There aren't many movies I'm so excited to see that I'll venture into a movie theater, but Hidden Figures is one of them. A movie about mathematicians and the early space program? I can't wait. The embedded YouTube trailer will probably not come out. Something has gone wrong and none of my embedded videos currently work in Chrome, Firefox, or IE—at least not for me. On the other hand, they do work on my phone, so I don't know what's going on. But this link will take you there in any case.
One year ago I was part of a spectacle that entertained a small segment of the population of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and gave their emergency responders a chance to exercise their vehicles. I guess life in a small town like Old Saybrook must be a little on the slow side, even in the high season of summer, if capsizing a small boat and swimming to shore causes so much kerfuffle.
This year, Noah, now 10 years old, invited me for another sail in his Sunfish. It was at that point that I realized I had left my bathing suit at home, but that did not deter me: the wind was fresh but not difficult, and what were the odds we'd capsize again?
Pretty good, apparently. After several minutes of uneventful, enjoyable sailing, it happened. One moment we were coming about, or jibing, I don't remember which; the next we were in the water. I'm a little hazy on just why—I think I heard later that a sheet wouldn't release from a cleat, or something....
Whatever the cause, this flip was a piece of cake compared with last year's. We were closer to shore and therefore not in danger of being driven onto the causeway, our greatest problem last year. Noah had a year's growth on him, and this time needed no help quickly righting the boat.
The tricky part came when I tried to climb back on board. Despite having written, in last year's story, about the wisdom of climbing in over the stern instead of the side, I completely forgot that advice. I did remember my own determination that if I capsized again I'd take off my life jacket, because that's what makes it so difficult to climb back aboard, though I didn't do it. I would have, but decided to make an effort first, and after a couple of tries, developed a successful strategy. Since the life jacket would not slide along the deck, I would give a strong kick with my legs, which lifted me briefly and made it possible to make forward progress by pulling with my arms. After a few heaves I was back in place, and we were sailing once again.
Why was I able to get back on the boat this year when I didn't succeed a year ago? A number of factors, I suppose. My new strategy, the fact that the water was less rough and we weren't worried about crashing into the rocks, and certainly the arm-strengthening swimming and brachiation exercises I've been doing. Oh, and one more thing: my absolute determination to get on our way again before some well-intentioned but interfering onlooker called 911....
Noah is a remarkable person. Barely 10 years old, he handled himself like a pro. He didn't panic; he never even got upset. He just fixed the problem. Best of all, unlike most of the rest of the world, he never thought about who was to blame. He didn't yell, he didn't accuse, he didn't apologize. Capsizing was just something that happened and could be fixed, so he quietly did what needed to be done. That's character.
So next year I'll be happy to capsize with him again. I hope this time I remember to bring my bathing suit.
Having grown up without air conditioning, I remember the days when it was important to turn off lights that you weren't using—not merely to save money, but because lights made the room warmer. One advantage to the trend toward fluorescent and LED bulbs is that they don't do that so much.
On the other hand, I don't want incandescent bulbs banned, because sometimes you want that heat. I can keep my composting worms from freezing on a cold winter's night by simply turning on a light under their coop. If it had an LED bulb, they'd freeze to death.
The new, highly-efficient incandescent bulb developed by MIT won't help me with that problem. Nonetheless, I'm glad to hear about it, since (1) it can be cheaper than the flurescent and LED bulbs, (2) it's safer, and (3) it gets the colors right.
It has been more than 40 years since the U.S. military draft ended, and I believe many who did not live through it are in danger of not understanding how cruel it was. If not, why have I begun hearing calls for it to be reinstated? Military personnel are public servants in the fullest sense, and there's a world of difference between a servant and a slave. Military service is an honorable calling; who would want it defaced by the coercion of those who recognize neither the calling nor the honor?
When "mandatory volunteerism" came to our high schools, I was less than impressed. I know the Swiss require military training (or alternative service) of all their young men, but that's not one of the many aspects of Swiss life I'd like to adopt. Besides, if we were to try it in the U.S., I greatly fear the pressure to include women in the draft would be irresistible, and I see too many disastrous (if unintended) consequences to be at all comfortable with that.
Hooray for the all-volunteer military! May it stand until all wars cease.
But whether their deaths came in circumstances of chosen service or of forced servitude, it is fitting to remember and honor all who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It's an important feast day in the church.
This means, among other things, that we sang St. Patrick's Breastplate in this morning. That always makes me happy.
Did I mention it's a feast day?
What better day for eating the incredible Publix Chocolate Trinity ice cream?
