Saturday, March 31, 2012

BMW's New "Hydrogen 7" Sedan - It's The Bomb!



Tomorrow Land Scene, including old railroad lantern, neon lighting and the Matterhorn in the distance, Disneyland, Anaheim, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 

November 15, 2007 - It's The New German Hydrogen Bomb! 

According to a recent article in NewScientist Online Magazine, “Road tunnels may have to be redesigned if the hydrogen economy takes off.”
Cars fueled by hydrogen have been touted for their potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Now Dr. Yajue Wu of the University of Sheffield, UK, has built a computer simulation of a hydrogen car crashing inside a tunnel.
Unlike gasoline, which pools and ignites on the ground, escaping hydrogen would create a high-velocity "jet flame" stretching upwards for many meters. Wu found that this 2000 °C flame would seriously damage tunnel ceiling structures and wreck fire sensors and sprinklers.
BMW prototype "Hydrogen 7" Automobile - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.comAmong automakers, Germany's BMW has taken an early lead in bringing a hydrogen/gasoline (alternative fuels) internal combustion passenger car to market.  Widely recognized as a sham, for its ridiculously high energy input per unit of energy output, BMW seems undaunted by any and all realities being brought to light.  In response to the “jet flame” findings, a spokesman for BMW said that in crash tests the fuel tank on its prototype hydrogen car has never been breached.
Thinking that a given technology is infallible is about as useful as a medieval military architect saying, “Castle walls this thick have never been breeched”, only to see a large cannon rolling up to his castle gates.  The Titanic was unsinkable.  Current radar and communications systems make it possible to safely navigate a 963 foot freighter safely between the towers of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, even in only 300 foot visibility.  When the China Ocean Shipping Corporation (COSCO) Busan recently collided with one of the bridge's towers, the English speaking harbor pilot was quoted as saying, "Ouch, that hurts".Hanjin COSCO Busan ocean freighter, showing 90-foot Gash in its hull, San Francisco Bay, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
In his January, 28, 2003 State of the Union address, President George Bush optimistically said, “The first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free”.  By April 26, 2006, his speech writers had him touting everything from increased refinery capacity, “environmentally sensitive” exploitation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, ethanol as an alternative fuel to gasoline, hybrid cars, and bio-fueled diesel cars as potential saviors for our old-energy addicted nation. 
Near the end of a long speech, Bush mentioned that “We're spending about $1.2 billion over five years to research the use of hydrogen to power vehicles”.  On November 7, 2007, General Motors reported a nearly $39 billion third-quarter loss, its largest ever.  If you compare the U.S. backed research that the President touted to a straight-line projection of GM’s potential losses over the same five years ($780 billion), it makes you wonder where our national priorities lie.
Aftermath of Interstate I-5 tunnel crash scene October 14, 2007, north of Los Angeles, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Whether a hydrogen-fueled automobile runs on internal combustion, like the BMW 7 or “space age” fuel cells, the most vulnerable component on either type vehicle is the fuel tank.  Residents of California awoke on October 14, 2007 to hear that three people were killed and at least 10 injured in a multi-vehicle crash that caused a fire inside a tunnel and forced the closure of the Interstate 5 Freeway in the Los Angeles area.
Like the original "TWA Flight to the Moon” at Disneyland, you too may soon have Former TWA Rocket to the Moon, showing a Coca Cola marketing slogan - "Delivering refreshment to a thirsty world", including a Coca Cola rocket bottle. All of this is now gone - Click for larger image  (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the opportunity to experience “rocket power” when the never-before-breached fuel tank of your fuel-guzzling “Ecomobile 7” from BMW crashes in a tunnel near you.  I can see the ads now:  “You will have to experience it to believe it.   Now available at your BMW Store – The longer, lower, wider, bigger, better and more powerful – Hydrogen Bomb 7”. 
It couldn’t happen, you say?
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Yahoo, AOL & Hotmail Heading for the Dustbin of History


Is your AOL, Yahoo or Hotmail email account now a spam machine? - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Yahoo, AOL & Hotmail Heading for the Dustbin of History

In November 2007, I wrote about the shift in internet traffic away from Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL/Netscape. For its part, Microsoft would not end its takeover bidding for Yahoo until May 2008. By then, both companies had begun their inexorable slide from internet ubiquity and dominance. For its part, Netscape became obsolete and unsupported by AOL, its parent company since 1999. Now spun off, AOL continues to flounder.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 1.0 logo, ca. 1995 (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Beginning in 1995, Microsoft made history by giving away its Internet Explorer 1.0 (IE) browser. During its existence, Netscape received scant revenue from its users. Even so, dirty tricksters sent email chain letters warning that Netscape would soon dun every user $50. Almost immediately, Netscape’s market share dove, while Microsoft's rose just as quickly.

Yahoo! logo GIF (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Hotmail rode on one of the earliest internet email platforms. Still, it was better than Netscape’s and thus Microsoft’s 1997 purchase of Hotmail drew email users away from Netscape. Although spam emails were already a problem in the late 1990s, no one knew that spam would someday represent between fifty and ninety percent of all emails sent. Microsoft/Hotmail and Yahoo’s revamped Rocketmail left both giants with technically crude email platforms. As we learned with the MS DOS operating system, the original architecture often determines the limits of change within a program.

Netscape Communicator logo GIF, owned and obsoleted by AOL (http://jamesmcgillis.com)During the past fifteen years, first Netscape, then Microsoft and Yahoo took turns dominating internet search and internet email. By building on their market power, Microsoft at one time owned the largest share of both search and email. Today, none of our featured companies dominates either internet search or email. That honor went instead to a next generation internet start-up known as Google.

