JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

Wayne Busbea, Etc.

As I was reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, which is a history of the early years of science fiction and a biography of some of its foremost writers, I was reminded of Wayne Busbea. Let me explain.

Our family moved to Richland, PA, in June of 1957, and for the first few months we lived in the apartment that Lynn and Isobel Klopp kept on the second floor of their house on East Main Street. That summer, as most summers thereafter, I spent a lot of time at the Richland Playground, and one day I heard someone on the shuffleboard court speaking with a distinctive Texas twang. I soon found out his name was Wayne Busbea (BUZZ-bee), and he had recently moved to town with his mother from Texas.

A few months later we moved to a house on West Main Street, and Wayne lived with his mother and stepfather in an apartment just a few doors up the street. Wayne was about two years older than I was, but we’d occasionally hang out together. I was fascinated by his accent, so I tended to hang on his every word, and like practically everyone from Texas that I’ve ever met, he had a tendency to compare everything to what it was like back in Texas. Everything was bigger and better in Texas, of course. Although after a few years that tendency faded, as did his accent.

I only recall a few specific incidents. One time, I’m guessing this was the winter of 1960 when I was in 5th grade, I came across him as he was throwing snowballs at the snowman in the Gass’s yard. This would be the yard of Polly and George Gass who had two sons, Frank (a year younger than I was) and Michael (two years younger than I was). So this was the snowman that Frank and Mike had built a couple days earlier, and Wayne was tossing snowballs at it in an effort to knock it down, the Gass boys not being home at the time.

I joined him. I don’t think I tossed any snowballs, but even if I did, I doubt they caused any damage. On the other hand, I didn’t do anything to prevent Wayne from destroying the Gass boys’ snowman either.

A few days later as I was walking home from school, Dale Saddler and Mike Gass confronted me. Dale was in my class and fancied himself something of a tough guy. In the one conversation that I recall having with him he said that he planned to join the Marines because that was the toughest thing you could get. Anyway Dale was a good friend of Wayne’s, but this day he was acting as a protector of sorts for Mike.

 The only photo I have of Wayne Busbea from the 1963 yearbook

The only photo I have of Wayne Busbea from the 1963 yearbook

They confronted me on a sidewalk with snow piled up on either side. As Dale blocked my escape, Mike demanded to know why I had destroyed his snowman. (How had he found out? Probably neighborhood busybody Olive Geiss, who made the most divine cookies. But that’s another story.) I don’t know what my reply was, but before I knew it, Mike was attacking me. Fortunately, Mike had never learned to fight or punch. His idea of fighting was to just flail his arms wildly, and since he was two years younger, even I could defend myself against that. Happily, Dale didn’t actively participate or I might not have been so fortunate.

A few months later, some money was stolen from the Gass’s house. Stupidly, I blurted out in front of my mother that Wayne knew that the Gass’s kept their garage door unlocked so that Frank and Mike could get in if their parents weren’t at home. So my mother alerted Richland’s sole police officer, Donald Foreman. (In later years my mother couldn’t understand why I tended not to tell her anything.) I don’t think she realized that this information incriminated me as much as it did Wayne. Hell, I suspect half the town knew that the Gass’s kept their garage unlocked.

Anyway, the next school day I found myself hauled out of class to go down to the basement to repeat this supposedly incriminating piece of information to Officer Foreman directly. Then he brought Wayne down. While I was still sitting there! I thought I was supposed to be an anonymous tipster.

Well, Wayne denied that he stole the money. I believed him. I never thought he stole it in the first place. There being no real evidence against him, there was nothing to be done. We were each sent back to our classrooms.

Surprisingly, Wayne wasn’t angry with me. We walked home from school together that day, and he never held that against me.

So who stole the money? It was never solved, but really the most likely suspects were right under Polly and George’s noses. Not that I’m accusing anyone.

In 1962 when I turned 13 my birthday present was a membership in the Science Fiction Book Club, and one of the books in the introductory offer was Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. In those days my mother had a beauty shop in the rear of our house, and one of her customers was Wayne’s mother, whose name I no longer recall, but I do recall that she was a beautiful woman with thick red hair, and she still had her Texas accent. When my mother casually told her about my book club present, Wayne’s mother exclaimed:

"Science fiction? Why that’s the only thing I ever read. I have piles of books that’re just lying about gathering dust. You have your boy come round and I’ll fix him up with a heap of books.”

