Is It Always Fun to Travel Abroad? by Antonio Evaristo Morales-Pita (Austin-Macauley, 2021)

I wasn't happy to discover that Porter had bought this book.

We were in Chicago, worshipping at the wonderful church of our former rector. After the service, the author approached Porter, engaged him in conversation (normal for after a church service) and pressured him to buy his new book (not normal).

Having bought it, I figured we ought to read it, but I was not looking forward to the experience. Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it—enough that I figure it's worth a review.

The author was born in Cuba, lived there through Castro's revolution and long afterwards, and eventually ended up an American citizen. Whenever and wherever he was, he travelled as much as he could. He speaks several languages and if he didn't come anywhere near visiting every country in the world it wasn't for lack of trying. In this book he briefly describes some of the major events of his life, and the places he visited, including his recommendations of what to see and do.

Is the book well-written? Frankly, no. The author's English isn't as good as it might be—what works really well for speaking does not always translate well to writing. I also found it too egotistical for my taste. In short, the book is a walking testimony to the importance of editors in the world of publishing. More than anything else, the book sounds to me like a personal blog.

But I like reading blogs. I write a blog. I like the writing of ordinary people telling their own stories, and I don't hold them to the highest publishing standards.

You can get your own copy of Is It Always Fun to Travel Abroad? on for less than $4. Let me just say that we vastly overpaid for our copy. On the other hand, we do have an autographed edition. :) And it is fun to read about the author's travels abroad and to get his perspective on places and events.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at 5:55 am | Edit
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The problem with mirrors:  a 13-minute discussion.  New to me, and profound.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 27, 2023 at 4:28 am | Edit
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Here's an interesting article about a New Haven, Connecticut company called Protein Evolution, and why they may have an approach that could finally make recycling plastic economically viable: Protein Evolution Recycles Plastics Quickly — “1 Million Years Of Evolution In 1 Day.” That would be fantastic, if it pans out, and its own technology doesn't contain worse side effects.

Protein Evolution [announced] it has created a process that can break down plastic waste into its component parts, which can then be reused to make new plastics. Until now, it has been cheaper (assuming no cost is assigned to the damage done to the environment by plastic waste) to make new plastic than to recycle existing plastic. Protein Evolution says its technology may be able to break that economic imbalance and help the chemical industry transition to a lower carbon, circular economy.

Leveraging recent breakthroughs in natural science and artificial intelligence, the company designs enzymes to break down end-of-life textile and plastic waste into the building blocks that make up new textile and plastic products. This proprietary process is the first of its kind designed to scale up into volume production. It creates a cost effective solution with immediate applications for the petrochemical industry, global consumer goods companies, textile manufacturers, and others that are looking to significantly reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

“Nature has already produced a bacteria [sic] that can break down plastic for emission free recycling, but it’s extremely slow. If we had a few million years to wait for evolution to run its course, we’d have something much more efficient,” says co-founder Scott Stankey. “Our technology condenses a million year evolutionary process into a single day — helping us create an affordable, scalable and effective solution to revolutionize the plastic waste industry.”

On the other hand, I hate the article's snide political attitude:

Since we as humans are incapable of devising an economic system that is not based exclusively on profits or which includes environmental harm as one of the factors in calculating profitability, the only solution is to devise a process that recycles plastics more cheaply than making new plastic products.

Devising a process that makes recycling plastics economical is NOT a last-ditch, second-rate solution; it is the BEST solution. An economic system based on profits is not bad, it's what you want: If this process makes recycling plastic more profitable than pulling oil out of the ground, that profit motive will have people voluntarily cleaning up beaches, and companies eagerly pulling plastic waste out of the ocean.

And it would mean local governments could stop evading the question (or straight-out lying) about what actually happens to the materials we think are being recycled.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 26, 2023 at 5:23 pm | Edit
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As part of my ongoing project to organize and pare down my files (physical and digital) to something understandable to someone other than me (i.e. my heirs), I've been coming across many interesting glimpses of history. I try not to read more than a very small fraction of these, for the sake of making progress, but every once in a while something catches my eye.

We discovered e-mail long before 1993, but this is the oldest reference I've found so far.

GE Electronic Mail
Sub: Saturday, 30 January 1993

This is a test of GEnie on our new machine! Our new tape drive
appears to be a good one. I backed up the hard drive, Porter
repartitioned it into three drives, including a small one just for
Aladdin. (This is so if Aladdin crashes and fouls up our file
allocation tables, it doesn't mess up the rest of our stuff.) We
moved Aladdin and associated files this afternoon. It appears to
work and it's even in color!

Some of you may be wondering what our "new machine" was.

In November of 1992, we ordered a "Gateway 2000 clock-doubled 66 MHz 486 machine" (original cow boxes!), with

  • 200 Mb hard drive
  • 1.44 Mb 3 1/2 inch drive
  • 1.2 Mb 5 1/4 drive
  • 120 Mb streaming tape drive for backup
  • 8 Mb of memory
  • 14-inch color SVGA monitor
  • 33 MHz local bus
  • and a tower case with one expansion slot reserved for CD-ROM. "CD-ROM technology is supposed to make major improvements shortly, so, while it is very attractive, we’re waiting on that one."At

At the time, I wrote the following.

