Sunday, November 24, 2019

Before you throw away that faded photo, try scanning, editing it in Photoshop first

Unedited photo scan from Photoshop

All I did was hit "auto" contrast and levels and this photo was saved!

    I recently came across some old photos and have been trying to figure out what's what. One of the photos was so faded in various shades of sepia that I really could make much out. I decided to go ahead and scan the photo and open it in Photoshop to see if I could tweak it a bit.
    I really didn't do much "tweaking." I just hit the auto-contrast and auto-levels and suddenly a photo in which nothing could be seen became much, much clearer. I did make a point of scanning at 400 dpi, which is a little higher resolution that the typical photo scan. So if you have an old photo that looks like it has just faded away, try scanning it and hitting auto-adjust in Photoshop before you throw away that little piece of history.
    I still don't know what the photo is, but I think the woman in the shawl standing in front is my great-grandmother, Margaret Watkins Hurdle. I've seen photos of her wearing a shawl in that fashion before.
    ADDENDUM: Even if it is an old black and white photo that has faded into sepia, scan the photo in color. This provides far more information to aid Photoshop in bringing out the image. After editing it, if you want to convert to grayscale, fine.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

If buying an expensive item from Wal-Mart, check the online app price first

    If you don't want to read my story I'll just tell you my conclusion: When buying a big-ticket item at Wal-Mart it pays to check the price on their online app before buying it in the store.
    Last week was in the market for a decent vacuum cleaner. My $40 vacuum worked, kinda. So I made use of my subscription to Consumer Reports and found that the top-ranked vacuum was made by Shark, and that 16 of the top 24 vacuums were as well. The top-rated Shark was rated at 77, but the Wal-Mart model had a rating of 75 (warning: there are a few mediocre Shark models). Consumer Reports said the Wal-Mart model cost $230. The Shark is especially good for bare floors, which is what I wanted since I hate sweeping.
    I was at the New Albany Lowe's and decided to take a look at their Vacuums. They had a well-rated Shark Vacuum for sale at $269. I decided to check the Wal-Mart price on their app and saw that the 75-rated Shark was on sale next door for $141. I beat a path to the Wal-Mart and headed to the vacuum section where my vacuum was priced at $199. I had heard that Wal-Mart would match their online prices on request and they did, thus saving me $60 on a vacuum, which is a pretty big savings. If a Wal-Mart refuses to honor the price you can just order it online for pickup; they don't want that and so will honor it at the register.
    One word of warning: I've seen videos demonstrating how some merchants disable online pricing when they detect that your phone's location is in the store. So if you're planning a big ticket purchase, check the online price away from the store first.
    I'm very happy with my Shark. For those who want the very best rated Shark, the 77-rated NV586, it's available only at target and is on sale right now for $220. My Wal-Mart NV-500 or 501 with its 75 rating is good enough for me. I'd rather have the $80 than two additional points.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Holly Springs City Cafe: Gone but not forgotten

    I was thinking about the Holly Springs City Cafe the other day. It’s said we don’t appreciate things until we don’t have them any more, and that’s certainly true of the City Cafe.
    I’m not sure how old I was when I first remember going to the City Cafe. I would guess 9 or 10. Cokes were served in 6.5 oz. bottles along with a glass of ice. I was always a little frustrated by the small bottle size, but at the same time the Coke from the smaller bottles seemed to taste better. They used to say they put the same amount of syrup in the 6.5- and 10-ounce bottles.
    The City Cafe was owned and operated by Juanita Jones. She either inherited it or owned it jointly with her late husband, who I think might have been named Ed. He was quite a bit older than her, which says something since I don’t remember her being that young. I don’t remember him ever saying anything. He just said at the cash register and took money. I think Mr. Jones died around 1975.
    There aren’t many restaurants that offer fresh vegetables, but the City Cafe did most days. They would buy them from local growers who would drop them off or perhaps off the back of the many pickup trucks that used to park across from the Post Office. I haven’t seen a pickup with produce for sale in quite a while; not sure what happened to the fresh vegetable supply.
    Most of the pies that were offered for dessert were homemade, or restaurant-made anyway. The late attorney John Kennedy would always ask when the pie was made and it was always “Made fresh this morning.” This really wasn’t true as sometimes the pie was a day or two old; it took some detective work and careful interrogation to ferret out which pies were truly just made. I don’t like coconut, but I remember liking Juanita Jones’ coconut pie.
    My junior year in high school I arranged my class schedule so that I could leave school at noon and work at my dad’s office. A few people have engaged in a campaign of lies and innuendos against me by suggesting that perhaps I didn’t expend too much effort on the job. Don’t believe them!
    I do remember that my work day almost always began with lunch at the City Cafe, sitting at the back table with Dad, John Kennedy, Ralph Avent, Hamlet Yarbrough and his cotton buying partner Mr. Allen, along with a host of others who joined in on an irregular basis.

