Teacher Figg and stoner Herbie Head welcome new element 115

Class, we would like to welcome 115 to the discussion. Who is “we?” Why it’s me, myself and I. No, that’s a little funny I made. We, are the class, with your teacher, me. I’m Mr. Figg. And yes, that includes you, Mr. Herbie Head. So just what is 115 and why are we talking about it?

Why, 115 is the newest element. It is the most recent addition to the Periodic Table of the Elements. Say what, man? You know, Mr. Head, the table you memorized for Chemistry I in the 10th Grade? Say what? You did take Chemistry in high school. Oh wow man, did I. I took every kind of chemical I could get my hands on. You know the saying: “Better love through chemistry.” Uh, I think that is “Better LIFE through chemistry.” Yeah, that too.

Okay, bring up your periodic charts from the Web and look at the top, right corner. And look on the bottom row of that group and you will find “Uup.” It is located between “Fl and Lv.” It has the number 115 on it.

Does anyone have a guess what Uup stands for? Yes, Mr. Head. Uh, wow man, I think it stands for U up. You know, like “U up for a good time?

Uh, no. No, the Uup represents “ununpentium.” Those are Greek and Latin words for 115. How nifty, huh? It sits in between flerovium and livermorium.

Uh, hey Mr. Figg, man, does any of those letters stand for a BC Powder, those words are kind of giving me a headache?

No, Mr. Head. They do not. Now here in a nutshell: We have the atomic number, such as 115, which stands for the number of protons found in the nucleus of an element. So for ununpentium, it has 115 protons in its nucleus. Now uranium has 92 protons, thus making it the heaviest element that nature has to offer. So then, what does that make 115? (Sigh) Yes, Mr. Head.

That makes, like, one really heavy dude, man. So like all those protons are weighted down so 115 is like the heaviest unnatural dude. Yes, Mr. Head, that is correct. The dude, er, ah, element was made in a laboratory. And eventually a scientific body might name 115, something else? Yes, Mr. Herb. I mean, Mr. Head.

You mean, like, Ms. Conner’s? She has one scientific bod!

Uh, I think it’s about bell time. You can find more information in this well-written article on the newest element. It’s on the National Geographic Web site. Have a nice evening.

You too, Figg man.



Shut the **** up! We’re trying to live in here.

Noise is a very quirky creature. I like a little white noise with which to sleep and block out the things that could bother me. But when decibel levels rise above my comfort zone then I can become quite irritated.

Loud trucks on the highway, the cars that drive around the neighborhood going “boom-ba-boom-ba-boom” and all such racket make me long for the spaces where “seldom is heard a discouraging word.” For that matter, I like those places where seldom is heard anything.

I remember those mornings of my youth. I would wake to the mill whistle in our town. One more blast from that steam whistle would blow a bit later just to make sure everyone was up. You could walk to school and perhaps all that could be heard was the faint sound of a chain saw or the whistling of a bird. That was probably 50 years ago. Holy s**t, that seems like such a long time. But that was what a kid heard growing up in a small sawmill town in the East Texas pineywoods.

The funny thing is that I can still go to that town and step outside and hear nothing. No noise whatsoever. It makes me wonder why I have spent my life over the past 25 years living in metropolitan areas. The answer is easy enough. Work. But believe me, I have once again become longing for the peace and quiet of the country and now I have science on my side.

This piece in The New York Times talks of studies indicating high blood pressure and stress can spike from the noise of an ascending jet, and those physiological states can continue for a period afterward. Maybe even scarier was a report by the World Health Organization saying noise is responsible for the loss of “ … one million healthy life years annually as a consequence of noise-related disability and disease.”

One article and one study, of course, is no bellwether of doomsday by noise. It just gives one thought that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to find a little quiet somewhere and perhaps even reciprocate by shutting the **** up.



Drone industry in Washington to drone on about expanded unmanned aircraft use


A headline on today’s Stars & Stripes Website threateningly announces: “Drones descend on Washington — Just for show.” But the content of the story sounds much scarier than the headline.

It seems that something called the “Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International” is featuring 600 exhibits in a three-day trade fair in the D.C. convention center. In other words,  makers of drones are seeking every possible buyer for the unmanned aircraft ranging from law enforcement to those managing forests. The article says the first objective of the show is to ease the fear of drones, going so far as to avoid using the word “drone.” Ah, do we want an unmanned plane loaded with missiles flying over our neighborhoods and playgrounds? Anyone with even the most remote, pardon the pun, common sense probably wouldn’t.

Those who accept the broadest interpretation of the right to bear arms would perhaps believe these unmanned aircraft would be great for hunting white-tailed deer in the woods. Why you wouldn’t even have to leave the house to “harvest” a 12-point buck!

