Monday, December 28, 2009

A list of books on my wishlist

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow Angels

Snow Angels is the first in a new mystery/crime series by James Thompson. The protagonist and narrator is Inspector Vaara, a police chief in the most northern part of Finland: Lapland. This is a dark book, in more ways than one. It takes place in the weeks before Christmas when there is no sunlight in this part of the world. Vaara is called to the scene of a gruesome murder in a snow-covered field, whose victim is a film actress and a Somali immigrant to Finland. To solve the case Vaara has to confront his own past, including failed relationships. At the same time he must comfort his new wife, an American, who is having a difficult time adjusting to the Finnish language and life.

I was tempted to drop the book about a third of the way in as the situations of all the characters seemed so bleak. However, I was soon drawn in to the story. I developed sympathy for many of the characters. The plot is very well crafted. I did not see the twists at the end. I am really looking forward to the next book in the series. I was impressed at how well the author, an American, seemed to understand the Finnish culture and character. And English readers benefit from reading the original, instead of a translation. Yet I would caution anyone who is squeamish that this is a very violent book.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Blog publish 12/08/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Wildlife Encounters

Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.

While living in Burkina Faso and later Senegal Sheri and I really didn't come across much wildlife. Afer all, cattle and goats were too valuable to permit lions to roam around free. There were too many farms, too.

While visiting the National park of Po in Burkina Faso, on the Ghana, border with the forestry students, we came across this herd of elephants by the side of the road. Another instructor, Ben Bastyr, and I approached the herd with our cameras. We crouched low and took pictures. The mothers in the herd became restless as they had baby elephants with them. When we only had a few shots left we both stood up to get a final picture. As I clicked this female came after us trumpeting and flapping her ears. I have never run so fast in my life to get back to the side of the road. The students said that was the fastest they had ever seen a toubab run, too.

Fortunately, we later learned that the ditch between us and the herd saved us from attack. Also, if this were more than a warning she would never have trumpeted, just attacked. (1982 or 1983)

Hopping Hippo
Later, when Blaine was just an infant, Sheri and I drove up to a wetland area, La Ganguette, that was about a half hour north of Bobo Dioulasso. There was an old aluminum life boat that you could rent to go out to see the hippos. The guide rowed us out. It was about mid-day. Blaine got bitten by a fly or mosquitoes and stated wailing, as babies will do. This seemed to really upset the hippos. They started growling. Finally this one jumped up out of the water! At that point we decided to cut our trip short and go back to shore as quickly as possible. That was enough wildlife viewing for one day. (1983)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Anna Karenina

I recently finished the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of Anna Karenina. I love the elegance of their translation. I get a real flavor of the upper class Russian society. At the same time I feel like I really know these characters as real people.

In the introduction Pevear says that Tolstoy wanted to write a book about domestic life, a book without a lot of action in the plot. He certainly succeeded. Aside from Anna's death there are few outwardly dramatic events. Yet, we really see into the emotional lives of the characters and can identify with them.

For example, I expected to dislike Karenin intensely. Instead I felt very sorry for him. If he weren't such an emotional cripple maybe he could have held on to Anna. When he begins to love Anna's illegitimate daughter I felt he was at his best. It makes him even more pitiable when he later falls under the influence of Princess Irina and loses all possibility of becoming a genuine person.

Levin was a fabulous character. He is so contradictory and torn. He is so hard on himself that he makes his life extremely difficult. It is easy to see how much of himself Tolstoy put into Levin. I liked how in the end Levin decides that he just has to live as much as he can. He decides to perserve through the contradictions of his lack of faith and need to pray when faced with a crisis. That's just how life is.

I will definitely reread this book again, maybe in a year or two.


I've been reading the Wallander mysteries in order. This is the first one where he is not falling apart emotionally. Wallander is having difficulties with his father, who has just been diagnosed with dementia. His daughter is visiting and they are getting along better. It was nice to see hie able to work on the mystery without worrying that he will not make it through the story.