  • Keeping up with the conversation was a bit like trying to follow a game of Ping Pong. Somebody might mention almost hitting a deer on the way to work; another might mention they heard Thus-And-So got in a wreck; etc., etc. with the subject changing every minute. One day Ralph Avent declared “I could have killed two this morning” to everyone’s puzzlement. You see, at the start of the conversation somebody had mentioned almost hitting a deer; the conversation had moved on, but Ralph hadn’t.
  • Ralph had the same order every day: “I’ll have what Sidney got.” One day my dad ordered and Ralph turned to him and said, “Sidney, you know I don’t like turnip greens!”
  • Mrs. Jones was slightly hard of hearing and would repeat everything you said, changing only the pronoun. If you said, “I’d like the pork chop and mashed potatoes,” she would start writing the ticket while saying in a fairly loud voice, “You’d like the pork chop and mashed potatoes.” One day my brother Lanier found a worm in his squash – a hazard when using fresh vegetables – and very quietly pointed out to Mrs. Jones that there was a worm in his squash. Mrs. Jones responded: THERE’S A WORM IN YOUR SQUASH! So much for being discreet.
  • The City Cafe always had French fries that were nice and crunchy and done. They had a great hamburger and a really good club sandwich, which cost $3.50 with fries included. One day my dad lavishly complimented Mrs. Jones on her fine sandwich by telling her that he had paid $6 for a club sandwich at the Cincinnati airport the day before and it wasn’t nearly as good as her club sandwich; he spent quite a bit of verbiage in telling her how fine her sandwich was. The next day the price of the club sandwich was increased from $3.50 to $6.
  • If someone got a dessert that was particularly good, a friend might ask for a taste. My dad never did that. On the other hand, if someone declared that something tasted awful, Dad usually said, “Lemme see.”
  • One day the conversation made me think of a joke I had read in a men’s magazine. It was a clean joke, mind you, so I threw it into the fray. John Kennedy, sitting at the other end of the long table turned and said in a loud voice, “So, you read Hustler, too!" My 15- or 16-year-old face got pretty red after that.

    The City Cafe had a fine breakfast as well and different time slots would draw a different crowd. There was always a big crowd for breakfast, a smaller crowd mid-morning, then a big lunch crowd for about 90 minutes, and then a small crowd around 3 p.m. This was before the day of coffee places on every corner, but the City Cafe had Starbucks beat. And their iced tea was always perfect.
    Perhaps I’ll think of some more stories later on, but I sure do miss that place!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Catholic smiles are just smiles; MAGA hats don't turn them into smirks

Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann tries to suppress a smile after an Indian walks up and starts beating a drum in his face.