If Today.com can broadcast this, I guess I can, too.
We've known Rebecca since before she was born. Her husband, Erik, is the ultimate romantic, from his fairy-tale proposal to this incredible announcement of their pregnancy.
A few other people have been impressed by the video: last I looked, it had nearly 20,000 views on YouTube since it was posted less than a week ago.
I was going to say I can't wait to see what they'll come up with when the baby's actually born ... but on second thought I'm sure that sleep will be 'way higher on the priority list than making a film.
Congratulations, Rebecca and Erik!
Swiss yards tend to be small because land is precious and the population is dense. Even so, they come up with some very clever and often beautiful ways of not mowing lawns. Here are some of the creative yards I've found within a short walk of Janet's house. (Click to enlarge)
Cascades of beauty.
Along with much of the rest of the world, I mourn the unexpected loss of a wonderful musician.
About the musician born Prince Rogers Nelson I feel nothing more than normal sorrow due at the death of any human being. His heyday was after my time (I was too busy raising babies to care about the music scene) and I don't like his style of music anyway.
But nine days earlier the world lost another amazing musician: my own cousin Mike. He was two years younger than me, but the shock and sorrow of his death is far more than just a sharp reminder of my own mortality.
We were not particularly close as children, growing up as we did half a continent (and for two years, half a world) apart, in a day when communication and travel were far more difficult than they are now. But I was deeply moved when in later years he attended Janet's Eastman School recital, and—thanks to Facebook—we had recently begun to become reacquainted.
Mike was one of my favorite sorts of Facebook friends: an example of how people who differ markedly in political leanings, social attitudes, and lifestyle can still express their views freely while listening to one another and respecting each other's humanity. Much as I love having friends who agree with me, disagreeing with respect is such an important (and famously lacking) skill that in some ways I appreciate that even more. Except for the use of the term enemy (opponent would perhaps have served my purpose better), I'm reminded of a quote from C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle: "Has not one of the poets said that a noble friend is the best gift and a noble enemy the next best?"
But Mike and I did not have nearly enough time to enjoy and explore that relationship. We had barely begun. I had no time to appreciate properly his musicianship, much less his heart of compassion for the lonely, the weary, the down-and-out.
Truthfully, much of Mike's music is a bit too dark for me, and it's not the style I generally prefer to listen to—though far, far closer to my own taste than the music of Prince!—but that doesn't stop me from recognizing and appreciating his considerable talent and skill.
Here's one of his songs, the best of the recordings I could find on YouTube:
You can learn a lot more about Mike's music at http://www.mcubedmusic.com/ and http://michaelmclaughlinmusic.com/. At the first link you can hear songs from his album, Part of the Plan. The second features his newest album, just recently released: Spare Me Some Humanity. The latter makes me grieve all the more that his career was cut short, because I love the increasing influence of world music on his compositions. At this site you can hear more from Spare Me Some Humanity, but alas only brief excerpts of each piece.
Of course my cousin was much more than his music ... but his music is easier to write about.
Rest in peace, Mike.
Do you remember Kathy's friend B. who met us at the airport in Banjul? He's also a math major who sometimes comes to her for tutoring. I'm certain that Kathy and I arrived at this plan independently, even though we were both math majors and roommates at the University of Rochester, but it turns out we each sweeten our tutoring sessions with cookies. We even have a particular kind designated as "math cookies"!
Having enjoyed Kathy's math cookies when we visited, I thought it would be a good idea to send B. a package of my own math cookies. You know, to see whose work best. :) But apparently our cookies are doomed to avoid that head-to-head contest.
I knew it would cost much more than the cookies are worth to mail them to the Gambia. But for years I've been mailing care packages to college students and Hallowe'en candy and other trinkets to our Swiss grandchildren; I don't mind occasionally paying more in postage than the value of the items sent. But the cost to send the wonderful Priority Mail Large Video Box is now $33.95! Sadly, this is still the least expensive way to send cookies, by a considerable margin. And that's not just because it's more expensive to mail something to Africa; the cost to send the box to Switzerland is exactly the same. When I wrote about it in November of 2011, I could use that box to send up to four pounds of goodies overseas for $13.25.
This is crazy. What else has gone up over 150% in less than five years? Are you making 150% more than you did in 2011? Does gas cost 150% more? Bread? Houses? Anything? Apparently the IRS is not the only Federal agency to have a grudge against ex-pats.
