Web links related to the Back of the Book program of September 18, 2000

AARRRRGGHH!!! I'd said that this page was all done, but I'd forgotten the links for the 34th St. Web cams and Project Gutenberg. I've put them after the E-mail. It's now Sunday, 9/24/2000 04:42:08, and this page had better be done or I'm going to kick myself. We had a Back to School program or something this time. I went on about pencils a bit, and a few other things as well. I did read a little of the mail backlog. So unless something really odd happens this page is finished. Hope there's enough here about pencils for you.

At the Pacifica National Board meeting in Washington, D.C. on Sunday the entire Board was served with a formal, legal complaint by listeners. You can use the Pacifica Theft Page to find out what we know that Pacifica Management is up to these days.

I was able to listen to WBAI at 10:17 PM last night, so we're probably getting Web cast by porus dot com.

The Autumnal Equinox will occur this coming Friday September 22, 2000 at 1:27 PM.

On the program I spoke about the new cell phone technology called “mobile positioning.” This technology basically allows the possessor of a cell phone to be tracked, located and generally monitored by friend, family, boss and Big Brother.

As I said on the program, I think that the future will see measures enacted that we today would call Draconian and unconstitutional. But from what I've observed of people, especially in the face of new technology, it won't be imposed all of a sudden by a dictator or authoritarian regime, it'll happen gradually and with the consent of the majority. For convenience and a sense of safety most people will give up rights of all sorts. Kind of like the story of the frog that will let you boil it slowly.

As far as I'm concerned the Olympics have been reduced to boring crap. It's all about TV ratings, advertising and who's going to make the most from endorsements after the games. And of course there's the tremendous corruption of the International Olympic Committee itself, and the United States Olympic Committee is a bunch of homophobic scumbags.

I noted on the program that there was a burglary in the wee hours of the morning at the Democratic Party National Headquarters at 2 Penn Plaza in Manhattan. Stolen were some notebook computers and a Palm Pilot. More interesting is that these computers had on them details of the Democrat Party's fund raising and lots of information about the bigger donors. The NYPD says that the burglars were probably just after the computers themselves. Can you say Watergate?! Looks like after 28 years the right wing has finally found some burglars who can pull off a job without getting caught.

When school lets out kids sing:

No more pencils,
No more books,
No more teacher's dirty looks!

But now it's back to school time and there aren't any school kids' songs devoted to going back to school. Most of us are way out of school now, but some of us (Okay, just me!) still have something left over from those days, and I don't mean the scars from corporal punishment. What I have left is a stationery fetish!

Even in grammar school I had a conflict with going back to school. I greatly disliked losing the freedom I'd had for the Summer, but I did like the various stationery items I got to buy or at least peruse.

I started looking around on the web and found that there are people who are interested in pencils, I mean really interested.

Today we refer to the “lead” pencil because the people who first found and started to manipulate graphite didn't know what it was. Also, the ancient Greeks and Romans used lead disks to mark lines on the parchments and papyrus they used to write on, and raw graphite looks a lot like newly smelted lead.

Of course the only lead that used to be in pencils was in the paint! This probably explains a lot about some of us who used to chew those pencils back in the old days. There hasn't been any leaded paint used in pencils for quite a number of years now, so the kids today won't get to use the excuse some of us old timers do.

Graphite is of course just one of the forms of the element Carbon. When the graphite is rubbed on something like paper microscopic flakes of graphite are deposited on it. This flaking action is also what makes graphite an excellent lubricant in some cases.

Here's an illustrated page about how pencils are made

I was surprised to learn that graphite was pretty much an unknown to people before a storm uprooted an old tree in Borrowdale, England some time before 1560. In the hole left by the fallen tree's roots there was this black stuff, which turned out to be graphite. Apparently people thought it looked like lead. In fact the substance was first named “plumbago” because of this. Some folks seem to have discovered right away that it could leave black marks on almost anything. The name of the person who first thought of encasing a stick of graphite in a piece of wood and using it to write with is lost to history, but a German named Conrad Gesner wrote about these new writing instruments in 1565. But I think he used a quill pen to do so.