    The drumbeat heard around the world continues to reverberate, as social media and newspaper op-ed writers remain all atwitter over images of a smiling Catholic boy wearing a MAGA hat while some Indian pounds a drum an inch from his face.
    The Smiling Nick Sandmann has been declared a racist and every possible disparaging name imaginable; national figures have urged people to beat him up and he's received a massive number of death threats. His school, Covington Catholic in Covington, Ky., has been portrayed as in incubator of racism and evil. Many commenters retracted their defamatory comments about Sandmann after receiving additional information, but others continue to vilify both him and his school.
    I happen to believe the smiling Nick Sandmann is a good kid who simply stood in one place while approached by a crazy Indian beating a drum. Video of the event clearly shows Sandman just standing there with a silly grin on his face sort of taking in the surreal situation. When attacked by the Indian he can be seen trying without success to suppress a smile.
    Others, including a number of gay writers, have written very seriously that what Sandmann was doing was not smiling, but a demonstration of what they call the Catholic-schoolboy “smirk.” Apparently Catholic schoolboys, and only Catholic schoolboys, spend all of their spare time perfecting their smirks. Said Esquire writer Dave Holmes: “We’ve seen it in our own personal histories, if we have ever been that terrifying combination of young and different in any way.”
    Holmes, who is gay, was writing about his unhappy time in a Missouri Catholic school during the early 1990s, when homosexual activity was considered a crime in that state. The Catholic church still maintains, rightly or wrongly, that homosexual activity is a sin, so I don't doubt that Holmes may have had a difficult time. But that doesn't make every smiling Catholic schoolboy an evil smirker.
    The claim has repeatedly and falsely been made that Covington Catholic School is a “segregation academy,” which is quite impossible given that it is located in a virtually all-white county. The argument of leftists making this claim is that Cincinnati whites fleeing school integration moved to various almost-all-white suburban counties. By operating or expanding their existing schools Catholics were therefore operating “segregation academies.” By that definition the local public schools in these counties would be considered “segregation academies,” too. The thought process behind this way of thinking is beyond my ken: you cannot have white flight or a segregation academy unless there is some group to flee or segregate oneself from. In almost-all-white counties there is simply no racial group to flee.
    My personal experience and common sense tell me that the Catholic schools of Northern Kentucky were not created to promote segregation or avoid integrated local schools. Most of these Catholic schools were founded in the early 1900s with a few going back to before the war. Prior to the Brown v. Board of Education decision about a third of the region's schoolchildren attended parochial schools, one of the highest rates in the nation; obviously they weren't fleeing integration since there was no integration to flee.
    The Catholic Church essentially stands alone in trying to organize its churches so that people of all races and all social classes will worship together in the same church, while most Protestant churches are segregated on the basis of both economic status and race. It's common to see multiple Protestant churches of the same denomination in small towns, each serving a different racial or socio-economic group. The Catholic Church would never allow such a thing. Civil-rights activist Lawrence Guyot described how the Catholic church integrated its schools: “The Catholic Church in 1957 or '58 made a decision that they were going to desegregate the schools. They did it this way. The announcement was we have two programs. We have excommunication and we have integration. Make your choice by Friday.”
    Catholics often do bad things. They sin. So do Protestants, Jews, Mormons, atheists, and everyone else. Those wishing to criticize any Catholic school or its students will find no shortage of ammunition, but they aren't operating segregation academies.
    And as a general rule a Catholic smile is just that; it's a smile. There are a plentitude of types of smiles: nervous smiles, happy smiles, sad smiles, conspiratorial smiles, threatening smiles, this-is-ridiculous smiles, and yes, even smirks. Smiling isn't limited to Catholics; people of all faiths smile and sometimes they may even smirk. But those who see every Catholic smile as a smirk are just paranoid.
    In the end a Catholic school is just that and nothing more, without nefarious intent by those who operate or attend them. A schoolboy who smiles is just smiling. Being Catholic didn't make Nick Sandmann's nervous smile a “smirk,” nor did wearing a MAGA hat.
   Those who have criticized Sandmann, his school, or his schoolmates have displayed a malevolence of spirit that is frightening. For these evil people I have just one thing more to say: I smirk in your general direction.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Seventy bucks and 90 minutes results in some pretty nifty under-counter lights.

Lights installed.
Lights off except for microwave, which is weak. Note that it is daytime, so plenty of natural light. It's darker at night.

