We Learn Wednesdays

Apr 24

Mediated transference

There is a time in preparing every good presentation when you have the thing well in hand. You’ve practiced it and studied the timing. You’ve considered every angle worth considering, and discard a few that were, honestly, not worth the neurological effort. And so you put it aside.

That’s where I was earlier today, and then some other ideas came to mind.

And those other ideas? When they come in, they are the worst, especially if they’re the best. This is surely why some people throw slide decks together. Better to mumble and stumble through these things, reading text as you go, than be burdened by ideas late in the cycle.

But the presentation I am presenting tomorrow must be presented with some clarity and efficiency and interest. So there is practice and re-practice and new ideas. Always the new ideas. And somewhere in the third or fourth round of practice you get the best version of the presentation.

No one but the cat and my office walls heard that version.

If there was a hall of fame for rhetorical flourish and pithy points uttered to an empty room, I would be a shoo-in candidate.

But enough about my day.

We quickly turn again to We Learn Wednesdays, and this, the 31st installment and the 52nd marker in the effort. You remember this one. I ride my bike around the county seeking out historical markers. I shot this last December in a stockpiling effort to keep the feature active during the indoor season — and I think I’m now out of that stockpile.

This is … well, you can read the signs.

Near the end of the 18th century three men, Col. Robert G. Johnson and Dr. James Van Meter and Dr. Robert Hunter Van Meter, brothers, decided the area needed a Presbyterian church. Johnson was raised Episcopal in a nearby town, but found the style of the church to be too ritualistic and ornate for his tastes. In that same town were the Van Meters, men held in high regard.

In the early years, the Episcopals had no clergy, so they invited Presbyterian ministers to preach for them. That was the arrangement between 1809 until 1820, but they were predestined to go separate ways. The 17th Article of the Church of England, the one about predestination, was at the root of it. The Presbies wanted their own church building. So, on a Tuesday morning, March 6th, 1821, the morning after James Monroe was inaugurated for his second administration down in Washington, they laid the cornerstone to their first building.

Johnson donated the land and he and the brothers Van Meter covered much of the cost of the building. The congregation expanded in 1835, and then started work on this building in July of 1854, just a few days after George Eastman, the inventor of the Kodak camera, was born in New York.

After about three years of work, including moving the bell from the old church to the new, the building was opened.

(Eventually, the bell went to the fire department.)

The church has a Hook and Hasting two manual, fifteen rank pipe organ. It was built in 1878 and installed in 1879 by the Boston firm. Air for the organ was supplied by hand pumping until 1902, when a water-driven motor was installed. They upgraded the organ again, to electricity, in 1912.

As for the men, we’ve met Robert Johnson before. He was the slave owner, historian, horticulturalist, judge and soldier, the guy with the apocryphal story about tomatoes. He died four years before this building went up. Neither of the Van Meters saw it, either.

Scottish immigrant John McArthur Jr. was the architect, a prominent figure from Philadelphia. He would later design the landmark Philadelphia City Hall, then the tallest occupied building in the world. While many of his works have been demolished, at least a dozen or so still exist.

McArthur learned his craft from a man named Thomas Ustick Walter, the fourth architect of the U.S. Capitol, who redesigned the dome and created the office wings. He would have been there the day Monroe was inaugurated, when the first cornerstone of this congregation’s first church was laid. And while his student was overseeing the construction design of this church, he was also working on his own church in Philadelphia.

Architects must keep busy. Shame so many of them don’t see the fruits of their labors. McArthur could have seen this church, but he did not live to see his masterpiece, the Philadelphia City Hall completed. He died, at 66, in 1890. The city hall was finally finished in 1910.

Now the only thing I have to do to tie this up is to find a photo from Eastman of any of these buildings. Or a letter from the Van Meter family to the Kodak people.

Wouldn’t that be a neat solution?

Failing that, how about this. Robert Van Meter and Robert Johnson, two of the founders of this church are each buried not far away, but I only just discovered that. I’ve seen the church where James Van Meter is buried. I showed it to you last September.

You can learn so much on a bike ride.

We’ll see another great marker next week. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Today’s dose of relaxation is right here. Enjoy the zen of the California coastline. This place is so remarkable, and so ubiquitious, that there weren’t even signs offering a name. There are road signs on the Pacific Coast Highway that offer you a spot to pull over and soak in the beauty. The signs say Vista Views. And so that’s the name of this place. But, man, it needs a real name. This was majestic.


