Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trains (part one)

As a small boy in England, I always loved model trains. I had a set of Hornby Gauge O equipment, which I steadily built up with gifts on my birthdays and at Christmas. I began setting up the track in the billiard room at our family home in Surrey, using the space under the billiard table. I didn't care much about the station buildings and other scenic embellishments: I just wanted an oval track and "points", where trains could be sent onto a different set of rails.

After a time, I was allowed to move everything into the loft over the stable buildings, which had become a three-car garage. I began with clockwork trains, and later converted to an electric system, which allowed me to start, stop, and make adjustments to the speed of the engine. My elder sister had little interest in trains, but in time my younger sister enjoyed her set of Hornby "dublo" (00 gauge) trains, which took up a lot less space.

My enthusiasm waned when I went to my (British style) boarding prep school at the age of 8. I can't even remember what happened to my toy trains when I grew out of them. My love of trains continued, but it was transferred to scale models in which one could actually ride. I particularly remember the Romney, Hythe, and Dymchurch railway, which ran along the south coast between Kent and Sussex. It is a one-third scale model of a main line train. My prep school was at Broadstairs, a short drive away from the Hythe terminus of the line, and from time to time my parents would take me there when they visited me at the school.

I am glad to report that the line is still in operation, 75 years after I first knew of it. Hythe can easily be reached from the M20 motorway, which was not even dreamed of during my childhood.

More about my "romance" with trains will be featured in future blogs.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Red - another ambiguous color

Red can be a very positive color. From red wine to red roses, I have nothing but good things to point out. Hearts are red, a red-letter day is to be treasured, Major Feasts in Anglican Prayer Books are printed in red--as were "rubrics" originally. "Red-blooded" folk--usually male!--are prized for their courage. Newly-minted cardinals are given a "red hat".

Yet red is also the color of danger, as in a red flag and red alert. We stop our cars at a red light. A "red light district" holds houses of "ill repute". When we are ashamed or embarrassed, our flushed cheeks betray a red face. Red is the color of Communism, not usually welcome in the circles most of us move in. "Red Ink" refers to a loss in business, etc. We should try to avoid going past the red line on instruments, such as a speedometer. "Rednecks" is not a positive description. We avoid "red-eye" flights if we can.

There is ambiguity, even if sound advice, in the old proverb: "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight; red sky at morning, shepherd's warning". In the Bay Area, Stanford supporters love red--but don't wear that color to a Cal game!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Blue, an ambiguous color

Blue--particularly medium-dark blue--is my favorite color. It is Oxford blue, the color of my university, and star athletes are awarded a "blue". (Rumor has it that "blues" are also awarded at the Other Place, but in the Fens the folk use that insipid light blue.) Blue is also one of the two colors of my local favorite, the University of California's main campus in Berkeley. It is the color of the St. Andrew's Cross, to be seen on the Scottish flag. Being of half Scottish heritage, I support Scotland in sporting events, but I am happy that dark blue is also found on the Stars and Stripes - and on the Union Jack also, for good measure. As a former Naval Officer, I like "Navy Blue".

In many respects, blue is a happy color. My father kept a pedigree Jersey herd, and our cow barn at my first home was decorated with a lot of blue First Place prize certificates. As a Bow Group left-of-center Tory in England, i was glad to wear a blue rosette on Election day. We enjoy blue skies, and prefer sailing in blue water. A trustworthy ally may be considered "true blue". In a hierarchical society, the aristocracy is alleged to have "blue blood". Ships are made to sail, so it is positive when the Blue Peter flag is flying, indicating the vessel's imminent departure. Bluebells and Texas Blue Bonnets are attractive flowers. The Blue Grotto and a blue lagoon are renowned for their beauty. Blueberries are delicious. A Blue Ribbon committee normally commands respect. A possibly glorious future is "beyond the blue horizon".

Then there is the other side of the coin: If you are unhappy, you have the "the blues". Melancholy music is described as having blue notes. In freezing weather, we can turn blue. If you're afraid, you may be in a blue funk. A blue baby will die if not treated promptly. A censor uses a blue pencil to delete unacceptable text. Obscene humor is "blue". Some folk curse a "blue streak" Most of us dislike the insect known as a "bluebottle". Spoilsports may be "bluenoses". Blue Sky laws help limit fraud. A "Blue Norther" in Texas brings unwanted cold weather.

Sometimes the word emphasizes rarity, as in the phrase "once in a blue moon". Another neutral usage is the "blue plate special", our version of the plat du jour.

Indeed, this is a very ambiguous color....

Monday, January 9, 2012

More Google grief

I had just posted last week's blog when something even more egregious showed up on my monitor.

I have three friends, who don't know each other, and live in three widely separated states. Let's call them Tom, Dick, and Harry. Over time each has sent me an amusing email, and so we have built up a pattern. One of them sends me an item, and I forward it to the others. (I don't forward everything: Tom sends the occasional somewhat raunchy story, and I prefer to delete such offerings than to risk offending Dick and Harry.)

Tom sends more items than the other two, and I seldom originate such emails. However, on this occasion Dick sends an amusing item, which I start to forward to Tom and Harry. Immediately, in a red font, there appears a message from Big Brother Google, suggesting that I would also like to send it to Dick! No way: he just sent it to me... The system isn't sophisticated enough to realize that.

I think there should be a way for me to opt out of this annoying kibitzing of my personal correspondence. Just because I know that Big Brother is reviewing every keystroke doesn't mean that I want to be verbally accosted by Google's asinine comments--in red, yet, as if I'm in danger.

I also noticed a message, presumably added by Google when I composed a email, to the effect that an invitation would accompany my outgoing email. I'm used to the incessant entreaties when I'm writing to someone not on Gmail, to "invite" them to join. Are automatic messages to that effect now being sent without my specific approval?

I'm not in any peril: I'm just seriously ticked off.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Google grief

Don't get me wrong: I'm a fan of Google, particularly of its search engine and Gmail. But...

I'm not into secrets, and I have nothing to hide. I also understand why the system notes the names of those to whom I write. I can't prevent that. I often send emails to several addressees, and even more often send items to just one or two people. For some time now, Google has put a note on my draft of an email to (say) Tom, asking me if I also want to send it to Dick and Harry. I find this very irritating. I have no way of responding "Listen, Buttinsky, if I'd wanted to send it to them as well, I'd have added their names, already!" Also, I'm not enough of a techie to know whether I can eliminate this unwanted "feature", and (if so) how to do it. On only one occasion, after scores of emails, did I actually decide that I might as well add a cc. to "Dick", although this was far from vital.

I suppose I average about five emails a day from a very active church listserv. This has several hundred subscribers. Recently, all these emails have been prefaced by an unwanted message in a red font, warning me that maybe the message didn't actually come from the purported sender. I have yet to receive a message with that warning that wasn't from the named sender. I can usually spot a message from some hacker--including those ingenious ones that tell me a good friend has had all his money and his passport stolen in London, and begs me to send money to a "trusted" intermediary!

Why can't Google's clever programmers design an algorithm that picks up the fact that these are genuine contributions to the listserv?