This would not be a good story to begin reading the series, however. Wallander is planning to visit his girl friend in Latvia. He doesn't know if he will be able to make their planned vacation. Unless you have read the previous books, it will be hard to know why she is so important to him.

The story gives an interesting inside view of Swedish life in the 1990's. It's not the Nordic paradise, we expect. There are many stresses in society. Although it is similar to the US or Britain, it is definitely a unique place.

This was a very enjoyable book!

By sport and feasting Americans will prove they are a thankful people this week (LOC)

By sport and feasting Americans will prove they are a thankful people this week (LOC)
Originally uploaded by The Library of Congress.

Thanksgiving with a social conscience in 1904; hunters, well-off people, and beggars.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Moby Dick the Goldfish

Among the surprise attractions of our new home in PA were the outdoor koi pond and the built-in goldfish pond on the porch. While feeding the fish and maintaining the tanks I started reminiscing on the water features we had growing up.

One summer (in the mid 1960's?), while we were living on Willow Street, Dad decided he wanted to build a waterfall on the lawn. That house was perched on the side of a hill, with the lawn being a series of terraces with rather steep banks. That lot had no flat ground at all.

The waterfall was designed with a lower reservoir and an upper reservoir connected by a waterway with stones to create rapids. The whole thing was made with concrete. It took a lot of digging. At that age I thought we would never be done! Back then there was no Reddi-mix. We had to mix the concrete on site after hauling the sand, gravel and cement up with the wheelbarrow!

Eventually everything was finished. With the pump plugged in we had a burbling brook at our command. I don’t know what happened to the waterfall when we moved. Maybe we just filled it in with dirt?

Another summer Dad got what must have been a small concrete septic tank that was set into the hillside at the top of the walk to the house. (Dad must have been working at W.E. Cloutier’s at the time.) We painted it pink (a mixture of old paint?). It was big enough to hold a couple of goldfish.

Soon one of the fish got so big we named him Moby Dick. I remember searching the lawn to look for grasshoppers to feed him. He would come right up to the surface of the water, grab his bug and head below to enjoy his meal.

He was pretty tough, too. Once we came home from swimming and found Moby Dick on the grass. We got there in time. He revived soon after being placed back in the water. We never knew if he jumped out or if someone had malevolently taken him out.

Things didn’t turn out well for Moby Dick in the end. He was spending winter in one of the kitchen sinks. Accidentally, Dad spilled some bleach into Moby Dick’s side when he was sterilizing his dentures. The poor fish didn’t last long after that.

Below are some pictures of my current fish facilities.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Here is my entry for the November 20, 2009 Photo Friday challenge. This bush taxi in the Fouta Djalon highlands of northern Guinea is a common sight along the roads throughout the country. Taken in late December 2006, this is the cool time of the year.
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blog publish 11/18/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.

This river birch has two main stems, with a smaller third one in the middle.

Golden Light

Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.

Just before sunset the sun descended below the clouds to illuminate everything with this golden light. The photography books always say dawn and dusk are the magic times. Here the trees across the old nursery property at Penn State Mont Alto are illuminated with the summit of Mont Alto in the background.

This walnut tree shows up in high relief.


The historical markers glow in the last light.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blog publish 11/11/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Blog publish 11/06/2009

  • tags: no_tag

    • "We flew a snow radar from the
      University of Kansas that is designed to measure the snow depth on sea ice and the laser Airborne Topographic Mapper from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility to measure the sea surface and the height of the combined snow/ice layer above the sea.
    • laser-based topographic instrument -- the Land, Vegetation, and Ice Sensor (LVIS) -- scientists hope to improve the accuracy of the ICESat data record and prepare to extend these critical ice surface change observations into the future.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Changes in the Forest

Today I hiked out on Bricker Trail in the Michaux Forest near campus with a class learning how to use GPS.

The Penn National development is continuing its expansion along the forest boundary, although it is slower now because of the economic downturn. There are many vacant lots ready along the roads. The new homeowners are getting a fabulous view of the hills behind them and great access to hiking trails in the forest.

However, it will change the character of the forest. No one wants to see a timber harvesting operation behind their home. And hunters will be forced back from the forest boundary as the homes are built. I guess that's progress?

