Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Master and Commander - 2

I have just finished the chapter where the Sophie seizes a small French cargo ship off the French coast. Since the cargo is all gunpowder, needing very careful handling, Captain Aubrey orders his Lieutenant, James Dillon, to take the ship in to the port of Mahon.

Meanwhile the wife of the French ship's captain has gone into labor with her first child. Dr. Maturin goes over to help deliver the baby. When there are complications he says that he needs to stay on the ship to help with the delivery.

After the baby is born Maturin and Dillon spend their evening eating and drinking some good wine courtesy of the grateful French captain. This is their first chance to honestly discuss their past in the United Irishmen. Neither was involved in the uprising, but they regret how it ended and all the friends they lost. Maturin says he no longer believes in political revolutions.

At one point Dillon asks Maturing if he is really becoming Captain Aubrey's friend. Maturin says that he really appreciates the Captain's good qualities. Dillon says that he can't like the Captain. He is resentful that he didn't get a command. He despises the Captain's eagerness to go after enemy ships to condemn them for profit, partially because he, Dillon, already has money. He also suspects that the Captain may not be truly brave as he let an enemy galley go in a previous engagement, even though he needed to to save a ship in the convoy. Dillon admits that his criticisms may have no basis in fact and are even contradictory. But he says he can't help how he feels. This doesn't mean he won't do his duty though.

In the end he apologizes for having spoken so freely to Maturin. It shows however, that Maturin knows what he is doing as he becomes more involved with the Navy and as he and Aubrey become closer friends.


I also noticed in several scenes how the author describes Maturin's reptilian gaze when he is startled or before he understands the situation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Rereading Master and Commander

I have been tempted for a while to reread Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander and maybe go through the series again.

In the opening, when Maturin and Aubrey meet at a concert, I was surprised that their meeting almost resulted in a duel! Aubrey couldn't help tapping with the beat and bumped into Maturin. Fortunately, when they met the next day Jack apologized.

The story is so much about relationships. When Jack takes over the Sophie he has to navigate his way through the Navy hierarchy in his new role to get the ship parts and supplies. Even getting all the men he needs is a delicate process.

Having read the whole series I am surprised at how many themes that will come up later are already there. For example, Admiral Harte is already against Jack and suspects him of having eyes on his wife, which he does. The steward, Killick, has already made his appearance. But as of yet he is not described as mean or ill-natured. 

In a few scenes Jack is adjusting to the loneliness of command. When he eats his first meal in his cabin, he is alone and misses the companionship of the wardroom. Yet, even so, we know his is destined to command.

Monday, December 17, 2012



We've been watching Museum Secrets on the Smithsonion Channel this evening. They have been showing the American History Museum in New York. Many of the displays with the stuffed animals were pioneering efforts in the 1920's to show the animals in more lifelike poses than they had before. They even had much better taxidermy methods, which had been developed by Carl Akeley, who started his career working on the preservation of Jumbo the elephant. Unfortunately, Akeley never saw the opening of his exhibits. He died in Africa before they could open.

And here are my pictures I took while visiting the museum in 2008.

Friday, December 07, 2012


A few weeks ago I brought the students for a lab at the Waynesboro Watershed Dam. I noticed some milkweed that had opened up and were dispersing. It was fun trying to get some closeup pictures.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Remote message

this is my first message sent from an iPod. I miss the keyboard, but this could be fun!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cactus Catastrophe

This morning I found my biggest cactus broken on the floor. I suspected the cats as Tigger was sniffing the wreckage suspiciously. I think the main stem just grew out of balance and toppled over. I repotted it and cut off part of the main stem. I replanted it in its own pot. I hope all the pieces keep on growing.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Constitution Day Mont Alto

Constitution Day Mont Alto, a set on Flickr.

We've been having these discussion/opinion boards on campus the last few years. This was the guns on campus question. I thought there would be more opinions. I know people have very strong opinions on this.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Aurelio Zen -- Cabal

Michael Bibdin 1992. Cabal. Faber and Faber. London and Boston. 277p.

I have seen the Zen detective films on Masterpiece Mystery and really enjoyed them. The books are delightfully different. They give much more dimension to the character of Zen and the characters around him. For example, Tania, his girlfriend, is a budding business executive with an export business she runs on the side of her government job. The background of the story is the corruption and venality of Italians and the Italian state. Yet, it is a story told affectionately and humorously.

The TV version of Cabal implied that there really was a secret organization behind the murders. In the book it is strictly a comedy of errors and plotting. Also, the TV version took the story completely out of The Vatican. I guess it would have been too difficult to film there.