Elsewhere, a little slow motion of the water coming right up to your toes. If you feel the water in your socks it is likely because I felt the water in my socks and that’s called mediated transference, which, is not a thing, not in this way, not until just now, because I made it up.

Makes sense, I am a media professional steeped in the study of media effects. But look at all of that water sliding on in!


How long do you figure those rocks have sat there, waiting out time and wind and the water for their fate?

I have, I think, two more slow motion videos from this trip. But there are plenty of other Relax Enjoy Repeat videos still to come, not to worry.

We’re getting pretty good at dragging things out around here, aren’t we?

Mar 24

Midway through another one

It will take some doing, but the next week and a half will be busy and productive. There’s a lot of grading and class prep and things of that sort to get to. It started yesterday, with the grading of midterm exams. That was a full afternoon. But it does not end there, no.

This is the week where I found two mistakes in my planning of the semester. Every class has something due this week, meaning I have to grade … everything. It’s a real first world problem, yes, I know. It is also the second time I’ve had this problem this term.

The issue becomes one of pacing. The goal is to get all of this week’s assignments completed this week. The challenge is to give myself time to do all of that, but also to let each little piece breathe. Read and critique and evaluate a handful of stories, take a break to clear the mind, and then come at it a new.

If I pace it right, I’ll get through everything Friday night. Maybe Saturday.

And next time I plan out a semester calendar, this will definitely be top of mind.

Let’s go back to California! Here’s a nice meditative video from the Pacific Coast. Enjoy a minute on me.

Relax. Enjoy. Repeat.

Here’s another slow motion video from Spooner’s Cove, as well.


Maybe I’m the only one amused by the slow motion waves, but there’s only nine more of them to go.

Time for this week’s installment of We Learn Wednesdays. This is our 30th installment and the 51st marker in the effort. The effort is riding my bike around the county to find the historical markers. I shot this last December in a stockpiling effort in the hopes of being able to stretch them out until I could ride outside again in the spring — which will surely happen just any day now …

(It’s been 48-52 and damp and gray for days and that meteorological condition is no longer novel.)

Over in Salem, they mark the old Star Hall Corner.

Site of Star Hall, demolished in 1898 for the building of City National Bank. Legend has it—if you step on the star, you will always come back to Salem. Rededicated Aug. 24, 1996

Founded in 1888, City National Bank was swallowed up in a merger in 1984. It’s just one bank, but I wonder how that paralleled the fortunes of the town. Today that bank looks empty, and there’s no sign giving hints of what may have been recently happening inside. You can still see an ATM in a side foyer, though.

It’s an important intersection in the town. In earlier, lively days, this was a choice corner, Jones Corner. There was a clothing store there and around it there were stores, warehouses, tailor shops, shoe shops and more. A man named Ashton ran the clothes shop, he had a big star as part of his outdoor signage. The star became iconic, and, overtime, Jones Corner became Star Corner. You can see it here.

A floor or two above the street was the social club, Star Hall. Dances and parties abounded. See and be seen. But social connections gave way to bigger financial opportunities, of course. Apparently, the City Council and the bank developer agreed to take the star from that sign and marked the spot.

The commemoration has been there longer than the club existed, I suppose. The rededicated marker, too. Anyway, here’s the star.

Just before I saw Star Corner a panhandler wandered over to ask for five bucks. I told her I did not have the money. Didn’t even have my wallet, as I was dressed in cycling clothes that day. She went on about her way and I thought, Five bucks? Street-level inflation!

It’s a struggling area. Across the street are a pair of century-old buildings that were rehabbed a decade ago as apartments. The hope was that they would help re-energize the historic district. It’s close. You can tell. Part of being close is that it’s also close to falling back on harder times again.

I wonder if anyone has considered adding a social club.

Next week’s marker will take us to a beautiful church building. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Mar 24

The most wide-ranging Wednesday post in a while

This evening I watched a man in a custom suit and sneakers talk about his life’s work, listened as he painted a picture that he thinks everyone is out to get him, that money is everything and that having a life is secondary to having work. It would have been disconcerting if it didn’t come off as sadly insecure.

It’s one thing to be driven. To have gotten, undeniably, indisputably, to where you want to be and still come off that way, it seemed difficult, in the day-to-day. I could be wrong. The guy had on a great suit. It fit him, and the rest of the vibe.

