cells. Secondary ‘assassin’ particles can pick up the broadcast and target the area in question with large and localized doses of therapeutic drugs. Von Maltzahn claims that this method can deliver over 40 times the regular dose to affected areas.

“If such highly-targeted delivery can be achieved clinically, this method would enable doctors to increase the drug dose that is delivered to tumors, increasing its overall efficacy and reducing side-effects,” Von Maltzahn explains. “This concept of engineering systems of nanoparticles that collectively outsmart disease barriers has many potential applications in medicine, from improving regenerative medicines to ultra-sensitive diagnostics.”

All this innovation has not gone unnoticed by the scientific community. Thanks to these inventions, Geoffrey von Maltzahn was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Inventions.

If you’ve seen even a few minutes of any documentary on sharks, then chances are you’ve seen a remora. They’re the smaller fish that hitch rides on sharks by sucking onto them. Not only are the remoras able to achieve a seal against their hosts’ rough, sandpaper-like skin, but they also don’t appear to harm that skin in the process. Researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute are now studying how the remoras manage this, in hopes of applying their findings to the development of next-generation adhesives.

Lead scientists Jason Nadler and Allison Mercer, along with their colleagues, are now looking into human applications for what they’ve learned. “We are not trying to replicate the exact remora adhesion structure that occurs in nature,” said Nadler. “We would like to identify, characterize and harness its critical features to design and test attachment systems that enable those unique adhesive functions. Ultimately, we want to optimize a bio-inspired adhesive for a wide variety of applications that have capabilities and performance advantages over adhesives or fasteners available today.”

More specifically, it has been suggested that such an adhesive could be used to create bandages that don’t cause pain or leave behind residue when they’re removed, to attach sensors in marine or military environments, as a replacement for surgical clamps, and as a means of helping robots climb vertical surfaces. Interestingly, some or all of those applications have also been suggested for
adhesives based on porcupine quills and gecko feet.

Often called “frozen smoke”, aerogels are among the amazing materials of our time, with fifteen Guinness Book of World Records entries to their name. However, despite their list of extreme properties, traditional aerogels are brittle, crumbling and fracturing easily enough to keep them out of many practical applications. A new class of mechanically robust polymer aerogels discovered at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio may soon enable engineering applications such as super-insulated clothing, unique filters, refrigerators with thinner walls, and super-insulation for buildings.

First synthesized in 1931, aerogels were the result of a bet between two chemists. Knowing that jellies are mostly pectin gelled with water, they challenged each other to remove the water without shrinking the jelly. Now aerogels are among the least dense solids, possess compressive specific strength similar to aerospace grade graphite composite, and provide the smallest thermal conductivity for any solid. With this array of amazing properties, why don’t we see more aerogel applications?

Mary Ann B. Meador, Ph.D., a chemist at NASA Glenn, explains that despite these amazing properties, traditional aerogels made from silica (silicon dioxide, or beach sand) are brittle, and break and crumble easily. Not so when newer polymer aerogels are considered. Meador and her team have developed a particularly encouraging form of polymer aerogel, which is strong, flexible, and robust against folding, creasing, crushing, and being stepped upon. Their new class of polymer aerogels won a 2012 R&D100 award.

“The new aerogels are up to 500 times stronger than their silica counterparts,” says Meador. “A thick piece actually can support the weight of a car. And they can be produced in a thin form, a film so flexible that a wide variety of commercial and industrial uses are possible.”

Silica aerogels would crush to powder if placed under a car tire. As seen above, the same is not true of the new polymer aerogels, even if the car is only a Smart car. Overall, the mechanical properties are rather like those of a synthetic rubber, save that the aerogel has the same properties (and far smaller thermal conductivity) with only about 10 percent of the weight.

Applications in clothing as well as insulation of pipes, buildings, water heaters, and the like are enabled by these materials. Tents and sleeping bags can also benefit from the combination of light weight and thermal insulation. NASA is even considering the new polymer aerogels for use as inflatable heat shields. The practicality of many such applications will depend on the cost of polymer aerogel in commercial quantities. In any case, these types of products now have another dimension of design flexibility.

Imagine the wealth of knowledge we could uncover if it was possible to travel back in time and re-construct ancient languages. While that’s impossible right now, scientists at UC Berkley and the University of British Columbia reckon they’ve managed the next-best thing, by developing new software which uncovers existing fragments of “proto-languages” from languages still in use.