Not until 2006, did Twitter’s first Tweet chirp on the internet. In early 2007, when Twitter became a separate company, MySpace owned over eighty percent of the social media market. Although gaining fast, Facebook had yet to go beyond a ten percent market share. At MySpace, each user controlled the content on one HTML page. Whatever MySpace gained in simplicity, it lost in flexibility. After old-media dinosaur News Corp. purchased MySpace in 2005, they stifled change. After its 2011 spin off, MySpace users still control content on only a single webpage.

Original Facebook logo GIF (http://jamesmcgillis.com)With its later launch date, Facebook drew on technology similar to Microsoft's “active server pages”, or ASP. Each Facebook user’s home page displays a host of interactive elements. Facebook’s network effect and ubiquity make it all that some users have time for on the internet. Ironically, Facebook achieved what AOL first attempted, which was to encompass and dominate the internet experience of its many users.

What shall be the future of our internet giants, both old and new? Will the masses still follow the tweets and rants of celebrities and fools? Will we still “friend” each other on Facebook or “+” each other on Google+? Texting is here to stay, but it lacks email’s ability to persuade in a longer form. As long as people can write, they will want to ramble on in a textural format.

Plush Kokopelli says, "Email spam hurts children and other living things" - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Spammers have hijacked every AOL or Yahoo email user that I know. Recently, my Hotmail address was hacked and used by spammers. Despite several attempts to reclaim my Hotmail address, Microsoft could not verify me. In that process, Microsoft lost one more internet email customer. For reasons similar to the rise of Facebook and Google, the old internet giants will slip further. The underlying architecture of AOL mail, Hotmail and Yahoo mail will sink further into a quicksand made of spam.

When you access your Yahoo mail or Hotmail, the content display relies heavily on Java script. The demise of AOL and Yahoo mail will come from their over-reliance on that Java script. If you have any doubt, access your Yahoo email via a slow modem. There you will see one element at a time dished to you by the email servers. Relying on executable commands, “robot.txt” or “bots” have learned to exploit vulnerabilities within script-based email systems.

MySpace Music Launch Team t-shirt logo 2008 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I do not blame every internet problem on the Russians, but every day half a dozen Russian websites crawl this blog, utilizing Java script-bots. With compact Java code, their bots seek out security gaps, including login locations and procedures. Once found, a high-speed computer might be employed to crack a login/password system. If the robot hackers can “crack” my website or your email password in five minutes or less, it is worth the time spent. Usually, you can retrieve your identity, but not before the indignity of spamming everyone in your online address book.

Each time AOL, Yahoo or Hotmail loses another email user to the spammers, they lose a customer forever. Whether Google will still be around one hundred years from now, I cannot say. Still, my Gmail user friends never have to offer apologies because their email addresses were hacked. As with Facebook’s advantage over MySpace, when Google designed Gmail for its 2004 introduction, it had the benefit of the learning curve. Although I cannot say how Google did it, their Gmail system seems impervious to script-based password hacks.

Google Small Gmail logo GIF (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When comment-spammer Good-Finance Blog invaded my website, I spent hours getting rid of nefarious phishing comments and links. Finally, I installed an “include file” at the very top of my website code. Through manual entry, my “top_inc” include file now blocks a long list of spammers’ Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Before gaining access to my website, comment spammers now receive a redirect to the FBI website.

While AOL, Hotmail/Live and Yahoo email users often receive more spam than legitimate email, Google has changed the rules for that game. At the top of their Gmail server code, Google installed their own version of a “top_inc” include file. To be sure, some spam still gets through the Gmail system, but not for long. As quickly as Gmail’s many users report spam messages, Google denies access from the offending server. If the spammers deploy a wider range of IP addresses, Google can refuse email from a given country or region.

Original Small Google Logo, with drop-shadow effects - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)No company is perfect, Google included. Their lapses in user privacy policies are well known. If any company will still serve up email to its future clients, I bet it will be Google. AOL and Yahoo will remain niche players only for the near-term. Ultimately, hackers will end their former status as internet search and email giants. Recently, as Yahoo News gleefully reported, AOL announced that its once vaunted patent library is for sale to the highest bidder. A stance like that does not inspire confidence in the future of AOL.




   

Friday, March 23, 2012

Start Each Day With The Daily Motivator



Waterfall in July, on Fire Road 585, at the turn-off to Clear Lake, west of Silverton, Colorado - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Start Each Day With The Daily Motivator

Every day, when I get up, there is an unspoken question on my mind. That question is, “What kind of day is this going to be?” 
 
As I wake up more fully, I usually find myself at the computer, checking email and seeing what information has found its way to me overnight.
 
Luckily, spam-filtering segregates out most of the ridiculous and unnecessary information, but check it I must. About one in every fifty spam emails is actually a good one, filtered out by key words or other identifiers.
 
Once I have resurrected and resuscitated the messages that I want, I turn to look at “The Daily Motivator”. There, Ralph Marston always has a message worth reading. Better yet, Ralph’s website adds a slide show and music, making his “motivational” messages all that much more rewarding to experience.
 
OK, so it costs $15 for a one-year subscription. That is the only Sunset over Sunnyside Mesa, at the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, in the Lower Animas River Valley, south of Durango, Colorado - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“downside”. The “upside” is that many of Ralph’s messages address issues that I am dealing with in my own life. 
 
