Arcing to Arcturus

On July 13, 1977, at 8:37 p.m., a lightning strike at the Buchanan South electrical substation on New York’s Hudson River tripped two circuit breakers.  At the time, Buchanan South was meant to be converting 345,000 volts of electricity from the Indian Point nuclear plant to lower voltage, but a loose locking nut, combined with a faulty upgrade cycle, meant that the breaker wasn’t able to reclose and allow power to resume flowing.

When a second lightning strike caused two more 345,000 volt transmission lines to fail, only one reclosed properly, resulting in a loss of power from Indian Point and the over-loading of two more major transmission lines.  Con Edison tried to initiate fast-start generation at 8:45 p.m., but no one was overseeing the station, and the remote start failed. (more…)

The Sirius Season

If you needed a poster child for the dog days of summer, Jake would do just fine. Jake lives on a boat tied up to a dock that I frequent, and it’s clear that he hates July.  He doesn’t like the heat, he doesn’t like the humidity, and he especially doesn’t like the fact that he’s not allowed to spend his entire day inside the boat.

I know what he’s thinking. With access to air conditioning, he could take over the settee in the main salon, chew on his bone and nap away the afternoon in cool comfort. Instead, he’s forced to spend part of his day lying in the cockpit, on top of the cabin or on the dock, where he quietly sulks. He has a sunshade, water, and occasional breezes wafting about, but still – he isn’t happy.

He wasn’t particularly happy in June, either, and probably won’t cheer up in August or even September. He’s been through this before and knows he’s condemned to endure dog days and dog nights until October, when summer on the Gulf Coast of Texas will have run its course. (more…)

Published in: on July 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm  Comments (92)  
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Salisbury, Solstice and Song

There’s no escaping the scent of gentle chaos wafting through these last days before Christmas. “I loves me some Christmas,”  says the woman to her companion in the checkout line, squinting at her notebook . “But I swear. If I never make another cookie it’ll be too soon.”  I love cookies as much as the next person, but my sympathies are all with the woman.  Even as I’ve pulled out angels and garlands, decorated trees, wrapped gifts, sent cards and done my own baking I’ve found myself thinking, “I could stand some peace and quiet.”

The quiet’s as important as the peace. The pressures of the Christmas to-do list are one thing, but the season can be noisy to the point of distraction. Grandma doesn’t go quietly when she gets run over by that reindeer, and hearing the Chipmunks’ version of Jingle Bell Rock piped through the produce aisle at full volume is more annoying than festive. While the carols and seasonal songs blare away, families squabble and impatient horns fill shopping mall parking lots with the honking of a thousand demented geese. The decible level of life rises perceptibly.

Even at night, the peace and quiet of hours meant for sleep is disturbed by the ebb and flow of incessant, internal questioning. “What have I forgotten?” “Who will be offended..?” “Can we afford..?” “Will there be time..?”  If dawn brings nagging children and snappish adults, it’s little wonder that by Christmas Day many are ready to throw out the tree with the wrapping paper and get on with it. Twelve days of Christmas, stretching on to the Feast of the Epiphany, seem a horror. Who needs more Christmas when we already are exhausted and drained? (more…)

Published in: on December 20, 2010 at 4:00 pm  Comments (8)  
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Rock Star, Rock Planet

 

I discovered Eric Clapton, Rock Star, earlier this year. 

He’d been around, of course.  I just wasn’t paying attention.  In the early years, as he moved from the increasingly commercialized  Yardbirds into John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, I was being introduced to Lead Belly.  While I learned to play the 12-string, Cream  (Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Clapton) came and went in just two years, disbanding a few months before Woodstock.  After Cream, Clapton formed a new group, Derek and the Dominos.  Layla, the title track on their album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was released in December of 1970. First told by the Persian poet Nizami, the story of Layla and Majnun became one of rock’s definitive love songs, its famously contrasting movements composed separately by Clapton and Jim Gordon.

Clapton’s contribution to Layla was inspired by his then-unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, wife of friend and fellow musician George Harrison.  Though unaware of the details behind its composition, Layla  haunted my life for years. I loved the song, but couldn’t have told you the artist’s name.  It was enough to hear the music, drifting unbidden through the air of two decades and three continents, poignant and breathtaking as an unexpected tear. (more…)

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