Missed Perseids, a Satellite Flare and Saturn on a Saturday Night

Over the years, we’ve sporadically attended celestial viewings at the Spring Valley Nature Reserve, which isn’t exactly dark, but it’s darker than the surrounding suburbs. We went again on Saturday.

This time, the event was more popular than I remember it ever being, since besides viewing through a telescope set up on one of the reserve’s paths, a marshmallow roast was held near one of its buildings. Volunteers gave away marshmallows on prongs for a fire that had already been built. Such family-friendliness is going to attract people will kids. We had a few marshmallows ourselves.

There was a short line to see through the telescope — an expensive-looking piece of equipment, though I didn’t get the brand or model — and while we waited, we naturally did some naked-eye observations. While I was looking one way I heard, “Look, a shooting star!”

I was looking the wrong way. Of course. A few minutes later, the same thing happened. So I spent some time looking to where I thought the Perseids would be. Last weekend was the peak for this year, I’d read. I saw none. That has happened before. A few times.

So it goes. I did see a satellite flare, which was a first. I’ve seen a number of objects before that I’ve been sure were satellites, but this was different. This object was moving across the sky at the pace of a satellite, not a high airplane, and it was flashing for a few seconds at a regular interval. I’d read, years ago, that this can happen when the satellite reflects sunlight as it rolls — or pitches or yaws or whatever — in its orbit.

It might have been a Iridium satellite. Wiki, at least, has this to say: “Occasionally, an [Iridium] antenna reflects sunlight directly down at Earth, creating a predictable and quickly moving illuminated spot on the surface below of about 10 km (6.2 mi) diameter. To an observer this looks like a bright flash, or flare in the sky, with a duration of a few seconds.”

That’s exactly what I saw. Maybe they account for some number of UFO sightings, too. (If Venus can, why not an Iridium satellite? Unless Venus is where the UFOs are coming from.)

A few people in line had iPads with stargazing apps. I guess they’re called that (there are many, it turns out). I’d never seen one in use. You hold the iPad up toward any direction of the sky and the app will draw a not-overly-bright rendering of the constellations in the area. I didn’t get a close look, but it looked like a fair amount of information, including standard constellation patterns, star names and even fanciful illustrations.

I ought to think that’s cheating. Learn your constellations the old-fashioned way, dammit, from Chaldean herdsmen. But how different is an iPad app that from taking your paper star charts out and reading them by red light, and then looking up to see what you can see? Maybe the app should display red to help keep your night vision intact, but other than that it’s really no different, except easier to use.

After about 15 minutes in line, we arrived at the telescope, whose owner was enthusiastic about sharing with the public. Good for him. He had enormous spotting binoculars, too.

Jupiter was already beginning to set, so he turned it to Saturn, about midway up in the southern sky, and away from the clouds covering some of the sky that night. Yuriko, Ann, Ann’s friend and I all took a turn. Always nice to see Saturn.

My Spanking New 90-Gallon Trash Cans

Got new trash and recycling cans recently, delivered by the local trash hauler at no extra charge. The recycle bin has a baby blue lid, the trash bin a black one.
trash cansThe reason the company provided them is so that their trucks can pick them up using mechanical claws, rather than have the driver get out of the truck and hoist them himself. Here’s the pick up device in action just today. The mechanical claws are painted bright yellow.

When there’s enough trash in the compartment ahead of the garbage truck’s cab, mechanical arms hoist it toward the back of the truck, and the garbage falls into the main bin in back. An interesting thing to see, but he didn’t do it in front of my house today.

For me, the new cans are better because they’re easy to roll out to the the street, even though their capacity is large, 90 gallons each. This is progress. Don’t let the Luddites tell you differently.

The Last Gasp of the Federal Works Agency

Not something you see everyday: a plaque marking a project by the Federal Works Agency. But there it was last weekend for me to see, at the Chicago subway station of the CTA Blue Line (O’Hare-Forest Park).

Federal Works Agency plaque, Chicago StationThe Federal Works Agency only lasted until 1949, but it’s a safe assumption that the subway construction project started under its aegis in the late ’40s, so it was thought fitting to use the name even in 1950. The agency had been created as a part of a major federal government reorganization in 1939, authorized by Congress and overseen by the executive branch.

To quote President Roosevelt, in his message to Congress on the Reorganization Act of 1939: “[The FWA will include] the Bureau of Public Roads, now in the Department of Agriculture; the Public Buildings Branch of the Procurement Division, now in the Treasury Department, and the Branch of Buildings Management of the National Park Service… now in the Department of the Interior; the United States Housing Authority, now in the Department of the Interior; the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works; and the Works Progress Administration, except the functions of the National Youth Administration.”