Proto-languages are linguistic ancestors which gave rise to modern languages. These forbears include Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Afroasiatic and Proto-Austronesian. Typically, their reconstruction is a painstaking process which can take linguists many years.

The new software uses probabilistic reasoning which explores logic and statistics in order to perform its reconstructive work. It focused on 637 modern Austronesian languages, and analyzed a database of over 140,00 words to provide a reconstruction of Proto-Austronesian which replicated the work of human linguists at an accuracy of 85 percent – though far more quickly.

Indeed, the researchers posit that a large-scale reconstruction could be performed in a matter of days or even hours in this way.

The computer program is based upon the linguistic theory that words evolve in a way which can be thought of as similar to a family tree. That is, traces of proto-languages remain in the “roots” of languages even as they evolve over time.

Utilizing an algorithm called the Markov chain Monte Carlo sampler, the software sorted through sets of words in the modern Austronesian languages which share a common sound, history and origin. From there, it determined whether the words shared a common mother language – in this case, Proto-Austronesian.

“What excites me about this system is that it takes so many of the great ideas that linguists have had about historical reconstruction, and it automates them at a new scale: more data, more words, more languages, but less time,” said Dan Klein, an associate professor of computer science at UC Berkeley and co-author of a paper on the subject which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition to reaching into the past, the researchers note their software can also predict the future evolution of words, providing clues as to how languages will change over time.

This past Friday was not a good day for asteroid-human relations with asteroid 2012 DA14 passing a mere 27,700 km (17,200 miles) from the Earth just a few hours after a meteor exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, damaging hundreds of buildings and injuring thousands. Scientists have been quick to point out that both of these events – a meteor exploding over a populated area and a large asteroid passing through Earth’s geosynchronous orbit – are quite rare, but when the worst case scenario is the complete annihilation of all life on Earth, it’s probably best to be prepared. That’s why researchers in California recently proposed DE-STAR – a system which could potentially harness the sun’s energy to dissolve wayward space rocks up to ten times larger than 2012 DA14 with a vaporizing laser.

Over the past few years, scientists have been exploring several methods to prevent a cataclysmic asteroid impact on Earth, including launching a spacecraft to study asteroid collisions, arranging a series of satellites to monitor asteroid activity and even deflecting them with paint balls. The looming question remains unanswered though: what’s the best way to actually stop an asteroid from striking the Earth?

Philip M. Lubin from UC Santa Barbara and Gary B. Hughes from Polytechnic State University may have an answer with DE-STAR (short for “Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation”). According to the researchers, DE-STAR would consist of satellites designed to gather energy from the sun and convert it into an enormous phased array of lasers powerful enough to disintegrate an asteroid.

It’s still all theoretical at this point, but Lubin and Hughes insist the technology for such a system already exists, just not at the correct scale needed to affect a chunk of rock hurtling through space. Their proposal includes rough outlines for DE-STAR models at different diameters, ranging from one about the size of a tabletop to another that would be 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) across. A greater size would mean a more powerful laser.

If you’re imagining a laser blast like the one that took out the Death Star in Star Wars though, think again. Hughes and Lubin say that a DE-STAR system 100 meters (about 328 feet) across would just be able to slowly push comets and asteroids out of orbit, away from Earth. A system measuring 10 kilometers (6 miles) in diameter could produce 1.4 megatons of energy per day, enough to completely erode an asteroid measuring 500 meters (about 1640 feet) wide, but it would take about one year.

The researchers also claim the laser array could have other uses besides asteroid protection. For example, DE-STAR could help in simply studying an asteroid’s composition and possibly provide a new propulsion system for spacecraft, all while simultaneously defending the Earth from asteroids.

Even if Lubin and Hughes are correct in their calculations, scaling up the proper technology for their proposed DE-STAR system would be no easy task. By their own admission, there are many variables in place that would need to be worked out first, but it’s better than having no plan at all. After the events last Friday though, we might start seeing some projects like this receive the support they need to get off the ground.

Engineers at GE think they could have a revolution on their hands, thanks to the new jet engine they’ve been working with that runs hotter than any of its predecessors. When combined with some other design changes, they figure their so-called ADVENT (short for ADaptive Versatile ENgine Technology) design could improve fuel efficiency by as much as 25 percent, extend flying ranges by 30 percent, and boost thrust up to 10 percent over contemporary engines.

THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND WANTS YOU

THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND WANTS YOU

Weather Underground is looking for a few individuals with a commitment to changing everyone’s view of the world.
No, not the band of Sixties revolutionaries who took their name from a Bob Dylan song that asserted “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” I mean the worldwide family of photographers who post pictures of clouds, storms, mountains, scenery, birds, pets and much more at the Internet address www.wunderground.com–doing business as Weather Underground.
You can also get weather reports there. In fact, you can choose three favorite locations for which current weather conditions will come up as soon as you access the site (It’s warmer in Middlebury than Sedona, Arizona? Hmm.) So if you parents moved to Florida, or you ex is in Texas, or your best friend has joined the Californicanation, you can get a glimpse of their living conditions. Then, if you click on that location, pictures will come up posted by people who live in that area.
I’m talking about this because many people see tourism as having new importance to our economy, with manufacturing continuing to decline, farming struggling, and construction hit by the housing industry’s woes. Knowing something about this state’s inventive and energetic entrepreneurs and creative farmers from two decades of business reporting, I’m less inclined than many to count them out—and people are always going to want good places to raise their children or escape stifling cities or grow old and try to be wiser in peace.
But still, it would hurt to help tourism if we can. Other states have whopping promotional budgets—I Love New York, Virginia is For Lovers, etc.—that the State of Vermont will never match. But photo-sharing sites are a way that individuals can alert the world to our glories—literally the world—at little or no cost.
There are many more that Weather Underground. I’ve paid to post on pBase under the handle copyedEDitor because their galleries are so simple to access and often of top quality, TrekEarth lets you choose countries to visit and covers almost all of them, Community Webshots has great stuff if you can get past their relentless efforts to make you a subscriber, there are Flickr and SmugMug and many more, including fabulous specialized sites like Astronomy Picture of the Day.
But I’m pointing to Weather Underground because it has such a community feeling, and is so welcoming of amateur photographers who happen to love the outdoors.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many first-class fotogs, too, including mountain-climbers, off-road trekkers, world travelers, and wildlife photographers with those lenses that look like antitank weapons. You probably read or heard or saw something about the wildfire that consumed part of California near Hollywood, taking a number of big residences thanks to hot, windy weather; well, one of WU’s posters is an emergency helicopter flyer, whose perspectives on that and other blazes soar and sear. In one, a chemical-dropper plane passes close by, lower than the rooftop of the house it is protecting—that kind of inside insight.
In any given day, pictures are likely come from three continents or more. Lena in Slovenia seems to be in a contest with the guys in Slovakia to prove who has the most striking and picturesque mountains—or are they both chasing the Italian fellow who transmits high-altitude shots from the Dolomites?
Tonight, the guy in St. Petersburg, Russia sent pictures of snow falling, the Warrenton, Virginia guy captured another hard-to-see bird, an Iowan (where it’s wet) sent alarming flood pictures, Florida (where it’s dry) put up hellacious wildfire smoke clouds, South Carolina contributed shots of massive ocean waves attacking a pier, and Oklahoma showed all was not OK with Bell Cow Lake, where wind had churned the water clay red.
Under the handle ERLBarna, I’ve put up pictures of Addison County’s snow and cloud formations, Middlebury Falls, and the masses of trillium that county residents who love flowers make pilgrimages to see in May. But there’s plenty of room for other Vermonters, especially because good outdoor pictures, especially sunsets, have a way of appearing and disappearing in a seconds.
Together, we Vermonters can tell the world, literally, what a great place this is to visit—and don’t neglect to put up some mud season and snowbound pictures to let them know it can be a tough place to live. I’ve told the state’s Tourism and Marketing people that they ought to have a micro-grant program that would pay the fees some sites require. WU is cheap: for a small fee, they take away most of the ads for a year (which greatly assists browsing the pictures abd helps to support a worthwhile cause) and it’s a snap to upload pictures.
As some of the foregoing suggests, Weather Underground is a good place to get a sense of how global overenergizing is not just global warming, but a shift to dramatic unpredictability and extremes of weather. Again and again the words with the pictures express surprise or shock, at flowers blooming two months early in London, or snow coming too far into all sorts of places, and always that fierce ocean slamming into things.
Take one look at a picture of a tornadic supercell cloud from Oklahoma, Kansas, or Texas, and you’ll be glad to live in Vermont. Don’t underestimate the appeal that Vermont’s relative tranquility may have, as we drive farther along the flooded road that leads into the future, hoping what comes will trend upward rather than downward.