Where does Ralph get the continued inspiration to create six new messages each week? You will have to contact him directly for that answer. I like to think of it as divine inspiration, both for him and for me.
 

Launch of USSR Satellite Sputnik - 55th Anniversary



Reflection of static rocket display in a window of the New Mexico Space Museum - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Launch of USSR Satellite Sputnik - 50th Anniversary of the 1950's Space Race

Where were you fifty years ago this week? Not even born, you say, or just a child, perhaps? Looking back half a century ago, in October 1957, some interesting things were happening. 
In 1957, Detroit had reached its zenith in automobile design. As the model year changed, the ultimate-classic Chevrolet Bel Air Two-door Hardtop was about to give way to the bloated and reviled quad-headlight 1958 Chevy. It was a case of Old Energy (longer, lower, wider; bigger, better, more) trumping the elegance of the smaller, lighter, faster-looking 1957. Everyone wanted the 1957. No one wanted the 1958. American automotive history then started a long march backward that is unchecked today.1957 Chevrolet 2-Door Bel Air Hardtop - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
In addition, that October, we awakened one morning to something called “The Space Race” in the 1950's. The USSR or “The Russians” as we liked to call them had launched the first human-made Earth-orbiting satellite. They gave it the anti-euphonious name Sputnik. We had heard of “Spud Nuts”, but not Sputniks. 
 
After years of hype about the “Rocket Oldsmobile” and watching spacecraft-like tail fins sprout on U.S. automobiles, the Russians had trumped all of Madison Avenue’s tricks with one rocket launch. Their rocket and its satellite were real.
Detroit took several years to fight back. In 1963, Chrysler Corporation named a high-performance version of the Plymouth Belvedere the “Plymouth Satellite”. If the U.S. could not lead in technology, we could at least lead in concept co-option.

During the midterm election campaign of 2006, I had the pleasure of visiting the New Mexico Space Museum in Alamogordo, New Mexico. To my great surprise, I discovered a sparkling-clean Sputnik hanging from the ceiling of the museum. Scientists are a clubby lot. It turns out that there were several Sputniks held in reserve by the Russian Space authority. When a former museum director befriended the Russian creator of the Sputnik, the Russian responded by sending one to the Alamogordo museum as a gift.
An original spare USSR Sputnik on display at the Museum of Space History, Alamogordo, New Mexico - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)"Trinity” was the code name the project leading to the first U.S. nuclear weapon explosion, which was on July 16, 1945. The "Trinity Site" was located in the remote White Sands Desert, near Alamogordo, New Mexico. 

Some say that the Space Race was all about intercontinental ballistic missiles and others say it was more about exploration of space, as our “last frontier”. I believe that the truth lies somewhere in-between. Today, it is easy to forget how fearful and inferior the Russians felt as they contemplated the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.
 
According to some experts, the U.S. later had the ability to vaporize the Soviet (and perhaps all) civilization at the press of a button. Mutual assured 1945 "Trinity" nuclear fireball begins to vaporize the desert landscape near Alamogordo, New Mexico, photographed by Berlyn Brixner - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)destruction was the term that Henry Kissinger so warmly used. In 1957, however, that first Russian satellite launch gave U.S. residents a Cold War shot of anxiety like none we had ever felt before. 
 
After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, plant life there often mutated spontaneously, creating some bizarre effects.  Looking at the accompanying photo of White Sands plants, do you suppose that the Trinity nuclear blast may have caused these once-small plants grow to their current towering proportions?
 
History can be fun. The U.S. started the “nuclear age” near Alamogordo in 1945. The Russians counter-punched with Sputnik twelve years later. The U.S. hit back hard six years later with the Plymouth Satellite.                                 
 
Wind scours away the sand, creating the illusion of towering plant life at White Sands National Monument - Click for larger image (http://jaqmesmcgillis.com)
Meanwhile the Japanese, who were the unlucky recipients of the second U.S. nuclear bomb at Hiroshima, were busy studying automotive technology and design. Biding their time, they later walked away with automotive supremacy. Plymouth is gone. The USSR is gone. Now we are in the “Age of Toyota”.  

Postscript - English Pravda.ru, October 5, 2007  Headline "Japan - Satellite Reaches Lunar Orbit", a first for an Asian nation.
Email James McGillis
Email James McGillis

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Need Cash and Wish to Rob an In-Store ATM Kiosk?



A technician opens the front panel of a CardTronics NCR EasyPoint freestanding kiosk ATM at a Costco warehouse - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Need Cash and Wish to Rob an In-Store ATM Kiosk? Wish Again...

During a recent visit to Costco, I noticed a technician working on the front of their CardTronics “Need Cash?” in-store automated teller machine (ATM). Since I am curious about ATM technology, I approached the ATM with my camera ready. As I arrived, the technician opened a drawer, which supports the front panel and customer interface.

Unlike a bank ATM, the CardTronics in-store ATM accepts no deposits. Its functions include cash dispensing, charging user fees and indirectly, facilitating cash purchases at Costco. No one outside of those two companies knows commission CardTronics pays Costco for that lucrative site. With "Mad Men" bravado, a CardTronics /Costco in-store ATM asks, "Need Cash?" - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I know that CardTronics pays merchant commissions because I Googled “CardTronics+ATM+commission”. On page one of the search results I found a LinkedIn profile for a CardTronics employee. He listed his job title as “Merchant Commission Analyst”. We expect CardTronics to retire that job title soon. Sorry Charlie, but you should know that LinkedIn is public on the internet.