Where as I was wearing shoes that look good, but don’t exactly treat my feet well. I like them, but there better not be a lot of walking around in them. And I’m secure enough about my feet to be able to say that.

It is not a phrase I use. It’s not one I think of often. If I were trying to sum up a person, or a presentation, or an attitude, it’s just not a descriptor I reach for. But at one point during the talk it slipped out of my mouth, under my breath, to no one in particular. At the end of the talk, as everyone stood to leave, the strangers in front of me stood and looked back and we all made eye contact, as you do. One gentleman said, “He seems very insecure.”

Also, I’ve become a huge proponent of having a life and an identity away from the office. One day I’ll even make one!

Right now I’m too busy watching things bloom, and waiting for it to get just a little bit warmer. But instead of a steady, constant, climb of mercury, we are stuck in this middle ground of 48 degrees. We are stuck in that time of relative temperatures. Six, seven weeks ago, you’d take 48 degrees, and you’d be pleased with it. But now, somehow, the body knows better. It isn’t supposed to be 48 degrees anymore. The rational mind has known this for some time, but now the body has gotten wise.

That’s when the impatience really kicks in.

But the budding and flowering things don’t seem to mind. The magnolia liliiflora is getting ready to put on a show.

It’s a small tree, basically, because the Overambitious Shrub Lobby got to the policy makers. It’s from China, though it’s often called Japanese. And, as you can tell, it will offer many, many blooms before the leaf buds open.

It is a slow growing thing, about six inches a year or so.

Makes you wonder if we cut it back too far last fall.

I guess we’ll find out in two or four years.

Here’s another video from last week’s visit to California. Here, the waves are rolling in on William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach. Just across the highway and well up the hill is the Hearst Castle. They’re rather fond of the old media magnate. Gave him a nice, quite, beach too.


The Hearst family owned it all, until they gave it to the state in the 1950s.

We were only there for a short while, of course, but it looks like there’s a lot to enjoy there.

Once again it’s time for We Learn Wednesdays. Today’s is our 29th installment, and I don’t know why I’m still counting that. Anyway, I ride my bike around the county to find the historical markers via bike. Good way to see things, and it’s amusing to take pictures of sometimes important old places in funny clothes. This is the 50th marker in that effort, and I shot this one last December in a stockpiling effort.

The stockpile should last until it gets warm, and I can put some road miles in my legs. But I digress.

I digress because I have nothing.

Here’s the building.

And here’s the marker.

It’s gone on sale again just this week. It’s seemed to have been off and on the market a lot in the last several years. It’s been a mixed use rental for the last decade or so. And the building, according to property records, was built in 1888.

The web will not tell me what makes this place deserving of being on the historic register. You’d think the historic register people would put that on a site themselves. The historic register people do not.

Next week, we’ll learn a tiny bit of a long-gone social club. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Sometimes you run across a good obituary. Obituaries are a celebration of the living, we were taught in J-school, and sometimes the obit writers remember that. It takes a great skill to write a quality obituary, though some of them do come easier than other, prepackaged with magic or memoirs or flacks as they are. A remarkable person, a life well-lived. All of it is found in this one:

As a teenager, Mr. Greenfield was Maximilian Grünfeld, a skinny Jewish prisoner whose job was to wash the clothes of Nazi guards at the concentration camp. In the laundry room one day, he accidentally ripped the collar of a guard’s shirt. The man whipped Max in response, then hurled the garment back at the boy.

After a fellow prisoner taught Max how to sew, he mended the collar, but then decided to keep the shirt, sliding it under the striped shirt of his prison uniform.

The garment transformed his life. Other prisoners thought it signified that Max enjoyed special privileges. Guards allowed him to roam around the grounds of Auschwitz, and when he worked at a hospital kitchen, they assumed that he was authorized to take extra food.

Max ripped another guard’s uniform. This time, it was deliberate. He was creating a clandestine wardrobe that would help him survive the Holocaust.

“The day I first wore that shirt,” Mr. Greenfield wrote seven decades later, “was the day I learned clothes possess power.”

At every turn the obituary gets better and better, and you don’t say that about a lot of newspaper copy. It’s one of the best obits I’ve ever read. And is, without a doubt, the most memorable piece I’ve ever read in a fashion section. Give it a try.

Mar 24

They’re always saving the clock tower

Another blah day. This was in the forecast and, thus, is not surprising. Maybe seeing it coming makes it a more impactful thing. The ceiling was low, and also wet. And so was the ground. It rained a lot today. And it was chilly. This has been a mild winter, noticeably so. The mild part has been noticeable, but so, too, has the cold part. And we are this week teetering on the edge of some cold-not cold precipice. It could go either way at any minute.