So people were using pieces of graphite to write with, either clenched in a wooden case or gripped by various forms of mechanical pencil for a while. The pencil proved very useful because unlike a pen it was very portable, wouldn't spill ink all over the place and it didn't run dry if you left it alone for a while. But the “lead” kept breaking and the quality of the graphite wasn't uniform. Some pencil leads were very soft and would make a very dark line and get used up rapidly while others were hard and left so fine a line that it was almost like trying to write with a piece of coal. And the pencils were quite expensive since all of the graphite still came from that one mine in Borrowdale, England. In 1794 a French scientist named Nicolas-Jacques Conté found a way to grind up the graphite, combine it with a clay mixture and bake the results to produce a pencil that was uniform in hardness and which you could actually make as hard or as soft as you wanted depending on how long you baked the lead. Pencils are still made this way today.

In the 18th century, German cabinet maker Kaspar Faber began making pencils on his own. After a while he started up a company that still exists to this day. Eventually they started an operation in America, and someone whose name you've seen on your pens and pencils for your entire life is buried on Staten Island.

In America, Joseph Dixon (1799-1869) and his wife made pencils by hand. After a while he invented a machine that could put out 132 pencils per minute. And pencils weren't cheap then. Maybe he was the forerunner of the dot com millionaire's we have today. The Dixon Company that he founded still exists and makes the familiar Dixon Ticonderoga pencil.

R. Paul's pencil stubs

Pencils used to be relatively expensive, and so people wanted to use up every last bit of them. They used pencil lengtheners for this task. As can be seen from the photograph at the right I could have used one of those myself. These are the sharpened remains of some pencils I used up just about completely some years ago. Having both a stationery fetish and a tendency not to throw anything away I saved the stub ends of these pencils, yes I know it doesn't make sense.

I think I may have seen a pencil lengthener when I was a kid. I forget if it was in the possession of one of my elderly relatives or one of my teachers who was a relic of the 19th century.

On the left we have a close up of the row of pencil stubs. This black one I bought while in grammar school. I remember having gone to the Brooklyn Public Library's main branch at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn to do some school assignment. I was always hanging out in the library, partly because I liked to read and partly in the hopes that someone would have sex with me.A stubby Brooklyn Public Library pencil Well, as it turned out I read a lot. But, as I said, one time when I was there for the specific purpose of doing some stupid homework assignment I discovered that I had completely forgotten to bring anything to write with! That was very unlike me. I didn't want to walk all the way home and then back, so I dragged some dough from the meager treasury that was my pocket and bought a pencil from one of the table top vending machines they had in this library. All these machines did was sell these pencils. I remember this so well because I was outraged at the high price, something like 15¢ or 25¢! Given that my allowance was only 10¢ a day these were terrible prices, especially since I had pencils at home. Decades later I made sure that I used it up right through the letter “P.”

I'd noted since I was a kid that most pencils had writing on them that went one way, while others had it going in the opposite direction. Dyslexic as I am, I didn't realize that while most pencils are “right handed” others are “left handed!” Chirality shows up in the oddest places.

I've always liked the smell of a newly sharpened pencil. Part of the reason for this is that American pencil companies use incense cedar for the wood. I'm told that in Russia they prefer white pine. Before I go off and start sniffing pencil shavings here are some more links that relate to pencils:

Now if you're really, and I mean really, interested in more about pencils you might take a stab at reading The Project Gutenberg E-text of Forty Centuries of Ink by David N. Carvalho. I should warn you that this book is almost 600 KB in size. Once you've gotten it loaded into your browser search for “CHAPTER XXVII” and your browser should bring you right to the part where he discusses pencils. Of course if you want you can download the ZIPPED file of this book and then you can read the whole book and learn about ink, pens and paper as well.

Well, I didn't get through nearly as much mail as I'd planned on the program. I read some paper mail, and I only really got through a couple of pieces of E-mail, which I'll present here.

I read this first piece out of order because it was a direct follow up to the same listener's E-mail about light on the last program.

