Stylish greetings from THE PAAAAAST

I just this moment got the following email from a very decent fellow named Doug Patteson:
I am part of the 316th FS Foundation, and I do a bunch of historical research on all three Squadrons with in the 324th Fighter Group. I came across your web page on a Google search and pulled this photo for you from our album, which I assume you have seen, but am forwarding in the event you have not. I believe this is your grandfather."
Group Headquarters, 324th Fighter Squadron
It sure is! "Slim" Young is there in the front, looking suitably suave in what appears to be a WHITE SILK ASCOT. Damn. Also: “Hell’s Belles”? Best. Fighter squadron name. EVER. How can a fellow compete with that?
My grand-dad had awesome stories about almost getting lost between tents in North Africa during a sandstorm, and about how after the war, when they were in France awaiting demobilization, they had their hands full keeping the pilots from hot-dogging by flying UNDER the bridges on the Seine. All that, plus a white ascot. Sheesh.
If you want, you can read about JRY’s dad, my great-grandfather, the even-skinnier General Charles Duncanson Young and his runaway spaniel Moppet.

Stylish greetings from THE PAAAAAST

My Dad, the UFO Hunter

1976, at an unpublished location in the hills around Austin, Texas:
In the background, my dad and the other members of Project Starlight International are readying the UFO/VECTOR system they created for a night of UFO hunting.
The “UFO/Video Experiment Console for Transitional Overt Response” system assists Project Starlight in detecting, recording, and communicating with extraterrestrial spacecraft. The team members are wearing white jumpsuits — to better protect from flash burns — and green goggles. Besides looking cool, the goggles protect from the laser, which is transmitting information at 300 baud along a joystick-guided path. There’s a magnetometer that can detect the movement of ferrous objects overhead, and a 100-yard circle of computer-controlled spotlights flashing “pi pi pi” into the Texas sky.
The team’s white jumpsuits have “PSI” logos embroidered on them. They look damn sharp. Who says science on the fringe of respectability can’t look good?
Meanwhile, that’s me in the foreground, gathering rocks in my hat. My mom is taking the pictures, and made the smiley-faces on my knees. I think she was taking pictures that would appear in a Texas Monthly article.
You can some more photos of the hunt for alien life. My favorite is when Ray Stanford, the leader of the project, would stand on his platform, making hand gestures into the sky: “we have no weapons”, he would sign to the stars. “Land over there!”


About an hour after posting those pictures to Flickr, I heard from Ray, who clarified some of my anecdotes (see comments on this post) and let me know what he’s up to now.

I’ve also heard from other members of Project Starlight International, who — in addition to sending me pictures of the kit-build stunt aircraft they’re making in their garages, the R&B groups they’re playing with, and their online rabbinical ministries — and that’s all in one email message — who, I say, have linked me to more information about all the Badass Seventies Technology they were using. Pictured at right: the ring of spotlights used to draw attention to the landing site. I think, but I’m not sure, that the white dots are actually paint carefully added by my mom with a retouching brush.

You can also read about the

Communicate with UFOs by transmitting signals along a joystick-guided laser.

Track and record moving ferrous objects (see comments for correction from Ray) magnetic fields overhead. It’s pictured below — check out the tape drive! And the big capacitors!

Other tech articles are on the main PSI tech page here.

Ray Stanford, the head of the project, urges that UFO to stop begging the government to “WAAH give us the truth”, and instead go out there and GATHER it. Using awesome instrumentation, with giant capacitors, naturally. He needs to be given some kind of Doc Emmett Brown award, especially since he’s now a successful dinosaur hunter(!!!)

What’s the term for stylish seventies science?

Steampunk” is the name applied to mustachio-ed, waistcoat-ed gentleman scientists of the Victorian age, who were half science, half showman, and ALL AWESOME. Project Starlight clearly falls into that mold: Kitty Bo (Hello, Kitty Bo!!!) just weighed in in the comments that they used to be called “Ray Stanford and his Lilly White Space Cadets”. What’s the term for seventies steampunk, done in embroidered jumpsuits?

My Dad, the UFO Hunter

Milking lesson at Seven Stars farm!

Last month, I wrote that we were looking for a milking trainer, so that Barb won’t be one of the Comedically Clueless about Cows at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Celebrity Milking Competition coming up this Friday. Barb has a hands-on approach to legislating (when she needed to learn more about the challenges of trash collection in West Chester, she spent two entire shifts working on the trash truck, not just a photo op.) So I figured she’d be game for some lessons. My ulterior motive is that I wanted a Mister Rogers adventure with Kate and Lydia. And we got one!