Sunday it was so pleasant we had to go outside, and good thing too, considering, what the week has offered us weather-wise. We started a fire, which was lovely, except I spent more time fetching things to put on it than enjoying it. That’s one of the things we’ll work on.

As soon as it dries out again. I believe we received about 1.5 inches of rain today. And so this March is just a slobbery lion, so far. So far. I don’t think this March know what it is yet.

It might be effecting my energy levels. It’s either that or sleep, and I’m accustomed to typical sleep experience. Maybe someone put solar panels on my shoulders when I wasn’t looking — solar wearables, the green fasion of tomorrow! — and the clouds have reduced my wattage.

Speaking of watts, I mentioned last week that I was taking rides on Zwift with pace partners. There are nine in the game, each riding at a different tempo, which is expressed in watts per kilogram. My regular output puts me between the fourth robot pacer, Yumi who rides at a casual 2.9 w/kg and the third one, Jacques, who pedals along at a slightly more respectable 3.2 w/kg.

This is Jacques, the green robot just ahead of my first-person view.

His legs always keep turning at the same pace, no matter what. I am fascinated by the spine and humanist touches they’ve put into the cartoon robot on the video game. I have never, until just now, noticed the pacers’ shoes.

The conventional wisdom is that if you want to get faster you ride with people (or robots) who are faster than you. (Then you’ve no choice, I guess. Get stronger or get demoralized.) So how long can I stay with Jacques, who is faster than me? Tuesday of last week I stayed in Jacques’ pack for five miles. Last Wednesday I was able to hang on for 6.5 miles. spent five miles in Jacques pack, and that was from a cold start. Today, after a few miles to warm up my legs, I spent 6.5 miles with Jacques. On Saturday, I was there for 11.9 miles.

So you can see the progression.

Tuesday, I was on Jacques’ wheel for 17.3 miles.

I was a bit impressed with that, myself. How long, I wonder, should you hang on before it isn’t considered hanging on, but, rather, just where you should be?

This sounds like a deeply philosophical question. And I suppose it could be, but I mean it purely in this practical sense. I spent 42 minutes and change in his group. Am I an interloper, or, sometimes, a part of it?

The point of being in the paced groups is that you get a reprieve with the digital drafting. (It’s a video game, and this is silly, because the physics aren’t quite right.) Strava, meanwhile, tells me that there was a half-hour of that ride with my third highest power output ever. So maybe taking two days off was good. Or maybe I’ve not been sapped of energy to the extent that I am complaining about.

Of course, if it takes one of my most powerful semi-sustained rides to stay there, perhaps I haven’t really earned my way into Jacques’ group just yet.

It is time, once more, for We Learn Wednesdays. This is the 28th installment, making this a regular feature, one where I find the county’s historical markers via bike. This is the 49th marker in that effort, which presently consists of photos I grabbed last fall.

And on this particular day, (a particularly beautiful December day!) I visited a 19th century church building that traces its origin back another century still.

They started as a mission of the Cohansey Baptist Church, who’s ancestors arrived nearby, from Ireland, in 1683. This mission started meeting in 1745 and became the first Baptist congregation in the county, and the eighth in the state when they organized in 1755. The original name was The Antipeado Baptist Society Meeting in Salem and Lower Alloway’s Creek.

This is their third building. The first was on a farm, about three miles down the road. They say that building would fit in their current sanctuary. They wanted to be closer to the center of things, so they moved two miles near the end of the 18th century. Soon, though, that church building still felt too far away. So, in 1845, they moved another mile, and onto the current property.

There was a clock in the original steeple, made by Jacob D. Custer, of Norristown, Pa. Custer made watches, one of the early Americans who did so, and created steam machinery, but he’s famous for his dozens and dozens of clocks. The one he installed here rang out for the first time on September 26, 1846. This was a town clock, many of the citizens were involved in raising the money, a local concern of clock makers took over the maintenance, and it rang out with news.

I always wonder how you were supposed to know what the ringing meant. There would have been a lot of cocked ears, and people wandering over to ask about the news of the day. This one, for instance, rang to celebrate the end of the Civil War. A few weeks later it filled the air to mark Abraham Lincoln’s funeral.

