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Eponymously Yours, W. Skeffington Higgins
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in beamjockey's LiveJournal:

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    Tuesday, April 15th, 2014
    1:12 am
    While Feynman Sleeps
    Illinois is not always kind to visitors from California. This van, once owned by physicist Richard Feynman, just arrived at Fermilab.

    Decorated with Feynman diagrams, California Historical Vehicle 664T stolidly endures an inch of mid-April snow.
    Thursday, April 10th, 2014
    11:32 am
    Livejournal Memories: Del Cotter's Carpet
    I see the silvery trailer, part of the sculpture "Airstream Interplanetary Explorer," is in front of The Highrise right now, and a crew is maneuvering it into place to prepare for the 10-week exhibition of Edward Tufte's metal sculpture here at Fermilab's art gallery. All part of what my colleague Mike Vincent has called a Triple Nerd Alert.

    Preparing "Airstream Interplanetary Explorer" outside Wilson Hall.

    What the AIE looks like when it's at home, at Hogpen Hill Farm in Connecticut.

    In honor of Prof. Tufte, the celebrated champion of data visualization, and his excellent books on the subject, allow me to resurrect a moment from this blog.

    In 2007, we were discussing Worldcon professional Guests of Honor, their ages, and the duration of their science fiction/fantasy careers at the time of the Worldcons where they were honored. Some were saying that the latest guest seemed rather young, or rather less experienced, than they expected a World Science Fiction Convention GoH to be. Turns out that this guest was not very unusual, compared to the set of previous honorees. I published some graphs to visualize the data.

    Birth year of Worldcon Guests of Honor vs. year of the Worldcon

    Number of years eleapsed between a Worldcon Guest of Honor's first science fiction sale and the year of the Worldcon, versus year of the Worldcon, for professional guests where I have been able to ascertain their first-sale year

    Age at first sale of Worldcon Guests of Honor vs. year of the Worldcon, for professional GoHs

    Over in the UK, Del Cotter, bless him, considered the principles of presenting numerical data in a clear fashion, and set out to improve upon my graphs.

    Del wrote: "Thanks for gathering the data on this. I took the liberty of ripping it out and making my own graph, from which it seems clear to me that in age or career he's not even a freak for the modern Worldcon era, just a little unusual. " Indeed, his graph was nicer.

    Age and career length of Worldcon professional Guests of Honor

    My reply:

    (Behind a cut...Collapse )
    Monday, April 7th, 2014
    8:20 pm
    Soon, at Fermilab: Diagrams and Throat Singing and Mysterious Guests from Afar
    I don't know how to explain this. It's multiple things, all tangled up into a ball. But clearly I need to tell you about it.

    1. Feynman.

    Let's start with Richard Feynman (1918-1988). Perhaps you know of him. Physicist, Caltech teacher, Nobel Prize winner, legendary storyteller. Bongo drums, safecracking, and so forth.

    2. The Diagrams.

    As a shorthand for thinking about quantum field theory, he devised Feynman Diagrams, in which each squiggle represents part of an equation. Particle physicists continue to use these squiggles every day.

    I was surprised to learn that Feynman used to drive around in a 1975 Dodge Tradesman van decorated with Feynman diagrams. California license plate QANTUM. This is a bit more Hollywood than theoretical physicists usually get.

    So there's an artist today who creates metal sculptures. He fashions metal versions of Feynman diagrams. Soon some of these will be on display in the Fermilab art gallery for a couple of months. More about him in a moment.

    3. Tuva. And Its Music.

    Ralph Leighton was, among other things, a friend of Feynman's, and sometime amanuensis, compiling some famous books of Feynman's amusing stories.

    Feynman and Leighton shared an interest in Tuva, an Asian country, effectively part of Russia, near Siberia and Mongolia. "Anyplace that's got a capital named Kyzyl has just got to be interesting," said Feynman. They learned about Tuvan "throat singing," a unique style in which a singer produces two tones simultaneously. A decade ago, I read Leighton's book Tuva or Bust.

    Partly because of Leighton and Feynman's efforts, this music has become more popular around the world, and Tuvan throat singers tour giving concerts.