It completely amazes me how much you can get for relatively little money these days. Total cost, including shipping: $3115. I know, that hardly seems “little,” but you have to remember that we once spent $1500 for an Intecolor graphics terminal, and then later had it repaired for $900! And that was when $2400 was worth a lot more than it is now. And our 14-year-old printer cost us $800. I’d really like a new printer, since with the Epson we can’t take advantage of a lot of what the new machines and software can do, and people are more and more frowning on dot-matrix letters. But I have to respect a piece of computer equipment that’s that old and still working as well as the day we got it!

Inflation calculators vary, but most put the cost of that 1993 machine at about $6650 in today's dollars. And our dot-matrix printer? $3300! This is not even attempting to take into account the difference in computing power between then and now. What really blows me away is that the $2400 we paid for the color terminal and its subsequent repair works out to nearly ten grand! 

We were normally very good about sticking to a lean budget, but since computing was both vocation and avocation for each of us, well.... All I can say is that it's a good thing we were otherwise quite self-controlled in our spending. When it came to computing equipment, we had colleagues who were even more free-spending than we were—disproportionate to other areas of life. I guess it was the nature of the new, exciting field.

I'm going to have to remember this when it comes time to buy a new computer or a new phone.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 20, 2023 at 7:00 am | Edit
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Ancestry was totally wrong about my feelings toward cilantro—they say I'm prone to disliking the herb, but I love it—but they nailed this one.

On the other hand, they are 180% out of phase in calling me a night person. Ideally, I'd sleep from 9:30 to 5:00.

So? About as reliable as a horoscope or a gypsy fortune teller?

Maybe, though overall I've found them more reliable than not; it's the areas of disagreement that stand out.

It's a statistical thing, with all the insights and dead-ends statistical analysis can give you. There's a huge database of DNA out there, albeit currently biased towards those of European ancestry (because the sample is self-selected). If we have given permission (another form of self-selection), companies like Ancestry and 23andMe make their anonymized data available for scientific research. They are careful to make the point that what they provide is not itself scientific research, but gives scientists data from which to form hypotheses and choose a direction and an approach for their research. For example, the data indicate that people with blood type A are more likely to have problems with COVID-19 than people with blood type O. (I may have the details wrong here, but you'll get the idea.) In itself, that proves nothing, but has inspired research into why it might be, in hopes of learning more about the disease and its treatment.

Statistically, most people in Ancestry's database with a bunch of the same genetic markers I have are night people, like to take naps, and hate cilantro. All statistical analysis reveals outliers. For my love of cilantro and the morning hours, I am one; for naps, I am not. Ancestry and 23andMe are careful to point out that our DNA is not a fixed destiny; how our genes are expressed can be affected by how we live.

More fascinating yet, Sharon Moalem's book Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives—and Our Lives Change Our Genes (thanks, Sarah!) reveals that how we live can even impact how we express our genetic inheritance to our children.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 17, 2023 at 6:51 pm | Edit
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Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 15, 2023 at 5:35 pm | Edit
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I've been sorting through old physical and computer files lately. I can't afford to read much of what I process, but occasionally something grabs my attention, and sometimes I find it worth sharing, as a glimpse into the past.

It always surprises me when they say so, but most people these days think of the 1980's as the distant past; it's shocking to me how few people now remember the Berlin Wall, for example. But here's a question I asked in 1989, and I think it's as relevant as ever. I addressed it to teachers, but it goes far beyond education.

I am becoming more and more convinced of the importance of self-confidence in the learning process. There's nothing mysterious about this, of course; I suppose it is quite obvious that it's easier to do anything if you think you can than if you think you can't. At any rate, this is why I was concerned a while back when one of our daughters went through a stage of being convinced—without cause—that she was stupid.

I remember having similar troubles in elementary school myself, but I thought that our children would be immune, because of the openness of their school about standardized test grades (I never knew mine) and the fact that they get letter grades on their report cards instead of the fuzzy comments that I remember.

I was wrong.

Our other daughter, with similar abilities and achievements, had no such difficulty in school, so I did some probing to discover the secret of her self-assurance. I'm sure that her good grades, high test scores, and the praise of her teachers must have some importance, but she dismissed them out of hand, saying, "I know I'm smart because I had third grade spelling words in first grade." Period.

I nearly fell over. In the school where she attended first grade, the children were grouped by ability, regardless of age or grade. Her reading ability put her in with second and third graders for reading and spelling. For reading, this was appropriate; for spelling it was not. Ten to thirty spelling words each week, seemingly random words (no phonetic consistency) that were harder than most of the words she had to learn in fourth grade at her current school. How we suffered (so I thought) over them! In my opinion that was clearly the worst part of her first grade year, one that I would definitely change if I could do it over again. But now she tells me that that was the basis for her positive view of her abilities.

