Complex #atozchallenge

Remember when you were in grammar school, and you were first learning about the square root, and how they told you that you couldn’t take the square root of a negative number? They lied.


OK, they didn’t exactly lie to you, though what they should have told you was “for now, you can’t take the square root of a negative number.” Eventually, though, you would have to come to grips with the fact that, sometimes, it was necessary to pretend that you could, like when you were faced with the equation

a2 + 4 = 0

In this case, you know that a2 = -4, so a = √-4. Now, understand, you still can’t take the square root of a negative number, but we can always imagine that we can. Now, √-4 = √-1 · √4. The square root of 4 is 2, and let’s call the square root of -1 i, the i standing for “imaginary.” (Saying that the i stands for “imaginary” might make a few mathematicians scowl, but screw ’em if they can’t take a joke.)

Numbers of the form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers, are called complex numbers, because they’re made up of a real part and an imaginary part. You can even plot them on graph paper, with the real part on the x axis and the imaginary part on the y axis. That makes your graph an Argand diagram.

That’s all I want to say about complex numbers, other than to say that they make it possible to solve some equations in science and engineering. Just take my word for it…

Caffeine #atozchallenge


Caffeine molecule (source: Wikipedia, Public Domain)

Here’s the drug that powers most of the Internet. Yep, it’s a drug and a psychoactive one at that. But it’s perfectly legal, and for that matter, quite lucrative. Just ask Howard Schultz.

Most people take their caffeine in either coffee or tea, but soft drinks, particularly cola drinks like Coke and Pepsi, have a lot of caffeine as well. Based on an eight-ounce serving of each, brewed coffee has the most caffeine, at 80 to 135 mg. Tea is next, with 47 mg, and Coke comes in at 34 mg. Now there are some soft drinks, like Mountain Dew and Jolt cola, that have a lot more caffeine, and the energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster, are loaded with it. I used to drink lots of those drinks before my stroke. Sometimes I think that might have brought on the stroke. Caffeine is “contraindicated” (as the doctors day) for people with high blood pressure. Mine was astronomical, and I was just making it worse.

Since then, I’ve switched to decaffeinated coffee, and after this long I can barely tell the difference, although I’m sleeping much better and don’t walk around feeling like my head is about to explode. For years, the only brand of decaf was Sanka, in the orange can. Back in the Fifties, Sanka used to sponsor the TV show The Goldbergs, and Gertrude Berg, who played Molly Goldberg, used to stand at the window in her kitchen and tell you to drink it.

By the Seventies, Robert Young, who played the title character in the TV show Marcus Welby, MD, did the ads for them.

When I was in college and again when I started working third shift (11 PM to 7 AM), I used to use NoDoz, which was a pill that gave you as much caffeine as in two cups of coffee. There was another caffeine pill called Vivarin, which was about the same thing.

In moderation, caffeine is all right and can help you think better. More than that, not so much.

When I moved to the south, I discovered Goody’s headache powders. They were a mix of aspirin and caffeine, and really did work, though taking them was nasty, because you tasted the aspirin. But they worked great. They used to advertise on Braves games. Here’s retired NASCAR driver Richard Petty for Goody’s.

Anacin was pretty much the same thing: a big dose of aspirin and as much caffeine as in a cup of coffee.

So, enjoy your coffee, in moderation.

CONELRAD #atozchallenge


Last year, my theme was portmanteau words, words that are formed by mashing together parts of two other words to make a new word, such as “dramedy,” a combination of “drama” and “comedy.” Words like CONELRAD are also portmanteaus, and they are also acronyms. CONELRAD expands into CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation. It was a way of alerting the public in the event the Russkies were flying over here to drop an atomic bomb on us, AND it was a way to confuse said bomber if it tried to use radio transmissions to find the place to bomb.

The CONELRAD logo. Source: Wikipedia

After World War II, when the United States used the first two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet Union figured out how to create an atomic bomb, and the Cold War between the US and the USSR began. Obviously, the biggest concern was that the Russians would use their atomic bomb to carry out an attack on the Americans, and the race was on to come up with a way to let people know that the Russians were coming to blow us all to Kingdom Come, and to misdirect them if they tried to use radio signals to locate appropriate targets, as the Nazis had done.

The great minds of the government sat down and came up with a plan, which they initially called the “key station” system. The FCC chose certain AM radio stations in each geographic area as “key” stations, either “basic key stations” that were connected directly to the Air Defense Command Center or “relay key stations” that would be contacted by phone by the basic key stations. Every other AM, FM, and TV station would monitor one of those stations in case the ADCC sent out an attack warning.

Key stations would alert the rest of the stations by shutting off their transmitter for five seconds, turning it back on for five seconds, turning it off again for five seconds, then broadcasting a 1000 Hz tone for fifteen seconds. When stations received this message, they were instructed to inform their viewers or listeners that they were leaving the air and to tell them that they needed to turn on an AM radio and listen to either 640 kHz or 1240 kHz for “official news, information, and instructions.”

