Saturday, November 20, 2010

Miscellaneous: 75th Anniversary of Transpacific Airmail

Surprisingly, the US Postal Service has made virtually no effort to commemorate the upcoming 75th anniversary of transpacific airmail service. A 50th anniversary stamp was issued. Call me a nerd, but I would have thought this anniversary (Monday, 22 November 2010) was worth a stamp as well.

The post office at Alameda will use a commemorative cancellation on the 22nd. It was from Alameda in San Francisco Bay (near what is now the Alameda Naval Air Museum) that Pan-Am's clippers left for Manila by way of Honolulu, Midway, Wake, and Guam to deliver commercial mail across the Pacific by air for the first time on 22 November 1935. It took about a week to get to Manila. Remarkably, a letter from the San Francisco Bay Area to Manila still takes about a week (although overnight delivery by courier--a service we take for granted--would have been impossible back then). What is significant though, is that prior to the air service a transpacific letter would have gone by boat, taking 21 days or more just to reach Honolulu.

I first got interested in stamp collecting in grade school, but became more serious about it in high school, in large part because of an envelope my mother gave me that had flown the Pacific on the transpacific route, from Manila to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1937.  It had been given to her by someone in the Dayton Stamp Club--when it would have been only a few years old (photo above). Both my mother and her mother were stamp collectors.

I loved the colorful cover because it was adorned with fancy cachets from Wake and Midway and had been backstamped at all the locations on the route, including Hong Kong and Macau, destinations added in 1937--which doesn't make much sense unless the envelope went from Manila to these last destinations and then made the entire return trip through Manila again, to San Francisco (Alameda) and then on to Nebraska. The cover was probably made as a courtesy for a collector by a Pan-Am employee--it's the only one I've ever seen that appears to have every possible marking from the route on it (the reverse is reproduced above). Considering the history it embodies and the pleasure it's given me over the years, it seems worth the effort to make some commemorative covers of my own for the 75th anniversary for someone else to enjoy someday. I'll be driving down to Alameda on Monday to get the cancellation for the cachet I designed (based on a vintage Pan-Am poster).

[Update: A crew from Chinese-language TV station KTSF showed up while I was getting my cancellations. They interviewed me, as I knew more about the history of the original flights than the Post Office people seemed to. As usual with these things, most of what I said was edited out and what they used seems fairly random, but, there it is.]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wines I'm Making: 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc

Following a day of bird watching out at Bodega Bay, I racked, sulfited, and topped up all the 2010 wines and added oak staves to the Cabernet. This year I didn't bother with the rather tedious process of testing using paper chromatography to see if the malolactic fermentation had finished in the Cabernet wines. I'm taking it on faith. All bubbling had stopped and the wines have had enough time, I believe, to complete a malolactic fermentation (I inoculated them on October 25, so they had 24 days).

Everything looks good.  I've moved the wines to a quiet, cool, dark place. Now, begins the waiting that is most of the winemaker's work. The rosé will probably be ready for bottling around Christmas time. The Cabernet will have to be racked two or three more times before bottling, at around this time next year. In sampling the wine as I racked it today, it seemed to have a particularly marked Cabernet spiciness. We'll see if that persists in the finished wine.

2010 marks our seventh vintage. The vines were planted in 2001, first bore fruit in 2003, and we first made wine in 2004 (the bottle on the far right above). There ought to be six bottles in the picture--2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and the just-bottled 2009 (far left)--but we lost nearly all the grapes to raccoons in 2005. I made only six bottles of rather wretched stuff that year and I didn't bother to label it. In every other year, I've designed a new label. The 2008 and 2009 wines have been the best so far, with the 2007 showing the first real promise from the little vineyard. I have high hopes for the 2010, although it's likely to be less ripe than last year's wine because of the strange weather this season. I haven't tasted the 2004 in several years. It's time for a vertical tasting. What a luxury to be able to do a five-year vertical tasting of wines I've made myself.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Books I'm Reading: The Theory of Almost Everything

Periodically, I subject myself to a little reading about physics. It's a difficult subject, but it interests me, and I can't help thinking that an educated person ought to understand how the universe works. Typically, I find it hard to retain the sometimes mind-boggling ideas that modern physics forces us to accept. Each time, though, I feel like I come a little closer to understanding.

I just finished reading Robert Oerter's The Theory of Almost Everything (Plume, 2006) and feel like I've made a quantum leap (pun intended--but the phrase is apt). Perhaps it's just because I've continued to read about physics over the years--it was bound to make more and more sense just by virtue of exposure--, but I feel Oerter's book is exceptionally clear and well written. It puts the whole progression of human thinking about the stuff of the universe into historical perspective, from Newton to string theory (and made it clear to me for the first time how string theory developed out of earlier models). The book talks a great deal about why none of the theories we have today is yet good enough (for example, all current models more or less ignore gravity). At the same time, however, the author makes it clear just how brilliant the currently accepted Standard Model is, despite its deficiencies. The book is something of a celebration of the Standard Model, which Oerter calls the crowning achievement of human thought in the past 100 years. Illuminating, and, given the difficulty of the subject, remarkably easy to follow. Highly recommended--if you like this sort of stuff, that is.
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