And so I did. She gave me a big box filled with a treasury of science fiction books and magazines. They kept me reading for a long time. Among the treasures were a bunch of issues of Amazing Stories magazine which had a series of biographies of science fiction authors like Campbell, Asimov, and Heinlein.

And that, Gentle Reader, is why reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction reminded me of Wayne Busbea.

I guess I shouldn’t end this without providing yet another example of my mother sending me on an embarrassing mission. She kept insisting that I should return the books to Wayne’s mother once I had read them. I tried to point out that they were a gift, but she wouldn’t have it. So one Saturday morning I went back with a few of the books in hand to see if Wayne’s mother would take them back. As I had known all along, she had wanted to get rid of them and didn’t want them back.

About a year or so later I noticed that I hadn’t seen Wayne for some time. When I asked about him, I found out that his mother had sent him back to live with his grandmother in Texas. Apparently, Wayne’s stepfather was not treating him very well, and she wanted to get him out of that environment. Wayne had never mentioned anything about his stepfather to me, but I had noticed that he did try to avoid him. It wasn’t long after that that Wayne’s mother left as well, and the stepfather continued to live in that apartment by himself.

Lynn and Isobel Klopp’s house in 2013

The Klopps eventually stopped renting out their second floor and expanded their living quarters to embrace the whole house, where they raised three boys, Randy (in my class), Dwight (in my sister’s), and Ross. They lived in that house for at least 60 years, and the last time I was in Richland in 2013 there was a For Sale sign in their yard.

Dale Saddler left Richland sometime after 5th grade, and I’ve never heard from him again, so I don’t know if he ever did join the Marines.

The Gass boys and I had our ups and downs, particularly after the Dieffenbachs moved in next door to us. Sometimes Frank and Mike and I formed a coalition against the Diefenbachs, sometimes the Gass boys and the Diefenbach boys ganged up against me. I don’t recall ever siding with the Dieffenbach boys.

George and Polly Gass bought the apartment building across from the railroad tracks and moved into one of the apartments themselves. They converted the basement into a laundromat, and the Richland Laundry was born.

Olive Geiss moved to Reading, but not before giving my mother the recipe to her cookies. Thereafter my mother always baked up a batch of Olive’s cookies around Christmastime.

The last I heard of Officer Donald Foreman, he had developed a urinary infection of some sort. I hope he recovered.

Eventually my parents bought the apartment building and laundromat from the Gass’s, but that’s another story.



Moving My Plex Media Server To a Mac Mini

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I moved my Plex Media Server from my iMac to a Mac mini, and it was an almost painless process. Actually the process was painless, the problem was that I had not done enough homework. Let me explain.

I had been thinking of moving Plex off the iMac for some time because there were just too damn many things running on the iMac, and I thought the Plex server deserved a dedicated home. I asked about it at the local Apple Store on Walnut Street and was assured that a Mac mini would be more than up to the challenge, and since I stored all my media files on an external drive, a base model mini would probably be all I needed. I knew that once set up, the mini could be managed remotely from my iMac, but I was concerned about the initial setup; they reminded me that the mini had an HDMI port, so I could use my TV for that. And I had an old keyboard and trackpad, so that took care of that.

At Plex’s website I found the instructions for moving a Plex server from one system to another, and so I felt confident to go ahead. I ordered the base model Mac mini.

 The Plex Media Server folder

The Plex Media Server folder

When the mini arrived, I plunged into the move. Plex’s instructions were clear and easy to follow, and I had no trouble. Since all my media files were on an external drive, I didn’t have to worry about tinkering with the Libraries. Once the move was done, Plex recognized them instantly. Plex on the Mac mini was behaving exactly like it had on the iMac, except it seemed to be running much more smoothly.

There was only one hitch. The mini now had only about six Gigabytes of free disk space. That wasn’t enough space to install an OS update.

What I had neglected to find out was just how much space the Plex server files take up. They were using up about 90 Gigabytes of file space; as the base configuration of the mini only had 128 GB, they were hogging most of it. The main culprit was a folder called Media which had about 70 GB of files.

After asking on the Plex forums if their server files could be moved to an external drive and not receiving a prompt reply (it was Thanksgiving), I recalled that Apple had a 14 day return policy. So I ordered a mini with a 256 GB internal drive and returned the first one.