So dear B. will not be getting his cookies, unless I can persuade Kathy to use precious luggage space to bring some home with her next time she visits the U.S. Even dearer grandchildren will also suffer from this USPS outrage, I'm afraid. It's still cheaper to mail packages than to visit in person—but a lot less fun.
'Way back in the early 1980's, our little city of Altamonte Springs pioneered a program of reclaiming treated wastewater for irrigation. Now we're capturing stormwater runoff from Interstate 4 and reclaiming that, instead of collecting it in retention ponds. I love our city. "Progressive" is not always a positive term, but in the case of Altamonte Springs it means some great innovations.
Here's the most recent: the city is partnering with Uber to offer discounts on rides within the city, and greater discounts from anywhere in the city to the SunRail train station. It is the first city in America to do so.
I've said for years that Altamonte Springs needs a good public transit system, but couldn't figure out a way to make it work with our sprawling subdivisions. There are two bus stops just outside our neighborhood, but it takes me 30 minutes to walk there—very difficult with luggage (when I take the bus to the airport) and impossible for less able folks. Taxis are expensive and in my experience take an unacceptably long time to arrive. They're not really interested in short hops, which covers just about any ride from one part of Altamonte Springs to another.
I had envisioned some sort of on-demand mini-bus system that would provide transportation from neighborhoods to the city's major attractions, but did not see how it could possibly be affordable. Later, several local cities did try to create such a program with Lynx, the Orlando area's existing bus system, but it fell through. Lynx rejected the idea as too costly.
Then along came Uber.
I'll be the first to confess that Uber, like Airbnb, makes me nervous. Good Democrat that I am, I harbor an innate belief that governmental regulation means better safety. This creates conflict with my Inner Libertarian, who knows that to be false, my Inner Republican, who thinks private industry can usually do a better job, and my Inner Distributist, who trusts small, individual capitalists and worries about large, corporate ones. Many of our friends speak highly of their Uber experiences, and Altamonte Springs has just propelled me into their camp, though I've yet to take my first ride.
Now if only the people who run SunRail had half as much sense as Altamonte Springs, and offered service to the airport!
Yesterday was the first day of EPCOT's Flower and Garden Festival for 2016, and we were there to celebrate its opening. As always, the flower displays were wonderful, and the portable butterfly garden was fun.
The only "ride" we bothered with this time was Impressions de France, the wonderful tour of the country accompanied by even more wonderful music by French composers. This film is one of the few parts of EPCOT that remains unchanged, and since we both agree that few of the changes have been for the better, the French pavillion has become an EPCOT "must do" for us, as Dr. Doom's Fearfall is at Universal.
You never know, with YouTube videos, when some official is going to decide one violates something-or-other and take it down, but for now, at least, you can see an excellent production by Martin Smith of his visit there in 2011. I trust Disney World recognizes it for what it is: a longer commercial for EPCOT than they could ever get away with.
Our Disney disappointment came with lunch, which we had intended to enjoy at Norway in World Showcase. Norway used to be one of our favorite stops because of the Maelstrom ride, which sadly is now closed in preparation for being replaced by something based on the movie, Frozen. Oh, how I miss the days when the company abided by Walt Disney's admonition that EPCOT should remain completely separate from the movie characters!
As it turns out, there is now no reason at all to visit the Norway site. The Akershus restaurant, where we had intended to eat, has been turned into a "Princess Storybook Dining" event, exclusively. We were greatly disappointed, as the delicious and authentic Scandinavian fare was something we were looking forward to when we sprang for annual park passes for the first time in many years. But we declined the experience, on the grounds that if we were going to spend over $50 per person for a meal, (1) we did not want a "Disney Princess experience," and (2) we wanted better food than we could expect from a restaurant whose primary audience is now children. Apparently the only other hope for Scandinavian food in Central Florida is IKEA, so you know what a blow this was.
It was hard to stay sad for long, however, since as part of the Flower and Garden Festival they have set up many additional food kiosks, in the manner of the Food and Wine Festival, and we enjoyed some good Moroccan snacks followed by a lemon scone with crème fraîche and blueberries.
I know people who are fond of saying, as if it were original with them and somehow encouraging to others, that we should never ask for what we deserve, because what we all deserve is Hell. As unhelpful as this aphorism is, there are times when everyday life points to a kernel of truth there. We remember vividly the times when we've done something stupid and paid the price, or done something stupid and managed somehow to escape disaster, but we may not even be aware of how many, many times we've been equally stupid, or more so, and escaped scot free. How often have we taken a foolish chance while driving, or set a can of soda near the computer, or carried a large stack of breakable objects? How many times have we thought, "I knew that was going to happen" when a foolish risk has ended badly? Truly, when we know what we should do and act otherwise, do we deserve to escape the consequences? No—but surprising often, grace abounds anyway.