Which leads me to wonder if we are not selling children short. Could it be that they realize that a high score is virtually meaningless if the test was no challenge? That they get more satisfaction out of struggling with something hard than from an unearned, easy success?

What do you say, teachers?

If I got any answer to that question in 1989, I don't remember it. What almost 35 more years of experience have taught me, however, is that (1) Yes, we consistently sell children short, and (2) It's not just a matter of giving children challenges, but of giving them appropriate challenges, because too easy and too hard can each be discouraging.

The question that remains—besides the unanswerable one of how such an individualized program could be achieved in a school setting—is, "How hard is too hard?" My memory of our daughter's experience with a spelling challenge two or three years above her skill level was utter misery that lasted till nearly the end of the school year, when the teacher agreed to back off a bit for her. And yet, and yet, in her mind—and I'm inclined to believe her—it ended up doing her a world of good.

Nobody ever said being a parent was easy!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 12, 2023 at 8:54 am | Edit
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The Babylon Bee can be educational as well as funny. I'd never heard of "TLDR" until seeing this video, and even so had to look it up: "Too Long, Didn't Read." I'm sure there are many who mentally scrawl those letters on my blog posts, which makes me a little bit sad—but not repentant. If I'm not being paid by the word, neither am I being paid to be concise.  But here's a short one for you.

The Bee's TLDR version of the Bible (4.5 minutes) is both amusing and not all that inaccurate. Except that I think better of the Minor Prophets.


Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 8, 2023 at 8:13 am | Edit
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I've been working my way through old computer files, and found this one-paragraph story starter that I had submitted for the Orlando Sentinel's "Chapter 2000" writing contest of December 1999. The instructions were to write "the first paragraph of a proposed story about the millennium in 100 words or less."

My story won no honors, being sufficiently forgettable that even I have no memory of writing it.  But the advantage of having my own blog is that I have a second chance. Oh, look! I won!

The birds awakened him. Marcus drew aside the mosquito netting and sat up, causing his canoe to send gentle ripples across the lagoon. Looking eastward, he smiled. It was a fitting dawn for the new millenium, and well worth missing last night’s party with his co-workers from the Kennedy Space Center. Egrets and herons were better companions at the daybreak of a new age, he thought. As they rejoiced in the splendor of the sky, neither Marcus nor the birds realized that true sunrise was still several hours away, and they were viewing not a beginning, but the end.

I don't think it's a bad beginning, but this is why I don't write fiction: you have to write more than first paragraphs!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 4, 2023 at 11:34 am | Edit
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There I was, pondering what I might say in today's blog post, when my sister-in-law sent me the following article, from People magazine: "Connecticut 'Witches' Could Be Exonerated 375 Years After Going on Trial." Connecticut Representative Jane Garibay apparently has nothing more important or interesting to do than tilt at windmills.

Local historians and descendants of the Connecticut witches and their accusers hope lawmakers will finally deliver them all a posthumous exoneration. "They're talking about how this has followed their families from generation to generation and that they would love for someone just to say, 'Hey, this was wrong,'" Rep. Jane Garibay told AP. "And to me, that's an easy thing to do if it gives people peace."

Really? The world truly has gone nuts. I'm happy about our family's connection with these women (and the rare man). They hardly need exoneration, especially not from someone who couldn't tell a witch from a warlock.

Instead of accomplishing the work I had intended to do this afternoon, I did a little digging. Here are the people I've found so far among our ancestors who were accused of witchcraft:

My side:

  • Mary Perkins, wife of Thomas Bradbury, accused and convicted in Salisbury, Massachusetts but escaped hanging, for reasons unknown. She is my 9th great-grandmother through my father's Bradbury line. 
  • Winifred King, wife of Joseph Benham, accused three times in New Haven, Connecticut. The first two times, the charge was dropped; the third time she fled to New York. She is my 8th great-grandmother through my father's Langdon line.

My husband's side:

  • Mary ----, wife of Thomas Barnes, convicted in Hartford, Connecticut and hanged. She is his 8th great-grandmother through his mother's Scovil line.

Both sides, though not a direct ancestor:

  • Mary Bliss, wife of Joseph Parsons, charged but acquitted. She is my 9th great-grandaunt through my mother's Smith line, and also my husband's 9th great-grandaunt through his mother's Davis line.

You'll note that I have not found anyone accused of witchcraft in my husband's father's line, though it is brimming with early New England ancestors. But that's okay, because it is through him that my husband is related to his 9th great-grandfather, Edward Wightman, the last person to be burned at the stake in England for heresy. Edward is also my own 10th great-grandfather, through my father's Langdon line.

Unlike New England's witches, Edward, it seems, was guilty as charged, and more than a little bizarre by the end. But to be a genealogist is to realize that we come from heroes and villains, the oppressed and the oppressor, the innocent and the guilty—and to embrace them all as our own.

To be real you need to celebrate your own history, humble and tormented as it might be, and the history of your own parents and grandparents, howsoever that history be marked by scars and mistakes. It is the only history you will ever have; reject it and you reject yourself.

— John Taylor Gatto

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 1, 2023 at 10:18 pm | Edit
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