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Beginning in 1908, Sears started selling entire houses. They sold 75,000 DIY mail order homes between 1908 and 1939.

The approximately 25-ton kits were transported by railroad. They had 30,000 pre-cut parts, plumbing and electrical fixtures, and up to 750 pounds of nails.

see more of them


I noted on a blustery November 7th that it was the birthday of French writer Albert Camus.  I think a lot of people think of him as an existentialist based on his books, but he said that did not describe him. Actually, in an interview, he rejected any ideological associations.

I find Camus more optimistic than some people. I like a few quotes of his in that spirit.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

His novels include L’étranger (1942, The Stranger), La Peste (1947, The Plague), and La Chute (1956, The Fall). All of them have their grim moments.  When I read Camus, I was only in my teens and I think the sadness in his writing played into some Romantic notions I foolishly had then about being depressed.

In his book, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus did deal with a big topic of existentialism – suicide. Camus wrote that “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.”

In Camus’ view, suicide was a natural solution to the absurdity of life. But in The Myth of Sisyphus, he also tries to identify the kinds of life that could be worth living.

This weekend while I am away from the early winter of Paradelle in summerish weather, I’m thinking a lot about how season and location affect our attitude and mood. Though I have been rereading some Camus this past week, I am not feeling the inherent meaninglessness that seemed to overcome him at times.

In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. On January 4, 1960, Camus died in a car crash.

“I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t,
than live as if there isn’t and to die to find out that there is.”


Flamel home

The home of the Flamels in Paris.

Nicholas Flamel was born outside Paris in 1300. Though he family was poor, he received a good education.

For a time, he worked as a scrivener copying texts, writing letters, and selling manuscripts, he also wrote some poetry.

He married late in life an intelligent and attractive widow named Perenelle. Like Nicholas, his wife supposedly had explored alchemy, the science of the age.

The most interesting part of Flamel’s life may not have been part of his life. We can find out about his marriage contract and his will by seeing them in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The legends are much more interesting.

That story says that Flamel came to own an odd book via a two florins purchase he made from someone who came to his bookstall in need of money. The manuscript volume was bound in worked copper and it was engraved with curious symbols and characters. It had only twenty-one leaves/pages that were not paper but made of young tree bark and written/inscribed with a sharp stylus.

It was illustrated on some pages with serpents. The serpents are swallowing swords, crucified on a cross, and trailing from a bubbling fountain in the middle of a treeless desert. It is said that this was the Book of Abraham the Jew, but it was not a religious text. It is supposed to contain a complete exposition on the art of transmuting base metals to gold – alchemy.

To use the book as an alchemist, you would also need to create the “philosopher’s stone” (AKA the Sorcerer’s Stone) Using the stone and book one could distill the Elixir of Life which can give eternal life.

The only historical evidence we can point to for this possible ownership is that the Flamels did become suddenly rich at one point. They had no children and used the money to help the poor, establishing low-income housing, free hospitals, and endowing Catholic churches to do good works.


We believe the couple lived quiet scholarly lives studying and writing about alchemy. Perenelle and then Nicholas died while they were in their eighties and were buried in the Cemetery of the Innocents. Nicholas designed their tombstone which has the Sun above a key, a book, Christ, St. Peter, St. Paul. and curious engravings. The tombstone was located in the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, but is now at the Cluny Museum in Paris.

Obtaining the book is the first part of the legend. The next part comes shortly after Nicholas’s death, when their tomb was opened by vandals. Were they searching for the philosopher’s stone, gold, or the book? Well, not only did they not find those things, but they did not find the bodies of the Flamels.

Amongst devotees of the Flamels’ work, it was said that Nicholas and Perenelle had distilled the Elixir of Life and had staged their own deaths. They then took the book and stone and went on to the rest of their eternal life.

What I had not heard before was a story recounted by Garrison Keillor on his Writers’ Almanac podcast recently. An 18th-century archaeologist working in Turkey met a “philosopher” who seemed able to speak almost every known language and also knew a very detailed history of the Flamels. He did not claim to be Nicholas, but told the archaeologist that Nicholas and Perenelle were in fact still alive.

This philosopher said that after they left France the couple went to India and there sought out adepts and mystics with abilities that exceeded the known science.

So, how did I meet Nicholas? Like millions of others, I met he and his wife as friends of Albus Dumbledore, wizard and headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

In the tales of Harry Potter, the Flamels live on. In the first book, Harry Potter and the The Sorcerer’s Stone (British title: The Philosopher’s Stone), Nicholas is 690 years old.

