Tag Archives: Vanderbilt University

The Rocket Scientist Next Door

8 May

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Charlie Bradshaw, a man who lives down the street. This is what I wrote about him.

Charlie Bradshaw walked into his professor’s office without knowing what to expect. He had enlisted in the Navy and entered the V-12 program for training, which was why he was taking Calculus at Sewanee and was facing the uncertainty of this meeting.

The professor began by going over the details of Charlie’s C average but quickly put his grade book aside. This was not a meeting of condemnation. Rather, it was a meeting of encouragement. He saw Charlie’s talent and encouraged him to think about Mathematics as a career. About this meeting, Charlie said, “I didn’t know how important it was to concentrate on what you’re good at.” With that, a lifelong love of Mathematics began.

Charlie finished the V-12 program and was shipped to the Pacific Theater of World War II to prepare for the invasion of Japan. He saw action at Okinawa but, like thousands of America’s enlisted men, was spared the dangers of invasion when President Harry Truman ordered the use of two atomic bombs. Six weeks later, Charlie found himself walking through Hiroshima, the first city hit with an atomic bomb. When asked what he thought as he took pictures of the carnage, Charlie stated that “we can’t have another war with these weapons.”

After the war, Charlie completed school; joined the faculty at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute; and settled his family in Cookeville. In 1951, a new opportunity arose when he heard about recruiters at a local hotel interviewing people for positions at a new government facility in Huntsville, Alabama. Charlie got a new job but had to delay his departure for two weeks. His wife was about to have a baby. Charlie said, “I always knew I didn’t want to spend a career in teaching, in the classroom, but I loved Cookeville. It had good fishing, and I sort of didn’t want to leave, but it was such a big opportunity.”

That opportunity took Charlie into the world of Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who surrendered to American forces at the end of World War II. While von Braun and his German colleagues built rockets, Charlie’s team calculated their flight times and trajectories with a “slide rule and desk calculator.” Each second of the flight had to be computed, which took two weeks and numerous chalkboards. To complete this job, women were hired. Charlie said:

We eventually hired math aides who were women. They were better at it than men. They were more patient. But, Washington didn’t have a civil service classification for them. We had to get Washington to figure out what to call the job, and they decided on Computers.

In 1953, they launched Redstone, America’s first guided missile, and it followed the path that Charlie’s team had calculated. However, the days of the “slide rule and desk calculator” were coming to an end. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory received the first computer in the South, and Charlie transferred to east Tennessee to oversee its installation. This meant that he was the resident expert on computers – the nonhuman kind.

In 1955, Charlie returned to Huntsville as the Deputy Director of Computation and installed the first computer at that location. By this time, there was an international competition to put something into orbit. Charlie remembered:

We had the capability to put the Redstone in orbit, but Eisenhower didn’t want to use a military missile. That’s when they started Vanguard, and it was a tremendous failure. Vanguard never made it. The Russians beat us. Then 85 days later, we were in orbit. Redstone was ready, and the calculations were all done. We could have beaten them, but we weren’t allowed to.

With a string of successful launches, the Mercury program was established to take people into space. Now, Charlie’s calculations did more than determine the trajectory of a rocket. They determined where to have ships waiting to pick up returning astronauts.

In 1962, the stakes were raised when John F. Kennedy announced the goal of putting a person on the moon. According to Charlie, this had always been von Braun’s goal, but concerns remained. Charlie explained, “We always knew sending people to space would happen, but we still had questions about whether man could survive on the moon.”

At one point, President Kennedy toured the Huntsville facility and met the administrative staff. He was introduced to von Braun and other German scientists. After meeting a line of people with German names, he was introduced to someone named Charlie Bradshaw. The president immediately responded, “How did you get in here?” Charlie remembered, “I thought since he was president I better not laugh, but everyone else did.”

Charlie got in there by being one of the best mathematicians in the nation and stayed through the Apollo 11 mission that put the first men on the moon. Looking back at that event, Charlie could not help but think about the president who set the goal and the tragedy that befell him. In Charlie’s mind, the assassination of President Kennedy inspired the space community to make his dream a reality. Charlie reflected, “John F. Kennedy’s death made it happen.”