A later Rutland Herald blog

Weather Underground, Continued

This being the Fourth of July, a time to consider what it means to be an American, I want to share a way that anyone online can be part of a worldwide community. I do care about this country, but the idea of a nation is indivisible from the existence of other nations, and the better we know and the more we appreciate other countries, the more we will appreciate and the better we will know our own.
“Everyone talks about the weather,” goes an old saying, “but no one does anything about it.” Today, we know the last part isn’t true. All our actions influence climate change, and the worldwide community I will momentarily describe shares an in-depth knowledge of this.
In Vermont, though, talking about the weather is still the most common way for strangers to get from grim to grin. Maybe the information exchanged is banal, but as Winston Churchill famously said about negotiations, “Jaw jaw is better than war war.” This northland eye-on-the-sky-speak isn’t just heritage from our predominantly agricultural past, when an old-timer with a deeply intuitive weather sense might indeed have a better understanding of when it was safe to put in seed or to cut hay or go to market. We divide up the land, making our homes our castles, but we share the air–as one contemporary poet puts it in a piece about the seeming humanity of the moaning and crying of a strong night wind, “we go all the way to the wind/ and the wind goes everywhere else.”
Which brings us to Weather Underground. The name of this online gathering, accessible by all at www.wundergound.com, comes ultimately from a Bob Dylan song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in which he raps (he was a pioneer rap innovator, in case you hadn’t noticed) “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” The political thrust of that line did not go unnoticed by a faction of the leftist Yippies who, frustrated by the failure of peaceful methods to end the Vietnam War, decided to try violent upheaval—under the name The Weather Underground.
Today’s Weather Underground is a peaceable lot, exception for the violence implied in some of the storm pictures that people from all around the world sometimes post on the site. Under the categories of Very Important Pictures (weather disasters like the recent flooding in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas), Approver’s Choice (subtitled “a bit of inspiration”—good shots, of anything outdoors), Weather, and Outdoors, both amateurs and pros contribute. Aside from some people putting their names on the shots, the participants don’t let copyright considerations block them from letting people make personal use of the medium-resolution photos.
People can email back and forth via the site, or blog, so it has truly become a community. An expert in bird identification will help someone put a name on a rarer species for that area; a pro fotog will give tips to someone who says they’re just beginning and would welcome critiques; and the captions, sometimes quite extensive, give the homebound an opportunity to ride a virtual tour bus. When a regular poster goes silent, there is general concern; right now, for instance, a lot of people are waiting for Lampy, a railroad enthusiast, to post another of his fabulous train-in-operation shots.
“What a unique way to see the world through others’ eyes!” writes kathydee in Ohio, who had sent in 331 pictures—all of which can be viewed, 50 at a time, by clicking on her online handle—of which 11 were Approver’s Choices. One of the latest was a heartbreaking picture of an old coal miner’s two-room disability retirement homestead—a friend of kathydee’s who will no longer bring her blackberries despite his ailments because he just succumbed to them. This site has heart.
Last night I started listing the countries from which pictures had arrived on Weather Underground. With only 12 hours gone, the following have taken part: Montenegro, Latvia, Belize, Croatia, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Slovakia (maybe should count as two because Lena from Slovenia is vacationing there), Greece, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Bahrain, Thailand, and the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. I know, the last isn’t a country by legal definition, but for true it is one of the ends of the earth. Russian, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, India, Japan, Mongolia, and many more have chimed in at other times.
Ends of the earth: there are people who climb mountains and send back their peak experiences; seashore dwellers document the infinite moods of the seascape; veteran wildlife photographers add closeups that no casual picturetaker could ever equal; and stormchasers, that death-defying breed who go after tornadoes and travel TOWARD hurricanes, send images that can be genuinely terrifying. Vermont, be glad you’re in a geographical location where the big storm systems arrive exhausted and panting: there are clouds in the middle states of this country that are enough to make you shake, never mind the storms themselves. Look up superstormchaser Mike Theiss’s glimpses of supercells that look like they arrive with instructions to 1. Open chuck; 2. Insert drill; 3. Tighten chuck; 4. Send pieces flying everywhere and leave a big hole behind.
Spend a year looking at Weather Underground and it’s hard not to believe in climate change. Not “global warming” exactly, because the extra energy that the warming puts into the system drives it to all kinds of extremes. Kansas soaks while Florida burns. London gets hail on July 3 so deep it looks like the sidewalks and streets are deep with snow, while elsewhere you get to see what it’s like driving into a dust storm. At one point earlier this year, a location reported flowers opening two months early, with snow on top of them. Lightning bolts so powerful that the photographer was scared even while in his car. Coldest on record, warmest on record, hurricane winds without a hurricane—meteorologically, it’s a world gone mad.
So, as I implied earlier, there is a serious side to all this weather talk. As quietly as the fog that sometimes swallows half of the Golden Gate Bridge, so that it appears to emerge from a tunnel, the necessary consensus is building.