I made a number of phone calls to find a trainer. We ended up going out to Seven Stars Farm today. Seven Stars makes organic yogurt — up to 200 quarts a day, six days a week — on their organic farm, which they lease from the Kimberton Waldorf school across the road.

Seven Stars’ co-owner and manager Edie Griffiths, who is a pioneering and veteran biodynamic farmer, showed us the ropes. We got to milk a placid older cow named Renaissance, who was low-key and helpful. And then we got to see the milking machines, the calves, and the yogurt-making operation! All in all, it was a TOTAL Mister Rogers visit, and I had an awesome time. You can see the photoset on Flickr here!

Incidentally, Edie and Seven Stars welcome visitors, and Edie said that she’d give more milking lessons if people are interested. If you want to come out and learn how to milk a cow, let me know! You West Chester Dish folks are very much invited.

Anyhow, a million thanks to Edie and all the hard-working folks at Seven Stars for taking time out of their day to show us around. Their work day starts at THREE. THIRTY. IN THE MORNING, washing the cows down and getting ready for a four AM milking.

PS. there were no kittens around for us to squirt the milk directly into the mouths of, but once I saw how Edie milks, I think it’s just as well there aren’t — she could knock a kitten over at twelve feet with the powerful streams she was urging from those teats at lightning speed.

Milking lesson at Seven Stars farm!

Moments of grace through chicken hackle and bits of yarn

My mom says that my grandfather’s fly fishing and fly-tying hobby was “a pastime for men with exacting professions”, since it demanded precision, patience, and careful attention to detail. That care and patience would then be rewarded, at rare, fleeting, and magnificent intervals by the presence of the ineffable.

The rest of the time, you’re just trying to tie a piece of chicken hackle to a tiny hook with an invisible bit of plastic, and you can’t see any of it, and it’s all a huge pain in the ass.

But those moments of transcendence transform all the rest, retroactively filling them with grace. One of those moments makes a year of tying Royal Coachman flies that look like the cat barfed them up worth it. Well, almost. My Royal Coachmen were pretty bad.

I was talking to my friend and colleague Rem Reynolds a while ago about blogging in the Epic Mode — that is, when you write about your daily cavils as if you were a hero in a Frazetta painting. My contention is that normal life really is epic, at least most of the time, and that the epic is built from thousands of small, inconsequential details. Those details are baby steps on the way to rare, fleeting, and shining moments of transcendence. Which I will call, without sarcasm or irony, the “Dude, I ROCK!!!” moments. I’m completely and totally serious, and YES, I do make the air guitar motion.

Anyhow, Rem’s point was “Yes, John, but not everything is epic, when you get down to it. Some stuff, there’s no payoff at the end, and there’s no meaning behind it.” Which is an excellent, excellent point, and I suppose (here comes the Blinding Flash of the Obvious) that the hard part is to tell two kinds of things apart. Maybe that’s why we have hobbies that are like our jobs — like any job, a hobby can be filled with details, even with tedium, but a hobby rewards you more reliably with cathartic moments of grace. With fly fishing, the moment of getting a fish on the line is magical (not that I’d know too much about that.) Or the moment of stepping out from between the rhododendrons, into the stream, feeling the cold press of water on your waders, and seeing mist on the rocks.

Anyhow, this started out as a post about needlepoint, because needlepoint, like fly fishing, is a pastime for people with exacting professions. Plus, needlepoint is friggin’ PERFECT for computer artists, because it is both like computer art (tiny picture elements assembled into a coherent whole), and unlike computer art (the thing you make actually, you know, exists, has a pleasing, wooly texture, and has every chance of lasting longer than you do.) My big question is whether or not needlepoint is going to provide a big I ROCK moment after many hours invested in the details. Is needlepoint epic? I’m going to hope that it is, and the first time I slap down my finished mono canvas, throw a double deuce at the sky, and shout “YEAH! I ROCK!”, I will be sure to let you know.


Meanwhile, this seems like an excellent time to link to some pictures of the Pohoqualine Fishing Association that my mom took (and developed, and printed in her darkroom) in 1979. Pohoqualine is a private fishing club in Stroudsburg, PA that my great-grandfather and grandfather, and father all belonged to — a Fitzgeraldian bulwark where captains of industry would go to master tiny, niggling details in the hope of catching a moment of grace. Plus, there’s a sock wringer that I always thought was AWESOME.