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Unexpected Sitar

Last night we went to a Halloween party. The host, Jim, makes instruments (guitars, harps, dulcimers, etc.) from wood. Usually there is a mini-jam session after dinner. The music varies from year to year depending on the guests. Last night I was surprised to hear a sitar, the Indian lute. Jeff, the person who brought it, has been studying for over a year. So far he has learned two songs, I think, from the repertoir. The instrument has so many sounds and nuances that it's like an orchestra all to itself.

Wikipedia describes how the sitar is able to produce the sounds and overtones:

The sitar's curved frets are movable, allowing fine tuning, and raised so that sympathetic strings (tarbs, also known as "tarif" or "tarifdar") can run underneath them. A sitar can have 21, 22 or 23 strings, among them six or seven played strings which run over the frets: the Gandhar-pancham sitar (used by Vilayat Khan and his disciples) has six playable strings, whereas the Kharaj-pancham sitar, used in the Maihaar gharana (Ravi Shankar), has seven. Three of these (or four on a Kharaj-pancham sitar), called the chikari, simply provide a drone: the rest are used to play the melody, though the first string (baj tar) is most used.

The instrument has two bridges; the large bridge (bada goraj) for the playing and drone strings and the small bridge (chota goraj) for the sympathetic strings. Its timbre results from the way the strings interact with the wide, sloping bridge. As a string reverberates its length changes slightly as its edge touches the bridge, promoting the creation of overtones and giving the sound its distinctive, tone. The maintenance of this specific tone by shaping the bridge is called jawari. Many musicians rely on instrument makers to adjust this.

We only heard it played for a few enchanting minutes. I am tempted to look up music from Ravi Shankar and find music from other masters. Would it be enjoyable to listen to for a whole CD?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Visiting a park on a dreary day

It's been overcast all day with rain threatening. I decided this afternoon to visit the nearby Caledonia State Park. The foliage has passed, but there are still some beautiful scenes at this pond along the Thaddeus Stevens Historic Trail. I was looking to capture the reflections of the trees in the still pond. I was drawn to the geometric forms of the downed tree and the intensely green grass at the edge of the water.

Surprisingly the same scene is also on Google Maps and you can drive up the road.

View Larger Map

Blog publish 10/31/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Test of Google Earth Tours

This was made using the place marks from my Aerial Photos field lab. No sound in this version.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Jimmy Stewart Biography

I just finished reading Pieces of Time: the life of James Stewart by Gary Fishgall. This is not an intimate biography, meaning I always felt that Stewart was far away in the story. You only really see the public Jimmy Stewart, although the author does share letters and reminiscences. This may be because Stewart was a very open, straightforward person. He never had any dark secrets hidden away. In parts, the description of movie after movie did get a little boring.

On the other hand, the book is very well written. There were many fascinating stories about Jimmy Stewart who become the most beloved movie star in the USA. I particularly enjoyed the telling of Stewart’s lifelong friendship with Henry Fonda. They met in New York in the 1930’s and roomed together both in New York and in Hollywood. Yet their politics were so different that they once started brawling. To remain friends they resolved never to discuss politics again. (Stewart was a conservative Republican and Fonda a democrat.)

Stewart was an authentic hero, who rose from private to colonel in WWII while flying bombers over Europe. He also served many years in the Air Force reserve.

Although he was considered a playboy in his early years as an actor, there was no hint of scandal around Jimmy Stewart. After the war he married and enjoyed a nearly forty year marriage. There was no sign of an intense struggle of the soul. He was always known as a humble person, an actor's actor who was an expert in his craft.

I was interested, too in Stewart’s PA connection. He came from Indiana, PA and went to school at Mercersburg Academy, not far from where I live.

All in all, Fishgall wrote an excellent book. It makes me want to go out and see some Jimmy Stewart movies, from any part of his long career.
Follow this link to the Librarything entry for the book.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pet Urns

Multimedia message
Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.

I saw this in the pet department at my local Walmart. I knew that you can have the remains of dead pets cremated. I never thought to keep the ashes in an urn!

