• Category Archives cultural ramblings
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  • Some Photos of Our Pittsburgh Trip

    We were out in Pittsburgh over the weekend; Anne and I went with Ben to her nephew Mike’s wedding. An awesome time (though exhausting), hanging and partying with Anne’s siblings and their kids. We drove up Friday morning, the wedding was Friday night, we went to Mattress Factory, an art museum, on Saturday, followed by a picnic at Anne’s brother Bill’s place, and drove home Sunday. Boom!

    So anyway, here are some of the pictures I took.


  • Some Photos From Our New York Trip

    I took a bunch of pictures in Watkins Glen and the Corning Museum of Glass, thought I’d show some of them here.

    In Watkins Glen, we camped at the state park, and there was a trail basically from our campground to the trails along the Glen, and then into town. It was cool and convenient, but the park was very crowded, overcrowded actually, and so it wasn’t as much fun as if we had the place (relatively) to ourselves.

    The Museum of Glass was also very cool, but it really wasn’t a museum about glass per se, with history of glassmaking, chemistry and physics of glass, etc, which I would have liked — they had that, but it was more geared for kids, and in the “kid section” — but more an art museum, and museum art history, where the common medium is glass. Early artifacts, modern creations… the craziest part was the gift shop, where I saw several items in the $10,000-$50,000 price range and fragile as, well, glass, just sitting out on pedestals where kids were running around and anyone could bump into them…

    Anyway, here are my photos


  • The View From Musikfest

    Pretty good night last night: we went with some of Anne’s orchestra friends and saw a trio (violin, piano, clarinet) doing Mozart and a few more modern classical pieces at the Moravian Church, then grabbed a beer at the Sun Inn, which was amazingly quiet compared to the street just outside. Left there, went home for some quick food, then caught Scythian — or the first half of their show anyway, thunder and lightning clearing the metal-pole tent. Doug & Lori joined us, as well as John & Donna who stopped by their place to grab some Scotch they got in Scotland. Much fun ensued, studying the relative merits of different Scotches… (This morning started a bit more slowly than we’d planned.)

    We caught another chamber music trio earlier this week, as well as a Faroese folk singer one evening; both of these were at the Moravian Chapel behind the church — these both were firsts for me, being inside these buildings. We also saw the Skatalites at Volksplatz, but other than that, and last night’s rained-out adventure, we’ve been avoiding Musikfest after dark. With age comes wisdom?

    Speaking of wisdom, I realized that my use of categories here (“the sporting life,” “cultural ramblings,” etc) has caused me to fragment my writing, trying to keep myself to one subject per post. I usually don’t have enough to say about any one thing to sustain a full post though, not on any regular basis at least, so my posting has dropped off and I’ve ended up not writing about anything. Therefore, I think I’ll make a conscious effort, to go back to my previous diary-like mishmash of whatever pops into my head, or into my life. Thus…

    Reading: The other book I read in Canada was A Gentleman In Moscow, by Amor Towles. This is the story of a Russian aristocrat who is sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest for life in a luxury Moscow hotel. The novel has som many surprising twists that anything else I reveal would be a spoiler, so I’ll just say that this was a great book, and well worth reading.

    What else has been going on? I was back volunteering at the Canal Museum on Wednesday, but while there I heard that they had so many bike rentals last weekend that they needed to get some of the spares out of storage, and their tires were low on air, etc. So, I went in yesterday and went through all the bikes, making sure that they would be ready for use if needed this weekend. I also did some volunteering at CAT on Tuesday, building up a bike with Anne. In terms of actually riding bikes, Anne and I did a road ride, with lunch in Riegelsville, and Doug and I rode Jacobsburg on Thursday. Yesterday was rainy, and tonight threatens more, so if I ride tomorrow it’ll probably be a road ride.


  • The Expanse

    Just before we went on vacation I picked up James S.A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes, the sixth and latest in the sci-fi series “The Expanse.”  I read about half the book before we even left, and finished it not long after. Six novels so far — and last night I downloaded (and devoured) a short story in the same universe, “The Butcher of Anderson Station” — and I still can’t get enough. Now I have to wait, maybe subsisting on Kindle short story downloads, until the next installment comes out in a few months…

    The books are total “space opera” adventures in a future several hundred years away, in a well-built storyworld consisting of overpopulated Earth, independent Mars, and a hardscrabble society of “Belters” living on asteroids and the moons of the outer planets, where a billion-year-old alien artifact is found that triggers unimaginable upheaval.