More to come on the needlepoint later.

Moments of grace through chicken hackle and bits of yarn

Milking trainer update: ANP’s dad drops the science

Ex-colleague and exceptionally well-balanced overachiever ANP read my plea for a milking trainer, and responded by asking her dad, who is clearly an old-school, old-world badass, for some written instructions. Here’s what he had to say to her:

  1. “You know how to gesticulate to an “OK” sign, right? Do it now with your right hand.
  2. Visualize making that OK as far “up” the teat (haha)* as possible. Your thumb and first finger (they are forming the OK circle) should be against the udder (again, haha) with the remaining digits hanging loose.”
  3. read more at ANP’s blog

* I’m not sure if the parenthetical tittering (haha) is ANP’s or her dad’s.

So far, I’ve got two farms as “possibles”, so it seems like there will be some sort of initial milking 101 training going on this weekend. I will, of course, blog it all AS IT HAPPENS.

Milking trainer update: ANP’s dad drops the science

From “A Field Guide to North American Christmas Trees”:

Engleman Spruce (Picea Doloris Excrutiata):
Similar in color to the Blue Spruce (Picea Pungens). Tall, upright appearance. Ravenously, unbelievably sharp, four-sided needles that pierce the soft, unsuspecting palms of suburban dads who work computers for a living and forget to bring gloves to the cut-your-own christmas tree farm. Trunk, especially, covered with short, needle-like barbs to punish the unprepared.

The Engleman Spruce is favored by hard-bitten, Bronte-like Christmas-tree farm owners who thrive on the bitter tears of the soft and the weak.

  • Size at eight years: 7-10′
  • Identifying characteristics of tree: Starbucks-fogged shrieks of pain; angry red welts on hand and forearm; rolling eyes of spouse; delighted toddler chuckles.”
  • Official soundtrack of the Engleman Spruce
From “A Field Guide to North American Christmas Trees”:

Wanted: Milking Trainer

On January 11th, at precisely 1:30 PM, Kate’s mom, my mother-in-law, the estimable State Representative Barbara McIlvaine Smith, will compete in the Celebrity Milking Competition at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

Now, my New York City friends might be thinking of this as quaint. Which it is, in a way, but not if that way means small or low-stress. The Pennsylvania Farm Show is a big, big event, and, if you were going to be doing something difficult and unfamiliar in front of a big crowd — if you were going to be up on stage doing a mysterious activity, competing against local meteorologists, football stars, and assorted ringers, you would want some serious training. Rocky IV-style training. With a wooden stool, a bucket, and steaming breath:

My dad’s friend, chef Fritz Blank, was a regular competitor. Chef Fritz holds a degree in microbiology, grew up on a farm, and knows all about milking cows. He would be the perfect merciless trainer for Barb. Unfortunately, Chef Fritz retired to Thailand, and so is not available for riding in a golf cart and shouting through a megaphone.

So we need help. Specifically, we need milking lessons. And I don’t think using a plywood cutout and a latex glove is going to do it. I’m not quite sure of the best way to proceed — there are lots of dairy farms just to the west of us, but any dairy farm has been automated since the Fifties, so there’s no reason why a dairy farm, just because it’s a dairy farm, would be able to teach hand milking. I think we’re looking for a small farm — but a small farm that has the eye of the tiger.

I might try calling a local Amish Raw Milk farm, or the really excellent, organically-run Meadow Run farm, since they do active outreach to the community (they have an open farm day that we really enjoyed this year.) Or maybe I could call the Chester County 4H Club and see if they have someone that would be willing to train Barb. And Kate, and me, and Lydia — after all, I think “milk a cow” should be on Heinlein’s list.

Any suggestions on where to find a by-hand cow-milking trainer before the turn of the year? Please make a suggestion in the comments, and I’ll let you know how it goes. (Also, if my comment tool breaks or annoys you, please let me know by sending an email to john DOT young AT gmail DOT com — I don’t want to lose that one comment that holds the keys to victory!)

UPDATE: I got a response back from the Landis family at Meadow Run farm, which is gracious and packed full of AWESOME INSIDER TIPS. They say:

“Unfortunately I don’t think we can give you the milking lesson you’re looking for. Though we had been milking 3 or 4 cows outdoors that had calves this summer, we have now stopped. We would suggest contacting a dairy farm that would have indoor milking areas (in these freezing temperature). I know Seven Stars Dairy in Kimberton has lovely organic Jerseys although I’m not sure if they allow people to come in. You might check under dairy farms and call one of them.