Multimedia message
And here's a close-up.

Friday, September 18, 2009


As the gardening season winds down the marigolds seem to be perking up. They are especially bright at sunset!

This entry is written on the new Windows Live Writer. I was intrigued by the photo album tool. The photos are actually stored in my Windows Live account. I like the album options.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blog publish 07/25/2009

  • I just finished reading this history about Torpedo Squadron 8 who fought in the Battle of Midway and Guadalcanal. They suffered tremendous losses. Just when I thought the word hero is over-used comes this story of true heros.

    tags: books, history, WWII

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Becoming Justice Blackmun

With the confirmation process for Judge Sonia Sotomyor getting underway I decided to read Becoming Justice Blackmun by Linda Greenhouse. Greenhouse is the former Suprement Court reporter for the New York Times. She was given early access to Justice Blackmun's papers in the Library of Congress.

This is an extremely interesting and readable book. It's not very long, either. Greenhouse is very gifted at explaining complex legal arguments in understandable terms. In parts, the book is a real page-turner.

I was impressed at how much Blackmun changed over time. He really grew as a person and in his understanding of the law. Since justices serve for have and have been serving even longer on the court, no president can expect that the justice he appoints today will stay the same over the years. When a problem gets to the Supreme Court it is often beyond the mechanism of the law, although that is vitally important. The justices have to get creative when there is no easy answer.

I was surprised that Blacmun's most famous opinion, Roe vs Wade, was not written primarily to protect women. It was designed to protect doctors as they worked with women to come up with the best treatment. It was only later that Blackmun became a champion of women's rights.

The demise of the friendship between Chief Justice Burger and Blackmun was one of the sadder parts of the book. Yet, it would have been almost impossible for them to retain their friendship given their different roles on the court and evolving points of view.

After reading this book, I will certainly never think of the Supreme Court the same way again.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Chicken Grilling Rack

This was the first time I used the chicken grilling rack I got for Father's Day. Thanks, Bri. I put beer in the can in the center. It did add some flavor to the chicken. The popup thermometer on the chicken didn't work. I ended up using an insertable thermometer to check doneness. Our grill has four burners. I lit only two and put the chicken over the two unlit. Towards the end I put the chicken in the middle and lit the two outer burners. I think I will do it that way from the start to make the skin evenly browned. This is a great way to cook a whole bird on the grill.
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Blog publish 07/09/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hungry Swallows

We've been watching as a pair of swallows constructed a nest on one of the corner pillars of the porch. Before long we saw little heads peeking out of the nest. Now the five babies are almost crowded out of the next. Their droppings are making a reall mess on the porch. I guess it will be a good reason to get that pressure washer that I wanted! I couldn't get any good shots of the parents coming in for feedings. They move too fast for my camera. Most of these pictures were shot through the kitchen window, which accounts for the haziness, even after I washed the window.
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Blog publish 06/24/2009

  • This web site provides some tools that are unavailable in the free version of Google Earth.

    The generalize tool reduces the number of points in a line.
    The buffering tool creates buffers around points, lines, or polygons.
    The area tool calculates the area of a polygon. The answer is in square meters, but can easily be converted to acres.
    I haven't quite figured out what the overlay tool does.

    To use these tools you download an element as a kml file, then upload it to the web site. It's not as convenient as a built-in tool, but it is free!

    tags: googleearth, mapping, gis

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Transcontinental Motor Convoy Reenactment Visits Norlo Park

I really enjoyed visiting the vehicles participating in the Transcontinental Motor Convoy reenactment this evening, even with the menacing thunderstorms. There was only one a couple of vehicles that could have come from 1919. The rest were from WWII and later wars. It was interesting the modern transport vehicles that had seen service in Iraq and been refurbished at Letterkenny.

There were many veterans in the crowd, many obviously lost in reminiscences. These were the vehicles used by all the soldiers, from privates to generals. It seemed more intimate than jets and ships that are purely military with no civilian uses.