    I won’t say more, but will say that I highly recommend it.

     


  • Where Does The Time Go?

    I’m not sure where it’s gone, but here I am all alone… Anne is at a knitting convention; she should be home tomorrow, but I’ve been on my own the past few days.

    So, what have I been up to, this past week and this past month? Lets see:

    Riding: I got out at Jacobsburg yesterday, and I got in a towpath ride the day before — a fairly hot lap too, for me and for this time of year, which I guess is why the ‘Burg was so tiring. Today I helped out with Bike Smart Easton (kid’s biking education program) at Calypso Elementary, but otherwise took it as a rest day, and tomorrow I may ride either Sals or Nox. I’m supposed to help with a Sals trash cleanup tomorrow, so that may influence my decision, one way or another.

    Travel: We just got back from visiting Emmi and Kyle in Durham, where we participated in the March for Science in Raleigh, among many other things, except riding: we did a run the first day we were there, and it was sunny for the march, but otherwise it was a rainy, rainy visit. Plenty of good but heavy food, some bookstores and coffee shops, and some really cool night spots — our typical Durham visit.

    We also did a short trip to Rehoboth Beach about a month ago, just a few days to do some riding and visit Dogfish Head Brewing.

    Reading: I’ve been obsessing over the “Expanse” series, by James S.A. Corey. More on this later but it’s some seriously good space opera, and I’ve read five of the six published books (out of a total of nine planned).

    I’ve also been doing a bit of volunteering at the Canal Museum, and also quite a bit of playing with the mapping software, but those’ll have to be other stories.


  • I Am Not Your Negro

    Posted on by Don

    Morning weigh-in: 191.0#, 13.5% BF

    We saw I Am Not Your Negro last night, the the documentary about James Baldwin. Unbelievably good — it cut between Baldwin himself in speeches, interviews etc, other documentary footage from various eras (60’s era riots, lynchings, Ferguson) and movie footage, especially of movies from when he was a kid, with a voice-over of his writings (mostly musings from an unfinished project, a tribute to Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King — “three friends who had been murdered” as he put it at one point), read by Samuel L. Jackson. More a “time to face some things you already know but have trouble admitting” story than an eye-opener, the structure, and Baldwin’s own powerful words, made for a very intense movie.

    Highly recommended — go see it.

    Afterward we went to a nearby pub that shall remain nameless, where the food was good and the beer was pretty decent, but it seemed one of those places — there are a number of them in the Valley, on the outskirts of urban areas — where there were noticeably no black people. (Admittedly, there were few people at all in there, and those few were annoying, so maybe I had a sour view of things.) There was also a whiskey ad on the wall, a mocking take on “Black Lives Matter.” Nothing serious, maybe a bit “edgy,” passive-aggressive even, but hey free speech and where’s your sense of humor?

    It could almost have been a scene from the movie, like a substitute for the outtakes from “The Pajama Game,” while the voice-over talks about white apathy and the emptiness of American lives. I guess that’s what great art does to you, it sensitizes you to the things it showed you.

    Anyway, not much else got done yesterday, though I did manage to lose another half pound. No ride today, since I’m going over to volunteer at the Museum, but possibly a road ride tomorrow.


  • Spook Country

    Next up on my reading list: Spook Country by William Gibson. This completes — years later, and read out of order — his post-911 trilogy (along with Pattern Recognition, the first, which I read first, and Zero History, the last). This suffered from Gibson’s usual outdated spy-cool and brand-name-dropping, and his penchant for odd technological whiffs, but I think it was the best of the three: besides and despite his flaws, it displayed his talent to build a gripping story (especially in the second half of the book), with realistic and engaging characters. I still think that the Sprawl trilogy was his best, but this was a good bedside companion for a week or so.


  • Hidden Figures

    We saw it the other day, basically as soon as it was out in a nearby theater. We happened to go on a weekday matinée, which is what we usually do, but unlike other matinées the place was packed — it looks like we weren’t the only ones who wanted to see this movie. And it did not disappoint: this was one of the few times where the movie audience applauded at the end. My advice: go see it. (You’re welcome.)

