Category ArchiveEncounters with Strangers
…well yes you did get some kind of award for “Mostest Detailed Information on an Obscure Topic”. –JP Stormcrow
[D]on’t tempt me to go all photochemical on your ass. If you want detailed information on really obscure topics, I can bury you. –James Killus
Ozone is the key ingredient in photochemical smog. Air quality standards for smog are designed to limit ozone on the assumption that, if ozone is reduced, other photochemical smog constituents will also be reduced. While other air pollutants like carbon monoxide and fine particulates are, by and large, directly emitted, ozone is a “secondary air pollutant,” meaning that it is formed by chemical processes in the atmosphere.
There is, however, a natural background of ozone in the troposphere, the layer of air that contains 90% of the atmosphere, and the part of the atmosphere where we breathe, where weather happens, etc.
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I read the story some years ago, in The Wall St. Journal, I think, in the first page center column where they put their “strange but true” features. It concerned an occurrence at a semiconductor plant in Indonesia.
The work was semi-skilled labor, of the sort that required close eye/hand coordination, for which the local native women were well suited. Much of it was done under the microscope. The overall situation was stressful: clean room standards, long hours of intense concentration. After some months the women began seeing things under the microscope. They called these things ghosts, and told the supervisors that the place had become haunted with the spirits of the dead.
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It was an early Saturday morning more years ago than I care to remember. I eased the car, overburdened with a U-Haul trailer, into the parking lot of an all-night convenience store south of Memphis. Things had reached a critical point; driving all night on top of the cumulative effects of several months of emotional and mental stress had left me dangerously fatigued. I did not even think to ask my passenger to drive, we had passed that point months ago. Never a coffee drinker, I had partaken liberally of that foul brew - but something more was needed. Not prepared to seek more effective - but also more illegal - remedies, I brushed past the copies of Elvis’s will for sale and purchased several packs of cigarettes. Never a smoker, I had hit upon the dubious idea that the best plan was to chain-smoke the rest of the way to Ohio. The decision was about par for the course - to quote Richard Brautigan, “I still can’t figure out what I meant by living the way I did in those days.”
In any event, all reached Ohio safely, car and passenger were dropped off, driver and passenger bidding each other
fond adieu. A blessed, but short night of sleep, an uncomfortable frazzled passive aggressive morning with the parents and two flight segments later I was back in Houston. Back where the next unsuccessful relationship, which had bumped up uncomfortably close to the end of the prior one, demanded attention at once on the far side of town. So it was an even more sleep-deprived, groggified shadow of a functioning human being that showed up Monday morning to go through the motions at work. But though the wheels of mindless work grind slow, they do in fact grind, and in time I headed home.
Home! Alone! The holy grail!
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Our house on Ironwood Drive, in Donelson Tennessee, in the 1950s, was a typical example of post-War construction, cinder block walls, asbestos exterior shingles, and shoddy construction. My parents discovered years after purchase that the overflow pipe from the attic water heater didn’t actually exist; there was a short pipe in the attic and another short pipe beneath the house and nothing in-between. “Shoddy” doesn’t actually cover something like that, since it was pure fraud to fool the building inspector. There was something similar with the septic tank, which, after we’d left, turned out to be covered only with plywood that finally rotted through, much to the distress of subsequent inhabitants.
It was an “all-electric” house, electric stove and electric “radiant” heaters that were nothing but wire wound around ceramic cores. The heating and cooling expansion made little clicking noises whenever they turned on or off. The electricity was cheap, though, courtesy of the TVA, a fact that made Goldwater’s loss of Tennessee in 1964 inevitable. He’d gone of record as wanting to privatize TVA, even saying he’d “sell it for a dollar” if he could. The voters of Tennessee thought that the fight against socialism could maybe be first started in another state, for example, Arizona, where there were plenty of Federal water projects to privatize first. The Senator from Arizona never quite grasped that logic.
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Encounters with Strangers Posted by christian h., 26 Jun 2007 06:26 am
In my time at the University of Illinois, I have been traveling a lot - to conferences, to meet with colleagues for a couple days, for job interviews. Mathematics is a very social profession - even in the age of email, face-to-face interaction is preferable. Part of the ritual is getting to O’Hare airport in Chicago from Champaign-Urbana, the town where I live and work - about 2-3 hours to the South of Chicago. There’s a small airport here, but it’s often very expensive to fly out of. I don’t drive myself, and in any event most people like to avoid a three-hour drive to start off a day that is also going to involve several flights. So usually, I take a shuttle bus up to O’Hare, or down from there home - sometimes it’s a van, sometimes an old bus, depending on the number of passengers booked on the thing. This is one experience I am definitely not going to miss when I move up to Chicago in a couple weeks.
