25 Minutes To Go

If you scroll down to the bottom of all the postings, over in the left hand corner there’s a widget counting down the time before I shuffle off to Buffalo and then, ultimately, to Cambridge. It reminds me of an old song written by the inimitable Shel Silverstein but made famous by Johnny Cash: 25 Minutes To Go. https://youtu.be/LzJhJXuPMEc

I am not, I don’t think, facing the same fate as the poor soul in the song, but there are times I feel like it as I prepare for my journey. Because, dammit all, I have to pack a freaking bag and the question is: How light can I travel? Decisions, decisions, decisions. I think I’ll not take that frilly little black thing, and the heels are out. Underwear? Sure, why not. Throw in a pair or two. Socks, an extra pair of walking shoes, a photograph or two, books, medicine cabinet, Dopp kit.

Dopp kit. Did you ever wonder why a toiletry bag is called a Dopp kit? Since this is a blog purportedly dedicated to searching out the answers to life’s persistent questions, I am going to tell you why a Dopp kit is called a Dopp kit.

From the Word Detective online, I discovered that “the Dopp Kit was first produced by Charles Doppelt, a leather goods designer who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the early 1900s. Although it may have been Doppelt’s nephew and employee, Jerome Harris, who actually invented the snazzy leather toiletries case, Doppelt was the boss and so the finished product bore a cropped form of his name, giving us the ‘Dopp Kit.'”

Oh Geez, now I’ve got 22 minutes to go, metaphorically speaking, so I’d best be about my business. As Sam Gamgee’s old duffer was fond of saying, “Job’s soonest finished as soonest begun.” 21 minutes to go.

The Eagle has landed…

On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin began their storied journey to the moon in Apollo 11. Four days latter, on July 20, all the world heard Neil Armstrong announce that “The Eagle has landed.” Shortly thereafter, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. It was a stupendous technological achievement that fulfilled America’s dream, articulated in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, to put humans on the moon by the end of the decade.  Is it mere coincidence that Dennis Ryan and I will begin our soon-to-become-storied journey to Cambridge, England 48 years to the day after the launching of Apollo 11? We need only recall Sherlock Holmes’s reply to his brother Mycroft’s question, “Oh Sherlock. What do we say about coincidence?” Sherlock responded, “The universe is rarely so lazy.” How many coincidences have to pile up on the ground before we say, “Is something happening here?”

Well, gentle reader, something happened here in the bunker yesterday that, from my perspective, is as stupendous a technological achievement as was landing humans on the moon in 1969 and no coincidence. Yesterday, my good and great friend of almost 50 years, Roger “Insurance is My Life” Venden, succeeded in transferring 11,000 documents and more than 16,000 pictures, as well as two email accounts, and all my bookmarked favorites (there were hundreds) from my desk computer to my new laptop. The process took 3½ hours and there were no glitches. An amazing performance by Roger whose expertise I applaud, and whose good humor and bonhomie never waived and serves as my standard against which to measure all others who come within my ambit.

Proof of Roger’s success is found in the fact that I am composing this post on the laptop that I hope will function well in Cambridge and allow me to post from that storied City the adventures of the APs as they search out Cromwell’s Head and Wittgenstein’s Brain. If that can happen, then the Eagle will well and truly have landed.





First you put your two feet close up tight…

Oh, gentle reader, what I am going through for you. Spent yesterday obtaining British Pound Sterling, buying new walking shoes, and acquiring a new carry-on satchel that will hold my new laptop. The last time I bought British currency was when I went to England in 1984. The bank-lady that handles these international transactions at my bank was the same lady that handle these transactions in 1984. In 1984, my bank, BMO-Harris, was not BMO-Harris, it was M&I. But, like Constantinople, you can’t go back to M&I because M&I isn’t Constantinople, it’s Istanbul in a manner of speaking.