In 1970, Charlie left the space program to direct the installation of the first computer at Vanderbilt University and oversee its operation. He immediately had trouble with the faculty. Charlie stated:

Physics got into the nuclear business, and they thought they owned the computers. That was one of the big battles we had. They didn’t think computers ought to be used for other things. But then the divinity school started using it and eventually they let students use them to do their theses. But at one point, the Faculty Senate prohibited computers on the campus from being used for word processing.

Charlie remained at Vanderbilt until his retirement, then he taught classes at Cumberland University. Looking back on his career, Charlie said that sending rockets into space made him more interested in the universe, and that interest led him to become a stronger believer in God. In fact, he stated, “I become more of a believer the more I learn.” Without a doubt, Charlie has learned a great deal.






Listeria – Significant Others

7 Dec

We went to the grocery store, which was deserted because no one needs groceries the day after Thanksgiving, and I bought a couple of magazines. In fact, my magazines accounted for half of the total cost. Anyway, the good folks at the Smithsonian have put together a list called “The 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.”

People are always putting out lists like this, and I am always buying them. I look through them and wonder why they pick this person over that one. Then, I wonder how I can use it in this blog. Do I pick out the ones that I like and write about them? Do I pick out the ones I disagree with and write about them?

There are a bunch of Listeria posts on this thing, and I have probably already done all of that. This list is going to be different. In an attempt to change the pattern and pump up my state, I went through the list of “The Most Significant Americans of All Time” and picked out the ones who have a connection to Tennessee. Some of them are obvious, but a few may be surprising.Flag

Meriwether Lewis, along with William Clark, led the Corps of Discovery across the Louisiana Territory and to the Pacific Ocean. Upon their return, Lewis was appointed governor of that territory. Facing stresses of many types, he traveled the Natchez Trace on his way to see Thomas Jefferson. Just south of Nashville, he died of two gunshot wounds in a roadside tavern. Lewis remains buried near Columbia, Tennessee.

Those who have studied the Civil Rights Movement know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. However, they may not know that he received training in activism at the Highlander Folk School in Grundy County, Tennessee. Other activists, including Rosa Parks and Ralph Abernathy, also attended the school.

W.E.B. DuBois founded the NAACP. Before that, he graduated from Fisk University in Nashville. Upon graduation, he taught at the Wheeler School in Wilson County, where I live. According to the The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, his work at the Wheeler School influenced his work, The Souls of Black Folk.

Andrew Jackson was the first president from Tennessee and lived a life that could fill a shelf of books. In fact, my colleague is currently working on his third book about Andrew Jackson. To purchase a book and find out more information about Old Hickory, visit his website at jacksonianamerica.com.

Theodore Roosevelt visited Tennessee while he was in office and spent some time at Jackson’s home, The Hermitage. According to legend, the drank coffee brewed at Nashville’s Maxwell House Hotel and said that it was “good to the last drop.”

Before his presidency, Ulysses S. Grant commanded all Union armies during the Civil War. Before receiving those orders, he commanded troops at the Battle of Fort Henry and the Battle of Shiloh in West Tennessee.

Oprah Winfrey is an icon of television and other forms of entertainment. Before all of that, she graduated from East Nashville High School and Tennessee State University. After winning the Miss Black Tennessee pageant, she was hired as news anchor for Nashville’s WLAC-TV, which is now WTVF.

After a failed robbery attempt in Northfield, Minnesota, Frank and Jesse James needed a place to hide. They chose Nashville. With their families, they lived under aliases and lived quiet lives. Unfortunately, Jesse was not content and wanted to return to outlawry. They returned to Missouri where Jesse was killed.

Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi but spent most of his life in Memphis. A lot can be written about the life of “The King of Rock n’ Roll,” but, for the purpose of this post, his rise to fame started in Tennessee. It was a fame that took him to the greatest heights and the lowest depths.

I learned a lot about Bob Dylan while researching for my class on the History of American Music. He has been more influential than I ever realized. What connection does he have to Tennessee? Nashville Skyline was recorded here, and he spent time with several legends of country music. According to the stories, the home of Johnny Cash was one of his favorite places to be.

Jimi Hendrix grew up in Seattle and first gained fame in London. He introduced himself Americans at Monterrey and became a legend at Woodstock. However, he learned how to play guitar in Nashville. While in the army, he was stationed at nearby Fort Campbell and spent his weekends playing in the clubs on Jefferson Street. He met and learned from Johnny Jones, a local guitarist. Hard to believe? Watch this video of his first television appearance on a local R n’ B show.