The move to the second mini went just as smoothly, and frankly I couldn’t be happier with the mini and the way Plex is performing on it.

Just a word to the wise: if you move Plex to a new system, check the size of the “~/Library/Application Support/Plex Media Server/” folder, and make sure your destination system’s internal drive is large enough to handle it with room to spare.

The One Where I Was Almost Killed—Twice

I was still living in State College and working for the Pennsylvania Mirror, the Altoona Mirror’s failed attempt to go head to head with the Centre Daily Times, so I’d guess this must have been sometime in the spring or summer of 1972.

My job was basically that of a glorified delivery boy, although there was no glory in it, and the Mirror being a morning newspaper, I started work at midnight just as the paper was going to press. I, along with the half dozen or so other drivers, would grab our bundled papers as they came off the line, load them into our car or truck, and drive off to deliver them to the various newsstands, grocery stores, and other outlets that carried the Mirror. We even delivered single copies to folks who lived in the countryside.

We’d get back to the newspaper’s building around 5:00 AM or so, maybe find an excuse to hang around for a bit to get some extra time (the pay being not much above minimum wage), and punch out around 5:30 or 6:00.

Usually Brian Galas and I carpooled, as we lived just a few blocks from each other in State College. Brian was a fascinating guy, probably the smartest fellow I’ve ever known. He had been a geology student, working on an advanced degree, when suddenly he became disillusioned with the field and the people working in it. The breaking point came when he realized that his professor had a paperweight on his desk and couldn’t even name the type of mineral it was made of. Now Brian was an aspiring artist with a wife and two daughters. Actually, Brian probably deserves a whole blog post or two devoted to him.

Anyway, on this day I was driving Brian home, but we had to deliver a single paper that one of the other drivers had missed.

The recipient lived in Park Forest Village, which was north of State College just off 322, so that’s where I headed. Now 322 was a four lane highway in that area, although because it was a fairly well developed section, the speed limit was probably about 45 mph. Since Park Forest Village was on the left, I was driving in the left hand lane and my eyes were on the street signs as I was watching where to turn off.

And that’s when I heard Brian say, “Hey…hey…hey…” His voice was calm but I knew something was wrong. In any case it was just enough to divert my attention away from where to turn off to look straight ahead at the car that was barreling directly towards us in our lane! I swerved just in time and it missed us.

I pulled over to collect myself, and Brian said he had tried not to shout so as not to put me into panic mode. In any case I think he did exactly the right thing, and as I thought about it, I realized that if I had been alone, I probably would not have seen that oncoming car in time to react. And no, I have no idea why that car was driving in the wrong lane.

So we delivered the paper, and I proceeded to take Brian to his house, which was on Westerly Parkway. This meant retracing our route by going south on 322 until it turned into Atherton Street when we got to State College.

Now once again the turnoff was going to be on the left, and having driven Brian home dozens of times in the past, I would normally have anticipated the left turn by getting into the left hand lane. On this day for some reason I did not. Why I did not I cannot say. Was I perhaps being just a little bit extra cautious because of the earlier incident? I do not know. All I can say for certain is that as I approached the turnoff to Westerly Parkway, I remained in the right hand lane.

As one drives south on Atherton Street towards Westerly Parkway, there is a hill, so drivers really cannot see oncoming traffic. And on that day as we went up that hill, just as we reached the crest, a huge tractor-trailer truck came barreling over the mound in our left hand lane! Had I been in the left lane as I nearly always was in the past, there would have been no time to react; we’d’ve been goners.

So there you have it. Twice in the space of less than half an hour, two drivers traveling in the wrong lane nearly plowed into the car that I was driving. And I lived to tell the tale.

Aaron Copland and the Swedish Prince

In 1975 during his 75th birthday year, Aaron Copland appeared with the Harrisburg Symphony to conduct his Appalachian Spring. Now the Harrisburg orchestra was not a particularly fine ensemble in those days. It had just gone through 24 years of being led by Edwin McArthur, whose main claim to fame was that he had been Kirsten Flagstad’s preferred conductor. I recall a performance of the Beethoven Ninth where the timpani missed their cue in the scherzo, leaving a moment of embarrassing silence that seemed drag out forever.

Aaron Copland

However, in 1974 David Epstein had taken over the orchestra, and he had begun the process of breathing new life into it. But the key word there is “begun”. Plus, the hall that the orchestra played in was notorious for its unruly acoustics.