I can’t wait to read the other stories in the series.

Thoughts on The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

 I got this in the Everyman Edition, where it is bundled with Independence Day and The Lay of the Land as The Bascomb Novels. This summer Ford has released a new novel, Canada. I heard an interview with him on NPR. I thought before getting this book, I would check out his previous work as part of my new frugality.

The story is narrated and concerns the life of Frank Bascomb, a one-time novelist, who has become a sportswriter. He is undergoing an mid-life crisis following the death of his son, a few years ago. He divorced from his wife and is trying to find his footing. But everything is going wrong; poor choice girlfriend, too many affairs, and even a really bad choice of interview subject. He keeps saying that his problem is his dreaminess. He seems to want a life where he can stay at the surface of everything, without dealing with people and his problems. Of course, this doesn’t work. In very dense prose, he is constantly reviewing and reworking old experiences as he shows the reader where he screws up.

Perhaps the creepiest part is the divorced men’s club that he belongs to in his town in New Jersey. The club members go on fishing trips and sporting even outings, while they try to hide from their new reality. One of the members insists on confiding his problems to Frank.  ___ has recently had a one-night stand with a man he met in New York, although he doesn’t consider himself to be gay. He wants to tell Frank all and at one point tries to give Frank a kiss. In the climax of the novel he commits suicide, which forces Frank to deal with the situation; although he doesn’t really.

This is the book that gained Ford his fame. In the introduction he says that he wrote it at a time when he wasn’t sure he could succeed as a writer. He almost gave up, when he decided to try something totally new.

It’s definitely not a cheery book. For someone my age, it can be downright depressing. I like the author’s conversational tone. But it is a very dense book. I came across quite a few words whose meanings I had to guess at. He seemed to also have a lot of incomplete sentences. Yet they fit in so well that I only slightly noticed them.

Really, all the characters that Bascomb encounters are sad sacks or losers like him. There are no heroes. Perhaps only his two young children (Paul and Clary), come off as good, or at least not confused. Yet, they don’t take up much of the story. The most touching part for me was when ten-year-old Paul releases one of his pigeons to take a message to his deceased brother. Another weird aspect was how Bascomb addresses his ex-wife. She is named only as X. And she is bewildered by the actions of her former husband as any of the readers would be. She loves him, but can’t stay with him acting this way.

All in all I liked the story. Yet, I will wait a while before tackling the next one in the series!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

House of Stone

I just finished House of Stone, the final book the the reporter, Anthony Shadid. It recounts his efforts to rebuild the home of his great-grandfather in the small village of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. Sadly, as the book came to press Shadid was killed while covering the uprising in Syria for the New York Times.

Interspersed in the story of the reconstruction, Shadid recounts the history of his family from the time his great grandfather built the home shortly after WWI through the emigration of his children to the USA down to the present day. It's an amazing story of courage and persistence through some really bad times. Amazingly, most of the family settled in Oklahoma, where they have prospered first as merchants, then as professionals.

I didn't realize how big a shock it was to the Middle East when the Ottoman Empire fell. All of the people from different religions had lived together peacefully for centuries. They were separated into different countries, many of which were controlled by European powers like France and Great Britain, who had their own agendas. The lawlessness and fighting that were unleashed are still with us today.

We hear in the news of reports of fighting in and between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and the other countries. The old problems have never been resolved.

Shadid gives a vivid picture of life in the village today. The friends and workmen he describes struggle to maintain their lives in very difficult circumstances.

Through much of the book Shadid wrestles with his own life after a divorce. He is often guilty about being so far away from his daughter. In the epilogue we find out that he had remarried and had a baby son. In many ways I wish he hadn't gone on that last reporting mission to Syria. This is a book I can see myself rereading for its many dimensions.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Why the Conard Interview Matters— or, Why the Democrats Need Karl Rove - The Atlantic

Why the Conard Interview Matters— or, Why the Democrats Need Karl Rove - The Atlantic

I had heard previously of Edward Conard's book about capitalism. (He was a partner with Mitt Romney in Bain Capital). I like Fallow's analysis of why Conard's world view is wrong. It takes more than just low tax rates for innovation to work. I believe, like Fallows, that we need all of these things to make the system work:

My list would start with: openness to immigration and outside talent; strong university-based research systems; world's largest domestic market as incubator; rule-of-law and culture of venture capital (as opposed to absolute income share for venture capitalists); supportive "innovation in a garage can lead to glory" concepts and the related ideal of mobility and opportunity; and so on. 