As far as I know, Cornelius Vanderbilt never visited Nashville. However, there is a university in the city that bears his name. One of the school’s founders was married to a distant Vanderbilt cousin and met the Commodore at a time when he was considering several causes in which to donate. The timing was perfect because the meeting led to a $1 million gift.

Babe Ruth and his teammates used to barnstorm during the offseason, and one of those tours took him to Chattanooga. That is when he was struck out by a female pitcher.

13 out of 100. That is not too bad.



How I Spent the End of the World

22 Dec

Ok, the world survived. Never mind that the world was not going to end, and the Mayans never said that it was. The Internet, pop culture, social media, and people in general took something (the Mayan calendar) that they didn’t understand and made something out of it that it never was. Shocking, I know. That never happens in modern times.

Some people prepared for the end that never came. Others joked about it. Some people had clever things to say on Twitter and Facebook. I spent 12/21/12 doing the following.

I was awake at midnight surfing the Internet and playing Slingo on my iPhone.

This is the guy that's going to cause the end of the world.

This is the guy that’s going to cause the end of the world.

In essence, I was succumbing to the same addictions that I succumb to every night.

I woke up to find the sun shining and the wind howling. In other words, it looked warm outside, but it was actually cold.

I took a shower, got dressed and did the only thing to prepare for the end of the world. I put on the t-shirt with “12.21.12.” printed on the front. In case it happened, I wanted everyone to know that I knew it was coming.

Once I was prepared for the day, I met the usual folks for our weekly Friday lunch at Gondola, the local Italian restaurant that is owned by Koreans.

I could only find a picture of the Gondola sign. I wonder if that is a sign of the apocalypse.

I could only find a picture of the Gondola sign. I wonder if that is a sign of the apocalypse.

We talked about sports, local politics, national politics and the end of the world. The end of the world part went something like this.

One of Them: When did the Mayans go extinct?

Me: They didn’t go extinct. They still exist. In fact, I read an interview with a few of them on CNN.

One of Them: You mean the Spanish didn’t kill them?

Me: No, the Europeans did not kill all of the Native Americans.

One of Them: I thought they killed all of the Indians.

Somewhere along the way, I changed the subject.

After lunch, I went to my parents because their phone lines had been knocked out. It was that howling wind that I mentioned earlier. It knocked lines down everywhere. Unfortunately, it also knocked out their Internet, which is almost like the end of the world.

After that, I sold 6 tickets and a parking pass for the Music City Bowl. Vanderbilt is playing in the bowl this year, which means that Vandy made a bowl game two years in a row. That’s a first for them and is a sign of the apocalypse if there ever was one.

Let’s see. Then, I bought one last Christmas gift before meeting my friends to go to a University of Tennessee basketball game.

They play here. It doesn't look like a Mayan pyramid, but it's a pretty good place to watch a game.

They play here. It doesn’t look like a Mayan pyramid, but it’s a pretty good place to watch a game.

We made the trip to Knoxville and got there just before tip-off. It was a victory by the Big Orange over Western Carolina.

We made it back safely. Now, I am writing this end of the world post while still wearing my end of the world t-shirt.

A Friday in Nashville

1 May

On Friday morning, I headed to the large city to the west for some appointments. It was “reading day” at school – which meant no classes and students, ahem, studying for this weeks exams. The plan was to sleep late, but the appointments started coming at me on Thursday afternoon. So, there I was all dressed up with a bunch of places to go.

My first stop was at a lawyer’s office on Deaderick Street. Driving this street has always made me a little uncomfortable because it includes the word “dead” and my name, “Rick”. Bad omens everywhere. Despite my concerns, I made it to the parking garage safely and wound up the ramp until I finally found a spot. Upon hitting the sidewalk, the realization hit that I was in Nashville. A man walked briskly past me while muttering to himself. I picked up the words “God” and “Hooters” but couldn’t make out anything else. I am sure it was an interesting conversation, however.

After carefully crossing the dreaded street, I entered the building of destination and took the elevator to the 17th floor to sign some legal documents. There is one thing that you should all remember. If an attorney rents an entire floor of a skyscraper, then you are paying some big bucks. (Try googling “big bucks” and see what you get.)