But that evening when Epstein handed the baton to Aaron Copland to lead the Harrisburg Symphony in a performance of his Appalachian Spring, something wonderful happened. The musicians played with a crispness I had never heard before. It was a truly inspired performance.

But there’s actually another reason that I remember that evening so well.

I was still living in Richland in 1975 and wasn’t a subscriber to the Harrisburg Symphony and only decided to go to that concert at the last minute, which means I found myself standing in line for a ticket at the window where they were selling the tickets turned in by subscribers who couldn’t use them—and the line wasn’t moving.

Then a gent approached me with two extra tickets to sell; he was just asking face value for them. I told him I only needed one and he started to turn away. So I turned to the fellow in line directly behind me, a black guy, and asked him how many tickets he needed. Just one. So back I turned to the ticket offerer and told him that the two of us would gladly take the two tickets off his hands. For some reason he seemed to balk at first, but he did end up selling the two of us his extra pair of tickets.

I don’t recall the other fellow’s name anymore, so I’m going to refer to him as Kirby. Kirby was a pleasant fellow, a few years older than I was, with an easygoing manner. Anyway, when we got to the seats, I said something like, “Not the best seats perhaps—”

“But we’re in,” he finished.

Kirby and I had a good time chatting before the concert started and during the intermission, but the main thing I recall him saying is that although he was from the Harrisburg area, he now spent most of his time in Sweden.

“Oh, business or pleasure?” I asked.

“Pleasure,” came the reply.

This opened up many new lines of inquiry but I was reluctant to pursue them with such a new acquaintance, so I let the matter rest there.

Anyway, the concert came to an end, we chatted some more about what a great performance it had been, etc., etc., and then we went our separate ways, I back to Richland, he presumably on the next flight to Sweden or whatever.

And that, I thought, was that.

A couple years later I moved to Harrisburg, and a couple years after that I was talking to someone who seemed to know everyone in Harrisburg and was filling me in on all the details. I was only half listening.

Then I became aware that he was speaking about someone who apparently led a charmed life. This guy just kept falling into great situations. Currently his boyfriend was a member of the royal family in Sweden who was supporting him completely. I realized he was speaking of Kirby. I verified a few details. Yep, it was Kirby.

So the reason Kirby spent so much time in Sweden was because he was being supported by his boyfriend, a Swedish prince. Of course, that may just have been idle gossip or an exaggerated version of the truth, but I hoped it was true.

Dramatizing Asimov's Foundation

The front cover of my copy of Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy which I got from the Science Fiction Book Club when I was 13

For years several different producers, writers, and directors have attempted to bring Isaac Asimov's sprawling Foundation series to the TV screen, and all those efforts have faltered, so I was delighted to hear that Apple had actually green-lighted a production with David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman as showrunners.

So this raises lots of questions in my mind. For example, are they going to adapt the entire series or just the Trilogy?

Asimov's Foundation series began life as a series of eight novelettes and novellas published during the 1940s in the pulp science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction. When Gnome Press gathered them into three volumes in the early 1950s, Asimov added a ninth, the story that opens the first book, to give the series a proper starting point.

Then in the 1960s Doubleday acquired the rights and published the three books as one volume, and it's been known as The Foundation Trilogy ever since. When I was 13 and joined the Science Fiction Book Club, one of my initial books was The Foundation Trilogy.

Much later in the early 1980s Asimov published a sequel, Foundation's Edge, which did so well for the publisher that Asimov was cajoled into writing still more, which he did by writing several prequels and trying (not very successfully, in my opinion) to tie in his Robot Series with his Foundation Series.

Anyway for me Asimov's Foundation Series is basically The Foundation Trilogy (which I have now read, by my recent estimate, at least eight times) and maybe Foundation's Edge.

Astounding Science Fiction for August 1944 featuring The Big and the Little, the third published Foundation story

Now I have no idea what the producers and writers of the forthcoming Foundation series have in mind, but with Robyn Asimov (Isaac's daughter) signed on as an executive producer I have high hopes that whatever they do they will at least be faithful to the spirit of Asimov's work.

Recall that the original stories were written in the 40s, before there were computers, so even though the series takes place tens of thousands of years in the future, there are no computers in the stories. When the characters need to perform complex calculations to navigate their spaceships from one star system to another, they do so manually with the assistance of calculators, a process that can take days. When they want to purchase tickets for an interstellar trip, they insert cash into a vending machine and receive change, credit cards not having been invented yet, let alone hand held devices like iPhones. You get the idea. The technology in the stories is seriously out of date. So whatever the showrunners do, they're going to have to make a lot of changes.