The ride can take up to 4 hours, as passengers are dropped off and picked up along the way. The drivers often like to talk while on the road - driving back and forth on I-57 isn’t the most exciting thing to do. Once you leave Chicago it’s Midwestern farm country, flat and featureless (Champaign County, for example, has a maximal elevation difference of about a hundred feet, I think. If that.) Something else many drivers like to do is listen to the radio - and often, that means talk radio. Rush in the morning, Levin and others at night.
Encounters with Strangers Posted by christian h., 13 Jun 2007 05:23 am
A couple years ago, I made one of my periodic visits to the US Consulate in Frankfurt (Main), Germany, to obtain a new visa stamp. I was tired, since the latest appointment available is at 8:00 am, so I had to get up at 5:30 am to catch a train to get me there in time; and I was nervous. Even though for a white protestant German like me there’s basically no chance of trouble the thought that one official having a bad day could ruin your life is a little disconcerting. Will they wonder what I did in Morocco the year before? Will they notice United for Peace and Justice or Monthly Review among the charitable and political organizations I’ve given money to (if you’re male between the ages of 18 and 45, you have to list all of those)? I am being paranoid of course, but who knows how the “war on terror” influences the situation. Maybe there is more pressure on the consular officials to be extra careful. Maybe the consulate is being audited.
So I arrive a little early for my appointment - appointments come in groups of several dozen people at the same time - , the clear plastic folder with my documents in hand (no electronic devices! No cameras! No backpacks!) and after some standing in line in, luckily, reasonable weather, I get through the metal detectors and into the building (no problem there, the guards are very polite and nice).
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Encounters with Strangers Posted by christian h., 22 May 2007 10:40 am
By James Killus
Several years ago, I was walking up Folger Avenue towards San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. The University of California owns a building that sits between Folger and 67 St. on San Pablo Avenue, or at least they did. They’ve been trying to sell it recently, and I’m not current on its status, but they still occupy a lot of it. The building itself is huge, and, as I understand it, actually straddles the boundaries of not just Berkeley and Oakland, but also Emeryville.
I was headed toward the offices of a non-profit that I was involved with at the time (that backstory is ‘way too complicated), but my path took me by the U.C. Berkeley surplus and overstock sales area, at 1000 Folger St., where they have auctions every Tuesday and Thursday. So there are often people loading stuff into trucks, vans, and whatever, starting at about 9 A.M. on those two days each week. There’s a lot of old surplus computer stuff that gets sold that way.
I was carrying a briefcase, which isn’t important to the story, but it’s part of the “sense memory.” I was passing by a guy who was loading a lot of surplus computer stuff into a panel truck, just as the pile of stuff he’d loaded shifted and began to topple towards him.
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Encounters with Strangers Posted by Oaktown Girl, 17 May 2007 07:34 pm
[Dateline: February 8, 2007, 6:45pm.
Situation: It’s just after work; I’m moderately stressed because I just started a new job and have to learn a thousand new things. Plus, I’m trying to adjust to working days after a year on the graveyard shift, which is proving to be a surprisingly difficult transition both physically and mentally.
Scene: A small Mexican restaurant, primarily take-out, with just a few tables. The only other customers are a man sitting at one of the tables eating his food, and one woman standing who’s just finished placing her order at the counter. She’s White and appears to be in her early 30’s.]
I place my food order with the young woman behind the counter and give her my money. She gives me my change, plus the little receipt with the all-important order number on it. Really just a formality of course, because there are only three customers in the place, and one is already eating. But the receipt pops up out of the cash register, and by golly, somebody’s got to hold on to it.
Now I need to find a place to put my body in this rather small space while I wait for my food. I’m getting it to go, and I don’t want to occupy one of the few tables while I wait even though I wouldn’t be putting anybody out at the moment. (I’m very conscientious that way). But before I can even turn away from the counter to look for a place to be, I overhear the two other customer behind me engaged in conversation. They are talking about candy.
Candy? Why the hell are they talking about candy? And rather passionately at that?
When I turn around I half expect to see one of them eating candy. How else would the subject have come up? But no, neither of them is eating any candy. And the man at the table isn’t even eating a dessert because this place doesn’t have dessert. He is just sitting there eating his regular ol’ Mexican food. Bizarre.
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