    I'm not Mr. Handy when it comes to home improvements, but I just invested 90 minutes to install some pretty nifty under-counter lighting in a house I've been fixing up.
Click to enlarge
    I had some contractors doing some work on the kitchen, and the Sheet rock was off the walls, so having properly wired under-counter lighting would have been easy. But it still would have taken several hours to do the wiring, expenses were piling up, and I decided the kitchen was bright enough, and that the light underneath the microwave, along with 300 watts in the ceiling and a bright LED over the kitchen sink was enough.
    And indeed all of that lighting was enough; except it wasn't. I really like under-counter lighting and just wanted more light.
    I was fortunate that we installed an electrical outlet in the cabinet over the stove to plug in the microwave; this provided a power source. For my actual lights I purchased two Commercial Electric brand LED under cabinet lights. These lights come with a detachable plug and are linkable. A small linking cord is provided, but it's possible to buy longer linking cords.
    I didn't want a linking cord running underneath the microwave as it might be visible and I didn't like the idea of an electrical cord running over the stove. So I ran cords up the back of each cabinet from each light up to the outlet over the microwave and plugged them into a very small power strip. Since the cord was detachable I was able to drill a fairly small hole in the cabinets using a 5/8" spade bit. The lights are held in place by little plastic brackets. Installation was easy; I spent almost an hour putting in the first light because I had to think about things, but the second one was installed the next day in less than 20 minutes, and that includes the time to drill the holes.
    The lights have a “high” and “low” setting and can be switched on and off by the switch on each light. I've ordered a wireless “light” switch that I can stick on the wall that will turn the power on and off at the outlet. It hasn't arrived yet, but when it does the lights will work just like hard-wired lights. They have a color temperature of 3,000, which is slightly starker than "warm white," but still easy on the eye with no blue tint found in "daylight" bulbs. I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, although I'm shopping for some brighter lights for the microwave.
    As for cost, the lights were $23 each; the mini power strip was something like $8. The wireless wall switch cost $19, for a total project cost of less than $70 after tax.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Public hangings are not lynchings and Hyde-Smith's statement, while unwise, was not racist

    Mississippi's newly appointed candidate-Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith is being roundly criticized for a comment caught on video in which she states that her admiration for a supporter is such that she would attend a public hanging for the him if he asked her to.
    The comment is actually complex, but Hyde-Smith is being accused of racism in light of the fact that Mississippi is known for having a high number of lynchings. Of course, by definition a public hanging is considered a governmental execution having nothing to do with lynching, so these criticisms of Hyde-Smith are bogus. Her statement was unwise, but by no means racist.
    The video above shows preparations for a public hanging that was to be held in Wolf City, Wyoming, in 1894. Obviously if a public hanging were tantamount to a lynching Nat King Cole, who just happened to have been black, wouldn't have been so happily singing about the event.
    Until the 1930s public hangings were common throughout the United States, and Mississippi was no different. A botched hanging in 1932 caused public sentiment in Mississippi to turn against hanging, which led to the introduction of the electric chair in 1940 (oddly enough, botched executions today don't cause so much upset). For a number of years Mississippi's electric chair was actually held up nationally as a more humane method of execution, but it was subject to malfunction, causing agonizing death. The electric chair, known as “Ol' Sparky,” was portable since the citizens of Sunflower County didn't want to be known as the Death County, and was used for about a dozen years, from 1940 to 1954, when Gov. Hugh White rammed through a law establishing a gas chamber at Parchman.
    I suspect, based on Cindy Hyde-Smith's statement and my own research that at some point attending a public hanging became something upstanding citizens just did not do. Assuming this is true, her statement makes sense, although I think it's important to note that I think it's a phrase she picked up from a grandparent or grand-uncle or other community members.
    The video of her statement is limited and I can't understand everything she says, but she's just talking informally praising a supporter and says, “If he invited me to a public hanging I'd be on the front row.”
    If you parse her statement out she is saying that few things are more distasteful to her than the thought of attending a public hanging, but she holds her friend in such high regard that if he invited her she would sit on the front row. Her statement is a witticism that most people can simply no longer comprehend. But she's no more supporting lynching than Nat King Cole was in his song.
    The fact is that the overwhelming majority of white people associate hanging and nooses with the Old West and the types of Hanging Days featured in the Nat King Cole video, not with lynching. For blacks the association is obviously different and as a politician Hyde-Smith should have been smart enough to anticipate that.
    My preference in this election was Chris McDaniel. I happen to think Mike Espy is a good man and if elected would be one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate; but he would still be a Democrat. So I will be voting for Hyde-Smith and hope that she can update her repertoire of Southern aphorisms, although in doing so our language will become less rich and enjoyable.
    In any event, her statement clearly wasn't racist and those who accuse her of racism are engaging in the worst kind of jackassery. Her statement might have been stupid, but racist it was not.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Using a courtesy title in a debate would have cost DeSantis nothing, but failure to do so may be costly