Not only will they have to decide whether to dramatize all the stories in the series or just the Trilogy, but another challenge will be the vast timescale and changing casts of characters. The stories of the Trilogy alone take place over a nearly 400 year period, and most of the stories feature completely different sets of characters.

Back in the 70s, the BBC did an eight part radio serial based on the Trilogy and they kept it very true to the stories. That worked well for radio, but I'm not sure it would work for today's TV audience.

Anyway, here's what I would do. The final story introduces Arkady Darell, the fourteen year old daughter of Dr. Toran Darell; the Darells, father and daughter, are actually descendants of the leading characters of a previous story. When we meet Arkady, she is writing a paper for school which goes on to recap the events of the preceding stories for those coming in late.

So my proposal is to make Arkady and her father the main characters of the series and greatly expand their story, during the course of which she would be researching the history of the Foundation and the role that her ancestors played in it. So the preceding stories could be told as flashbacks, with Arkady acting as narrator and interjecting some sharp commentary from time to time.

I would stick primarily to the Trilogy, in that I would end the series where the Trilogy ends, but I might incorporate some material from the prequels (it's been awhile since I read them and I have little memory of them).

So that's my framing device for the series. Of course, that still leaves a lot of work to be done.

The One With the Phoebe Buffay Salad

JT: Today I'm pleased to turn over my blog to my very special guest, Phoebe Buffay, to give her recipe for a salad. Phoebe, take it away!

Phoebe Buffay

Phoebe Buffay: Thanks, JT. Blog. What a silly word. Blog. Rhymes with clog. Or flog. Could you flog a blog into a clog? Say, I could write a song about that. [Singing] I'll flog this blog into this pesky clog...

JT: Uh, Phoebe. Salads?

Phoebe: Oh, right. Salads. Being a vegetarian, as I am, salads are very dear to my heart, because what's the main ingredient in salads? That's right. Vegetables!

So you want to start with the basics—a nice bed of lettuce. Just about any kind of lettuce will do, but not iceberg lettuce. No, no, no. Never iceberg lettuce. We wouldn't want to run the risk of a shipwreck, now would we? What? Haven't you ever seen Titanic?

Scallion, NOT spring onion

I also like to use baby spinach. Monica tells me that baby spinach is not really lettuce, but—who cares?!

Now once you have your basic bed of lettuce, you want to start adding more vegetables. I like to chop up some carrots and mushrooms and radishes and scallions. And while we're on the subject of scallions, I'd just like to say I lament this recent trend to call them spring onions. They are not onions, spring or any other kind. They're scallions! Get with the program, people!

Oh, pardon me. I guess I got carried away there.

Pronounced BAH-zil

Anyway, after I've added the chopped up vegetables, I season the salad with some chopped fresh basil. That's pronounced BAH-zil, as in Basil Rathbone or Basil Fawlty. Not, and this is important, not BAY-zil. BAY-zil reminds me of Baywatch. Sorry, Joey.

Now I add the salt and extra virgin olive oil and then I begin to toss the salad. This is the part I like. Tossing the salad. You should try it sometime.

Once the vegetables are nicely coated with the olive oil, then and only then, can you add some chopped up tomato. If you add the tomato earlier, its juices will give you a soggy salad, and believe me, there's nothing worse than a soggy salad. Well, actually, I can think of some worse things...but never mind!

The Phoebe Buffay Salad

Now some people like to use vinegar, but I'm in sort of a citrusy mood right now, so I like to take a lime, slice it in half, and squeeze the juice out that lime. Hey, do you know why British soldiers are called limeys? Well, neither do I, but I think it has something to do with limes.

Toss the salad again to really blend those juices, then transfer to a plate. For the finishing touch I like to add an avocado, but be careful when you put it under the knife. You don't want to get avocado hand, or you might get some unwelcome blood in your salad. Heh-heh.

And that's my salad.

JT: Thank you,  Phoebs. I think we all learned something today...

Phoebe: [reaching for her guitar] And now for some music. [singing] Smelly Cat, Smelly cat what are they feeding you? Smelly Cat, smelly cat it's not your fault...