ONLINE NORTHERN LIGHTS

ONLINE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Vermont is just close enough to the boreal region, the northerly area below the arctic, to see aurora borealis, more often called northern lights. Alas, it’s just far enough to the south for big, colorful displays to be rare. That is especially true in years like this, when we are at the point in the sunspot cycle known as the solar minimum.
Sunspots are “cool planet-sized areas on the Sun where intense magnetic loops poke through the star’s visible surface.” Though unmentioned by astrologers as far as I know, their bursts of electromagnetic particles cause problems here on Earth, 93 million miles away, for instance by disrupting communications transmissions. The best northern lights I ever saw, so powerful that they were overhead as well as on the horizon and lasted for hours, came on a night when it was impossible to pull in any of the FM radio stations I knew—a tipoff that I should go outside and check the sky. There were a half dozen FM stations on the air, but all of them were speaking Spanish.
There’s a scene in a Vermont novel in which a man wakes his wife because she always wanted to see the northern lights, and somewhat grudgingly she rouses and agrees to be towed along. As they go downstairs, she says, “But it’s almost dawn!” “Honey—that window faces west.” That kind of night.
If seeing the northern lights is part of your life mission as a Vermonter, how would you know they were out there? They don’t make any noise (some say they can but proof is lacking), and most don’t traumatize electronic transmissions, and I don’t know of any newspaper that carries an aurora probability report.
There is an aurura report, though, if you go to the Internet site that furnished the above definition of sunspots: www.spaceweather.com. This fabulous resource includes information about many other things than auroras; for instance, they had the best picture of Comet Holmes I’ve seen. Every day they publish the Boulder Sunspot Number (there’s also an International Sunspot Number put out by the Sunspot Index Data Center in Belgium). In Spaceweather’s explanation of the numbering systems, they say “As a rule of thumb, if you divide either of the official sunspot numbers by 15, you’ll get the approximate number of individual sunspots visible on the solar disk if you look at the Sun by projecting its image on a paper plate with a small telescope.”
On their sunspot timeline from 1610-2000, there are four times since 1950 when the number went above 150. On Dec. 1, it was 12, because a new sunspot, provisionally named 976, was just observed—and had already begun to deteriorate. The website is so thorough that they even have a graphic showing how many sunspots are on the side of the sun facing away from the Earth (none, currently). As I said, it’s not a great year for northern lights. But as sure as shooting stars, there will be a solar maximum as the cycle continues (My memory says it’s an 11-year cycle. Let’s see…”The main periodicity in the Sun’s activity is the 11-year cycle called the solar cycle.”)
Spaceweather’s graphics include a representation of the Auroral Oval, the section of the northern hemisphere where auroras are most likely to occur. The map is color-coded, with yellow denoting the fringe areas (like us) and red for the central places (like the Yukon and Hudson’s Bay). The key to it all is one of the three North Poles: the Geomagnetic North Pole, the northern axis of the magnetosphere, the magnetic field that extends from Earth into space. The solar particles hit this set of magnetisms and get funneled toward the North and South Geomagnetic Poles (there are aurora australis, or Southern Lights, too). When they hit the atmosphere, the energy that’s released appears as northern lights.
Since I brought up the subject, I’d better do a quick review of what you may or may not have learned in school about north poles. The Geographic North Pole is the one on maps, used for instance for countries to fight over the oilfields that will become accessible once all the polar ice melts. The Magnetic North Pole is the one your compass points toward; alas for the wisdom of compasses, it has moved 684 miles since it was discovered at 70 degrees N-96 degrees W, and at its current speed of about 25 miles a year could be in Siberia in another half century.
The North Geomagnetic Pole moves, too, but not as much. Currently it’s near Thule (Qaanaaq) in Greenland, about 500 miles east of the Magnetic North Pole.
Spaceweather includes information about future near misses by asteroids, what’s happening at the Sun, and much more. At the end there are Internet links that could keep a person screengazing for days.
If you want to search further, www.athropolis.com says it covers “all things arctic,” which of course includes northern lights. Some of the features are for kids, which must be a good way to build community among remote settlements.
If it seems cold in the winter, remember that the northern border of Vermont is at 45 degrees longitude, on a scale that runs from zero to 90. In other words, THE NORTHEAST KINGDOM ISN’T EVEN HALFWAY TO THE NORTH POLE, if you start from the Equator.
As much as to say, it’s a big place up there in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and some big things take place when the stars come out and dance about, as Ronald Reagan’s favorite poet Robert W. Service put it. The stuff shared by highly competitive aurora photography community includes not only green but also red, yellow, blue and purple northern lights; “coronal” bursts that come from one area of the sky and seem to shower across everything; and more ribbons and flares and other forms than you could imagine. If your computer does You Tube, there are videos of northern lights, too.
On a frigid-to-the-rigid winter night, logging onto something like that sure beats watching loose snow blowing off the tops of dune-like drifts.