You could mention to your mother in law that squeezing tennis balls in both hands for a few weeks prior can help build up the hand’s milking muscles. I think stamina and hand strength is as important as technique. Most people who don’t milk regularly just get tired very quickly. My second piece of advice is to pet and talk nice to the cow before milking since it’s all about the soothing and relaxation of the cow so she “lets” her milk down for you. I hope that’s not too much information, but it is certainly true.

Thanks so much for the advice! I’m going to be calling Seven Stars Dairy, and also our friend Meg, who graduated from Penn Veterinary school a year ago, and probably knows a cow.

Update 2: It’s starting to look like Penn’s New Bolton Center may be the way to go. My only reluctance here is that, if we go to the New Bolton center, that means Barb is not Rocky, but rather Barb is Dolph. I’m sure they’ll have her milking under water, squeezing gleaming stainless-steel “milkometers” while grimacing a ruthless Teutonic grimace. Actually, that sounds pretty cool. I’ll call Meg this morning.

Update 3: Meg came through in spades. She called a large-animal vet friend of hers, with whom she had ridden as a part of her schooling. Her friend knows a small dairy farm in the area, and reports that they will be “delighted to teach Barb hand milking.” This is great. I’ll give them a call and report back. Did I mention that I just finished re-reading All Creatures Great and Small and All Things Bright and Beautiful? Boy, talk about the right time to be doing this.

Wanted: Milking Trainer

John’s Christmas/birthday wishlist: an XO laptop (one for me, one for a kid)

Originally called the “OLPC” (One Laptop Per Child), or the “$100 laptop”, the XO laptop is designed from the bare metal up to be used by children in developing nations, to bootstrap a worldwide generation of skilled hackers, entrepreneurs, and knowledge workers. The laptops are designed to be low-power, chargeable using a yo-yo like pull charger (no electric grid needed), to connect with each other and the Internet using a wireless grid, and to show the source code of all the running programs in a way that lets kids learn.

You can read more about the project in a New York Times article here. Sure, it’s going to raise lots of issues (what if they get stolen? What about goatse?), but as far as I’m concerned it’s going to open a floodgate of information and enfranchisement. In twenty years, your employability, no matter where in the world you live, is going to be based on two things: knowledge of computers and command of apostrophes and homonyms. Any kid with an XO laptop can start learning both.

The non-profit XO project isn’t set up for consumer sales in the US — their mission is to get governments to buy them a million at a time to distribute to kids. But the governments are hesitant to write those big checks until they can see demonstrated enthusiasm for the devices. So from now until November 26, you can buy an XO laptop to be sent overseas, and get one for yourself. That’s one for a developing nation, and one for us to play with in Sharpless street, so Lydia can join the Worldwide Hacker Army. Here’s a description of the program. So, dear friends and close family — anyone who has me on their Christmas and birthday list — you would make me very happy if you would click on the button below and contribute a little something, you will have made a nerd very, very happy. At the end of the contribution period, I’ll take all the proceeds, contribute the difference, and place the order.

Contribute towards a “Give one, get one” XO laptop for John:

Thanks, and merry Christmas! And happy birthday to me, etc!

John’s Christmas/birthday wishlist: an XO laptop (one for me, one for a kid)

Practically Perfect in Every Way


It’s grand to be an Englishman in 1910!
King Edward’s on the throne, it’s the age of men!

I’m the lord of my castle, the sovereign, the liege!

I treat my subjects, servants, children, wife with a firm but gentle hand, noblesse oblige.

It’s 6:03 and the heirs to my dominion are scrubbed and tubbed, and adequately fed.

]And so I’ll pat them on the head, and send them off to bed.
Ah, lordly is the life I lead!

…Winifred, where are the children?

Practically Perfect in Every Way

It’s a thousand degrees behind those metal shutters!

Kate, Lydia, and I went to the West Chester Fire Department‘s Fire Safety Training day on Saturday:


We watched a shiny blue Penn medevac helicopter take off, and we waved “hi” to Smokey the Bear (who had big ol’ furry plumber butt), and we watched them light a big fire in the “burn building” of hay and straw, then practice rescuing a downed firefighter, and we all came home smelling like campfire. It was a really great time.

Ps. Everything in a fire truck is snapped into a cradle or holster, and everything is upholstered in quilted leather, and the seats are custom-built so that your oxygen harness fits right in there. It is unbelievably, gut-wrenchingly awesome.

It’s a thousand degrees behind those metal shutters!