My First Pet Rabbit—A Tale of Betrayal

I'm not exactly sure just when to date this, other than it had to be sometime before 1957. My best guess is either 1955 or '56, so I would have been six or seven. And I'm not sure where I got the white rabbit, but I probably won it as a prize at the Easter egg hunt at Richland, because although we were still living on my grandfather's farm just outside Womelsdorf, we had relatives in Richland and spent a lot of time there.

rabbit.png

What I do recall is that my pet rabbit was kept in a cage in the barn with the cows. The farm was pretty large and had two barns; the one for the cows was near the house where my grandparents lived. That was really the main barn, and in addition to housing the cows, it had two silos, an open barnyard, and just generally had a warm and inviting feel. In fact, my grandfather's brother Miles, who helped out on the farm and had been living there since his wife died shortly before I was born, even slept in the main barn alongside the cows on a bed of straw during the warmer months.

Across the meadow was the house where we lived, and the other barn was adjacent to our house. It did not have a warm and inviting feel because that's where the steers lived. Steers, unlike cows, were not especially gentle creatures. So that barnyard was closed off. The pigpen also opened into that barnyard.

So my pet rabbit's cage was kept in the cows' barn. And that might be what led to the crisis. Or perhaps my being six or seven and not yet having developed a sense of responsibility. For whatever reason, the barn wasn't close enough to my house or I just plain wasn't responsible enough, I was accused of not feeding and caring for my pet rabbit on a regular enough basis.

While the charge was probably true enough, the penalty was much too severe.

For one day I came back from grocery shopping with my mother and went running to the barn to check on my pet rabbit only find Miles skinning the carcass of the dead animal. I had been given no advance warning that this might happen, and I was heartbroken. Well, heartbroken and angry. But of course, I had no recourse.

That evening I dined at my grandparents' house, as I often did in those days, as my grandmother usually made a big feast every evening for all the farm hands and one more little mouth to feed was no problem.

It was at the conclusion of supper that my grandmother informed me that the chicken that I had just eaten was, in fact, my pet rabbit.

So I learned a valuable lesson at an early age: Trust No One.

Joe Bonafiglia

Joe Bonafiglia died on June 6, though I didn't find out about it until nine days later when Barb sent me a somewhat cryptic note on Facebook. I was completely taken aback by the news.

He was only 55.

 Joe Bonafiglia

Joe Bonafiglia

The thought that he might die before me was something that had never entered my mind. Even now, several weeks later, I can barely wrap my mind around that fact that I'll never see him again.

Anyway a couple days after learning of his death, I wrote a condolence letter to Joanne, his widow. Not having her current address, I mailed it to the funeral home after getting assurances that they would forward it to her, which I trust they did.

I planned to use that letter as the basis for a much longer post here on my blog, but after thinking it over, I've decided to just publish it as is, brevity being the soul of you-know-what. Here it is.

Dear Joanne,

I first heard about Joe’s passing on Friday, and I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t.

It seems like only yesterday that Joe and I were working in Subsistence and discussing the latest episodes of St. Elsewhere and Moonlighting, but that was over 30 years ago. We worked in different areas then, but we shared a common goal of moving the Directorate kicking and screaming into the modern age of personal computing.

I recall the day he first showed me a dBase program, and I offhandedly remarked that it was a shame it didn’t provide any feedback to let the user know which fields had already been edited. The very next day he came back with a solution—a totally unexpected solution. That was Joe.

Later when we moved to OTIS, I was nominally his boss, although really it was more like a partnership of equals. Joe was absolutely indispensable in our efforts to expand personal computing at the center and later join those computers into a local area network.

Given how large a factor Joe has been in my life, it’s hard to believe we only worked together for about five years. In later years we kept in touch only sporadically, something that I now regret. I always thought there was plenty of time, but now time has run out.

I miss Joe’s upbeat disposition, his strong sense of right and wrong (though I don’t necessarily always agree with him)—damn it, I just miss him!

My sincerest sympathies to you and your family. I can’t tell you how saddened I am. The world is truly a sadder and a poorer place without Joe Bonafiglia.



 

Water, Water, Everywhere, But Not a Drop in My Place

This morning I woke up and there was no water coming out of the tap. To make sure that it was not just my apartment, I went down to the vacant third floor apartment and found that it too had no water.

When I went out for my morning walk there were Philadelphia Water Department workers on Juniper Street and I asked one of them if he knew why I had no water. "Broken main," he tersely replied.