CardTronics is ubiquitous in the arena of freestanding, kiosk-focused financial services. With over 50,000 locations, CardTronics is the largest provider of retail ATM services in the world. Within ten miles of my own location, CardTronics has ten ATM’s ready to dispense cash for a fee. With all of their money, I wondered what integrated ATM solution CardTronics might install at Costco. I can tell you here, the answer surprised me.

Rather than a futuristic electronic ATM-marvel, the unobtrusive gray and black cabinet featured thirty-year-old technology. Up front, are a keypad, cash dispenser, receipt printer and a low-resolution display. That customer-interface module slides in and out of the cabinet on drawer glides. Bolted to a shelf high inside the cabinet is a bare-bones personal computer (PC) chassis. Showing its age, the PC features both a CD-drive and a 5.25” floppy-disk drive. If the boot sequence for the ATM fits on a floppy disk, the kernel of the operating system must be quite small.

Behind the customer interface panel, only the receipt printer and the back of the display panel are visible. The Cash dispenser is armoured and inaccessible from here - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)By then I realized that the ATM was an old workhorse. Manufactured by NCR Corp. under their now retired EasyPoint trademark, the ATM features an Intel x86 processor, introduced in 1981 and the IBM OS/2 operating system introduced in 1987. During the early 1980s, IBM and Microsoft (MS) jointly developed OS/2. The unusual corporate collaboration was a joint offensive and countermeasure to growing cyber security threats. “Antivirus” updates became a nuisance for users of the fledgling Windows operating system. Despite IBM OS/2’s ability to deflect foreign executable instructions, MS Windows went on to dominance in the PC marketplace. This Costco ATM, running OS/2 in “protected mode” is virtually a closed system.

Having lost faith in their old operating system, IBM abandoned support for OS/2 in 2006. Even so, electronic ATM thieves should not waste time writing OS/2 scripts with instructions for “cash on demand”. A pair of copper wires connects the PC modem-port to the telephone network. My friend Tom Shudic helped determine how such ATMs prevent unauthorized outside access. According to Tom Shudic, “Those two wires must be a bidirectional interface, although surely with some sort of very high security protocol - perhaps even a dedicated line”. That, combined with the OS/2 operating system’s ability to block unauthorized access may explain the lack of remote control ATM robberies. Even the Russians could not hack that connection.

Inside the NCR EasyPoint ATM cabinet is an IBM PC chassis, featuring an x86 processor, obsolete IBM OS/2 operating system, a telephone line and various data cables - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The only ways into an NCR EasyPoint/OS/2 ATM is with a key, a high technology cutting torch or using a battering ram. One could use an explosive, but that might destroy the cash, as well. Bank robbers seeking electronic entry to an old CardTronics in-store ATM now see that it is a waste of time and effort. Regardless of their chosen operating system, I hope that the current NCR SelfServ in-store ATM’s are as robust.

Physically, the cash cassettes are stored behind steel doors, in the base of the kiosk. Short of ramming it with a Mack Truck, you will not dislodge the ATM. Even if upended, steel plate protects the integrity of the ATM vault compartment. If any of our readers clicked here to learn techniques for in-store or electronic ATM robbery, you may now depart wiser and less likely to try such larceny.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Oregon Battles With Itself...


Relict Old-Growth Forest Stand, Southern Oregon Coast - Click for larger Image. (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Oregon - One Step Forward and One Step Back...

In July of any year, one of the nicest places to visit is the southern coast of OregonU.S. Highway 101 is the primary access route, north and south.  Additionally, several highways cut east and west, winding along the river valleys and upper canyons, providing a change of scenery from the coastal strip.
 
Driving north from California across the Oregon border brings a couple of shocking revelations.  When you arrive in Brookings, which is the first town you will encounter, you will notice that motor gas prices are about twenty cents cheaper per gallon than in California.  The lack of a retail sales tax and lower state fuel taxes makes Oregon a great place to fill your tank.
 
 
Well, maybe not so great, once you realize that Oregon does not allow self-service filling of one’s own fuel tank.  The supposed “positive result” of this archaic law is that it keeps thousands of Oregonians employed as gas station attendants.  The downside is that during the summer tourist season, motorists queue up at the lower-priced stations, engines idling and pollution spewing from their tailpipes as they wait.  Rocky Beach, Southern Oregon Coast - Click for larger Image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
Despite the many “Keep Oregon Green” signs that one sees along the highway, old energy and old-style thinking are adding an immense load of greenhouse gases to the Oregon air shed.  If estimates are true that the average vehicle produces about one pound of carbon dioxide for each mile driven, how many additional tons of carbon dioxide do Oregon motorists produce in order to make dead-end jobs for some of their residents?  Additionally, how many hours of lost productivity do Oregonians suffer as frustrated motorists wait in line for fuel that they could safely pump without assistance?
 
Low tide along the Southern Oregon coast - Click for larger Image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Once you get past the pros and cons of Oregon’s fuel pricing and dispensing methods, you can breathe a sigh of relief as you motor north towards Gold Beach, some twenty-five miles beyond the California border.  If you have breakfast or lunch in Gold Beach, you will notice that the pace of life is a bit slower than California.  If you allow yourself to slow down and match the natural pace in Southern Oregon, you will enjoy your experience far more than if you simply rush towards your destination.
 