After the meeting, I had some time to kill before meeting my friend for lunch. I drove around downtown and realized that it is a very different place during work hours. People were scurrying everywhere like worker ants carrying leaves. Except, the leaves were brief cases and boxes and all sorts of items. I like when women wear high heels, but, damn, it looks uncomfortable walking on a city sidewalk.

The hustle and bustle of downtown was getting to me, so I went to the Midtown area and the brand new Barnes and Noble at Vanderbilt University – otherwise known as my crack house. However, I passed a sad sight along the way. An entire block was being demolished. Happens all the time, right? Except, this isn’t just any block. It used to be home to Tower Records, a place that I have spent countless hours searching for music, both popular and rare. It is indeed sad to see the record store go away. It reminded me that bookstores are not far behind.

At the bookstore, I bought something. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t go into one and not come out with a book. Anyway, I bought Where the Tall Grass Grows: Becoming Indigenous and the Mythological Legacy of the American West by Bobby Bridger. I know – it sounds fascinating, but I haven’t started yet. I first had to finish riding out a starkblast with Roland Deschain and his ka-tet.

Ok, I killed enough time before meeting my friend at his office. He invited me to a meet and greet lunch at the swank Nashville City Club. Well, it’s swank if you consider early 70s decor to be swank. It is a private dinner club in a Nashville penthouse and has been the location of a lot of moving and shaking for decades. However, I get the feeling that it is struggling to maintain its grandeur.

We made our way back to the downtown area and found it more crowded than it was earlier. It turns out that they were preparing for the next day’s marathon. After struggling to find a parking place and ending up in the same garage where I had been earlier, we made our way to the swank. Surprisingly, my meal was good with fried chicken and waffles covered in raspberry syrup and a side of fried jalapenos.

More surprisingly, the meet and greet was good, and it included some interesting folks.

The Dean of the Business School from my university.

My friend who sells pencils and balloons.

There was a mason who works with historic preservationists.

Beside him was an owner of billboards.

Across the way were two guys who work for a linen company.

Next to them was a lady who works at the City Club and who was wearing some impossibly high heels.

Then, there was me. I didn’t talk about teaching. Instead, I talked about Hamilton Springs, a residential/commercial development based around a commuter train station that my brother and I are working on.

I don’t make it to the weekday, daytime version of Nashville very often. But, this day turned out decently.

A Sunday in Nashville

14 Feb

I must start out by bragging a little. Nashville is a great place to live. It has the feel of a small southern town combined with an eclectic culture. Sure, Nashville has country music, but there is much more – art galleries, dining, parks, interesting places to browse. The list goes on and on. I wrote earlier about some of Nashville’s coolness, and this past Sunday I immersed myself into some of it. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of how interesting Nashville is.

Sunday was not warm by anyone’s standards, but it was nice day nonetheless. Having spent most of the weekend around the house, my girlfriend and I decided to make our way into the big city and see what was going on. After some discussion about where to begin, I made an executive decision to head toward Marathon Village. This is an abandoned car factory from the early 20th Century that is being redefined as one of Nashville’s hip locations.

Marathon Village

I went to Marathon Village for a couple of reasons. First, we are going to a concert there in a few weeks, and I felt that some reconnaissance was in order. Second, this is the location of Antique Archaeology, a store that opened not too long ago. If you have ever seen American Pickers, then you know that this store is filled with stuff found by Mike and Frank. The store was filled with people and, to our surprise, had live music. After some browsing and listening, we crossed the street to a really cool art gallery.

By this time, we both needed to eat and have a few drinks. There are a variety of good restaurants to choose from in Nashville, but we went with an old standby. J. Alexander’s. The chain is based in Nashville and has several locations, but our favorite is on West End. I must admit that the food wasn’t great, but we had good drinks, good conversation and a good view because many of the tables, including ours, overlook Centennial Park.

Yes, we have a Parthenon. There is even a statue of Athena inside.

Centennial Park was created for an exposition to celebrate the city’s 100th anniversary. At the time, it was covered with buildings and exhibitions from throughout the world. The Parthenon is the only remaining building. And, why does Nashville have a replica of the ancient Greek structure? Before being known as “Music City”, Nashville was known as the “Athens of the South” because of the numerous universities in the area.

Speaking of higher education, our next stop was the bookstore at Vanderbilt University. It used to be a Borders, and my favorite bookstore in Nashville, but, as most book lovers know, Borders was killed by Kindle users. Barnes and Noble took its place with a hybrid public/university bookstore. It is a great place to browse the shelves, but, as a University of Tennessee fan, the black and gold memorabilia gives me the creeps.