Seeing I wasn't going to get anything more out of him, I continued southward, but when I returned, I saw there was a police tape blocking access to 13th Street at Locust. So I went to investigate.

And I found a lot of water. And firemen. I asked one of the firemen what was going on, and he had no idea, but when I asked if this was why I had no water, he said, "Very likely."

13th and St. James

13th and Walnut

13th and Walnut

13th and Walnut

13th and Juniper

13th and Juniper

How America Got Its Name

Some time in elementary school, I guess, one of my teachers told the story that went something like this:

A fellow named Amerigo Vespucci drew a map of the known world which included the newly discovered continents of the New World. Someone began referring to those new continents as Amerigo's land, and the Latinized version of his name caught on.

Some variation of that story was pretty much all I remember from my school history classes, and while it's not exactly wrong, the full tale is much richer and a lot more interesting. As it happens, I've been rereading George R. Stewart's wonderful 1975 book Names On the Globe, and he devotes a good chunk of a chapter to relating that story. (Sadly the book is long since out of print, but used copies are still readily available.)

I had thought I could retell the tale, but Stewart does such a great job, and since his book is out of print, I've decided to publish his version here:

With such reasonable possibilities eliminated, anyone would hesitate to advance an altogether fantastic one—that is, that the magnificent and world-famous name America came into existence from the brainstorm of a German pedant who had never crossed the ocean, and probably had never even seen it. Yet the written record is so conclusive that scholars have had no recourse but to reject all the reasonable ideas and to accept the fantastic one.

We know little enough about him. He was, in 1490, a student at the University of Freiburg, and he lived on into the next century. Obviously he would have studied Latin, and apparently he was an enthusiast for the Greek studies, which were popular at the time. If there is a single fact of which we can be certain, it is that he was one of those individuals under the fascination of names. We can see as much in his manipulation of his own name, which was Martin Waldseemüller, the family-name to be translated as “forest-lake-miller.” He set out to put this into Greek, as some scholars did in those times. The result must have been something like the repugnant and impractical hyl-lakko-mylo-os. But, for his own ends, he ingeniously manipulated this monstrosity, and, as the custom was, Latinized it. He got then, finally, Hylacomylus. Obviously, such a man is not to be trusted with a name.

At this point we must turn to that other character of this fantasy, a Florentine who usually spelled his name America Vespucci—Latinized as Americus (or Albericus) Vesputius. He was what has been called, somewhat enigmatically, a “controversial” figure, which means, in this case, that his stories of voyages across the Atlantic have been assailed as fabrications, especially by the highly respected early Spanish historians Las Casas and Herrera. Later investigators, however, have defended him. On the whole, we can conclude that he had really voyaged to what was the northeastern coast of South America. As a result, he took the position, as more and more people were beginning to do, that Columbus was wrong; that this was not India, but a new continent.

 Names On the Globe by George R. Stewart

Names On the Globe by George R. Stewart

In 1503 or the following year he published, under the name Albericus Vesputius, a Latin pamphlet, its title Mundus Novus. In it he stated his belief about those regions—“They may be called a New World, for there was no knowledge of them among our ancestors, and it is a wholly new thing to all who now hear of it.” Here was the idea! Here, the declaration of the entity! We need not be concerned with later works, some of them dubious, which are ascribed to him.

Exit, now, Amer(r)igo or Americus or Albericus, and whether or not he was a faker makes not the slightest difference in the outcome.

Back to Hylacomylus. By the year 1507 he had done well for himself, in a provincial way. He was a member of what we might now call a scholarly institute, a “think-tank,” in the town of St. Dié in Lorraine, under the patronage of the local duke. The time was the burgeoning Renaissance; Greek studies were in vogue; one of the “fellows” had a printing press; even in far-inland Lorraine there was interest in the amazing discoveries of strange lands.

By this time the star of Columbus had sunk low and grown dim. His idea of the Indies was not convincing. He himself had lost favor at court. Was not Vespucci a better guide?

In any case, the little institute at St. Dié decided to reprint one of the Florentine’s pamphlets, with a map, the title to be Cosmographiae Introductio. Who should be chosen to write the preface to the volume? No other than one of the members who was beginning to establish himself as a geographer—that is, Waldseemüller/Hylacomylus. Rarely have the need and the man arrived at a more fitting union.

