Sunday, June 12, 2022

Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?

I have been missing in non-action for a month now. I've just kind of lost motivation, at least for now, to keep the blog going using the pace and rubric I've been mostly following for close to a year: summarizing articles from the IGY Bulletin, one by one. And I've just been languishing a bit in general. So I hope to regain forward momentum soon, perhaps using a different rubric. 

I also decided to break my NY Times crossword solving streak at 800+. I realized that although I usually enjoyed doing them and the blog, those activities were sometimes controlling me rather than the other way around. Staring at my computer screen was also starting to make my brain feel congested. Plus, I will need some time in the near future to attend to some other issues, like cleaning out my office at the College, which I am finally vacating this summer. So overall I am trying to change the balance of my activities for now, you might say.

Well, music is a good pick-me-up. The song containing the lyric in this post's title is Mrs. Robinson, by Simon and Garfunkel. You remember ... it goes something like this:

It is from the album Bookends, which was one of my favorites as an undergraduate. It is a concept album about life's journey. I'd best listen to it again, since my location on that route has progressed considerably. I owned the LP for many years, but now I own the CD. For me, the best song on the album was A Hazy Shade of Winter: "Hang on to your hopes my friend. that's an easy thing to say, but if your hopes should pass away simply pretend that you can build them again."

The song was also part of the soundtrack of one of my favorite movies, The Graduate, including the breakout role for Dustin Hoffman. Am I remembering correctly that I saw this in the movie theater with my high school friend Carol? (I guess you wouldn't know.) She was a good person, I wonder what happened to her.

Joe Dimaggio, one of the greatest Yankees and baseball players of all time, finds his way into the title of this post. The years of the IGY, 1957-58, were when I first became aware of professional sports. My family was not into sports, and I gravitated towards the best teams of that era -- the New York Yankees (baseball), Boston Celtics (basketball), and the Baltimore Colts (football) -- rather than the local teams, which weren't very good -- the Washington Senators (baseball) and the Washington football team (there was no regional NBA team). Baseball has always been my favorite sport; I still like the Yankees (and now the Phillies), and am enjoying their amazing run so far this year. I still very casually root for the Celtics, so it is nice to see them in the NBA finals. I'm not even sure where the Colts play any more.

My favorite players from those teams, all hall-of famers, were Johnny Unitas of the Colts,  Bob Cousy and Bill Russell (Celtics), and my favorite athletic "hero" ever, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees.

(I recently read Amy Bloom's In Love, a moving account of her husband's assisted suicide. It took me a while to realize that her husband, Brian Ameche, was the son of another Colts star, running back Alan Ameche, who scored the winning touchdown in sudden death overtime in the 1958 NFL championship game against the NY Giants, sometimes called "the greatest game ever played.")

Mickey Mantle, who replaced Joe Dimaggio as the Yankees' center fielder, was no saint (and why should a ballplayer be one), but he was one of the greatest baseball players ever. As a kid and a fan,  I used to argue that he was the best of the New York center fielders of the IGY years, but now I would have to concede that Willie Mays of the NY Giants had a better career overall. Sorry, Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers  still comes in third. Mantle was the American League triple crown winner in 1956, the AL most valuable player in 1956 and 1957, an all-star in 1956-1958, World Series champion in 1956 and 1958, and AL champion in 1957. Quite a good run in those IGY years! I started reading Jane Leavy's acclaimed biography of The Mick a couple of years ago. I think I'll go back and finish it!

My figurine of The Mick, with me since 1962 or so

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Yesterday was the birthday of the first postage stamp

The stamp considered by most to be the first adhesive pre-paid countrywide postage stamp was issued on May 6, 1840, or 182 years ago yesterday (I thought that was today, but I hadn't yet corrected my watch date after the 30 days of April).

I knew the year, but not the date, which I just came across while reading a general book on stamp collecting that I recently purchased: Guide to Stamp Collecting, by Jiri Novacek, Chartwell Books, Inc., 1989, 224 pp.

The Penny Black (Warwick & Warwick;
not from my collection!)
As the story goes, in the late 1830s, Englishman Rowland Hill proposed to introduce stamps as we know them today. Until then, the posting of letters was paid by the recipient, based on the distance traveled and number of sheets of paper. On this date in 1840 the Post Office issued a black 1 penny stamp known as the Penny Black (duh) along with a blue version of the same design with a face value of twopence. The stamps did not bear the name of the issuing country, but carried an image of the queen (then a young Victoria), still true for British stamps. Postage rates became based on the weight of the letter, but remained uniform throughout Great Britain regardless of distance sent.

According to Warwick and Warwick Auctioneers, 68,808,000 Penny Blacks were printed; around 1.3 million still exist, a 2% survival rate. The value depends largely on physical condition, the printing plate used, and the appearance of the margins. You can buy a Penny Black on eBay starting at about $100, or you can buy a top notch version for tens of thousands of dollars. I don't think I'm gonna go there, though.

Graham Beck has a nice video post on the Penny Black in his YouTube channel Exploring Stamps:

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

IGY Bulletin, Number 9, March 1958 - Cruise of the Brown Bear

The ocean deeps are some of the most remote places on the Earth's surface (take the water out of the ocean, and the seafloor is the surface). Both the nature of the seafloor itself and the currents of  the ocean waters were of interest during the IGY. This article describes the cruise of the oceanographic vessel Brown Bear, of the University of Washington. 

R/V Brown Bear, photo provided by V. Lundquist, from NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center (

In the beginning of the IGY, the Brown Bear made investigations at 36 oceanographic stations in the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, and parts of the Northeast Pacific, as shown in the map below from the Bulletin article. The proposed cruise for 1958 is also shown, as are stations occupied by the Carnegie in 1929. The Carnegie  (you should read the fascinating article in the link) was a brigantine nonmagnetic yacht used to investigate the Earth's magnetic field for the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. That 1929 voyage was its last, as it exploded and sank while anchored in Samoa that November.

The Brown Bear's measurements were to look at both latitudinal and vertical movement of waters in the ocean, and the factors that affected them. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

Differences in water density, resulting from the variability of water temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline), also cause ocean currents. This process is known as thermohaline circulation. In cold regions, such as the North Atlantic Ocean, ocean water loses heat to the atmosphere and becomes cold and dense. When ocean water freezes, forming sea ice, salt is left behind causing surrounding seawater to become saltier and denser. Dense-cold-salty water sinks to the ocean bottom. Surface water flows in to replace the sinking water, which in turn becomes cold and salty enough to sink. This "starts" the global conveyer belt, a connected system of deep and surface currents that circulate around the globe on a 1000 year time span. This global set of ocean currents is a critical part of Earth’s climate system as well as the ocean nutrient and carbon dioxide cycles.

Ocean circulation patterns are also nicely explained and depicted in this Ted-Ed video, Surface currents are the focus of the first half of the video, while deep currents are described in the second half.

The major objectives of the Brown Bear's 1957 cruise were: to gather data for a north-south profile of water properties (temperature and chemistry) extending from the surface to the ocean bottom; and for a preliminary survey of ocean water circulation in the Aleutians. Hauls of marine organisms were also made at various depths. Deep waters were dated using carbon-14 methods. The article goes on to cite specific preliminary findings. 

It turns out that I have a relevant first day cover in my collection for today's post.  It's a first day of issue cover of the U.S. IGY stamp, with a cachet of the R.V. (research vessel) Brown Bear. And, it is addressed to Richard Fleming (1909-1989), who was the director of the Department of Oceanography at the University of Washington.

FDC US141 from my collection

Richard Fleming (School of Oceanography, Univ. of Washington)