Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Wednesday Post

A Look Back at Lusk
the urban focus of Niobrara County

Last week, the Avatar checked in from Lusk, Wyoming.  He's not there anymore -- heck, he's in the next county over by now -- but we shouldn't miss the opportunity to see what's shaking in Lusk these days.

It looks like Smith's Tourist Court... still a motel.  It's hard to be sure, but I think the shell of the court is still visible within the Covered Wagon.  The bump-outs are about where the old stairs were, and likely enclose internal stairways that were added in a recent (ie. within the last forty years) remodel.  Sadly, the management of the Covered Wagon did not respond to my inquiry into this matter.

As for the Pioneer Court, a member of "The Best Western Motels"... is the Pioneer Best Western.

Now: Mrs.5000 did say something about looking at Lusk herself, and thinking that one of the motels has been turned into an apartment building.  After reviewing the available imagery, I think she is -- and I say this delicately -- dead wrong.  Perhaps she will leave outraged counterargument in the comments.

It sure wasn't difficult to find where the photos of Main Street were taken, though.

There is really only a block and a half of built-up commercial space in Lusk, and therefore only one place you could stand for a proper "downtown" photo.

The Conoco, my friends, is now a "Fresh Start."  The old hotel building is now an apartment building.  Maybe that's what Mrs.5000 was going on about. I've read that for many years this building was a windowless hulk, so its current incarnation as the urban focus of Niobrara County is probably a nice boost to the local landscape.

Lusk, Wyoming!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Gentile da Fabriano v. Hockney!

Gentile da Fabriano
c.1370 - 1427

Clobbered by Artemisia Gentileschi in Round 1.
Got by the 20th Century's Mark Gertler in an amazing comeback in First Round Elimination. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

David Hockney
Born 1937
British; works in United States
  • Beat Howard Hodgkin in Round 1.  YOUR VOTE COUNTS!
  • Tied with Switzerland's Ferdinand Hodler in Round 2.
  • Lost to Jacques-Louis David in the Round 2 tiebreaker.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Michael5000 vs. Dickens: "A Child's History of England"

2012 Assessment: None -- it's not on the novels list.

Current Reading: Eye-read in a cheapish ~80 year old edition.

Dickens’ A Child’s History of England isn’t a novel, but just what the title claims: a history of England, pitched at the level of a bright child, often with the kind of jolly bluster you might aim at a somewhat dim child. My copy, an orphan from a complete hardcover set of Dickens – undated, but I’ll guess 1930ish – has a strikingly tepid introduction. “Forster remarks that he ‘cannot be said to have quite hit the mark with it,’” reports the anonymous editor, “yet it seems that to demand anything much better of its kind and for its purpose would be to demand more than is humanly possible.” Right on! Something hardly worth reading, that even Dickens’ buddy and biographer John Forster found mediocre! Way to sell the book, anonymous editor!

A review I noticed online said that the vocabulary was way too tough for any child, and that you better have your dictionary beside you when you read it. This is simply not true. The vocabulary would never challenge any middle school student who would choose to read the book. Dickens does not seem to have put much effort into simplifying sentence structure, however, and I reckon that this is what makes the text seem difficult to some readers.

I actually found it surprisingly entertaining reading. I kept it as bedside reading for a couple of weeks, and it fit that niche beautifully. It was pleasant enough to look forward to, and just dull enough to facilitate the drifting-off process. Dickens’ patent anti-Catholicism is unseemly, but mitigated by his honest disgust at the strain of anti-Catholicism in English history. We are full of contradictions, all of us.

I said at the beginning that A Child’s History of England is a history of England, but that’s not quite right. It is a history of the people who held and contended for the English crown. That’s the way that history used to be conceived, of course, and the most interesting thing about reading Dickens’ take is seeing a prime example of how blinkered the traditional school of “Great Man History” really was. A chapter with a title like “England Under Henry the Third,” for instance, says absolutely nothing about what was happening in England during the reign of Henry III – only what happened to Henry III. England itself – its population, economy, laws, culture, towns, transportation network, crops, the whole green and pleasant land – does not really make an appearance in this book. Here is the English intellectual tradition:
That reign (of Elizabeth I) had been a glorious one, and is made forever memorable by the distinguished men who flourished in it. Apart from the great voyagers, statesmen, and scholars, whom it produced, the names of Bacon, Spenser, and Shakespeare, will always be remembered with pride and veneration by the civilized world, and will always impart (though with no great reason, perhaps) some portion of their lustre to the name of Elizabeth herself.
That’s it. Really, that is the sum total that Dickens dedicates to the arts and sciences. And along with an occasional mention that a king’s reign was troubled by the plague or the Great Fire of London, it’s as close as the book ever gets to the history of England as a country, as opposed to England as a crown. It seems like a bit of a train wreck if you’ve never been exposed to seriously old school historiography, but in the 1850s the monomaniacal focus probably didn’t raise an eyebrow. That’s just what history was.