Nu! I hear you Leo Rosten aficionados say. So let me get to the point of this posting which is really about HAL junior, my new laptop. I am trying to do as much as my limited technical skills allow to prepare the HAL Jr. for Roger Venden’s manipulations this afternoon. What this means is that I plugged the computer in and managed to find the “Power On” button.  So far, so good. No mouse, of course, so I began the journey into learning about touchpad gestures: the two-finger pinch zoom, the one-finger slide, the three-finger swipe, the four-four finger tap, etc. Some gestures worked, others didn’t seem to do much except irritate me which gave rise to the middle-finger thrust. I found myself using the middle-finger thrust quite often. I’ve got that gesture down pat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have much effect on HAL Jr. I understand that you can buy a mouse for this machine and I may well do that. “Ballin’ The Jack” may work as a dance, but isn’t easily translated to the world of HAL Juniors.

San Remo Discovered: It’s a Long Way From Tipperary (and from Carlsbad too)

Those few of you who have been following Cromwell’s Head will recall that I made mention of Sinclair Lewis’s lament on travel from Dodsworth in an earlier post. He said that “to live in Carlsbad is seemly and to loaf in Sam Remo healing to the soul, but to get from Carlsbad to San Remo is the devil.” I observed that, since I didn’t know where San Remo or Carlsbad were, I continued to hope for the best in my trip to Buffalo and then on to London and eventually, Cambridge. I do know that the Victorian poet, Edward Lear, died at the age of 75 in San Remo so, clearly, he knew where San Remo was and maybe he even knew where Carlsbad was.

My ignorance was shattered last night when I ordered a takeout pizza from a little Italian restaurant not more than two minutes from Stately Johnson Manor. I’ve ordered take-out pizza from Papino’s many times over the last several years of its existence. I presume the cardboard containers have always been the same. Last night I looked at the container’s top image and what to my wondering eyes should should appear, not a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, that would have been more welcomed. No, what I observed was the location of San Remo. See it in the featured image? Way over in the top left hand corner? With that knowledge, I was, you understand, forced to search out the location of the Carlsbad to which Lewis referred. I discovered it in the Czech republic some 500+ miles by train from San Remo.  You may as well hear what Lewis had to say before his notions about living in Carlsbad and loafing in San Remo: “It is the awful toil which is the most distressing phase of travel. If there is anything worse than the aching tedium of staring out of car windows, it is the irritation of getting tickets [remember that Dennis and I must find our way to a self-service kiosk at Heathrow to get tickets to King’s Cross Station and then to Cambridge], packing, finding trains, lying in lurching berths, washing without water, digging out passports, and fighting through customs.” Isn’t that the truth. It’s more than 11 hours by train from Carlsbad to San Remo. Thank goodness I don’t know where Tipperary might be. That could really be the devil.

“Deeffeecult for you, easy for me.”

You remember HAL 9000 don’t you? HAL is the computer that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft and interacts with the ship’s crew in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 (Can you believe that?) film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  HAL is a villain, you’ll recall, and eventually is deactivated after causing the death of one of the crew members. A cautionary tale about computers found in a story by Arthur C. Clarke called The Sentinel. Clarke wrote the movie’s screenplay along with Kubrick. The movie also introduced a broader audience to Richard Strauss’s tone poem, Also Sprach Zarathustra, when it used the composition’s opening Sunrise fanfare as the opening scene of the movie. As you read this post, hear that opening fanfare in your mind’s ear. I am going to tell you a tale that I hope does not become a cautionary tale.

Dennis Ryan and I are about to embark on our own odyssey of sorts as we make our way to Cambridge, England in search of Cromwell’s Head and Wittgenstein’s Brain.  Dennis, happily, has succeeded in gaining us admission to Wittgenstein’s papers and notebooks archived in the Wren Library. The Wren is the library of Trinity College where Wittgenstein taught from 1929-1947. The library was designed by Christopher Wren in 1676. Apart from Wittgenstein’s papers, the Wren has a collection of other books and manuscripts that I’ll try to make the subject of a later post.