Various additions and subtractions were made to that list until 1949, when the FWA’s remaining functions were parceled out to other agencies, as well as the newly created General Services Administration. As federal bureaucracies go, the FWA had a fruit-fly lifespan.

With a 10-year run, there couldn’t be that many FWA plaques. Certainly not as many as the GSA — nearly 70 years now — or even the WPA or the CCC, which also had short runs, but were really busy in their heydays. So maybe in the hobby of plaque-spotting the FWA is a nice find.

If there is such a hobby. Surely someone looks for plaques in a more enthusiastic or systematic way than I do. And is Blue Plaque-spotting a thing in the UK, or does this Spectator article merely refer to casually walking by them?

Wicker Park, The Neighborhood & Wicker Park, The Park

Juneteenth has come around again. We need more holidays in the summer, and that would be a good one, celebrating human freedom.

We went to the city on Sunday, giving me an opportunity to wander around Wicker Park on a warm but not too hot day. I visited both places of that name. Wicker Park’s both a fashionable area — which it was not 30 years ago, when I first lived in Chicago — and the name of a smallish triangular park within the neighborhood.

The intersection of North, Damen and Milwaukee is part of the neighborhood, but I didn’t hang around there much this time. Instead, I walked along some of the side streets. Much of the residential North Side of Chicago looks like this in June.
Wicker Park June 2017The handsome Wicker Park Lutheran Church is at 1502 N. Hoyne Ave.
Wicker Park Lutheran ChurchIt was already closed by the time I got there, but the interior looks like this.

The building dates from 1906, though the congregation goes back to 1879. “It boasts a basilica design, with double colonnades and an apse, a style used in ancient Rome for courts of law or places of public assembly,” notes the church web site. “The two towers are based on those of Abbey of Sainte-Trinité (the Holy Trinity), also known as Abbaye aux Dames, in Caen, France, which was built in the 11th century.”

A few blocks to the east is Wicker Park, the park. It isn’t one of Chicago’s great parks, but it is pleasant on a warm summer Sunday, well stocked with people and their dogs enjoying the warm summer Sunday. The park has some trees, a lush garden sporting flowers and bushes, a field house, a modest water fountain, and some open lawn.

There’s also a statue of Charles Gustavus Wicker (1820-1889), complete with stovepipe hat, heavy coat and broom. It’s been in the park since 2006.
Charles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoCharles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoThere’s a plaque at the feet of Wicker that asserts that he was an important figure in the development of this part of Chicago. In fact, it’s a lot like a press release in bronze, this plaque. A sample: “The broom symbolizes his initiative and readiness to take personal responsibility. He, and people like him, established Chicago, where all who truly do their best will continue to make this unique community a place of opportunity with justice, freedom, and equality for everyone.”

About Charles and his brother Joel Wicker, the Chicago Park District says: “In 1870, when businessmen and developers Charles G. and Joel H. Wicker began constructing drainage ditches and laying out streets in their subdivision, they donated a four-acre parcel of land to the city to be used as a public park.

“Fencing the triangular site to keep cows out, the city created an artificial lake in the center of the park, surrounding it with lawn and trees. As the Wickers had hoped, the area developed into a fashionable middle- and upper-class neighborhood.”

Further discussion of Wicker and his brother is at the Chicagoist. A few years ago, the statue fell down — was knocked down — tumbled down somehow, and there’s a story about that as well. The statue was restored, of course. Oddly enough, the sculptor who created the statue of Wicker, and pushed for it to be in the park, was a great-granddaughter of his, one Nancy Wicker, who died just last year at over 90.

In one corner of the park, a troupe called Theatre-Hikes was doing a low-budget version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No sets, just costumes. I sat down for a few minutes to watch. I’m no expert on the play — in fact, this is the only live performance I’ve seen of any of it — put I was able (later) to pin down that I’d arrived during Act 3, Scene 1.

Here’s Bottom.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park

Titania and Bottom. Both actors were good, and able to ham it up when the play called for it, to the amusement of all.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park 2017

Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes.
Feed him with apricoks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.
The honey bags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night tapers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glowworms’ eyes
To have my love to bed and to arise.

First, Fire All the Copy Editors

The following is a genuine headline from yesterday’s paper edition of the Chicago Tribune, featured with an article in the travel section.