In the early days of travel along the Oregon Coast, towns sprang up along the highway approximately every twenty-five miles.  The ostensible reason for this spacing related to how far a horse-drawn vehicle could travel in one day.  With that idea in mind, twenty-five miles north of Gold Beach is the sleepy town of Port Orford, famous in its heyday for the “Port Orford Cedar” trees that covered its coastal slopes.
 
Although hidden from the highway in many places, the coastal strip between Gold Beach and Port Orford has several direct openings to the sand and surf.  Owing to the gentle slope of the continental shelf in this area, low tides pull far out from the beach and high tides rush in on large breaking waves.  Flotsam from Asia and driftwood from the Pacific Coast are among the prizes awaiting the intrepid beachcomber.
 
Although the commercial port at Port Orford is so small that they haul out the fishing fleet with dockside cranes, it is the only deep-water port along the coast between Portland, Oregon and the San Francisco Bay.  Protected by headlands to the north and west, the small port remains vulnerable to storms approaching from the southwest.
 
As with several other Southern Oregon coastal towns, much of Port Orford lies within the “tsunami zone”.  Once erroneously called “tidal waves”, Americans have adopted the Japanese word “tsunami”, which means, “One or a series of huge sea waves caused by earthquakes or other large-scale disturbances of the ocean floor”. 
 
Nearby Crescent City and Eureka, California has each experienced Looking downhill to the "Tsunami Zone" and Pacific Ocean, Port Orford, Oregon - Click for larger Image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)tsunamis in the past fifty years.  Many places along the Oregon coast show geological evidence of large-scale tsunami activity, although contemporary coastal dwellers tend to downplay or ignore the potential threat.  At Port Orford, one has to travel nearly a mile inland to find ground high enough for the state to declare it a “tsunami safety zone”.
 
Whether it is for reasons of tsunami safety or lack of sewage plant capacity, Port Orford qualifies as the only town along the highway where recent commercial development is almost unknown.  Although there is a new library adjacent to the highway, there are no chain restaurants in town.  The pharmacy closed its doors a few years ago, leaving only a clinic to tend to the healthcare needs of the many retired residents.  The infrastructure is so antiquated and poorly documented that the local water system was recently losing between one third and one-half of its stored water to leaks in the system.  Many leaks are nearly impossible to track down and fix in the wetlands and other marshy areas around the town.
 
The deepwater fishing Port at Port Orford, Oregon - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Founded in 1851, Port Orford is the oldest town along the coast.  Its population of less than 1500 is not much different than it was in the late 1800s.  In its heyday, Port Orford featured a sawmill that efficiently transformed the old-growth Port Orford Cedars into planking for sailing vessels and later for insect and mildew resistant cedar-shake shingles.  Both the sawmill and the old-growth cedars are gone now, leaving retirement living and tourism as the top two economic engines for the town. 
 
If you are looking to live far away from city life and can accept that the nearest major medical center is in North Bend, almost sixty miles away, Port Orford allows a pace of life and a heavily wooded landscape not often seen in contemporary America.  If you do build or buy there, you might want to check the tsunami map before doing so.  There has been no tsunami lately, but that is no guarantee of future calm waters
 
Unlike coastal areas farther north, the Southern Oregon coast rarely Forestry worker. Port Orford, Oregon - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)experiences frost, although the area can be windy and rainy in the fall, winter and spring.  During the summer months, the weather can be clear and beautiful.  It can also be overcast and gloomy, but rarely is the area hot, when judged by standards of the inland Western U.S.
 
Viewing the area from the air for the first time can be quite a shock.  What looks like untouched forests, when viewed from ground level, looks like a logger’s paradise from the air.  Often loggers leave only a fringe of untouched forest along the highway.  Forest products are an essential industry in Oregon, but every time I see a load of scraggly and twisted old-growth tree trunks barreling down the highway towards the chip mill, I cringe.
 
Never feed a wild Steller's Jay. They are a prime forager in the coastal forests of Southern Oregon and do not need any additional food from humans. - Click for larger Image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)With its many coastal state parks, Oregon makes amends for its questionable logging practices.  To its credit, forward thinking Oregonians, such as the 1960s Governor Tom McCall helped pass legislation setting aside most of Oregon’s 363-mile coastline as parkland or open space.  No other coastal state can boast such forward thinking in its use of irreplaceable coastal environments.  Additionally, there are many public campgrounds and private RV parks tucked into the shady groves along Highway 101.
 
If you have an RV and have the time, a trip north or south along Oregon’s Highway 101 is well worth your time.  Just don’t let your engine idle while you wait in line for fuel.

Friday, March 16, 2012

2001 - Fiji Islands and the George Harrison Guitars



The author, Jim McGillis, next to the Mother of All Kava Bowls, almost three feet in diameter, at the Tenoa Hotel in Nadi, Fiji - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

The Kava Bowl Connection - Fiji and the George Harrison Guitars

Tuesday August 21, 2001
 
6:00 PM – It was almost dark when we made our way along the wooden path leading to the pool area and the Lomalagi Dining Room.  It was winter in Fiji and the air was cooling slightly, but short sleeves and shorts were the perfect dress.  As we approached the pool, we could hear guitars playing and men singing softly.  Between our hosts, Collin and Terry, plus Terry’s Mom, Linda, Karen and me, we became an audience of five. 
 
“The Boys”, as Collin calls them were about eight of the various native Fijian workers at the resort.  With them was one of their elders.  All of them sat near the lava rocks on several woven mats.  They sat facing in various directions, loosely making up two groups of four.  The elder sat facing us, with a large Kava bowl in front of him. 
 