I’ll try, IF I can actually manage to make my latest purchase, a HAL junior, usable on this journey of discovery. Today I purchased my first laptop computer, an HP laptop with a 15.6″ screen, Intel® Core™ i5,  8GB Memory,  1TB Hard Drive, Windows® 10 Home whatever all that means. This Friday, my good friend, Roger Venden—a man versed in the arcania of computers—is going to come here to Stately Johnson Manor and attempt to plink whatever magic twangers need to be plunked to enable me to blog from faraway places with strange sounding names including Cambridge. He assures me that he can transfer data from my HP desk computer to the laptop and that, in doing so, my desire to blog, and the only reason I bought the laptop, will be fulfilled. “No problem,” Roger assured me on the phone. Now, when somebody says to me “no problem,” you know, from reading earlier postings, that my eyes glaze over. But, as Little Johnny said to Señor Wences on so many occasions when Señor Wences would complain that something or another was difficult , ”Deeffeecult for youeasy for me.” If Venden says the horse can do, can do; if he says the horse can do, can do, can do. I have every reason to believe that Roger is no tinhorn and is up to the job and will break HAL junior to the bridle of Roger’s expertise and will.  “Deefeecult for me, easy for him.”


Cromwell’s Head & Wittgenstein’s Brain

Two weeks from today, if all goes well (and what could possibly go wrong?), Dennis Ryan and I will be in Cambridge, England where, at 12:22 pm Cambridge time, July 5, it is 73ºF with 53% humidity.

I am sorry that I didn’t name this blog Cromwell’s Head & Wittgenstein’s Brain. After all, the primary reason that Dennis and I are traveling to Cambridge is to pursue Dennis’s passion for all things Wittgensteinian. Dennis is a philosopher by nature and academic training.  His doctoral dissertation explores aspects of Wittgenstein’s philosophical works. He’s no Ludwig-come-lately to the subject.

I, on the other hand, am not a philosopher. I am not even sure that I know what it really means to be a philosopher. Ironically, though, I, and several other students with whom I worked during my PhD program in the Department of Communicating Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison back in the early 70s, tried to read Wittgenstein and extract principles from his work that would help us build communication theory. We were not altogether successful but the failure was less Wittgenstein’s than our inability to make sense of his writings. Because Wittgenstein has a good deal to teach those of us who call ourselves rhetoricians or communicologists, we should have stuck with him. We should have labored longer in Wittgenstein’s vineyard and perhaps, in the fullness of time,  we could have produced a wine of rare distinction. As it turned out, we only produced a common varietal of whines, more’s the pity.

Had  we ears to listen and the minds to make sense of what we heard, what is it that Wittgenstein was saying? And what was he saying that attracted Dennis Ryan and came to play so central a role in Dennis’s life that Dennis was able to convince me, a dedicated non-traveler—must I remind you once more of my prime directive of travel? If you have to pack a bag, it’s too far to go—to pack a bag and travel with him to Cambridge to seek out Wittgenstein’s haunts?

I should let Dennis make his own argument here, but Dennis is not here, and though I do not purport to speak for him, here’s my take on the appeal of Wittgenstein for so many people, rhetoricians and philosophers alike. At the core of Wittgenstein’s work is his “theory” of language. Now look, there have been thousands of articles and books written about Wittgenstein’s philosophy (although not by Wittgenstein who published only one book in his life, the 75-page Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus ) so you’re not going to get much out of a paragraph or two written by me. But language is also at the heart of what we were studying in my PhD program, so Wittgenstein was saying some interesting things that could have been useful to us in theory building.  For example, Wittgenstein wrote “philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday.” Yes, and in the public arena, problems arise when language goes on holiday. Never more so than in these troubled times does this proposition seem valid. Wittgenstein—and, Boy Howdy, is this reducing his philosophy to cheese and crackers—sought to emphasize the role of ordinary language in describing the world. “What we do,” he wrote, “is bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.” So, in some ways I guess, Wittgenstein’s work is a sort of therapy to help us avoid error and confusion as we make our way through the world—a world that is constrained by language: The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. Wittgenstein once said that the aim of philosophy, at least his philosophy, was “To show the fly the way out of the fly bottle.” Thus it is that a  philosopher and a rhetorician can find common cause in trying to understand Wittgenstein and discovering how he helps us find some of the answers to some of life’s persistent questions.