Saturday, June 02, 2012

Board approves format change for witf -

Board approves format change for witf -
My local public radio station just announced a switch to an all-news format. Some of the shows they are introducing, such as On the Media and Dianne Rheem, are ones I either download  as podcasts or listen on other stations over the internet.

 To be honest, I don't listen to the current classical broadcast they have. It just doesn't have the passion that I remember from the old Robert J. Lurtsema shows from years ago. Too much chamber music and not enough heart in it! And on many days I have noticed that they pipe in music from another station rather than have a local host.

Overall this is a good move that should increase the audience. Now that there is so little public funding, the station has to pay more attention to the audience.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Observations on Office Moving

Over the summer break my building is due to have a new heating/air conditioning system installed. This means the ceiling has to be taken down. And we all have to clear out of our offices. While packing up my books and papers and throwing out piles of useless stuff I have learned a few things.

First, don't bring home brochures, pamphlets, and other freebies from conferences. There were so many things that I was certain I could use in class or in a research project, but never touched. From now on I will only take home free pens, pencils, and paper.

Then I realized that I should not keep old editions of textbooks. When I get a new one it's time to throw out the previous edition, even if there are good notes in it. The same goes for old editions of computer manuals. Better yet, buying software books is a fool's task since software is updated so often. Better to use the online documentation.

I really need to prune out the extra course handouts and supplements at the end of each semester. I will try to give fewer handouts and put everything on the course website for sure.

Finally, I need to really prune out all papers after they are no longer needed. If I make it all digital, or as much as possible, then I can just lose things in the computer!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Cleaning out the office

This summer my building on campus will be renovated with an updated heating and air conditioning system to save energy. This means I have to clean out my office by the end of the semester! Today I started emptying out old notebooks and throwing away old papers. 

I came across class notes from one of my first graduate statistics courses in 1988. I did keep those, but I threw away others. I have decided that I will never pick up literature from conventions again. I never use it, even the best stuff. I found editions of computer texts going back three generations. No more computer books. 

Also, when I leave a job I need to throw out the old research files. I will never come back to those projects again, for sure. 

I used to print out things a lot more. I found software guides that I intended to use again. All of that is online now. When this project is over I should have a less cluttered and encumbered office!

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Pink Slime Controversy

Penn State Prof says pink slime not bad; Facing Cancer Together 
I've been following the "pink slime" controversy in the news. I also listened to part of a Radio Smart Talk show on WITF, where they interviewed a food science professor at Penn State. The name of "pink slime" was just chosen to make people dislike the meat product. There is really no danger in it. If you eat meat you have eaten all of these products before. In a way, it makes sense not to waste this meat. It's better to use it than to throw it away. This name sounds like something chosen just to make people disgusted.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Earliest Mowing Ever!

resize_image_1066903934.jpg by P_Linehan
resize_image_1066903934.jpg, a photo by P_Linehan on Flickr.
By March 30 the grass had gotten pretty high and the weeds even higher. So it was time to break out the mower!


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Neighborhood Visitor

I have seen this cat crossing the edge of our lawn several times. I used to think he's a stray, but with this closeup it's obvious that he has a collar with tags, and we hope a good home!
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Aquarium and Pond

I have three different fish tanks in our house: a 20 gallon aquarium, the goldfish tank in the knockout on the porch, and the koi pond outside. Here is our maintenance log:

Snails to the Rescue


We added Black Japanese Trapdoor Snails to the koi pond today. They have a huge amount of algae to chow down on!
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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Leaving Home

I heard a great interview with Anthony Hopkins yesterday on Weekend Edition on NPR. All his life Hopkins has been writing music, parts of which were recently recorded by a symphony orchestra. Hopkins great up in Wales. At one point Scott Simon asks him about getting an autograph from Richard Burton. Hopkins answered:

Yeah. I went to his house, he used to come back to Wales and there was this great movie star. And he signed my autograph and he said do you speak Welsh? I said no. He said you're not a true Welshman. He was teasing but he scared me. And I remember thinking; I want to be like him. And I just want to be famous. I didn't know what to do because I wanted to escape from the desert of my own mental whatever it was - emptiness. And so I became an actor. 

I love that phrase, "the desert of my own mental..."  There was nothing wrong with his home or Wales. But he had to leave to make his own future! Since I have been back to Lewiston to visit after many years, I realize that was/is a great town. Yet, I needed to leave for myself, and I'm glad I did, too.

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Christmas Cactus

Yes, it's after Christmas. But this is the time that our Christmas Cactus has chosen to bloom. The blooms did actually start developing before the holiday. I will be adding pictures every few days. The porch is chilly, but it gets good light. The plant seems to be happy there!