Spheres of awareness

We all have certain things we know about. We know about what we do for work, what we’re interested in, what we see on the news, what we read about, whatever seeps into our memory over time. Let’s call all our accumulated knowledge a sphere of awareness.

Once years ago I read a review of a movie called “The Star Chamber,” which was about a group of judges and police who decided whether to unofficially execute criminals who managed to avoid conviction. The reviewer wondered why the science-fictiony name “Star Chamber” was used. I was surprised that she had never heard of the original Star Chamber, which was a royal court of last resort in England where the king could right what he considered to be mistakes in the regular court system. The Star Chamber was in my sphere of awareness, but not hers.

I routinely call out BS in movies involving the military, usually because of hair that’s too long, but sometimes because apparently the writers don’t know how low-ranking personnel treat high-ranking personnel. I worked for nearly 30 years in missile defense, and I had lots of contact with soldiers, so lots of military things are in my sphere of awareness.

Leah and I usually watch the Today Show as we eat breakfast (or at least we have it on while we eat). On Thursday, there was a great example of things out of my sphere of awareness, and things out of the hosts’ spheres of awareness. The first thing was a segment about “one of the most popular boy bands in the world” called One Direction. There is an upcoming movie about their “epic tour”. The entertainment reporter for USA Today said that One Direction is “just huge right now, they’re humongous.”

I know what One Direction is because I think I saw them once on the Today Show or the Tonight Show or somewhere, but I am totally oblivious to what they are doing right now, probably because I’m one of those people who never read People magazine outside the dentist’s office. One Direction is within my sphere of awareness, but just at the margins.

And then the reporter started talking about another new movie called “The Imitation Game.” It’s about a “Nazi code breaker”, a “mathematician who figures out how to break this Nazi code.”

As soon as she said “Nazi code breaker” I knew she meant someone who broke the Nazi code rather than a Nazi who broke a code, and I knew she was talking about Alan Turing.

They mentioned Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Turing, and Keira Knightly, who plays one of his assistants, but they never mentioned Turning’s name. My impression was that they did not know who this person was. From this I assume that Alan Turing is not in the hosts’ spheres of awareness.

Alan Turing is one of the most famous computer scientists in history. His Turing machine developed the very concept of computing and computer algorithms we use today. The Turing test is one of the foundational concepts of artificial intelligence. And aside from all that, some people consider Alan Turing to have made perhaps the largest contribution to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany of any single individual when he and his team broke the Nazi military code*.

Since his death he has received widespread recognition. According to Wikipedia, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century.

Given all that, I was a little surprised that Alan Turing was apparently outside these peoples’ spheres of awareness. But different people know different things. They would probably consider me hopelessly ignorant of current culture because I don’t follow One Direction.


* Despite his contributions, the British government prosecuted Turing in 1952 for homosexuality. He pleaded guilty and was given probation with the condition that he take a female hormone that rendered him impotent and caused other physical changes. He lost his security clearance and could no longer work as a government cryptanalyst. He died two years later, apparently of cyanide poisoning, either by suicide or by accident. In 2009 the British government apologized for their persecution of Turing.


Friday Felines

Zoe got another short cut last week. Now when he lies down his cute, little pink belly is really obvious.

zoe with fresh cut

It’s more noticeable when he walks because it sags. I think maybe he needs a girdle.

On a more serious note, we think he might be hurting more lately. Thursday night when he came to the door wanting in, he hesitated. I petted him to encourage him to come in, and he meowed loudly and hissed. Then he hissed another couple of times once he was inside. He has a kind of stilted walk that looks really awkward, which our vet thinks is because of his arthritis. He takes pain medication, but cats can’t take all the different types of medications that dogs can.

Now and then

When I worked in Huntsville, Al, I occasionally had to fly on business. That almost always meant flying out of the Huntsville airport to Atlanta. I usually tried to get an aisle seat, but on the short flight to Atlanta I liked to sit by a window and stare down at the passing scenery, since we flew over northwest Georgia where we live.

On one such flight I noticed a distinctive mountain formation. There were two ridges that formed an almost completely enclosed valley, and in the middle of the valley there was an oval mountain. I thought that was odd, because it looked so much like the ridges that form Big Texas Valley and Little Texas Valley. I thought that type of formation couldn’t be all that common in northwest Georgia. And then I realized that it actually was our mountains. I looked more carefully and actually saw our house. This image is from Google Earth. When zoomed, out house is very obvious because of the light blue roof.

texas valley

Lavender Mountain, our mountain, forms the southern boundary of Little Texas Valley. Simms Mountain forms the northern boundary of Big Texas Valley. Rocky Mountain sits in the middle, separating the two valleys (which I usually just lump together as Texas Valley). Lavender Mountain has a fishhook extension that turns north towards Simms Mountain and almost closes the gap. A separate mountain extends along the main ridge of Lavender Mountain. That’s Turnip Mountain.

There is another pocket formed by a fishhook mountain near us actually named The Pocket. Here is another Google Earth view.

the pocket

It turns out that this sort of formation is not uncommon in the Valley and Ridge province of northwest Georgia where we live. This region was formed by folding of strata, with the erosion-resistant sandstone forming ridges and the more-easily-eroded limestone forming the valleys. If you think about an irregularly folded sheet, it’s not hard to imagine how pockets and gaps could form.

Not far from The Pocket there is a little community my father told me about. He said that many years ago when the community was looking for a name for itself, they asked a local doctor to name it, with the provision that he not name it after himself. So Dr. Underwood named it Subligna.

Topo maps often show a lot of towns that don’t exist any more. In the days prior to automobiles and good roads, there were lots of small towns and communities with their own business districts and their own, distinct personalities serving people who didn’t have time for a long trip by wagon to a bigger town. When the automobile became common, most of them disappeared as actual towns. It’s hard to imagine how isolated people were 100 years ago if they didn’t live in a big city, and even Rome didn’t qualify as a big city.

Armuchee, a few miles north of Rome on the way to The Pocket, had its own post office, businesses and a railroad line to connect it with Rome. Maps show a community named Fouche in Big Texas Valley, which had a post office. There was a community named Lavender somewhere on the southern edge of Lavender Mountain that also had a post office and railroad service to connect it with the big city of Rome. Some of Armuchee’s buildings still exist, but today the name just refers to an area with indistinct boundaries miles away from “downtown Armuchee”.

I don’t know whether Lavender ever had its own businesses or even a building for its stop, but as far as I can tell, nothing exists to mark it other than an abandoned railroad right of way.

In searching around for information on our area, I also found the nearby communities of Poetry and Sprite. Like Lavender and Fouche, both of these exist today only as names on topographic maps, or maybe in the memory of someone older than me.


Scott has been having problems commenting on this blog. I’m not sure what might be going on. I successfully commented here without logging in, but I’m not sure that necessarily proves anything. Has anyone else had problems?

Friday Felines

Zoe has always liked to play patty cake. Sometimes he does it from behind a door. This time he was in one of the kitchen chairs.

gimme five

He looks like he’s giving me five down low.