Now that you have been steeped in Wittgensteinian arcania, let’s get back to Dennis and me and our travel to Cambridge. Cambridge is where Wittgenstein was briefly a student and where, from 1929-1947, he was a professor of philosophy at Trinity College. He is buried in Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge, and his writings are archived in the Wren Library in Cambridge, admission to which Dennis is working on now. So this is a pilgrimage of sorts. Not unlike Elvis aficionados who travel to Graceland, or Teddy Roosevelt admirers who travel to Sagamore Hill, Dennis and I travel to Cambridge. You got a problem with that? (oops, there’s that Gryffindor short-temper coming to the fore)

It turns out that Cromwell’s head is just the icing on the cake. But Wittgenstein’s brain in Cromwell’s skull: What a cake and what an icing!

Potential Gryffindors Looking for Platform 9¾

Do you  think that Queen Elizabeth would lend two of her Corgis to Dennis and me as service dogs? Well, Boy Howdy, it might take that to finally get the APs to Cambridge. All factors considered, getting to London’s going to be fairly easy, I think (distant rumbling heard—God laughing at my naivete perhaps?). The adventure starts when we get to Heathrow and have to make our way to “The Tube” to catch a train to King’s Cross Station where we will catch another train to Cambridge.

But wait, the adventure starts even before we board the train since we have to retrieve our already purchased train tickets to King’s Cross Station and thence to Cambridge from an e-ticket kiosk. All we have to do is comply with these directions:

How do I retrieve my British print at the station e-tickets at the train station?

  • Proceed to the self service kiosk
  • Select your language. Then choose “Collect Prepaid Tickets.”
  • Enter your e-ticket confirmation code or PNR which is an 8 character alphanumeric code unique to your trip and is included in the email confirmation you receive from Rail Europe. [N.B., I have not yet received this email confirmation]
  • Insert and remove any credit card when prompted. This does not have to be the credit card that made the purchase, it is simply to activate the printing of your tickets. Your credit card will not be charged.
  • Follow the simple instructions.

“Simple instructions?” If you could see me now, you will have noticed that my eyes have glazed over. I’m still working on “Proceed to the self-service kiosk.” I fear that without our spouses to guide us, Dennis and I may spend a week at King’s Cross station. But if we had the Queen’s service Corgis (what’s the plural here?), we might eventually wind up at Cambridge.

So, we will schlep our luggage on “The Tube” an hour into King’s Cross station (I’m thinking Dorothy Parker here: “What fresh hell is this?”) there to connect with a regular train to Cambridge.  There are 92 trains a day from King’s Cross Station to Cambridge, a 90 minute trip. At least we are traveling first class on the Cambridge-bound train.

If we make it to Cambridge, because, as you Harry Potter Fans know, King’s Cross Station, Platform 9¾, is where students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry catch the Hogwarts Express.  Should Dennis and I be so lucky as to board the train to Hogwarts, I am sure that, upon our arrival, the Sorting Hat would place us in Gryffindor “Where dwell the brave at heart. Their daring, nerve, and chivalry Set Gryffindors apart.” So says the Sorting Hat. Yes, Dennis and I are surely Gryffindor material.*

*By way of full disclosure and utter transparency, I should note that Gryffindors also tend to be short-tempered—thankfully! That means I won’t be eliminated out of hand, or, out of hat as the case may be. And since it’s not specifically mentioned as a trait that “sets Gryffindors apart,” Dennis, who is anything but short-tempered, but is brave at heart, will find a place in Gryffindor as well.