The couple lives in Devon, England. Their immortality continues through infusions of the Elixir of Life (in this version, one drink is not give eternal life – it is more of a Fountain of Youth). In the Potter version, their Philosopher’s Stone had to be destroyed to keep it from the dark wizard Voldemort. They made enough Elixir to set their affairs in order. Flamel and his wife were assumed to have died when the Elixir ran out. Harry thought this was terrible, but Dumbledore told him that their deaths would be like “going to bed after a very, very long day.”

But did they die? That is fiction. What about the real Flamels? Nicholas created a Philosopher’s Stone once. Might he have created another?


“I never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel”
– Roger Branigin. Or Mark Twain. Or Charles Brownson. Or Irving Leibowitz. Or William I. Greener Jr. Or H. L. Mencken. Or maybe Benjamin Franklin

I love quotations. When I was teaching full-time, I had a rotating series of printed quotations a dnposters decorating my classroom. In this digital age, I am frequently posting quotes that I find interesting on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or LinkedIn.

While searching for the author of a line that was quoted without attribution, I stumbled on the website Quote Investigator.

As a longtime teacher and reader and writer of research papers and dissertations, I am very aware of citing your sources. In the Internet Age, a lot of that kind of citing has fallen away – more out of laziness than deliberate plagiarism.

As a fan of Albert Einstein, I know that a good number of wise quotes attributed to him never came from his mouth or pen. Abraham Lincoln is another famous name that is often attached to wise words incorrectly.

The Quote Investigator website has an entry about the quote that starts this article. Well, one version of the quote. You can choose from:
1. Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel
2. I never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel.
3. Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.

Some version of that idea has been credited to three big quotation sources: Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken.

Quote Investigator’s research knocks all three out of the running and lands on someone who came long after their deaths. They found the earliest citation for that second version of the quote was in The Indianapolis News in 1962 in a speech by Roger Branigin.

But Branigin doesn’t carry the same weight of authority as putting Twain, Franklin or Mencken’s name with the line.

There are lots of lines “quoted” and attributed to Anonymous and Author Unknown. Someone said or wrote these words, but has been lost to history. Or wasn’t famous enough to matter. Or had their name dropped off by a lazy person who followed.

I do know that Ambrose Bierce, in his The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, defined quotation as “the act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

And not everyone is a fan of those of us who like to repeat quotations.

“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.” – A.A. Milne, If I May

“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”  – Rudyard Kipling, Many Inventions

“A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.” –  Dorothy Sayers

I like the irony of quoting from an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson where he says “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

But then, I am more on the side of the oft-quoted Winston Churchill who said “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations,” even though it could be interpreted as being a bit of a dig.

I am not quite sure what  Julio Cortázar means when he says “In quoting others, we cite ourselves” (Around the Day in Eighty Worlds). I suppose we do see ourselves in quotes we choose – as in “I wish I had said that.” Marlene Dietrich feels the same way. “I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.”

I love the stories of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft taking their messages from Earth out into universe. Humanity’s farthest and longest-lived spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, achieve 40 years of operation and exploration this August and September. Despite their vast distance, they continue to communicate with NASA daily, still probing the final frontier.

Both Pioneers carry a plaque, but the Voyager spacecrafts carry a “phonograph record.” But I have always wondered what an alien finding it would be able to figure out about us. A lot of thought was given to what was included, but could it be understood? How might it be misunderstood?

Just on the basis of technology, if the Voyager’s “Golden Record” dropped into your backyard, could you “play” it? Chances are that you don’t even have the equipment to play a vinyl record any more.

Of course, we always seem to imagine the aliens as being way more advanced than us, so they could figure it out, right?

Besides a turntable and speakers, this record requires the aliens to have ways to hear and see similar to the ways we do those things. A lot of science-fiction tales have not shown us aliens with our ears and eyes. Can they interpret the record by just using their mind?

The Voyager record has a cover illustration and about 90 minutes of audio on the reverse side.

Looking at the cover illustration image of hydrogen and a pulsar map (the same as found on the Pioneer plaques) and important instructions on how to play them. It tells the aliens how to use the included stylus and what rate of rotation the record must be used and the proper waveform of signals generated by the record. These are similar instructions to those we would need to give to a Generation Z kid confronted with a record player.