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Where is this place, Brazel? I wondered. A small place with a name unfortunately similar to the major tropical nation in South America? That might account for tourists sadly overlooking the place.

But no. The article is clearly about the vast South American nation.

Maunday Thursday Misc.

A good Easter to all. Back on Easter Monday, which is a holiday in a fair number of countries, so why not here? Or at least something like in Buffalo, which seems to celebrate a thing called Dyngus Day.

The other day I noticed that I’ve nearly made 1,000 postings here. Not quite, but getting there. WordPress helpfully tells me the Top 10 Categories (out of 15, not counting Uncategorized) among all those posts.

Been There (526)
History (227)
Entertainment (160)
Over the Transom (152)
Public Art (105)
Food & Beverage (102)
Weather (100)
Family (83)
Holidays (66)
News (65)

I guess it’s fitting that Been There is first. It’s in the title, after all. Over the Transom is a little tricky: that’s any fool thing that comes my way without any plan, so it covers a lot of ground. Otherwise, I won’t put much stock in the ranking. For instance, I’ve posted more about weather than my family, but that hardly means I care more about the weather than them.

This made me laugh. Jonah Goldberg on the Trump administration: “I feel like I’m watching a Fellini movie without subtitles: I have no idea what’s going on.”

Here are some things young women get up to in Brooklyn. Or did in 2011.

Something to see in Denver. For the colorful art work, of course.

And maybe there is something new under the sun.

The Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument, Mount Carmel Cemetery

An obscure monument to obscure men fighting for a now-obscure cause. That’s what I found at Mount Carmel Cemetery last week when I spied the Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument. What a find.

The Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument, Mount Carmel CemeteryObscure isn’t meant as a pejorative. People besotted with fame might think it’s one, but obscurity is the common fate of almost everyone and everything. Life’s still worth living. In future millennia, we’ll all be as distinctive as grains of sand on a beach. It won’t even take that long. That’s probably as it should be.

Yet we memorialize. In stone sometimes, no doubt since mankind learned to carve. I’m no expert on the psychology of memorials, but I’d guess they’re mostly for those who already remember: family, friends, colleagues, comrades-at-arms, or a public who read the newspaper stories, saw the newsreels, recalled the special bulletin interrupting a radio or TV show. Memorializing for posterity might be given lip service, but that’s all it is.

The front of the Clan-Na-Gael Monument says (in all caps, but that screams):

Erected by the
Clan-Na-Gael Guards
To the memory of their
Departed comrades

The Clan-Na-Gael was, of course, dedicated to Irish independence. Any enemy of the British was a friend of theirs, such as Imperial Germany 100 years ago, though this memorial goes back a little further. I shouldn’t have been surprised to read the side of the memorial, yet I was:

Dedicated to the memory of
Lieut. Michael O’Hara Co. A
Lieut. Thos. Naughton Co. B
Who died in South Africa
While serving in the
Irish Brigade
Of the Boer Army 1900

Irishmen in the Boer War? Yes, indeed. Not just any Irishmen — though I’ve read there were a fair number in South Africa at the time, working in the mines — but Irishmen from Chicago who headed out to Africa for a chance to stick it to the British.

Soon, I came across a digitized version of an anti-British polemic, Boer Fight for Freedom, written in 1902 by Michael Davitt (an associate of Charles Stuart Parnell, and interesting in his own right). In the book, there’s a passage about the Chicago Irish who fought for the Boers:


This small contingent of volunteers was spoken of in Pretoria as the “finest-looking” body of men that had yet reached the Transvaal capital from abroad. They numbered about forty, excluding the medicos and non-combatants, and were all young men of splendid physique and of the best soldierly qualities.

They were under the command of Captain O’Connor, of the Clan-na-Gael Guards, and joined Blake’s Irish Brigade. President Kruger extended a special reception to the company, and addressed them in complimentary terms before they started for the front.
Lord Roberts was on the point of advancing from Bloemfontein when the Chicago men arrived, and they were hurried forward to Brandfort along with other reenforcements for De la Rey, who was in command until the arrival of Botha.

O’Connor and his men acquitted themselves most creditably in all the rear-guard actions fought from Brandfort to Pretoria; Viljoen’s Band Brigade, Blake’s and O’Connor’s men, with Hassell’s scouts, doing their share of fighting in all the engagements during events and occurrences which were well calculated to damp the enthusiasm of the allies of the Boer cause.