Aside from the, hopefully, most far-fetched uses of drones many people likewise fear the opportunities for expanded privacy intrusions that have already traveled far afield from what even the sharpest of our “Founding Fathers” might have imagined. You might have to give up some privacy to live in a safe world of expanding terror. Then again, there is no sense in handing the government the keys to the kingdom.

Even the most practical matters — how to manage an ever-crowded sky –seem far from determined in a world in which drones are commonplace. Plus, we must remember that is is already the 21st century and we’ve yet to see even the most limited use of flying automobiles!

I hope people see such a gathering of unmanned flight as a warning to our society that maybe, maybe hell, that we should have a giant public debate before these drones begin to take off aside general and commercial aviation. But I have been disappointed by society so many times before.


SPAM? Here it’s for you.

Things, whatever that means, have become more technical and less funny.

Oh we though the Internet was a laugh a minute when it began. But how many dancing babies or cat videos can a person watch? How many cans of SPAM can you eat? How many times can you use the word SPAM? How many uses for SPAM can one find? A SPAM battleship. A SPAM water fountain with SPAM dolphins spitting out water. A Church of SPAM. SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, by damn!

Long ago when telephones weren’t known as land lines except on a ship people played telephone pranks.

“Grocery store”

“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”

“Why yes we do.”

“Well you better let him out or he will suffocate.”


“Joe’s Bar.”

“Hi, is Pepe Roni there?”

“Just a minute. Pepe Roni, you gotta phone call!”

Sometimes they would get a little nasty. A guy I knew in college said he could often tell over the phone when he made receptionists at a Tyler, Texas, car dealership, blush by asking if their boss was available. The name of the dealership was King Chevrolet and often you would see the owner, Jack King, on TV. The fellow I knew used to ask:

“Excuse me ma’am, but could you tell me if Jack King is on or is Jack King off?”

Not thinking, the woman would supposedly call on the telephone loudspeaker:

“Is Jack King on or is Jack King off?”

Hilarity ensued.

It used to be, if you can believe it, people would have their names in the phone book. Their names would not be used for glorification, as is absurdly portrayed in the Steve Martin classic film, “The Jerk.” But even famous folks would have their names published.

Kids calling up and bothering these famous people may or may not have originally driven them to unlisted numbers.

I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this story. So listen, and listen good.

My Uncle Ted died from alcoholism. He may or may not have suffered from what we now know of as “PTSD” from World War II. He was a bachelor in his late 40s or 50s when he lived with us. I remember see him tripping, rolling in the grass, after drinking a bottle off turpentine. I still remember the sickly, sweet smell emanating from his room that day after Daddy had to meet the town doctor to get a hypodermic needle for some kind of antidote to administer to Uncle Ted.

We were called and told my Daddy’s brother had died. We went to Daddy’s sister and brother-in-laws place in South Houston before Uncle Ted’s funeral. I didn’t like funerals very much, or at all, having experienced my grandmother’s one a couple of years before. It was surely creepy when her body was taken to her home and watched all the night before. So I wasn’t at all keen on going to Uncle Ted’s funeral.

And I thought a lot of Uncle Ted. He used to sing the song about the “Monkeys Have No Tails In Zamboanga,” the South Pacific being the area in which he landed on island after island. He even took me hunting for armadillos where I would shoot one with a .22 and make it jump afterwards. He even gave me a .410 for Christmas. I felt bad, but even after Momma’s gentle coaxing. I said I wasn’t going to go to my uncle’s funeral. I didn’t.

So I stayed in my Uncle Frank and Aunt Bess’ home while the adults went to the funeral. Eventually, I got bored watching cable TV on their color, or more like, “colored” TV. I thought the color of TVs back then were pretty funky. I looked around the house for things to entertain me. Finally, I saw the two huge Houston telephone books, or maybe it was three. One was the Yellow Pages, which held about 15 pages of my small-town, hometown phone book.

As I searched the phone book, I thought about the Mercury astronauts who lived in Clear Lake back then when the Johnson Space Center was mostly just a maze of buildings, one of which had a Mercury capsule or two. My cousin’s family lived there at Clear Lake when it was just building up from the swamp land. Upon my first visit from the Pineywoods of my youth, to Houston, then about the seventh largest city in the nation — today it is No. 4 — my cousins took me to their neck of the woods where all the astronauts lived. So I thought about the Mercury 7 astronauts. I knew them by heart as they were my true heroes. I liked Scott Carpenter the best. He just seemed like a laid-back guy. But I also though Wally Schirra was quite a fellow.

So searching through the massive phone book, passed the Schafers and the Schexnadyers, there I found Schirra and I think it was “Walter” or “Walter M. Schirra.” But he was the only one in the phone book and the only one living in Clear Lake. I might have been a dumb ol’ country boy, but I ‘wuden t stupid.’