    Saturday, 12 April, at 8 PM, Fermilab Cultural Events series will present Huun Huur Tu: Throat Singers of Tuva . One may obtain tickets here .

    4. Leighton.

    Prior to the concert, at 7 PM, Ralph Leighton will speak on "Richard Feynman’s Fantasy: The Marvelous Stamps of Tannu Tuva" in One West on the first floor of Fermilab's Wilson Hall.

    And Leighton is bringing Feynman's van. It's been restored.

    So, Saturday night, one could hear Ralph Leighton, admire Richard Feynman's van, and enjoy the music of Huun Huur Tu. The Feynman diagram installation will also be on display in the second-floor art gallery in Wilson Hall.
    The artist doesn't show up until Wednesday.

    5. The Artist.

    Metal sculpture is his hobby. By profession, he was Professor of Political Science, Statistics, and Computer Science at Yale University. Now he is Emeritus Professor.

    He is Edward Tufte. Author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information, Visual Explanations, and Beautiful Evidence. Legendary works on representing numbers and other information visually. A globally renowned guru of design.

    The sculptures, he does for fun. The Cognitive Art of Feynman Diagrams will be up on 12 April, but it formally starts on Wednesday, 16 April. The artist reception runs from 5 PM to 7 PM; space is limited, so registration is required.

    And Tufte is bringing his Interplanetary Explorer. Or, anyway, the part that can be towed. It, too, will be on display, alongside the Feynman van, from 12 April to 26 June.

    Even those unable to attend the Saturday concert or the 16 April reception, then, may drop by Wilson Hall before 26 June, at a time when Fermilab is open, to examine Tufte's exhibit and the Tufte and Feynman/Leighton vehicles.

    Here's Fermilab's press release about these events.

    Should be a memorable spring.
    Friday, March 28th, 2014
    7:10 pm
    Celebration of Frederik Pohl Next Summer: 2 August at Harper College
    As you may know, Fred Pohl passed away last September. He was a giant of science fiction. And a friend.

    I've just found an announcement from his wife, Elizabeth Anne Hull:
    Plans are under way for a celebration in memory of Fred, to be held August 2, 2014, at the Wojcek Conference Center at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Illinois.

    Please save the date and join us if you can. If you’d like to participate in the program, please let me know as soon as possible.
    I'm looking forward to it.

    Fred's blog, The Way the Future Blogs, continues. Professor Hull and the blog team post there, and Fred left behind a considerable backlog of writings that have yet to appear.
    Thursday, March 27th, 2014
    8:01 am
    At Chi-Fi 0 This Saturday Night: I Know Where Your Jetpack Is
    There's a new con in Chicago. Chi-Fi has postponed their first full-weekend con until March 2015, but for a taste of what's to come, they've organized Chi-Fi 0, a one-day event this Saturday, 29 March, from 3 PM to 3 AM at the Palmer House Hilton downtown. Events cover science fiction, gaming, cosplay, concerts, elements of the Bristol Ren Faire, fannish diversity, and much more. They even have SMOFfing: a panel on "Con Harassment Policies: Nuts and Bolts."

    And a Higgins talk. According to the schedule for Chi-Fi 0, I'm speaking Saturday night at 10:30. I thought it might be fun to tell the attendees what I know about a beloved symbol of paleofuturism.

    I Know Where Your Jetpack Is: The Rise and Fall of the Bell Rocket Belt

    10:30 PM
    Grant Park Room
    The cry "Where's my jetpack?" is often heard in the 21st century. Long ago, seen on TV, at the World's Fair, and at the Olympics, the Bell Rocket Belt delighted millions and became an icon of the Space Age. After this "jetpack," descended from X-plane technology, made its first flight in 1961, Bell Aerospace struggled and failed to find a market for it—but a handful of enthusiasts have built new rocket belts and are flying them today.

    Scott Makes Noise 0340 WSH & Eric Scott 0283

    I'm looking forward to the event, and hoping it's a success. (And it's a chance to deploy my rarely-seen Livejournal rocket belt icon.) See you downtown...
    Friday, March 21st, 2014
    1:09 pm
    Copy Editors of Dune
    As is his habit, lsanderson has today rounded up links to film reviews in the New York Times.

