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Like father (not) like son: Showed up in chemistry class

My son, Alexander, is completing his high school career by taking chemistry and physics.

Which makes him 50 percent smarter than I am.

Or maybe it’s 100 percent.

I’m equally lost among the precepts of mathematics as I am fumbling around in convoluted formulas of chemistry and the insane concepts of physics.

This is why I labored through only chemistry in high school, achieving, by way of the dogged determination that is the clueless student’s only advantage, a flaccid “C.”

(I was pretty deft with a Bunsen burner, as well. And one time I tried to make nitroglycerine, a failed effort that seemed to amuse the teacher. Probably because I didn’t hurt anyone.)

Irrigating from the sky: The wonders of a rain barrel

I didn’t realize how much water there is in one brief rain shower until I started harvesting it.

Or collecting, or whatever the proper verb is to describe diverting rain into temporary storage.

This all started because our house came without gutters.

Whether this omission was by design, or the result of a construction oversight, I can’t say.

But considering the aridity of our climate — we’ve a lot more in common, precipitation-wise, with Phoenix than with Portland — I’ve never felt any great pressure to put things straight.

(Or more likely crooked; I couldn’t hang anything level if you gave me a plumb bob and one of those cunning tools that projects a laser beam on the wall.)

Besides which, based on the TV commercials that are broadcast relentlessly on Saturday mornings, it seems that gutters are quite the nuisance, frequently getting clogged with leaves and pine needles that are the very devil to pry loose.

The lone pine on our property is a stripling that barely comes up to my sternum, so the only way its needles could get into a gutter (if we had any) is if something (a bird, for instance) carried them up there.

Food, food everywhere, but how to get it onto my plate?

I’m all for eating local food, but the trouble is nobody around here makes Milk Duds or licorice whips.

Not that I know of, anyway.

I do on occasion consume things that contain actual nutrition. And certain of these foods — unlike sugar, cacao beans and high-fructose corn syrup, all of which I relish — are grown in abundance hereabouts.

Beef, of course.

But also potatoes and wheat and peaches and apples and much else besides.

Benign-looking PVC pipes proving deadly to certain birds

I have, it seems, been misled into believing that a 12-gauge shotgun is an especially effective weapon for killing birds.

Turns out I should be lugging around lengths of PVC pipe instead.

Which, besides being comparatively light, aren’t likely to cause grievous wounds should you drop one while trying to climb over a barbed wire fence.

I bring up the slaying of birds not to poke fun at my ineptitude as a hunter, a trait which surely needs no embellishment.

(I am to upland birds what lightning is to the general public; a threat so remote that it can be rationally dismissed.)

In fact the topic is quite a serious one.

A den of iniquity in Eugene, or just a lot of blowing smoke?

So apparently quite a few football players at my alma mater, the University of Oregon, smoke marijuana.

I spent four years on the campus in Eugene, and I seem to recall the subject of cannabis consumption coming up now and again.

In fact, before I ever scrawled my name on the U of O application I had an inkling that the place had a reputation for, well, permissiveness as regards the demon weed.

There’s a reason the Grateful Dead favored Eugene over, say, Corvallis.

And it’s not because Jerry Garcia was afraid of livestock and disgusted by bad football.

The quaint era when our trust in technology was universal

The recent commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic tragedy, besides being a fascinating historical remembrance, was for me also a preview of sorts.

Two years from now marks the centennial of another epochal episode from the previous century: The outbreak of World War One.

These two events, due in part to their proximity in time, have come to represent a glaring, and disastrous, plunge from what had been a steady rise in the belief that technology would inevitably enrich the lives of most people.

Smartphones ready to save dumb drivers from hefty fines

I’ve never been so glad that my teenage years happened well before anybody thought to put “smart” in front of “phone.”

Back in the ’80s a lot of phones were sort of stupid, frankly, what with waiting for the rotary dial to plod back to its stop so you could put in the next number.

Calling someone who was encumbered with a lot of 8’s and 9’s could induce carpal tunnel syndrome.

And those extra seconds were pure torture when you were already engaged in the mentally exhausting, and ego-destroying, exercise of phoning a girl to see if she’d go with you to the homecoming dance.

Egg hunt absent assaults; and returning to a great museum

I like candy as much as the next guy, but I’m not belting some three-year-old with a forearm shiver just so I can get a chocolate egg or a handful of jelly beans.

Even my sweet tooth, which has all the moral fiber of Robespierre, balks at assaulting children.

(Possibly as little actual fiber, too, what with the nutritional deficiencies of both candy and French cuisine.)

Moreover, I refrain from pushing around wee people with the sole goal of making sure my kids get (more than) their share of the spoils.

Paying more for nothing; and TMP effects aren’t equal

Got a call the other day from a local hunter who doesn’t think much of having to spend 8 bucks for the privilege of being informed that he didn’t get the tag he applied for.

Can’t say as I blame him.

It was just three years ago, after all, that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) version of a “Dear John” letter would set you back only $4.50.

Speaking up for talkies; fickle winds, and a secret juniper


A silent movie, shown in black-and-white, was judged the best film of 2012.

As an occasional cinema patron, I hope this does not mark the beginning of a trend.

I haven’t seen “The Artist.”

But I don’t need to see it to know that when I shell out the best part of a sawbuck for a couple hours of entertainment, I expect to be entertained in full rich color.

The world comes that way, after all, and I can go out and look at it for free.


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