    If I lived in Florida I’d be voting for Republican Ron DeSantis for the Senate. I think Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is going to try to turn Florida into another California, and he has some crime and corruption problems lurking just beneath the surface.
    But Gillum was right to call DeSantis out for failing to refer to his as “Mayor” or “Mister” during debates, instead only calling him “Andrew.” Gillum always referred to DeSantis as “Congressman” or “Mister.”
    When Sarah Palin debated Joe Biden in the 2012 vice-presidential debate she walked across the stage and shook his hand and said, “Can I call you ‘Joe’?” Well of course he had no choice, and both used first names during the debate. Supposedly Palin kept accidentally saying “O’Biden” during rehearsals and was afraid she might do so during the actual debate. If DeSantis had asked Gillum permission to use his first name Gillum would have had to grudgingly agree, but DeSantis never asked.
    Prior to 1965 the number of white gentiles in the South who would willingly address a black person, regardless of rank or wealth, as “Mister” probably wouldn’t fill a conference room. It just wasn’t done. Surely DeSantis is aware of this.
    As an attorney my father always addressed his clients as “Mr.” or “Mrs.;” for many it was the first time they had been addressed in that fashion in their life, and Dad shared a few humorous stories about various reactions he received. A law school classmate who researched transcripts of the Congressional voting rights hearings held in every Mississippi county, in which almost every attorney took part, said my father was the only North Mississippi attorney she noted who addressed black witnesses as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” in 1965.
    A story my father shared with us frequently when we were growing up was about buying the land where I grew up from the widow of the black Methodist bishop, a Mrs. Cottrell, who lived in St. Louis. In the 1950s, people actually conducted business by letter, so my father wrote her and asked if she wanted to sell the land, and after several exchanges of letters they reached a deal. Dad traveled to St. Louis to close the trade, and after getting the deed my father asked her why she decided to sell him the land, since he knew a number of people had tried unsuccessfully to buy it.
    “Well Mr. Hurdle,” she responded, “I did receive a number of letters from people asking about that property. Their letters always started out ‘Dear Babe (her nickname).’ I didn’t even know those people and I just wasn’t very interested in doing business with them. When I opened your letter the first words I read were ‘Dear Mrs. Cottrell’ and I thought, ‘This might be a man I can do business with.’ ”
    I should note that my father was not a wild-eyed liberal; he was a Roosevelt Democrat, more moderate than most Mississippians at the time, but anyone from outside the South would have considered him quite conservative. But courtesy was free and so he gave it freely.
    Perhaps DeSantis would have treated a white opponent exactly as he treated Gillum. It’s not unheard of for politicians to refer to their opponents by their first name. But for DeSantis not to realize how his behavior would be received is just an amazing display of tone-deafness.
    Courtesy titles, like courtesy, are free, and DeSantis displayed an amazing stinginess of spirit that likely did him no good with most of the voters. I don’t think Gillum will be good for Florida, but DeSantis’ actions may have given him the extra boost he needed to be elected governor.