All AM radios sold between 1952 and 1963 had to have the CONELRAD frequencies (640 kHz and 1240 kHz) clearly marked, whether with a triangle, a triangle in a circle, the Civil Defense symbol, or some other symbol, so that people could find them easily. (Source: Wikipedia)

The stations that stayed on the air (usually the key stations) would then set their transmitters to either 640 or 1240 and start taking turns turning on their transmitter, broadcasting for several minutes, and shutting down. The idea was to keep shifting where the the broadcast was coming from, thus confusing Sergei and Ivan, who were flying an atomic bomb over from the USSR with the intention of dropping it on some city. Meanwhile, people sitting in their basements or bomb shelters could listen to an uninterrupted stream of news and information on their radios.

CONELRAD was signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1951, and it turned out to have a number of problems with it.

  • The shutting on and off of the transmitter put a lot of stress on it, and sometimes a station would shut off its transmitter and not be able to bring it back up. This was known as the EBS Stress Test.
  • The advent of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which didn’t require a pilot or navigator or use radio waves to locate its target, made the whole system obsolete.
  • When radio and TV stations saw it, they began asking if they could use CONELRAD to broadcast weather warnings and civil emergency warnings, and they were told that no, it was just for nuclear attack. This caused them to pout and demand that something similar be designed for those situations.

CONELRAD lasted until 1963, when it was replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System. On the surface, the EBS looked just like CONELRAD, complete with the EBS Stress Test (at least until 1973, when the off-on-off-tone was replaced by a two-tone attention signal), but it could be used for other types of emergencies.

I’m interested in emergency broadcasting, mostly because I was scared half to death by the weekly Emergency Broadcast System tests as a kid (and I wasn’t alone, as it so happens). Ben Minnotte, who runs the Oddity Archive channel on YouTube, has a great video on emergency broadcasting, which I’ll include here.

And here is a public service annoncement about CONELRAD.

And thus ends our history lesson for today. There’ll be a quiz next week.

See you tomorrow!

Monday’s Music Moves Me: Songs that start with “C” (#atozchallenge)

I’m going to piggyback the A to Z Challenge on this one, because I’m foolish enough to try…


Anyway, today is a “freebie” for MMMM, so here are five songs that start with the letter “C”.

C’est La Vie – Robbie Nevil: This song fairly screams out “EIGHTIES!” So does the video. I mean, during what other era could you imagine a video with a woman dancing in lingerie in an oil field?

Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles: Couldn’t find the actual video from A Hard Day’s Night, although there are scenes from it. It was a wonderful scene where they’re told not to wander off, and they decide to go out a fire exit and run around and play like a bunch of kids — which is what they were, anyway. Incidentally, the song is in the key of C.

Crazy On You – Heart: Their first hit in the US, reaching #35 on the Hot 100. This song is in A minor, the relative minor key of the key of C.

Cry Me A River – Julie London: The song finishes by 3:00, but the video goes on for another three minutes or so. Julie is accompanied by Barney Kessel on guitar and Ray Brown on bass.

Could It Be I’m Falling In Love – The Spinners: More great ’70’s soul, from 1973 (late December 1972, really), produced in Philadelphia by Thom Bell, with MFSB providing the backup. It doesn’t get much better than that!

And that’s Monday’s Music Moves Me for April 4, 2016!

Monday’s Music Moves Me is sponsored by X-Mas Dolly, Callie, Stacy, and Naila Moon, so be sure and visit them, where you can also find the Linky for the other participants.


#atozchallenge: Codec

codec =
coder + decoder


I don’t do much with media, although I find myself more concerned with it the more blogging I do. It doesn’t happen much anymore, but there were times in the early days where I would try to play something (audio or video) on the computer, and I’d get a message telling me that I had a “bad or missing codec.” The first time I saw the message, I did what anyone in the computer business for as many years as I was in it would do: growl “What The F…” and go out to Yahoo! (Google hadn’t been invented yet) and try to figure out what a codec was, how I could figure out which one I was missing, and, most importantly, where I could find the one I needed, preferably at no cost. As was usually the case, they couldn’t just come out and say which one I needed for what I was trying to play, so I’d have to read through all this highly technical documentation, wondering why I hadn’t become an electrical engineer like my Mom wanted and cursing those I knew who were EE’s (sorry, Mark), just to figure out if what I was downloading the right thing and how to install the darn thing. Sometimes, I’d get it right on the first try, and go out to boast to Mary about it, who would smile and say “you’re so smart.”

Anyhow, a codec is a piece of hardware or software that takes an analog signal and turns it into a digital stream which can then be captured in a file and stored on a hard drive. That’s the “co” in “codec”; when you want to play that file, the “dec” part takes over and changes it back into an analog signal, such as the song I’m listening to now, Chicago’s “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” from their sixth album, strangely named Chicago VI. In my case, the files I’m playing are stored on Amazon’s cloud and the codec resides in a directory on my computer. At least I think so.

I could go into detail about this, but I’ll spare you. I promised I’d keep these short. You can read about it on Wikipedia.

So, did you read up on it?