Regarding Kava Bowls - The bowl is traditionally carved in one piece, from the trunk of a Raintree, or other forest hardwood.  Some of the bowls (such as the one in the picture at the Tenoa Hotel) were apparently carved from truly massive trunks, but a moderate sized bowl can be purchased in a local craft market for $10 – 12 USD.  Needless to say, I bought one.Traditional Fijian Kava Ceremony, at Lomalagi Resort, prior to delivery of the George Harrison Guitars - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
Back to our story - The elder’s assistant mixed the ground-up root of a native pepper plant with water and wrung it out, through fabric, into the ceremonial bowl.  A polished piece of a dried coconut shell becomes the communal cup.  Terry explained that the Kava ceremony is the fabric that holds the Fijian social and spiritual community together.  The ceremony, conducted only by the men of the village and involves some simple but solemn rituals of offering and accepting one’s share of the slightly muddy looking liquid.  Its effects are described variously as mildly narcotic or as a slight natural sedative.  If you could call the affects a “buzz”, it is at a frequency that is well below the audible level.  You know you have experienced it, but you are not sure exactly what it has done.
 
The assistant makes the rounds, offering a cup in turn to each of the guests and then to the boys in the band.  Then a song or two are sung before another round is offered.  In their traditional settings, the ceremony occurs when there is an event of significance to celebrate or deliberate.  If there is a conflict between neighbors or even enemies, the gift of a kilo or two of Kava will erase all conflict and peace and friendship will be immediately restored.  Powerful stuff, this Kava.
 
Between songs, Collin told the story of when George Harrison visited Former Beatle, George Harrison (1943 - 2001) now rests comfortably on Cloud Nine - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Lomalagi soon after the resort had had opened.  As we now know, (but did not, at the time of this writing) doctors had diagnosed George Harrison with what turned out to be a life-ending illness.  However, those were happier times and he still had a measure of good health to enjoy.  He had been traveling between England and Australia, where I believe he had property.  On his visit to Lomalagi Resort, he was scouting Fiji as a place to buy some property, kick back and enjoy life at a slower pace.
 
As George arrived at the Lomalagi Kava ceremony, he immediately decided that his place was among The Boys.  So he sat among them and played guitar with them as they sang.  Noting that their instruments were of undetermined vintage and held together with tape and glue, he said that The Boys deserved better than the sorry instruments that they had.
 
Several months after his departure, unmarked crates arrived from George Harrison received this guitar, the second double-bound Rickenbacker 360/12 ever made on February 8, 1964, as a gift from Rickenbacker. Its ringing sound embellished "You Can't Do That", "Eight Days a Week" and "A Hard Day's Night" - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)England.  Inside were new guitars and a ukulele for The Boys.  From that time forward, the instruments have been known throughout the Fiji Islands as, “The George Harrison Guitars”. 
 
And a beautiful sound they made.  Sam, the dive master and guide to the dolphins always played his guitar a little flat. Even so, the bluesy influence of his playing fit right in.  Often there appeared to be no leader for a song, while individual tunes would diverge and converge in a lazy way.  Somehow they always came back together at the right moment.  Maybe it was the Kava and maybe it was the songs, but between the voices, words and guitar melodies, it was easy to let your mind drift and your body relax.
 
I just searched the Lomalagi website for the word to the Lomalagi Song, which was written by one of The Boys.  Alas, it was not posted there, but the “best line” from that song goes something like, “Lomalagi, where the views are brighter than you.”  By the end of the Kava Ceremony, it all made perfect sense.
 
7:30 PM – With a couple of “stiff belts" of Kava under our belts (Is that a mixed metaphor?), it was time for an elegant dinner of Wallau, which is a light, not quite flaky local fish, along with all the best of accompaniments.  Hmm…that’s about all I remember regarding dinner, other than our friendly hosts and servers.  Could it have been the effects of the kava? As George Harrison, might intone, "My sweet Lord".
 
9:00 PM – We found our way back to our villa. 
 
10:00 PM – It is five hours earlier (as you will recall) in Fiji, but we were ready for bed at what would be 5:00 PM back home in California.  So that wrapped up what seemed like three days in one.  There were the two days in suspended animation in L.A., the overnight flight to Fiji and the long day’s journey into Lomalagi (Fijian for "Heaven").  Soon,  we were asleep on a moonless night.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Solving the C.Proietto Art Mystery - One Painting at a Time



Costantino Proietto original oil painting, including the footbridge at Nesso, on Lake Como, Switzerland - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Two Family Members Offer First-Hand Stories About the Artist - Costantino Proietto

As some readers may know, I have been trying to solve the mystery of exactly whom the Italian artist Costantino Proietto actually was. Recently, the artist's first cousin Nunzio LoCastro  and his nephew, Larry LoCastro, both of New Jersey contacted me. Here are their combined stories of the artist C.Proietto, which I have edited for clarity.

Nunzio LoCastro – Cousin of the artist Costantino Proietto:

“Although I grew up in New Jersey and Costantino Proietto grew up in Italy, we were first cousins. While in the Army, I was stationed in Germany from 1951 - 1953. While there, I was fortunate to travel to Stuttgart, Germany where Tino, as we called him, lived and painted for many years. First, let me tell you a bit about his life.