It must have taken hundreds of hours for these vehicles to be restored. The people doing the work were as dedicated as any Civil War reenactors in Gettysburg. Maybe you have to be a little nutty, too, to spend all that money.

Here is a Wikepedia article on the original convoy. Surprisingly, the official website for the convoy is password protected! But this press release from the MVPA gives the important details.

Blog publish 06/14/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Visit to the Eisenhower Home

Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to drive an alumni group to visit Gettysburg. We took a shuttle bus from the new information (spacious and fantastic) to the farm home of President Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower, and his wife Mamie bought the house and farm in 1950. They pretty much rebuilt the whole building. The original house was too far gone to re-use. Photography is allowed inside, but it is too dark to get good shots. The above picture is the outside front entrance.

This rear view shows the sun porch, where the President spent time recuperating after his heart attack.

I can imagine seeing Eisenhower practice his putting on this green.


This guest house was made from the previous owner's garage. The bell came from a local school house. The story we were told by the guide was that Gen. "Monty" Montgomery, who had clashed often with Ike during WWII, stayed here during his visit instead of sleeping in the guest bedroom in the main house.

The house is big and very comfortable inside. I was expecting something bigger and grander. I suppose the Eisenhowers didn't really have that much money. After years of military housing this house and farm must have seemed grand. The 1950's era furniture and appointments made the house seem very old fashioned today. The furnishings made me think of Sheri's grandmother's house. She never had it remodeled in her later years. The home is definitely worth a visit. Check out the official site.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blog publish 05/16/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blog publish 05/14/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Cats getting their teeth cleaned.



Frankie and Elmo went to the veteraniarian yesterday for a dental cleaning. At their last checkup their teeth had a lot of crud built up. Fortunately, neither of them had to have teeth pulled. Cats have to be sedated for a teeth cleaning. It's just like a surgical operation. They were very groggy when they came home. They walked like drunks for the first few hourse. As cats get holder, and both are over 10 years, anesthesia becomes more risky. They have a harder time recovering. Fortunately, they are back to their old habits of sleeping in the sun and enjoying life! We may cut down on the wet food to help keep their teeth clean in the future!
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blog publish 04/24/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blog publish 04/23/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blog publish 04/18/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blog publish 04/16/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

National Geographic Dilemma

After six plus months in our new home I have finally unpacked our books! It's great seeing old friends that we never had room to unpack in our rented house. I now have National Geographics collected from late 1983 to today. Now that they are all together the volumes take up a whole book shelf. I even went for the leather slip covers. I am only missing a few issues over all those years.

My dilemma is: should I keep up my subscription? I still enjoy getting the magazine each month. The photography is still fantastic. I find that I don't have enough time to read as many of the articles as I used to. Also, I am getting a little annoyed that each issue is mostly about global warming. Not all the problems in the world can or should be blamed on global warming. Maybe there are other problems more immediate to deal with. I hope the editors of National Geographic try to branch out a bit in the future. I am paid up for the rest of 2009. We will see about 2010.
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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Extreme Closeup

turkey tail fungus
Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.

This specimen of a turkey tail fungus was sitting on the top of an old stump. Something beautiful in the early spring!

Skunk Cabbage

During Friday's forest management lab I found this plant near one of the streams leading into the Waynesboro Reservoir. It turns out it is a skunk cabbage (thanks Beth for the id) just emerging from the soil. In the bottom photo I removed the leaves to show the flower. The plant has a strong odor that it uses to attract flies to pollinate. It was quite striking to see this purple bulb pushing out of the green moth! I will have to go back to get pictures of the mature plant later. Follow this link to the Wikipedia article on skunk cabbage.
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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Mont Alto State Park

Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.

Is this facility out of place? This new latrine was installed at Mont Alto State Park last fall causing an uproar among local residents. Many say it destroys the scenery of the historic park. Quincy Township says that it breaks local ordinances requiring a 30 foot set back. This article in the Chambersburg Public Opinion describes efforts to have the new latrine moved to a more suitable location away from the park entrance and the pavilion.


The Team

Photo Friday challenge. Flamingos at the Philadelphia Zoo. July 2003
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