    One of these is If Only Orson Welles Had Starred: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune,’ From Frank Pavich

    It's a documentary about Alejandro Jodorowsky's effort, ultimately unsuccessful, to film Frank Herbert's epic science fiction novel in the 1970s. (Other directors have since brought Dune to the screen, in a 1984 feature film and a 2000 TV miniseries.)

    Sounds interesting. But I started wondering about the title. How do you write it?

    There are rules for writing the titles of movies. But this movie title has a movie title inside of it.

    In its headline, the Times encloses the title in single quotes:

    ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’

    In the body of the story, the Times encloses the title in double quotes:

    "Jodorowsky’s Dune"

    (In fact, they employ curly-quotes, but for the moment, let's not go there.)

    The W. Skeffington Higgins stylebook, the one inside my head (a patchwork of high-school rules and random ideas from elsewhere), dictates that, where possible, film titles ought to be italicized:

    Jodorowsky’s Dune

    But wait-- if the film title itself contains a film title, shouldn't the title-within-a-title be emphasized somehow?


    Jodorowsky’s DUNE


    Jodorowsky’s Dune


    Jodorowsky’s Dune


    Jodorowsky’s Dune

    I often see, and often use, a convention like this: When something italicized hits a word that would itself normally be italicized, it toggles the italicization "off" and reverts to normal roman type-- resuming the italicization afterward. In this case such a convention would lead to:

    Jodorowsky’s Dune

    HTML has an "emphasis" tag that is supposed to take care of this sort of thing: enclosing text between <em> and </em> toggles the italicization on and off, and I believe these can be nested. Let's try:

    Jodorowsky’s Dune

    No, I guess the second <em> does not cancel the effect of the first <em>; neither does it have any discernible effect on the text it encloses.

    In sending e-mail, my habits were formed on the unreliable Net of the Eighties. I generally do not trust that italics crafted in my mail client's editor will be displayed correctly when my text arrives at my correspondent's screen. Following Postel's Robustness Principle,† I fall back on conventions that I am sure will get through, even to someone who can only receive 7-bit ASCII. So if you get e-mail from me, any reference to a book or movie title will be enclosed in asterisks:
    *Jodorowsky’s Dune*
    Though in the present case, perhaps I should enclose the title-within-a-title in double asterisks to distinguish it:
    *Jodorowsky’s **Dune***
    All right, NOW I'm getting silly.

    † Postel's Robustness Principle: "Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others."
    Thursday, March 13th, 2014
    1:07 pm
    The Return of Getty Images?
    My far-flung correspondents have begun to report that, on my Getty Images post a few days old, the previously-invisible embedded images have begun to appear. Maybe Livejournal made some change that enabled this. Let's try it now:

    (I'm hoping a picture will appear here)
    12:21 am
    Todd Explains Television
    The new version of Cosmos, Todd Johnson explained tonight, differs from Carl Sagan's series.

    "But," he added, "they are set in the same universe."
    Monday, March 10th, 2014
    10:51 am
    Let's Experiment with Getty Images
    The folks at Getty Images have kindly made it possible to embed their pictures in a Web page. It employs the "iframe" tag. Does this embedding work on Livejournal? Only one way to find out:

    Edited to add:
    The embed code looks like this:
    <iframe src="//" width="444" height="663" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>

    Apparently Livejournal did not preserve it. Not really surprising.

    Maybe I should run off and see if Google Plus will accept such code.
    Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
    12:43 pm
    Regarding the Democratic Primary Race for U.S. Senate in Texas, a Sentence I Wasn't Expecting to See
    "Rogers has also previously drawn Hitler mustaches on posters of Obama, according to The Hill."