It's an old, sad story, and out of respect for those who, like me, are not fond of suspense, I'll say up front that this one has a happy ending.
I'm usually a bit compulsive when it comes to doing backups. I have general backups, and specific backups. Whole and incremental backups. Backups divided over several years and different external drives. But I'm not perfect about it, and this was one of those times.
Mostly I find a once-a-week backup sufficient for my needs, but recently I've been working pedal-to-the-metal on processing our photos and videos from the Gambia, so I got into the habit of backing up my work every night. See, I know the right thing to do! But one night the backup system gave me trouble. Instead of spending the next day sorting it out, I carried on feverishly with my work. I was making such good progress! Who could be bothered with a problem that was, I knew, going to be frustrating and time-consuming to sort out? So for a few days—highly productive days—that nightly backup didn't happen.
I'm a big fan of the recycle bin. I love that a deleted file doesn't really disappear right away, so that accidents and mistakes are reversible. However, some files, such as video files, are too big for such treatment. For those I use the shift-delete function, which bypasses the recycle bin and erases the file directly.
One morning I was working with a number of video files, and got a little too careless with my quick response to the "Are you sure you want to permanently delete this file?" question. I was certain I had highlighted the video I was done with, but Windows Explorer had other ideas. You want to delete the entire directory? The entire directory with your final processed photos? The directory that represents 60+ hours' worth of work? Fine, no problem, I can do that for you in under a second.
I stared at the computer. I didn't believe what appeared to have happened. I turned my computer inside out, searched from top to bottom. Finally I let myself admit that the files were gone. Completely. Gone.
I was surprisingly calm. Sometimes big events leave you too overwhelmed to be upset. Besides, I did have some backups, though they were, as I said, a few days old, and the most recent one had been corrupted by the above-mentioned problem. But as I also said, I'm usually compulsive about backups, and if I didn't have my work in final form, I did have it in next-to-final form, and the form before that, and the form before that. What had been done once could be done again, and though the magnitude of effort lost was mind-boggling, I took comfort in a comment reader-friend Eric once made here about work being done better the second time around.
As it turned out, we'll never know how much better I would have done the second time, and that's more than fine with me.
When files are deleted from a drive, even by shift-delete, they're not really erased. They're no longer visible to the user, but the data's there until it's overwritten. I knew that, but had no idea how to take advantage of it. Then a little Internet research led me to a data-recovery program called Recuva.
Had my files been on the C drive, I may have been in trouble, because I did quite a bit of work before finding that program, and the more time that elapses, the more likely the data is to be overwritten. But because of space considerations, my data was on an external drive that I had been careful not to write to since the loss. The operating system, or some other program not under my control, probably did something, but—to shorten the story—with the help of Recuva I was able to recover all but about half a dozen files. The few that had been damaged I easily recreated from the next-to-final layer. I'm very grateful I did not accidentally delete a higher-level directory!
Curious as to what an overwritten file looks like? Here are an original and its corrupted version. You can still see some of the basic structure. (Click to enlarge.)
Once I had the program downloaded and unzipped to a flash drive, using Recuva to restore the files was quick and easy. The long and tedious part of the job came in checking the integrity of the recovered files, but that only took five or six hours, and by the next day I was back to where I'd been 24 hours earlier.
With one important exception: I now have Recuva on that flash drive, available should I need it again. It's especially important to have it handy in case I ever need to recover files from the C drive, where overwriting can happen quickly. Which I sincerely hope never happens!
It's amazing how easy it is to accept the loss of a day's work—which normally would have had me tearing my hair—when faced with the realization that the loss could have been many times greater.
Truly, grace abounds.
I was a Girl Scout in various forms (Brownies on up—no Daisies in those days) for most of my childhood. I've written before about my frustrations then and even more so now, so I'll limit today's comments to cookies.
Yes, it's Girl Scout cookie time again, the only time of the year I really appreciate the organization. Not that I can't get plenty (read, too much) in the way of good cookies outside of the Girl Scouts, but their Thin Mints are unique and have been part of my life as long as I can remember. When the girls were young and living at home, we'd buy a case of Thin Mints every year, stick them in the freezer, and dole them out at the rate of one box per month.
This year we tried something new: in addition to the Thin Mints (now half-case) we bought a box of their Lemonades. Meh. Good but not exceptional, not worth the extra price over lemon Oreos.