INTERNET VULNERABILITIES

HACK, CHOP

(this was written in 2007 so it’s not giving away any secrets)

Perhaps you have read in the newspapers about vulnerabilities discovered in Microsoft products, which had the potential to be hacked and to permit the unauthorized use of personal information. What you have read is, to use the perennial proverbial cliché, the tip of the iceberg.
What follows is a highly selected list of vulnerabilities discovered in Mozilla products (Mozilla originated Firefox). The introduction to the full list stated that “This is not meant as an exhaustive list of all security-related bugs. To find technical discussions of security-related bugs, visit Bugzilla. This page lists security vulnerabilities with direct impact on users. All of these vulnerabilities have been fixed prior to the most recent release.”
If you think you know English, prepare to learn otherwise now. Take a deep breath, start reading, and when you can’t stand it any more, skip to the end.
Some vulnerabilities:
–MFSA 2007-17 XUL Popup Spoofing.
Used to mean: kids trying to scare each other while trick-or-treating on Halloween.
–MFSA 2007-14 Path Abuse in Cookies.
Used to mean: getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar.
–FSA 2007-13 Persistent Autocomplete Denial of Service.
Used to mean: dialing the wrong number.
–MFSA 2007-12 Crashes with evidence of memory corruption (rv:1.8.0.12/1.8.1.4).
Used to mean: “I sure was drunk, wasn’t I?”
–MFSA 2007-11 FTP PASV port-scanning.
Used to mean: going to the dock to see someone off on a cruise.
–MFSA 2007-09 Privilege escalation by setting img.src to javascript: URI.
Used to mean: why the top executives got better coffee and the best parking spaces.
–MFSA 2007-07 Embedded nulls in location.hostname confuse same-domain checks.
Used to mean: the shop confused your check with one written by someone else with a similar name.
–MFSA 2007-03 Information disclosure through cache collisions.
Used to mean: when you get in an auto accident, you have go exchange addresses and phone numbers.
–MFSA 2007-02 Improvements to help protect against Cross-Site Scripting attacks.
Used to mean: the teacher caught on that other people in your class were passing nasty notes about you.
–MFSA 2006-76 XSS using outer window’s Function object.
Used to mean: the guy next door is building an addition that will block your view.
–MFSA 2006-75 RSS Feed-preview referrer leak.
Used to mean: you forgot that your family would smell their surprise dinner and guess what it was.
–MFSA 2006-73 Mozilla SVG Processing Remote Code Execution.
Used to mean: in sandlot kid football, the play the pushy loudmouth quarterback called which nobody understood, but the defense forgot to cover one of the ends so it worked anyway.
–MFSA 2006-71 LiveConnect crash finalizing JS objects.
Used to mean: there are no atheists in foxholes.
–MFSA 2006-67 Running Script can be recompiled.
Used to mean: “Just put it on my tab.”
–MFSA 2006-59 Concurrency-related vulnerability.
Used to mean: if you don’t think your wife will guess that you’re cheating on her, think again.
–MFSA 2006-56 chrome: scheme loading remote content.
Used to mean: the way politicians always make it sound better than it is.
–MFSA 2006-39 “View Image” local resource linking.
Used to mean: kibbitzing.
–MFSA 2006-31 EvalInSandbox escape (Proxy Autoconfig, Greasemonkey).
Used to mean: blaming it on your little brother.
–MFSA 2006-01 JavaScript garbage-collection hazards.
Used to mean: “The trash collectors banged up our wastecan again this morning.”
–MFSA 2006-13 Downloading executables with “Save Image As…”
Used to mean: The President trying to make himself look better by firing subordinates.
–MFSA 2006-22 CSS Letter-Spacing Heap Overflow Vulnerability.
Used to mean: “You need to clean your desk.”
–MFSA 2006-05 Localstore.rdf XML injection through XULDocument.persist().
Used to mean: The rich out-of-state people who bought the general store don’t care how much money it loses.
–MFSA 2005-53 Standalone applications can run arbitrary code through the browser.
Used to mean: “You better repair that fence, because if the heifers get out they’re going to eat my flowers.”
–MFSA 2005-47 Code execution via “Set as Wallpaper.”
Used to mean: “If you sign up for our credit card, we’ll put a scenic design of your choice on it.”
–MFSA 2005-43 “Wrapped” javascript: urls bypass security checks.
Used to mean: “While the cops were in the donut shop, burglars were robbing a store.”
–MFSA 2005-40 Missing Install object instance checks.
Used to mean: asking your wife where you put something.