I know that his birthday will be a surprise, but his birth year was 1910, not 1900, as previously believed. I know, because I was twenty-six in 1951 and Tino was forty-one when we met. It is time to rewrite history, only this time it will be correct. In 1979, skin cancer was the cause of his death. In his early days, the oil paints had a very high lead content. When I met him in the 1950s, he had a sore on one finger that sometimes bled and would not heal properly.

Costantino Proietto's father died when he was very young. In Randazzo, Sicily, Tino was soon was on the streets, smoking cigarettes and looking like he was up to no good. At age fourteen, a renowned professor of art came to the town, having received a commission to repaint and repair the artwork in one of the local Catholic churches. When asked who would be best to help the professor with his art, everyone in town pointed to Tino and said, "For his sake and ours, please take this kid off our streets". For the next eighteen years, Tino was apprenticed to the master artist and teacher. During that time, he received room and board, but no wages or compensation for his work.

During his apprenticeship, Tino learned the new technique of applying paint with a palette knife. As he developed in his career, he never used brushes again. By using the palette knife, he was able to add layering and texture to his work. He then added detail, through the addition or removal of paint material. His technique added depth, warmth and perspective to his paintings.

Detail of signature "C.Proietto", from his original oil painting of Nesso, Lake Como, Switzerland - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In the 1930s, with the approach of World War II, Tino emigrated from Italy to Switzerland, France and later to Stuttgart, Germany. At one time, he worked on a street corner, hand painting men's neckties on the spot. When he settled in Germany, he continued to paint scenes of Italy and Switzerland. In later years, he would photograph many scenes and then go to his studio to recreate the scene. In Germany, he was famous for his landscapes of Lake Como, Venice, San Remo and the Capuchin Convent on the Amalfi Coast. In addition, he was an accomplished portrait painter.

Again working from photographs, Tino once created a stunning portrait of Adolf Hitler. His likeness of der Fuehrer was so lifelike that the Mayor of Stuttgart had it sent to Berlin. Although Tino received no money for the painting, he likewise had not trouble being an Italian immigrant, living in Germany throughout World War II.

In 1952, when I married my wife, Doris in Vaihingen, near Stuttgart, Tino was my best man.  So that you know, Tino was a devoted and loving husband. His common law wife Gisela was German, and they were together for the rest of his life. The had a great relationship. He spoke perfect German and she spoke perfect Italian. Communications were never a problem. When Tino died, he left two condos in San Remo and all of his worldly possessions to Gisela.

After decades of training, painting came naturally to Tino. Although he was a great portrait painter, in his later years he preferred to paint landscapes. He was an energetic man and did not wish to spend the time required to paint portraits. Throughout his career, Tino could complete one of his signature landscapes of Italy or Switzerland in only a day or two. At the beginning of each new year, Tino would paint daily, until almost Easter time. Then he would load the paintings into his car and distribute them to various Galleries around Germany. After his Easter break, he would paint until near Christmas time and then distribute his paintings again to the galleries. During his career, he produced and sold hundreds, if not thousands of signed C.Proietto original oil paintings.

From the original oil painting by Costantino Proietto, detail of the footbridge at Nesso, Lake Como Switzerland - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When I met him, he had a wonderful apartment in Stuttgart, with oriental rugs and fashionable furniture. Paintings by other artists graced his walls. On his work days, Tino would walk one or two blocks to his studio. The studio was one big room, with lot of windows. This allowed natural light to inspire his creative processes. When he was working, he would paint all morning, return home for lunch with Gisela, put on a fresh shirt and head back to the studio. When it grew dark, he would stop painting and go out for some personal time in the City.

What you cannot see, but perhaps you can feel from his paintings was his enjoyment of life. He was a smoker, although it never affected his health. When he was out on the town, he loved to eat fine foods. He was a great cook and could make a fine meal at home. Although he would drink wine at appropriate social moments, Tino preferred "acqua minerale". Most of all, he had a great laugh, which I remember still. He was always laughing, telling stories over a meal and encouraging others to enjoy themselves. After eighteen years as an unpaid apprentice and having survived the Allied air raids on Stuttgart during the war, Costantino Proietto went on to enjoy every day of his life. He told me that if he "died today", he was happy with his life. He was always happy with life.

Although I do not recall the name, a prestigious art dealer in New York City accepted his works for sale. An academy in Berlin recognized him for his contribution to German art in the mid twentieth century. Oh, the stories I could tell you about my cousin Tino… his laughter, his love of the good life and his ability as a great artist. To this day, I have eight of his paintings in my home in New Jersey. I still look at them every day.”

Larry LoCastro – Nephew of the artist Costantino Proietto:

“Finally, I had the opportunity to talk with my uncle, Joseph Amante. Joseph is also a cousin of Costantino Proietto and visited him in Stuttgart, Germany. Although I have not yet spoken with my Uncle Nunzio LoCastro (see story above), I am providing biographical and family history for you here.

Detail of the footbridge and villa at Nesso, Lake Como, Switzerland, from the original oil painting by Costantino Proietto - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I have taken a number of pictures of Joseph's paintings, but have not yet transferred them all to my computer. However, I have attached pictures from my prized possession painting by Uncle Tino. It is a scene which includes the footbridge at Nesso, on Lake Como, in Switzerland. You might also find interesting some close up detail shots from the same painting. Note that in the rowboat a dark haired oarsman rows a blond female passenger in a custom built craft.

On a bum-around trip to Europe during my late teens, I had the pleasure seeing Tino paint in his studio. I watched him take dabs of color and apply it to the canvas in what seemed like rapid succession. I did not realize what was happening (being painted) before my eyes until I "saw" the picture come to life. The process and the result were amazing to see.