    The story follows three black women who work as “human computers” for NASA in the early 1960’s. “Computer” was actually what they were called; it was a real but low-status job for low-status (female, black) math whizzes in the days before electronic computers, and there were rooms full of them, like steno pools, at NASA. This being Virginia in 1961, our three heroines were relegated even further into the segregated “colored computers” pool. So with the budding Civil Rights movement as backdrop — and this movie excelled at backdrops, with an awesome period score and loads of what looked at least like archival footage — these women broke through racist and misogynist barriers, and got John Glenn into orbit.

    And then, just as electronic computers started to threaten their human computing jobs, they figured out how to be the ones to do the necessary work of programming those computers. (It wasn’t in the movie, but programming back then — difficult, exacting, requiring daily brilliance just like now — was another low-status job for “girls.”)

    One thing caught me though, not in the story itself but in how the movie was put together. I remember reading once about how some movies were subjected to audience polling, and changes based on that polling, before final release — I wasn’t quite aghast, but it kind of irked me that this was done, and I started seeing what I thought was poll-driven editing everywhere in the  movies I watched, and I thought I spotted it here.

    There were two (three) parallel stories going on: one (two) involving lowly employee showing them how it’s done, and the other showing the futuristic but inert IBM that NASA purchased being brought to life. The stories were finally brought together, mostly by the  juxtaposition of the two “TRIUMPH! THE END” endings, but at one point there seemed to be an aborted attempt at a connection…

    The top NASA engineers are trying to figure out some orbital mechanics and realize that they need a different mathematical approach, and Katherine Johnson says “Euler’s Method!” Eureka! But then that’s it: other than a scene where she reads up on the method  in an old text, there’s no follow-up. The thing is though, Euler’s method is a numerical method, made up of many simple calculations instead of a few sophisticated ones, and it’s prohibitively impractical as a tool without the electronic computer. I can almost see the missing scenes, where Katherine’s superiors despair of getting the answer in time because there’s just too many calculations, just as Dorothy Vaughan got that old IBM up and running in time to save the day — oh what might have been! …but that’s getting nitpicky, me dreaming up extra scenes, just because I wanted the movie to go on and on.

    This movie was morally affirming — righteous even, and patriotic — without being preachy, pro-science without being hokey, and overall a pleasure to watch. Go see it, and see if you don’t applaud too at the end.


  • Hillbilly Elegy

    I just finished another of my Christmas books, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. This was basically the author’s memoir of growing up, in Ohio, as the grandson of Kentucky hill folk who’d moved there looking for a better life, and his struggles with poverty and family dysfunction before his own escape up the socioeconomic ladder. The book has a bit of celebrity status right now, as various blue-state types try to figure out what’s going on in the Appalachian and Rust Belt hinterlands, and what went wrong in the last election…

    The first thing I’ll say is the good news: this book is a fast and interesting read, and the author is personable, and engaging if occasionally prone to humble-bragging, and he writes well. Parts of the story reminded me of my own family history, and the class anxieties that come with upward mobility over generations, while other parts were an unsparing look into the darker aspects of his own subculture.

    But the bad news is, he never seems to get to the heart of the problems among the Hillbilly Diaspora. He sometimes resorts to church-and-family bromides, and other times seems to warn against the debilitating effects of welfare, but it’s mostly like he’s dancing around a garden variety conservatism. He never really came to any solid conclusion.

    I finished the book feeling a bit let down.


  • Chinese Three-Novel Problem

    I just finished one of my Christmas gifts, the Chinese sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin and translated by Ken Liu. It’s basically a “first  contact” thriller, with an enemy alien invasion looming, a secret society helping the invaders, and the governments of the world secretly planning together for war against both the aliens and the secret society, all set against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath.

    The novel suffers from both stilted dialogue and “stilted” plot turns; some of these may be the effects of translation, or even just its essential Chinese-ness, but it’s also true that the author and translator are both in the “hard sci-fi” camp, which is not known for its Literature-With-A-Capital-L virtues. Anyway, the ideas are big and the action moves at a page-turning pace — it’s definitely a good read.

    My biggest problem with this book is that it’s the first of a trilogy, and now I have to read the others to find out how it all ends.