Written in Latin, his pertinent statement may be translated thus:

Now, indeed, these parts [the three “older” continents] have been broadly explored, and a fourth part has been found by Americus Vesputius, as will be shown later. I do not see why anyone should rightfully object to calling this part for Americus (its discoverer, a man of intelligence) to wit, Amerige, that is, Land of Americus, or America—since both Europe and Asia got their names from women.

At this point in history a great name is, we may say, struggling to be born. But just what form will it take? The first suggestion is for Amerige. In the name-obsessed mind of Hylacomylus this spelling had some justification because of the Italian form Amerigo. More definitely, however, it is to be analyzed as Ameri-ge, with the Greek word for land thus fused with the Italian personal name. In fact, the actual spelling in the text is Amerigen, the form of a Greek accusative case.

The other suggestion is America—a name destined for greatness far beyond any imagining of its creator. Its origin is simple, since it is merely a Latin feminine form, derived from the already established Americus. By analogy with the other continents, as also from the usual Latin practice of having names of islands and countries in the feminine, that gender was the natural one. In this original text America takes second place (or may, indeed, be taken as a mere explanation of Amerige), but it seems to have been its creator’s final choice, or else he yielded to pressure from others. In any case, on the map which he published the name stood as America.

The outcome can only be viewed as both amazing and fortunate. In itself the one form may seem as good as the other. But the -a ending was unambiguous in pronunciation, drawing strength from thousands of established names. The -e ending was much less familiar, and would have resulted in countless difficulties in being passed from one language to another.

But America had still other advantages. To anyone, it actually looked like the name of a continent. Europe, Asia, Africa—each begins with a vowel and ends with one. If we take the Latin form, all of them end in a. Africa and America share the syllables -rica. The new name slid easily into its place.

Moreover, it was an easily slidable unit—euphonic, with its m, its r, and its plentiful vowels. Either an orator or a poet could use it readily—as many thousands of both have done. It comprised only common sounds, used in all European languages.

Another advantage (for people of the Renaissance, if not for moderns) existed in the analogy which the original passage notes—that is, that no one can well raise objections, “since both Europe and Asia got their names from women.” Here, weighted with the tremendous authority of the ancient Greeks, was the justification for naming a continent after an individual. The author was proposing, apparently, that with two continents named for women, no one can well object to having one named for a man.

Also of importance was that America was, from the beginning, essentially a proper noun, without meaning, since its association with a particular person was easily ignored or forgotten, and did not, in any case, constitute a valid “meaning.” There was no call for translation; in fact, translation would have been unwarranted. Here lay the great weakness of such a name as Newfoundland—that it demanded translation, and thus failed to be international. But America, from the beginning, was international.

The greatest point in favor of the new name, however, was merely that it filled a need. The preconceptions of Columbus were going by the board. An entity—and among the greatest of earthly entities—was appearing among men. They must have a name for it. By great good luck a German pedant, living in an out-of-the-way town, produced a name which was at once practical, universal, and beautiful.

The pamphlet had fairly wide circulation—the map, probably, with it. In a few years the name was established. Hylacomylus must have thought that he had loosed a whirlwind.

If any distinction is to be made, we must admit that the name was applied first to the southern continent, and it is thus placed on the map of 1507. Later voyagers and explorers by land outlined a second narrowly connected land-mass. The use, for it, of another name would have been advisable, but this time luck did not serve, and no ingenious namer turned up with an idea. So we have the cumbersome North America and South America.

In one way, however, the northern continent has stolen the name. With the establishment of the first independent nation of the Americas, its government and people, by common practice rather than by any definite action, began to use United States of America. Some voices were raised that it should really be United States of North America, but that substitute was too long, and was not, in itself, wholly accurate, since the new nation did not include all, or even most, of the northern continent.

A worse situation arose when common usage began to consider that America was sufficient in itself, and that “American” was all that was needed for an adjective or for a citizen of that country. By the time, about half a century later, when other nations arose in the Americas, the situation was so well established that nothing, practically, could be done about it, in spite of some protests, both from inside and from outside.

In naming-history, America thus began with great good fortune, but in the end suffered a certain blunting of that success.

Its fantastic story, however, may serve as another example of the difficulties associated with the elucidation of many of the great names.

Excerpted from Book III Namers at Work, Chapter 18 Half the World, Names On the Globe by George R. Stewart