    --Talking Points Memo

    The cited story from The Hill: Dems Scramble to Stop LaRouche Candidate.
    Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
    1:39 pm
    Can Neil deGrasse Tyson Pilot the Starship of the Imagination?
    Michael Grebb at CableFax reports on efforts to promote the post-Saganic reboot of TV's Cosmos. The documentary series will be blasted out in "a global launch across hundreds of networks."
    In an unprecedented move, Fox Networks on March 9 will premiere Cosmos across 10 U.S. nets simultaneously, including Fox, FX, FXX, FXM, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Mundo and Fox Life, with Fox International Channels and Nat Geo Channels International premiering the reboot on all 90 Nat Geo channels in 180 countries, as well as 120 Fox-branded channels in 125 countries.
    Expect hype, and plenty of it, in the weeks to come.
    Sunday, February 23rd, 2014
    7:55 am
    Destination Aurora
    Time to fly home.

    Boskone was a spectacular experience. I stuck around. Massachusetts is filled with delightful people. And robots.
    Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
    11:58 am
    Musicians of Boskone: A Ukulele Request
    I would like to borrow a baritone ukulele for a brief performance late Saturday night at Boskone. (My travel plans to Boston make it impractical to bring my own uke.)

    If you know anyone who might be willing to loan me a baritone uke, please spread the word.

    I could manage with another kind of uke, but I am best at playing a baritone.

    If no uke at all is available, I'll cope.

    Please contact me through higgins at fnal dot gov, or find me at-con (here's my schedule), or reach me through Boskone's programming people.

    Edited to add: A kind family has come through with a uke. All is well. (Except for the part where a giant snowstorm headed for Boston threatens to delay my flight Thursday afternoon.)
    Thursday, February 6th, 2014
    6:30 pm
    My Schedule for Capricon 34
    I'll be at Capricon 34 this weekend in Wheeling, Illinois, doing a few panels and a talk.

    Time Travel without Technology
    - Friday, 02-07-2014 - 7:00 pm to 8:15 pm - Willow

    While most time travel seems to involve a technological breakthrough, sometimes, as with Matheson’s Bid Time Return or Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, characters manage to move through time either through force of will or natural phenomenon. How is this time travel different from the more traditional type?
    Walt Boyes (M), Roland J. Green, Bill Higgins, Ken Hite, Matt Mitrovich

    By the Light of the Chinese Moon
    - Saturday, 02-08-2014 - 10:00 am to 11:15 am - Botanic Garden B

    On December 14, China became the third country, and the first in 37 years, to soft land on the Moon. Is this the start of a new space race or has the US conceded the Moon to China? Will other countries join them?
    Dermot Dobson (M), Bill Higgins, Jeffrey Liss, Jim Plaxco, Henry Spencer

    Weird Patents
    - Saturday, 02-08-2014 - 11:30 am to 12:45 pm - Botanic Garden A
    A look at some of the weird ideas for which people have filed, and received patents.
    Dermot Dobson, Bill Higgins, Ruth Pe Palileo (M)

    Vandals of the Void: Damaging Meteorites from Chelyabinsk to Chicago
    - Saturday, 02-08-2014 - 4:00 pm to 5:15 pm - Botanic Garden A

    A window-shattering shock wave injured 1100 Russians and startled the world one year ago. Meteoric violence is rare, but it can be devastating-and meteorites have assaulted Chicagoland at least twice. Bill Higgins reviews the Chelyabinsk blast, reveals our local impacts.
    Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
    8:23 pm
    See You Later, Astrogator!
    I wrote a comment on wcg's blog I thought might be worth sharing here.

    He was talking about software called Astrogator, whose manufacturer made the following claim:

    In 1953, Robert A. Heinlein published a book named Starman Jones. Aside from being one of Heinlein's better juvenile novels, it coined the word astrogator, meaning a person who navigates a spaceship.

    This did not ring true for me; I had the impression it was a pretty standard word in Golden Age stories. A bit of googling and n-gram plotting turns up the 1938 story "The Degenerates" by John Russell Fearn:
    We took off right on time two days later, and it was certainly a joy to be the chief astrogator of the Stardust.
    Willy Ley mentions "astrogator" in the first version of Rockets, 1944, connecting it to the astronomer R. S. Richardson. Now Richardson wrote lots of science articles for Astounding Science Fiction in those days, so I wouldn't be surprised if we found him using the word now and then.