It is, however, under trying circumstances, offering little or no compensation for services or sacrifice, save what comes from the consciousness of a duty well performed, that men are best tested in mind and metal, and the work done during that most disheartening time was worth many a more successful campaign fought under brighter hopes for the cause of liberty.

The Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument, Mount Carmel CemeteryBut what of the memorial itself? I found digitized information about that, too, in The Reporter, a Chicago-based national trade publication “devoted to the granite and marble monumental trade,” the masthead says (man, Google wants to digitize everything).

The October 1914 edition of the magazine tells us that, “Sunday, September 27th, there was unveiled with due ceremony, in Mt. Carmel cemetery at Hillside (a suburb), a Barre granite monument to the memory of Lieutenants Michael O’Hara and Thomas Naughton, who lost their lives while serving with the Boers against the British in South Africa. They were the only ones killed out about 40 Clan-na-Gael guards who went to the war from Chicago.

“The monument is a shaft with conventional bases, die, plinth and shaft, and was furnished by the Moore Monument Co., the price being about $1,800.”

That was fairly serious money, about $43,800 in 2017 dollars. I don’t doubt that the surviving members of the Clan-na-Gael Guards’ foray to Africa got their money’s worth.

Combat Boots, Crimped Hair and Chokers are Out

The following email showed up in one of my inboxes recently. How this happened, I’m not sure. I have no professional use for this information, but I will post it here. It came without introduction or other explanation from someone named Duane.

If pearls, full skirts and tiaras are your version of a perfect prom—you’re in luck.
According to new data from online shopping site Ebates, full skirts (25 percent), a tiara (24 percent), gloves (20 percent) and pearls (18 percent) are America’s favorite retro prom fashions.

These retro fashion statements are also what Americans say their teens are planning to wear this prom season:

Pearls—23 percent
Tiara—21 percent
Full skirt—20 percent
Gloves—14 percent

While it seems that the 50’s and early 60’s were the favored era for prom fashion, Americans admitted that the 80’s were the worst. Combat boots (7 percent), crimped hair (8 percent) and chokers (11 percent) were the least favorite fashion choices.

Dang, it’s disappointing to learn that combat boots are so low on the list of prom fashion choices. Fatigues might be higher, though. The release doesn’t say.

Glad to learn that ’80s was picked as the worst retro fashion decade. The ’70s usually catches that slander. That was a poor decade for clothing, I suppose, but what people actually wear, as opposed to what people who care about fashion think they should wear, isn’t any better now than 40 years ago. Go to any large public event in the summer and see.

Mud Dogs

Spring rains returned today. The earth was still a little soft, so that meant more mud. Dogs are fond of mud.

There’s a story about the mud on her snout (not as visible in this shot as to the eye). It involves Psychodog, a neighborhood animal that not only always barks viciously at us from its back yard as we walk by (on a public walkway), it keeps barking until we’re very far out of range. This contrasts to other neighborhood dogs, who either know us and thus don’t bark, or who bark for a little while as we wander by.

Large puddles formed in Psychodog’s back yard during last week’s rain, along the fence line. That meant that if the animal were turned loose, it would charge across the yard, barking its vicious bark — straight into the puddles. We were on the other side of the fence. I like to think my dog pees there to annoy Psychodog.

I didn’t think the owners would turn Psychodog loose to get so muddy, but I was wrong: out the animal comes, straight into one of the sizable puddles. Splash! Some of the muddy water comes through the chain-link fence and hits my dog.

A Poster, A Sign & A Lot of Bumper Stickers

Persistent rain starting last night and on through most of today. Mud season has started. But it also looks like the grass is greening.

Spotted on a telephone pole on Randolph St. on the near West Side of Chicago late last week. Looks like someone added the toothbrush mustache.

anti-Trump poster March 2017Spotted in Itasca, Ill., also last week, sometime after the presumed wedding. Glad that “Bubba” isn’t dead as a name.

Itasca Baptist Church 2017Spotted at a rest stop on I-57 between Champaign and Chicago.

Been There Bumper Stickers 2017I can’t quite make out all of the stickers, and there are more on the non-visible side of the van, but included in the destinations are the Kennedy Space Center, California, Nevada, Laughlin, NV, Key West, Roswell, NM, Wyoming, Mackinac Island (two), Naples, FL, Ventura, CA, Texas, the UP (more than one, including the 906 sticker), North Dakota, Piggly Wiggly, the Full Throttle Saloon (Sturgis), Route 66, Mississippi, Montana, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and a sticker that says, “There’s a place for all God’s creatures. Right next to the mashed potatoes.”