Here is some brief history regarding my family relationship to Costantino Proietto. Starting, I believe in Randazzo on the island of Sicily, Tino's mother was a daughter of Salvatore LoCastro. She had a sister Antonina who was my Uncle Joseph Amante's mother, and a brother Frank LoCastro. Frank was my grandfather. Frank, Salvatore, Nunzio, Vivien, Richard, Margurite, Costantino, and Joseph Amante were all first cousins by their grandfather Salvatore LoCastro.

Costantino Proietto was from Sicily and sensed upcoming conscription for the Second World War. In order to continue with his art, he went first to Switzerland and later settled in Stuttgart, Germany. There his brother, Epiphaneo, sister-in-law Brunhilda, and nephew Mario, joined him. Brunhilda survives to this day.

Detail of the original oil painting of Lake Como, Switzerland by Italian artist C.Proietto, including his signature red flowers in the mid ground - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Tino found ready customers in the German people, who loved his paintings of Italy. Some of his early work in Switzerland included painting the walls of a church, and restoring Egyptian mummy cases under an art professor. In addition, he painted designs utilized later in the creation of printed fabrics.

In the future, I will provide more pictures that I took of C.Proietto paintings, including the backs of the frames, which typically included the name, and location of the painted scene and the "CP" seal over a label of Tino's "business card" information: studied under and places his art was sold.”

Author’s note: In the time since I first published this article some new information regarding Costantino Proietto came to me. As I learn more about the life of the artist, I will make corrections to this and to my earlier articles on the subject of Costantino Proietto. If any reader has additional information regarding the artist, his works or biography, please contact me via email. I will be happy to share such information with all. In addition, if you have a signed C.Proietto painting in its original frame, in good condition and for sale, I will pay $400, plus reasonable packing, shipping and insurance costs for each C.Proietto painting.



Friday, March 9, 2012

From Planet Mars (A.K.A. Barsoom), "The Face on Mars"... Is it John Carter?



Mars, as viewed from Earth, December 2007 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

From Planet Mars (A.K.A. Barsoom), Comes "The Face on Mars"... Is it John Carter?

Have you noticed an intense red star rising in the east on recent evenings?  That is no star.  That is Mars.  The red planet is having a close encounter with Earth this week.  At closest approach on Tuesday evening, Dec. 18th, 2007 the two worlds will lie only 55 million miles apart.  Mars will not be this near the Earth again until the year 2016.  This information comes to us courtesy of Space Weather.  Are you ready for the view? Train your best optics on the bright red "star" rising in the east after sunset: sky map.
 
Mars, as viewed from Earth, November 18, 2007 - Credit to JL Dauvergne / Francois Colas, Pic du Midi, France - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)According to Astronomy Picture of the Day, very good telescopic views of Mars can be expected in the coming days as the Red Planet nears opposition on December 24th. Of course, opposition means opposite the Sun in planet Earth's sky - an arrangement that occurs every 26 months for Mars.  Taking advantage of the shorter travel distance near opposition, NASA launched the Phoenix lander to Mars in August, 2007.  It is scheduled to arrive in May 2008.
 
It has been over 31 years since Mars last intruded on the mass consciousness of Planet Earth.  For those of us who were present in body at that time, we received a press release from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on July 31, 1976.Face on Mars image from Viking 1 spacecraft, 1976 -  Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
In part, it said: “This picture is one of many taken in the northern latitudes of Mars by the Viking 1 Orbiter in search of a landing site for Viking 2.  The picture shows eroded mesa-like landforms.  The huge rock formation in the center, which resembles a human head, is formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth.”
 
The Formation, later called the "Face on Mars” (FOM) appeared frequently on the covers of supermarket tabloids for several years thereafter.  More recently, in 2001 and 2003, very high resolution photos of the FOM revealed that it was “a naturally eroded mesa”, or so we were told. 
 
Face on Mars, Looking at you. Is it a sign of intelligent life on the Planet Barsoom? Is it the face of John Carter? - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Once again, “science” had “disproved” evidence of intelligent life in the cosmos.  “Thank God”, said many who believe that there is higher intelligence in the universe, but are too afraid to believe that they, themselves, may be witness to such intelligence or its construction activities.
 
If I remember correctly, one cannot “prove a negative”, yet astronomers and scientists all over the world take great pride in telling us that the high resolution photos of the FOM “prove” that it is a “natural phenomenon”, caused by uplifting and erosion.  Many of our scientists offer us a negative proof by saying "a supernatural force does not exist, because there is no proof that it does exist".
 
If you see a wider smile on the FOM in the future, it is simply divine High-resolution image of Face on Mars, 2003 - Is it John Carter, still searching for the Princess of Helium? - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)intelligence laughing, as it allows earth’s scientists to feel secure in not having discovered that which they endlessly seek – evidence that intelligent life exists beyond the confines of Planet Earth.  As the Veil thins, perhaps we shall see that extraterrestrial intelligence not only exists, but that it also has a sense of humor. 
 
March 2012, Author's note: Since release of the Disney Movie, "John Carter", A.K.A. "A Princess of Mars", there is a renewed interest in helium. In the movie, there is a city named "Helium" on the planet "Barsoom", A.K.A. Planet Mars. When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the story a century ago, no one knew if there was intelligent life on Mars, let alone an atmosphere that included helium. Although we now know a lot more about Mars, we have learned little about proper use and conservation of our helium reserves here on Earth.