    I can push "astrogation" even further back. David Lasser, an editor working for Hugo Gernsback on Science Wonder Stories and other SF magazines, joined with other writers and enthusiasts to found the American Interplanetary Society, from which the AIAA is descended. And in 1931 he published one of the first American nonfiction books about the new science of spaceflight, Conquest of Space.
    Just as two-dimensional navigation on the earth's surface gave way to avigation* when men attempted to travel through the air, so in interplanetary travel we must develop an exact science of three-dimensional astrogation through the heavens.
    Okay, having demonstrated that I can find multiple citations predating Starman Jones, now I will peek at the answer in the back of the book: the OED SF jargon site.** Yup, their earliest citations for both "astrogation" and "astrogator" point to Lasser's book. Guess I missed the latter; Google Books failed to detect its presence.

    Heinlein's Starman Jones does have the virtue of being about an astrogator, and its control-room scenes are most memorable. But "astrogator" was a venerable word, by SF standards, by the time this novel appeared.

    * No, Mr. Lasser, actually it didn't; most aviators wound up still calling it "navigation." So did most astronauts.

    ** Basis for the book Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, edited by Jeff Prucher.
    Thursday, January 30th, 2014
    1:01 pm
    Beam Jockeys of the Sixties
    Recently I found a 1966 account of a brand-new atom smasher. Dr. Gregory A Loew gave a talk to fellow physicists at the International Conference on Instrumentation for High Energy Physics proudly describing his laboratory, which is one of Fermilab's elder sisters.

    Take a look at "Report on the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center."

    At the bottom of page 5, Loew writes:
    "Just to the right-hand side of the console is the domain of the beam operator, sometimes called the beam jockey. Besides numerous telephones and Tektronics (sic) oscilloscopes, the beam operator focuses his attention on beam guidance and the beam spectrum."
    This greatly predates my own use of the phrase "beam jockey" in the mid-Eighties.
    Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
    8:59 pm
    My Schedule for Boskone 51
    The Boskone folks have kindly invited me to Boston for their famous convention on the weekend of Valentine's Day. And now they have put their program schedule online. A list of items sorted by panelist is also available, if there are particular people you are eager to see.

    Unfortunately, K won't be able to attend. Nevertheless I am really looking forward to this con; I'm also planning to hang around Massachusetts for the following week. Here's my schedule.

    WSH BRB Front 0363


    Friday 18:00 - 18:50

    The new term "paleofuture" describes a future that never was - a prediction made in the past which hasn't panned out and never will. Which foreseen futures have subsequent events rendered impossible? Which are plausible still? What histories, worlds, discoveries, and technologies could (or could not) yet come true? And for extra credit, what are our own predictions of things to come?

    Elizabeth Bear (M), Bill Higgins, James Patrick Kelly, Beth Meacham

    The Science of Hal Clement's Iceworld

    Friday 20:00 - 20:50

    In Hal Clement's 1951 novel Iceworld, characters who breathe hot gaseous sulfur confront the mysteries of Earth, to them an unbelievably frigid planet. Among other things, the legendary master of hard SF foresaw robotic interplanetary exploration in a unique way. Join Bill Higgins in exploring the chemistry, physics, and astronomy behind the classic story.

    Bill Higgins

    [A brand new talk, especially for Boskone, on Hal Clement's home turf.]

    Boskone Meet the Guests & Art Show Reception

    Friday 21:00 - 22:00

    Connoisseurs and philistines alike: welcome! Come meet our special guests while enjoying a feast for the eyes that is the Boskone Art Show. Join us in the Galleria to enjoy refreshments -- and refreshing conversation.

    Bill Higgins, Jane Yolen, Seanan McGuire, David Palumbo, Bill Roper, Ginjer Buchanan

    [I've heard Boskone's art show is very good. This'll be a great opportunity to get a look at it in my otherwise busy weekend.]

    WSH HH&O 1090x960

    Kaffeeklatsche with Bill Higgins

    Saturday 11:00 - 11:50

    [Simply conversation with other fans. Sign up and let's chat!]