In 1902 storm damage got to the 56-year-old clock, and by the next year the city saw it shut down. The editor of the local newspaper, who was also the mayor — and in 1903, this wasn’t a problem — raised money for a new clock. He tossed in $200 himself, and so the church and city went to a clock maker in Connecticut, the Seth Thomas Company for a new timepiece for the steeple. Custom-built, the new one weighed almost a ton. That didn’t include the eight-foot pendulum and the bell, which itself was 1,535 pounds. The whole thing was put into operation for the first time in 1903. There were lights behind the five-foot dials that apparently helped boats on the river.

But then, in January of 1947, the clock tower caught fire. The fire department was just a block away, but the winds were cold and stiff, the flames were hot and the clock was lost. They say it struck ten as smoke escaped the steeple, and stopped keeping time at 10:22.

A week later, there was a new fundraising effort. And 15 months later, there was a new clock installed, this time by a Boston firm, and the bell had to be recast and remounted. At 11:00 a.m. on April 15, 1948, the bell rang out again, and this version of the clock has been in place ever since.

If it’s working these days, it was running a few hours behind when I visited, according to the time stamp of the photo.

I wonder if they give tours inside to see the clockworks.

Next time, we’ll visit a 19th century building, that the web seems to know very little about. Should be fun! If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Feb 24

This one is for you lovers of turtles and old fire trucks

It’s just grading today. So many stories to read and provide feedback on. That’s where I spent my day. And where I’ll spend tomorrow. I find that spreading them out is helpful, because I can be a touch more patient with what I’m trying to offer as constructive criticism. Plus, it lets me stretch out the mental art of evaluation. That has to be a thing, right?

So it’s grading all the way down. Unless you want to hear about today’s bike ride. To shake things up, I thought I would try this new thing where I would ride with one of the pace partner for as long as possible. There are about nine available to you, each riding at a different tempo — expressed in cycling as watts per kilogram. I know, roughly, where I belong, which is between the third pacer, a robot named Jacques riding at a pedestrian 3.2 w/kg and the fourth, a robot named Yumi, who is turning over pedals at an even more pedestrian 2.9 w/kg.

So the challenge is to hang with Jacques as long as possible. Yesterday, I spent five miles in Jacques pack, and that was from a cold start. Today, after a few miles to warm up my legs, I spent 6.5 miles with Jacques. Surely this is down to the warm up, just having a better day or some other thing, there’s no way I made a 24 percent improvement in one evening. Right?

Do you want to see another photo of Jennifer, the turtle? Here’s one with my lovely bride for scale.

There are just a few more photos to share. No really! But a lot of video! No really! I am going to continue to stretch this out as much as possible. Really!

Now it is time for We Learn Wednesdays once again. This is the 27th installment of the regular feature where I am finding the county’s historical markers by bike. This is the 48th marker in the effort, which presently consists of photos I grabbed last fall.

This was on one of the last outdoor rides of the year, a fruitful visit to one of the nearby small towns, and a centerpiece of civic life of Everytown, U.S.A. And I’d love to be able to tell you more about this building, but the most direct source is not online at the moment.

Shame, really. They even have tab on their page, as seen by Wayback Machine snapshots, that promises a bit of history, but I’ve randomly clicked through 15 years of those snapshots and nothing is present. I can tell you this.

Union Steam Engine Company, which was housed in this spot, first operated out of the lot where the old court house now resides. first formed in 1749 and operated from a modest firehouse at the corner of Market Street and Broadway. This museum, then, is the company’s second fire station. The front was enlarged to fit a 1935 model of the Ahrens Fox pumper. By the 1970s, they had to upgrade again, this time it was the building’s foundation, again, to support one of the great big trucks. Indeed, as the vehicles continued to grow, this old building became opsolete. And so it was, that this station made its last runs, in 1992. For a decade it was empty, and then the restorations began. Fighting crumbling walls, no utilities, low on money, volunteers restored the front façade to the original look, replaced replaced the frieze and connected the modern amenities, and then put in artifacts documenting more than 200 years of fighting fires in the region.

A local Facebook post tells me you can see the 1847 John Agnew Columbian Hand Pumper, the ornate boiler exhaust from the 1878 Silsby Steamer and other old tools of the trade, including old helmets, uniforms, speaking trumpets and more.

It is updated infrequently, but the museum itself has a nice Facebook page.

Next week, we’ll visit a 19th century church building, where the congregation that gathers traces its roots to 1745. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.