Despite that Dickens only took history up to the Cromwell years, which were as remote in time to him as the American Civil War is to us today, we have it (although not on terrific authority) that his Child’s History of England was widely used in British schools for 90 years, right up to the second world war. Today, it is hardly read at all, except by myself.

Plot: Various powerful people struggle for even more power, but even when they get it, it doesn't usually make them happy.  The ones that you'd want to hang out with aren't necessarily the most effective, but on the other hand the real bastards are always big trouble.

Prognosis: More interesting as historical artifact than as history.

Current Dickens Score: Unchanged, as this was not on the novels list. I have still read 8/14.5 of the non-Christmassy Dickens novels.

Second Opinion: There are abundant editions available in every conceivable online format, because it is a public-domain work by a popular author.  Since no one actually reads it, however, there's not much online conversation about it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Lippi v. Lippi!

Filippino Lippi
1457 - 1504


Fra Filippo Lippi
1406ish - 1469


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Element of the Month: Lutetium!

September's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 174.9668 amu
Melting Point: 1652°C
Boiling Point: 3402°C

Lutetium is one of those rare earth elements that are rare enough, and reactive enough, that they are darned tough to find. If you want to mine Lutetium, do you look for a Lutetium outcrop? No. A Lutetium seam? No. No veins. No nuggets. The best you are going to be able to do is find a good source of the mineral Monazite, which may turn out to be as much as 0.0001% Lutetium. This goes a long way towards explaining why a kilo of Lutetium has a street value of around $10,000.

Lutetium is so hard to find, in fact, that even the cleverest humans with very large books didn't figure it out until 1907. In that year, a Frenchman, an Austrian, and an American walked into a bar. No, that's not right. Rather, a Frenchman, an Austrian, and an American, each of them in their own chemistry lab, were worrying about impurities in their Ytterbium. More or less at the same time, they realized they had found a new element: Cassiopeium! Except, after the years bitter incriminations that always follow from this kind of story of scientific discovery, the French guy finally prevailed.  He had to compromise only on having the C in his proposed name of "Lutecium" changed to a T. Lutetia, by the by, was the name of the Roman-era town that would become Paris, so Lutetium is a sneaky entry on the list of elements named after towns, like Yttrium, Berkeylium, Darmstadtium, and equally sneaky Holmium.

The Centerfold!

It's a sample of Lutetium, or it might as well be.

Lutetium is of course a silvery-white metal like pretty much everything else. It is used by humans for this and that, but really not for all that much. After all, it is really freaking rare and expensive. For most things that you want to use matter for, wood or steel is just going to be a more practical choice.

The folks at Avalon Rare Metals tell us that
Lutetium is the densest and hardest of the rare earths, lacks a magnetic moment, and has the highest melting point of the rare earths. These attributes may be due to the property of lanthanide contraction, which gives it the smallest atomic radius of the rare earths.
If you can remember that much about Lutetium, you are probably well ahead of the curve.

Lutetium, by Charles Yates, as offered for sale in a
number of formats at

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Landseer v. La Tour!

Sir Edwin Landseer
1802 - 1873

Beat French genre guy Nicolas Lancret by a single vote in Round 1. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!

Georges de La Tour
1593 - 1652

Trounced Peter Lanyon in Round 1.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Wednesday Post

Greetings from Lusk, Wyoming!
The Avatar makes it to another town!

Last weekend the Avatar, running again after being out of action earlier in the month, reached the community of Lusk, a High Plains village with the somehow discouraging motto "The Little Town With Big Possibilities."

He did not stay at Smith's Tourist Court.

Nor did he put up at the Pioneer Court.

He did run down Main Street, though...

...wondering about what it used to look like, in the old days.