Subject: Light again
Date: Mon, 4 Sep 2000 04:39:53 -0400 (EDT)
From: Frank
To: rpm@glib.com

A missive.
First, Thank you for reading my email questions about light on “Back of the Book.” Absolutely love the show... Sorry about the confusion with my questions. What I was postulating in the former emails, was that maybe Einstein's theory that light , in a vacuum, traveling at about 300 kilometers/per second is wrong . Maybe light CAN travel much faster. What I was confused about was, that if ANY object has mass , even if it's infinitesimally small it has to slow down the faster it goes towards “C.” I once saw a science(cable) program, where an experiment was done on light. A photon was pointed at a target an then released ,(shot), at said target. It got to the target , BEFORE it was it was released. If this is so . than light is a non constant ,and light can travel at who knows what unlimited speeds? . This has enormous ramifications. Time travel for one, and alters some of Einstein's theories on light, or as you say electro magnetic energy. Your thoughts? ...P.S. Congrats on your 14 years at WBAI.. “Your a better man that I, Gunga-Din”!! Apologies to Kippling.

P.P.S. R. Paul, I know I ask you many questions on light, but It's a subject that constantly fascinates me. I feel I MUST know more about the nature of light !. Please be patient with me. Thanx.

New York, NY

I have no idea where Frank saw that demonstration on cable TV. Light just doesn't work that way. There's been some experiment lately that's confusing some people about light going faster than it should, but that's in Cesium and it's not at all as simple as what Frank says he saw.

Basically, there is an equivalence between mass and energy. So if something has a certain amount of energy, as a photon of light must, it can also be said to have mass. But this is not what's discussed in terms of light and mass in general. A photon has no rest mass. And rest mass is what we're really talking about when we talk about mass. There have been a lot of experiments on this and Einstein wins every time. The only way to really get a handle on light at all is to get heavily into the math.

Next we have an E-mail from regular listener Susan who's not from Long Island. She's referencing the June 17th, event at Marine Park in Brooklyn where we watched horseshoe crabs mating.

Subject: Horseshoe Crabs
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2000 17:21:39 -0400
From: swk12@ix.netcom.com
To: rpm@glib.com

Hi R. Paul -

Far be it from me to question the wisdom of the New York City Parks Department, however, since the next Full Moon will happen a full day before their scheduled nature walk - when is the best time to observe these creatures? Hopefully when they're still alive? Here's a year 2000 lunar phases calendar I found:


Hope you're receiving this on your new computer. Try to stay cool!

BTW, just because I'm from NJ and can still sometimes be found there doesn't make me responsible for Public Service Electric & Gas' (PSE&G) attempts to eliminate the entire horseshoe crab population through their Salem nuclear power plant. This plant happens to be the first thing I ever protested against. Found lots of info about PSE&G and horseshoe crabs on the Net I may send you sometime.

Unfortunately, I'm just too far from Brooklyn to get there this weekend, but if we find any closer to home I'll let you know. Hope you, Pickles of the North and anyone else who shows up has a lot of fun!

Take Care,


On the air I mentioned that I'd post the URLs for a couple of sites. Here they are:

The Web cam for 34th St. in Manhattan, near where WBAI used to be located. The camera is across the street from the DNC headquarters.

Project Gutenberg has been making public domain books and other writing available electronically since 1971. They're a good place to check out for an electronic version of an older book or just to browse through.

There are a lot of issues that we can't talk about on the air at WBAI. But there is an Internet list called “Free Pacifica!” which you can subscribe to, and these issues are discussed there. If you subscribe to it you will receive, via E-mail, all of the messages which are sent to that list. You will also be able to send messages to the list.

If you want to subscribe to the “Free Pacifica!” list just click on this link and follow the instructions, and you'll be subscribed. Could open your eyes a little bit.

The above list has occasionally produced a high volume of E-mail because of the attention that these issues have drawn. If you would prefer to subscribe to a low volume list that only provides announcements of events related to these issues then subscribe to the FreePac mailing list.

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