Ken Umbach (researchguy) wrote,
Ken Umbach

From the archives ...

Spectrum: Ken’s Corner for November 16, 2010 [edted for posting 11/13/2014]

Ken Umbach

Well, how about that. I always pictured the Dark Ages (say, 400 – 800 A.D.) as, you know, DARK. That really seems only to have been the case from the point of view of the Romans, who were displeased about being booted off the top of the hill. (Or in Rome’s case, seven hills.)

This, of course, comes very late to be a news flash. But, according to a 2008 book titled Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered, by Peter S. Wells, things actually went on pretty much the same for most people. The Romans were not running things any more after a point, and they were no longer collecting the taxes. But commerce went on – and there was a lot of it covering a lot of territory – people built buildings, made interesting and decorative things, and went on their way. They just did not write as much as the Romans or the Greeks did, nor as much as the folks in later periods did (High Middle Ages, Renaissance, and so on).

It turns out that archeology – digging things up, basically – shows a lot that is missing if you are only looking in the written record.

Nothing I learned in school ever quite stays the same. Sooner or later they’ll tell me that electrons don’t really fly in circles around atomic nuclei. (Wait a minute . . . didn’t I read something about that already?)


In more recent news, I read in the New York Times’ “World Briefing” section about a Russian fellow, president of the World Chess Federation (Kirsan N. Ilyumzhinov, by name, and don’t ask me to pronounce that). “Mr. Ilyumzhinov,” reported the Times, “has said he met with extraterrestrials in yellow suits at his Moscow apartment and that chess comes from outer space.”

Well, I’ve never BEEN in Mr. Ilyumzhinov’s apartment – nor even to Moscow or anywhere else in Russia – and cannot say one way or the other whether he was accosted there by aliens in yellow suits. (Frankly, though, I wonder whether they were pest-control workers fumigating for bats in his belfry.)

As for where chess comes from, I always thought it was home grown right here on Earth. But I can’t prove that the gentleman is mistaken. Maybe space aliens delivered it during the Dark Ages, and no one wrote anything down about their space ship.


In case you need a good insult, but don’t want the target to know he or she has been insulted, here is a handy word: graveolent (pronounced gruhv EE oh luhnt). Graveolent means “rank-smelling, fetid.” It is a handy substitute for “stinky.” The word is so obscure that Microsoft Word’s annoying spell-checker flags it as wrong. I can’t blame it. It is not in either of the two Oxford dictionaries on my Kindle, either, nor in any of the printed dictionaries I have in reach (including a bulky bargain-bin “unabridged” dictionary). I do find it on the Web, though.


A time machine might be nice. Useful, anyway.

I’m looking at the January 1897 issue of The Land of Sunshine: A Magazine of California and the Southwest (10 cents a copy, $1 a year). On a page up front, below the table of contents, I see “50,000 ACRES OF LAND FOR SALE subdivided to suit IN SAN LUIS OBISPO AND SANTA BARBARA COUNTIES” Oh, the price is $15 to $100 per acre. The Pacific Land Company (owner) offers up that acreage as “Suitable for Dairying, Fruit and Vegetable Growing. Climate perfect. Soil fertile. Water abundant.” Ah, yes, and eventually suitable for expensive homes, resorts, golf courses, and more.

Two pages farther along in that issue, the reader finds, “A TOUR TO CALIFORNIA IS NOT COMPLETE WITHOUT SEEING The Ostrich Farm at South Pasadena . . . THE OLDEST AND LARGEST in America.” Not convinced yet? Consider that “An Ostrich Feather Boa or Collarette, made from the local product, makes a pleasing and useful souvenir of the Golden State. Take the Pasadena and Los Angeles Electric cars, or Terminal Ry. [Railway] cars.”

Somehow I doubt that the Ostrich Farm is still there. A quick look on the Web, though (thanks to Google) finds a reference to “Ostrich Farm neighborhood in South Pasadena, California (CA), 90042, 91030.” The farm is gone, but the “neighborhood” lives on in its memory.

A little further on in the magazine the reader finds an advertisement for “HOTEL GREEN, Pasadena, Cal., THE LARGEST MOST MODERN AND BEST APPOINTED Hotel in Los Angeles County.” It is easily reached, as “Electric Cars pass the door every fifteen minutes.”

Hotel Green lives on, at least in a form, in connection with the Castle Green. You can visit and learn, “One of Pasadena's most unique buildings, the Castle Green was built in 1898 as the annex for the famous Hotel Green. The Castle Green is an imposing seven story Moorish Colonial and Spanish style building sitting next to Central Park in Old Pasadena at Raymond and Green Street. The Castle Green was built by Col. George G. Green of the Patent Medicine Business.”

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