And so on. Two general points here:
1. Aren’t you glad there are people who really know about these things, so your computer operates day and day and mostly does what it’s supposed to?
2. Aren’t you glad your school system has a fully funded program for the gifted and talented, so that the advanced computer work of the future will be done in this country rather than overseas?

FOR GREAT NEWS PICTURES

MAYBE THE BEST SITE FOR NEWS PICS

Ingrained caution, instilled by my career as a journalist, cautions me against using the word “best,” especially regarding the Internet, a place where voyages of discovery take place daily. But if you are looking for photographs of key news events, it will be hard to do better than the free pictures uploaded by the Boston Globe, at www.boston.com/bigpicture.
Most news sites post only versions smaller than could be found on the back pages of any respectable print publication, but here the Globe has placed pictures that fill my screen. These are arranged as photojournalistic feature stories, with multiple images of such things as the bombing of Daffy Khadafy’s forces in Libya, the last Discovery space shuttle flight (including amazing shots inside and from inside the International Space Station), the quake/tsunami in Japan, and major festivals around the world. Not everything is included, and some of what appears seems pretty tangential to the major news (an Alaskan dogsled race?), but what they choose to cover is done so definitively.
Seeing scarcely believable images of the devastation wrought in Japan, I had struggled to find a word adequate to describe them. Today, looking at the Big Picture images, I arrived at one: slaw. A modern country in which Iwate prefecture had turned into wood, steel and concrete slaw. The Richter scale for earthquakes is a logarithmic scale, meaning that an 8.9 quake like Japan’s is nearly a hundred times worse than what hit Haiti, assuming reports are correct that pegged Japan’s at 7.0 rather than 7.3.
If we think The Big One predicted for California will have a different outcome than Japan’s, we’re lying to ourselves. Beyond any “issue” in politics, this country needs to reorient its fundamental strategy to prepare for disasters—as Joseph advised Pharaoh to do in the Old Testament, warning that his dream in which the seven lean cows ate up the seven fat cows meant that a period of good crops would be followed by a long famine. Pharaoh heeded, set up granaries, and that was why the Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, because the land of the Nile had food. “Just in time” delivery of raw materials may be good as a way to maximize industrial productivity and profits, but it fails completely when a natural or human-induced (or both at once, as in the intensity of weather events brought on by climate change) disaster strikes. The good side of this is, a national consensus on the need to make present sacrifices to prepare for future dire conditions would at least set us on the way toward the kind of shared sacrifice we need to survive in the new, more hostile environment to come.
As much as to say, that’s the Big Picture.