I called but didn’t expect anyone home except maybe his wife or their cleaning lady, whom I imagined was Negro (as we said in polite company as “black” was not yet discovered in that time.) As a matter of fact, I didn’t even fathom that they might have a Hispanic maid. I didn’t know any Latinos back then. They were all foreign and lived way South. Anyway, lo and behold, I called Wally Schirra’s house and this voice somewhere above baritone answered: “Hello.”

In my 12-year-old voice I tried to speak as a grown-up: “Hello. Mr. Schirra?” He answered “yes.” I don’t know what all I talked to him about. But he was nice. He was even sympathetic about my Uncle Ted’s funeral. I then told him thank you and goodbye. I don’t know why I never told anyone about this. I suppose it was because I wasn’t supposed to be goofing on the phone.

Later in life, when I worked as a reporter, I called a few important people on the phone who wondered how in the hell I got their number. I talked to President Bush’s press secretary Scott McLellan after a White House reporter from Texas gave me the number. I talked to former FBI director William Sessions after talking to his son, U.S. Rep. “Just Call Me Pete” Sessions, who gave me the number. A reporter from a sister paper in Palm Beach gave me former Attorney General Janet Reno’s phone number. She was quite surprised I called!

Like everything in this old world, it seems, has gotten more complicated and meaner.

Today there is “swatting,” which involves getting a SWAT team to descend on famous or even not so famous people. It seems the rage these days. It’s even become international.

Things, you know what I’m talking about, no longer what they once were. And thus they will never be.



Duct tape: Dandy bandage and more

An old high school friend who I am happy to have reconnected with through Facebook is a cattle farmer in East Texas. Now I am not here to get into a discussion on the difference between a cattle farmer and rancher. Some would say there is a difference, that people who raise cattle are ranchers. Others would say half-a-dozen of two and screw the other 10. Nevertheless, Bobby raises longhorn cattle and does so on his cattle farm.

My friend wrote that a limb snapped while he was clearing a fence row, causing some barbed wire to puncture a vein in his arm. His first aid consisted of wrapping it in a bandanna and using duct tape for a bandage. I wrote Bobby that one time I had a similar mishap. My friend Waldo and I was fencing some 200-something acres of his country land up in Cherokee County, Texas, one summer. The barbed wire snapped from the spool and poked me with one of its barbs right into my right-armed median vein. I think that’s what the vein is called. It is the one opposite your elbow. The one in might right arm is fairly prominent and has always drawn positive comments from the many nurses and phlebotomists who have poked the vein for assorted reasons over the years.

I had nothing practical that day to stop the bleeding except my shirt. We were out in the middle of the country and I was hot and sweaty. It was no big deal. I’m pretty certain some duct tape was around somewhere in Waldo’s truck. But it never occurred to me to wrap it around my shirt for a bandage. I think I was still licensed as an emergency medical technician back then, though I wasn’t a “practicing” one. Still, why I didn’t think of using duct tape to stop my oozing, red blood is beyond me.

Maybe I was not, back in the day, fully bought into the duct tape culture. That would come in time, when I first started in the newspaper business.

My beginning newspaper job was in a small East Texas town at an equally small circulation newspaper. We had not yet started using personal computers for all of our varied  tasks. I used a weird-looking box with a tiny screen, or video display terminal, as a word processor. The text was then copied onto a floppy disk. I think the disk was known as a “5 1/4-inch minifloppy.” The hell if I know.

The disk was later put into a machine which printed the “cold type” or text that would be pasted up on a dummy sheet. Eventually a camera-ready page was produced, and turned into a plate for the presses. The rest is history and more work, work, work.

This machine which printed out the text was huge and worn-looking. It appeared as if it would fall apart any minute. But my publisher wasn’t about to let that happen. He would seem to magically appear out of nowhere with his handy roll of duct tape and patch up that or any machine in need of adhesion. His prolific use of duct tape even became a thing of legend with the staff. Each year during the Christmas party he would get a nicely-adorned package in which the supposed “gift” turned out to be duct tape.

I have since learned myriad uses for perhaps the handiest man-made item in existence next to the flush toilet. I have even seen flush toilets patched up with duct tape. I have seen duct tape used for Halloween costumes. I personally use duct tape to patch my steering wheel.

If the Wikipedia entry on “duck tape” and its evolution into “Ductape” is to be believed then it is a rather interesting story. The wonderful tape is certainly an interesting item and one of many uses. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that duct tape has probably saved lives at some time or the other. But please remember, if you plan on using duct tape as a bandage some day be sure and have something non-adhesive for use as a dressing. Do this because, if duct tape can hold half the earth together, it will as likely relieve you of hair and perhaps a layer of skin.

Powerful stuff, that duct tape.