After purchasing our cookies this year, I reflected how far the Girls Scouts have come in their salesmanship since I sold the cookies door-to-door for 40 cents a box. (The price is now an order of magnitude higher, and I'm sure there is less in the box. But we still buy them.) Back in the day we had to take orders, then go back some weeks later to deliver the actual cookies. Now, the girls have a booth set up in the fellowship area after church, with piles of boxes of cookies ready-to-hand. You see the merchandise, hand over your money, and walk off with boxes of delicious cookies. I know they must sell so much more that way than by the sight-unseen, place-an-order method.
But wait. Not everyone has gotten with the program. A few days later, three little girls in Girl Scout uniforms rang our doorbell and offered to sell us cookies. I had to explain that we had already bought ours for the year. If they had had the cookies right there with them, I'd have bought another box anyway, just to avoid disappointing them. But they did not. They were stuck in the order-taking days.
We've bought cookies at church, outside the grocery store, and even at Outback Steakhouse. I don't know how troops get permission to set up in these public places, but I find it a happier solution all around. Now that's a Girl Scout innovation I can get behind. Probably the only one...
On January 28, 2016, we were preparing to land at the end of our flight across the Atlantic from Paris to Newark, the penultimate leg of a journey home from the Gambia that had begun with a take-off from the emergency Space Shuttle landing site that serves as the Banjul Airport runway.
Thirty years ago, that same Atlantic received the shredded remains of the Challenger and all her crew.
Five years ago I wrote about our own experience watching that disaster unfold, so I won't repeat it, except to add that in all the launches I watched before and since, the vapor trails were quickly dispersed. That time the sky's tears streaked the cold blue for hours.
What struck me this time, thirty years after the fact, was something I didn't pay much attention to at the time: President Reagan's speech in response, which he gave instead of his planned State of the Union Address. It was written by the then relatively unknown Peggy Noonan, and delivered as only the Great Communicator could.
What Reagan (and Noonan) knew, as did Winston Churchill, was how to inspire people to be better than themselves. You don't make children learn more by telling them how stupid they are; you don't make people love others better by insisting they are racist, sexist pigs; you don't encourage the weak to become strong by pointing out their failures.
Nor do you regale them with how strong and smart they are, and insist "you can be anything you want to be." You don't imply that success should be easy or that love doesn't require sacrifice. You don't suggest that the best way to fight terrorism is to continue buying and selling as usual (President Bush after 9/11) or partying on (some Parisians after the recent attacks).
A good leader is not afraid to insist that there is no gain without risk, no success without effort, and no victory without battle. The way is hard, the road is long, and it is not safe. A great leader goes on to encourage others to believe that they are the kind of people who will rise to meet the challenges; that the benefits will be worth the cost; and that the way, though difficult, will be sprinkled with joy.
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One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was this butter dish.
I received many wonderful gifts for Christmas, and point of this post is not to minimize any of them, but to highlight something important about gift-giving.
This butter dish actually fails several of the tests of what is usually considered a good gift.
It's inexpensive. That's not to say the giver was cheap, as this was only part of my Christmas present, but even had it stood alone it would have been a welcome gift. Sometimes the monetary value of a gift does indeed matter; sometimes it's important to hear from someone we love, "you are more important to me than a giant TV." But more often than not, the true value of an item is surprisingly price-independent.
It's practical. Actually, that's a plus for me, though some people scoff at useful gifts.
It was something I'd asked for. I can't shake the idea that the best presents are those that flow from the heart of a person who knows you well enough to see a need or a desire and present it to you as a gift, especially if it's something you can't or won't buy for yourself. Sometimes that still happens, but these days we most often don't know each other well enough, because our lives are so scattered.
I could have bought it myself. Let's be honest: if it's something we want that's affordable, most of us just buy it ourselves rather than hope someone gets it for us at the next appropriate occasion.
Why am I so excited about this butter dish? Because it was perfect. It was just what I wanted and had gone without for a long time. I have two butter dishes that are exactly like this in all but color—and the fact that the tabs on the ends broke off long ago, rendering them frustrating to use. I'd looked for replacements on and off for years, and what I found was too fancy, too expensive, too ugly, or otherwise just not right. Finally, this one showed up in an Amazon search one day. It was close to Christmas so I put it on my wish list, and at Christmas my hope was realized. This morning, as I unloaded it from the dishwasher and put it in its place, looked at that modest butter dish and felt a thrill of delight.
That's what we hope all our gifts will do.