PANDORA—GO AHEAD, OPEN THAT BOX

PANDORA—GO AHEAD, OPEN THAT BOX

Amidst all the dispiriting news about things that don’t work, things that work but don’t do very much, things that do too much by doing something else at the same time that you don’t want them to do, and things that can’t be repaired, it’s a pleasure to report on something that works well and is free. In a word, I speak of the online radio service Pandora.
In Greek mythology, as you may or may not remember, Pandora was the first woman. Zeus commanded Hephaestus to create her, which the master smith and fabricator did using earth and water. Aphrodite bestowed beauty upon her, Apollo gave her a talent for music—the complete package.
She was destined for Prometheus, but when Prometheus stole the secret of fire from the gods, Zeus sought to punish him by giving Pandora to his brother Epimetheus. Along with her went a box that she was not to open under any circumstances, because it contained all the evils of the world. But just as Zeus expected, Pandora could not hold back her curiosity (does this remind you of a story from the Old Testament?) and had to take a peek inside—and here we are. To tell the whole tale, the box held Hope as well, and Pandora put the lid back on long enough for Hope to remain.
The name “Pandora” suits the radio service because they ask you to select a group or a piece of music, then they open their box of connections with the rest of that genre, and create a personal “station” with the name of that group. Assuming you have registered (have a username and password), that “station” can be played for you no matter what computer you are using, after you log on. If it’s just your home computer, you don’t have to log on each time, they recognize you and bring up your list of “stations.”
As Pandora plays music that might be part of what you’re seeking, it shows buttons that you can click to say “no, that isn’t what I was looking for,” or “yes, I like that.” Using these, you can fine tune your station, adjusting it to your preferences.
Naturally this web business needs to make money to pay its expenses, so from time to time your music may be interrupted by a very short, tastefully presented advertisement. Lately they have been touting an online computer backup service; if you don’t have someone like Steve L’Heureux, the Mac Doctor, my New Haven, Vermont computer genius to devise a daily backup system from your startup drive to a reserve drive, this sounds like a reasonable proposition.
Also, Pandora acts as a purchasing service. If they play something that’s in line with your tastes, they will show the CD cover while they’re playing it, and give you a chance to click “buy it.” Whether this is a real service or not depends on whether the site’s collective knowledge of musical genres goes deep enough to uncover things you might not have thought were available.
I was a good test case for this because I have an very deep knowledge of and love for folk music, including some genres you will never hear except on WVPR’s “All the Traditions,” where folk musician host Robert Resnik is a fountain of revelations. But putting the group “Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers,” I was thrilled to see them linking to Stokes & Sane, the Beale Street Sheiks, and to Frank Hutchison, another great talent of that era. Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee was in its heyday one of America’s musical glorylands, a place where the immense pool of talent of the Deep South found freedom of expression. One of my upcoming essays, a piece for young poets to be titled “Listening Down In,” will focus on a piece recorded along Beale Street. You might not think Memphis would have much to do with North Carolina, but the Ramblers repertoire includes a number praising the musical mecca, which at one point says
“I’d rather be here (Beale Street) than any place I know.
I’d rather be here than any place I know.
And it’s going to take a Sergeant (police) for to make me go.”
Sometimes I’ll open a separate browser so I can activate Pandora at any time and not have it go off because I navigated to another website to do something else. I’ve activated a “Spike Jones and the City Slickers” station, which branched out to all sorts of whacko stuff. A “Jim Kweskin Jug Band” station accessed another kind of mental comic relief. Finally, after being interested and frustrated for two decades, I used Pandora to explore hardcore techno, which I have always loved as dance exercise music. And probably the day will come when I use their music buying service—though that Pandora’s Box I don’t want to open too soon. Not with Middlebury College’s music library available.
But if you don’t have some such resource in your neighborhood, you could do a lot worse than spend time on Pandora. From there, if you haven’t realized the power of online radio, worlds await—for anyone who creates an online station in Vermont as well as for people in rural areas looking out at the world. When a Vermont Public Radio pledge drive brings a caller from someone who now lives in Georgia but uses VPR to stay in touch with the old home state, I can’t help thinking that Hope isn’t just in Arkansas.