After buying a few books, we found ourselves not wanting to go home. Instead, we headed to Whiskey Kitchen, one of the happening places in Nashville. It is packed most nights, but Sunday afternoon gave it a laid back atmosphere with people wanting have a few drinks and some comfort food. We drank the drinks but skipped the food.

As the name entails, they serve whiskey.

After watching the red carpet part of the Grammy’s, which made me drink more, we left the Whiskey and hit Midtown. This is an area behind Vanderbilt (Honestly, we did not make a complete circle around the campus.) that has a collection of small bars and restaurants. This is one of my favorite places to hang out, and a good time is always had in the area. Well, almost always. Loser’s, one of the bars, was one of the last places Steve McNair was seen alive. If you don’t who he is, then I suggest you Google it. The story captured our city for a long time. We didn’t go bar-hopping to Loser’s or many of the other places. We hit the Blue Bar.

I have no idea why they call it blue when it's really red.

Our Blue Bar experience is what makes Nashville special and different from other cities. There are parks, restaurants and bars everywhere. However, only in Nashville can you hear people sing and think they may be famous one day. Obviously, Nashville is full of people wanting to be stars. But, it is hard to imagine how many. There are bartenders and waitresses all over town who have more talent than many superstars. They just haven’t caught the break that everyone looks for. Talented people sing in small bars and venues throughout the city just hoping they will be seen. I have heard a bunch that never made it but a few that did. I saw Jewel open a show once and didn’t think she had a chance. So, my eye for talent may not be very keen. But, we saw a band on Sunday that may have a shot. In fact, it’s the only unknown band I have heard that hit me in that way. They were called Peter Terry and the City Profits, and I urge you to Google them. They have an album on iTunes that I have already bought. If they make it, then my girlfriend and I can always say that we saw them at the Blue Bar along with 15 other people.

After all this drinking, I needed some more food before driving home. This time we skipped the quaint bistros and went straight for the king of all Mexican food chains, Chuy’s.

Not real Mexican food, but it's good anyway.

The food is great, and half of the stuff on the menu is an homage to Elvis. How can you beat a combination of Mexican food and Elvis? Here’s a hint – you can’t.

That was our Sunday on the Nashville scene. If you ever get a chance to visit, then be sure to make it happen. You’ll have a great time.

Tennessee Beats Vanderbilt – No, Really They Did

21 Nov

My favorite t-shirt has “12.21.2012” written across the front. For many, that date represents an important day in Mayan prophecy and the end of times as we know them. Many people in my part of the world felt that the true end of the world had come on 11.19.2011, the date that Vanderbilt was favored over Tennessee in a game played in Knoxville. In case you didn’t realize, that had never happened before. For those of us who see the world through orange-tinted glasses, this was true Armageddon.

Fortunately for us, the earth balanced correctly on its axis and there was not an instantaneous ice age (as in that stupid Dennis Quaid movie). Tennessee prevailed in a classic SEC battle of heavyweights. Vanderbilt displayed finesse with four turnovers and two missed field goals. Their two touchdown drives covered a total of 41 yards. Tennessee came through with some nifty plays of its own. Tyler Bray threw a 99-yard touchdown to the wrong team, and the kicker missed a field goal when he hit the long snapper in the ass.

I have sat through a lot of games, and these had to be the two worst teams I have ever seen go against each other. Bad playing. Bad coaching. Stupid penalties. As icing on the cake, there was bad officiating. It’s good for the conference that no one outside of Tennessee cared about this game. If the world was watching, then the pundits would be up in arms about the whistle-no whistle-fumble recovery-interception-nonreviewable review at the end of the game.

Sadly, Tennessee fans were cheering wildly at the end as the team stormed the field. This was a win against VANDERBILT, and people acted like it was the national championship. How far has the program fallen? Vanderbilt had four turnovers and two missed field goals, and Tennessee was still lucky to win. And, people were thrilled. It’s funny what we will get used to. The program is truly wallowing in mediocrity…scratch that – Hell.

Derek Dooley is not the man to turn it around. I can only hope that AD Dave Hart looked around at the empty seats and the empty orange pants on the sidelines and came to the conclusion that this needs to be over sooner rather than later.