    Welcome to Fermilab: Particles Beneath the Prairie

    Saturday 13:00 - 13:50

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory is a fascinating place, full of mile-long machines, giant assemblies of intriguing apparatus, underground beams of mysterious particles, and a herd of buffalo. Take a tour and hear a few stories from Bill Higgins's 35 years in the accelerator business.

    Bill Higgins

    Interview with Science Speaker Bill Higgins

    Saturday 14:00 - 14:50

    Join us for a lively discussion as former Special Guest Guy Consolmagno interviews Boskone's current Hal Clement Science Speaker, Bill Higgins. Bill is a radiation safety physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago. As a longtime member of fandom, he writes and speaks about the crossroads where science, history, and science fiction meet. Other topics that may come up include spaceflight, astronomy, physics, and maybe even some weird aviation.

    Guy Consolmagno (M), Bill Higgins

    The Year in Physics and Astronomy

    Saturday 17:00 - 17:50

    An annual roundup of the latest research and discoveries in physics and astronomy. Our experts will talk about what's new and interesting, cutting-edge and speculative: the Higgs, solar and extrasolar planets, dark energy, and much more besides.

    Mark L. Olson (M), Bill Higgins, Guy Consolmagno, Jeff Hecht

    [This will require some homework!]

    The Dark Universe

    Sunday 11:00 - 11:50

    What are dark matter and dark energy? What is this dark universe that coexists alongside the cosmos we can see and feel? How apropos is George Lucas' description of The Force? (Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks of "[A]n energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.") Is there something in this idea that might reveal mysteries that keep eluding us -- and do we really want to find out?

    Mark L. Olson (M), Bill Higgins, Elizabeth Bear, Guy Consolmagno

    [This will also require homework. Where did I put that Dark Energy file I compiled when I... oh, right. I haven't blogged about that adventure yet.]

    Chelyabinsk Fireball Dashcam View

    Vandals of the Void: The Chelyabinsk Meteor Strike of 2013

    Sunday 13:00 - 13:50

    One year ago, a window-shattering shock wave injured 1400 Russians and startled the world. A 20-meter asteroid had exploded in the sky above Chelyabinsk. Join Bill Higgins and Guy Consolmagno for a look at what scientists have learned about this striking event.

    Bill Higgins, Guy Consolmagno

    [I couldn't resist the opportunity to juice up my Chelyabinsk talk by drafting my favorite meteorite expert.]
    Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
    10:21 pm
    Beyond Year Ten: Is This the Year for Twitter?
    I just noticed that I had posted my previous entry, "The Faces of Science Fiction," on the tenth anniversary of my first entry, "In the future, everyone will blog for fifteen entries."

    I'm still using the same Foglio drawing as my default icon. (Wouldn't you?)

    If I've been quiet recently, it's because I've been beavering away on my Boskone talks. And thinking about what will come next.

    Will this be the year I get a Twitter account?

    What should I know before doing so?
    Thursday, January 2nd, 2014
    7:06 pm
    Question: The Faces of Science Fiction
    I could figure out answers to the following questions, given enough time-- but among my correspondents, I suspect, are people who are capable of answering them in the blink of an eye.

    What typeface might this be? And more to the point, what is the closest typeface, let's say in my Microsoft Office collection, I could use to approximate its appearance?

    Image courtesy Science Fiction Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections, Northern Illinois University

    What Office typefaces would be good choices to fake some of the typefaces visible here?

    Thursday, December 26th, 2013
    8:32 pm
    Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!
    At 17:41 CST, K spotted a fireball in the sky north of Lincoln, Illinois. She alerted me and I had a few seconds to observe it too.

    Texted our meteorite-loving friends; whl encouraged us to file a report at the American Meteor Society site. He has been checking other reports during our progress down the highway-- he says ericcoleman also spotted the bolide from Iowa.

    We were returning from lunch with the other half of Clan Heterodyne. They are in one part of Illinois over the holidays, we are in another-- but if we both drive a ways, we can meet in Springfield. Mighty good to see them. Didn't know this journey would turn cosmic.

    Edited to add: Amateur astronomer Tim Cline appears to have captured footage of the St. Stephen's Day fireball from Williamson, Iowa. I'll try to embed it below, but I fear it may disappoint me.

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