Let’s assume they get the record to play and they have ears to hear it. What will they think about us when listening to the 50+ greeting messages in different languages? Again, I think of a Gen Z or almost any Earthling hearing 50+ different messages in different languages. Confusion. They might wonder why we don’t all speak in the same way. Or maybe they think all 50 messages are in the same language but are just different creatures speaking.

Then there is the music. I can’t imagine how they would react to hearing Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Are these dancing aliens?  I would guess that they might deal better with the Beethoven and Stravinsky without lyrics, though it is doubtful that music developed in the same way out there in the universe.

The record also contains 115 images. If they can decode the first ones, they will have technical data for the reader regarding mathematical definitions, scales and sizes, and information about our location and how to find us. There are images of our Sun and some of the planets in our solar system. Some pretty famous scientists have said that we really shouldn’t be telling them that because we don’t want them to find us.. These scientists are believers in the “aliens are evil” school of thought.

The images seem to me to be the part they might understand. Didn’t they tell me in elementary school that math was a universal language?

Will they interpret the medical and scientific diagrams showing the structure of our DNA and detailed images of human anatomy?

I do think they will be confused by some of the others in this Earthing photo album:  people eating, looking through a microscope, on a spacewalk, a string quartet etc. I am actually a bit frightened by how they might interpret a picture of a woman licking an ice cream cone.

Voyager 1 is currently in “Interstellar space” and Voyager 2 is currently in the “Heliosheath” (the outermost layer of the heliosphere).

We haven’t really nailed down what dreams are all about and there are still differing theories. In the explanation that Freud promoted, dreams are a way to see into our subconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. This is where we get the idea that the things in dreams (manifest content) are really symbols for the latent, or hidden, content.

Other theories view dreaming as a way the brain generates new ideas and creativity. This explains how people wake up with a poem or the solution to a complex problem.

A more everyday variation on this theory is another that posits that dreams are the way we process the day’s information. In sleep and dreaming, we categorize, prune away and store memories.

However, none of these explain the persistent idea that dreams, at least sometimes, seem to predict or foreshadow future events. The three theories first mentioned all deal with the past, whether it be the past 48 hours, or our childhood years ago.

If you have ever had a dream that later turned out to be “true” or prophetic, you probably have some belief in precognitive dreams.

J. W. Dunne, a British engineer and amateur philosopher, proposed that the way we believe we experience time as linear was an illusion. Human consciousness fools us into believing that, when in fact past, present and future were continuous in a higher-dimensional reality. We have imposed this sequential time mental perception of time as a way to understand it.

He wrote about what he called “serial time” is a series of books beginning with An Experiment with Time (1928) , The Serial Universe (1934), The New Immortality (1938), Nothing Dies (1940) and Intrusions? (1955).

As the years passed, he connected “serialism” to psychology, parapsychology, theology, relativity and quantum mechanics. Several famous novelists were fans of his theories, including James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley.

Vladimir Nabokov was another novelist who was taken with the Dunne’s idea that serial time allowed for dreams to “predict” a future we had already experienced. It also explained the déjà vu phenomenon.

In a recently published collection titled Insomniac Dreams,, we can see an experiment in time that Nabokov conducted himself.

Every morning for about three months, he would write down immediately upon awakening what he could recall of his dreams. Then the following days, he paid careful attention to anything that seemed to do with the recorded dream. This dream journal was recorded on index cards, which has also been his compositional method when he wrote Lolita.

He is surely not the only dream journaler who has believed that dreams are not just fragments of past impressions, but are both past and future events. Dunne said this was possible in his serial view of time because time then is not unidirectional but recursive.

Dunne would also say that the only way to observe the predictive nature o dreams is to pay careful attention to the content of dreams, as Nabokov and journaling do, and the events that follow in waking life.

Nabokov finds some instances of prophecy in his recorded dreams, but nothing I would consider extraordinary despite his idea that when you are confronted with predicted outcomes that might be explained as coincidences multiple times, you cease to believe they are coincidences and believe they “form the living organism of a new truth.”

I am more in the coincidence school of belief about the predictive aspects of dreams, and that they are given more weight when we pay closer attention, as Nabokov did.

Perhaps, I should do my own experiment paying closer attention to the followup days  and dream self-reflection. Though lately, I have not had any dreams to record as they seem to disappear before I even wake up with my dream journal beside me. What’s that all about?


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