Sunday, August 28, 2005

Yard Sale!

Any readers in the Boston area, don't miss today's Yard Sale at 38 Hanson Street, Somerville, all proceeds to benefit Somerville Unleashed, the City's fund for off-leash recreational areas!

The Yard Sale continues until 6pm this evening.

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hotspot Blogging

Iustinianus takes another step into the 21st century!

Although I use WiFi at home, I've never had my laptop on me when at a Wireless Hotspot. I had a suspicion that our local O'Naturals, located conveniently on the outskirts of Davis Square (the erstwhile "Paris of the 90s") had WiFi from the sheer number of laptops I saw here when I came last. And I was right. Very nice!

Categories: , , , , , , ,

Behind in blogging,again...

Had a hard-drive failure on my laptop a couple of weeks ago -- total loss: even a low-level sector scan was unable to recover a single byte. The laptop belongs to IBM (though I use it nights and weekends for my own personal web browsing, and almost never bother to navigate the mess in my study at home to sit at my own workstation), so I had to wait for internal employee channels to get me a replacement hard-drive.

Thankfully I did have a backup image -- though it was a couple of months out of date, so I lost some stuff permanently -- but unfortunately the product I had used, Retrospect Express 6.0 (it comes with Maxtor external drives), leaves quite a bit to be desired. It doesn't restore the system completely: instead, you have to FIRST install Windows and THEN restore the backup image on top of it.

Anyway, unsurprisingly, something went badly wrong: the resulting system was unstable and had lots of bizarre problems (e.g., the Network Connections window couldn't find any of the network controllers, even though they were clearly there in the System Control panel).

I ended up just saving off the files I wanted and taking the machine back to the IS department at work, to have them wipe the disk and install a new image. Since then, I've been re-installing everything by hand, from scratch.

All in all, it took the better part of two weeks to get the machine back to full working order, between having to wait for hard drives, wait to have them imaged by IS, and then waiting again to have them imaged a second time, and then reinstalling all my work-related applications and my own personal preferences, Internet Explorer favorites, Furl, Flickr,, and Technorati tools, etc. etc. And at the same time, work has been super, super busy -- in the meantime I had to actually dust off my old workstation at work and get that up-to-date with the latest tools we're working with, etc., and have been working on that machine until we got past our deadline.

All in all, blogging has had to take a seat way, way in the back.

Categories: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Sally Douglas, 1925 - 2000

Today would have been my mother's 80th birthday. She died just four months shy of her 75th birthday, on April 13th, 2000, a bare six months after she had been diagnosed with the early stages of lung cancer during a vacation here in Boston.

Every year on her birthday I like to visit one of the places here in the Boston area that she loved. She and my father would typically stay in a cottage in Ipswich, with a (slight) view of the Ocean. As a Briton, an Islander, my mother loved the Ocean. I grew up with her telling me that you are never more than 50 miles away from the Sea, no matter where you go in Britain. Today we went to Concord, to a place called the Colonial Inn. It's a beautiful old rambling building, some parts Colonial, some Victorian, some of a sadly much more recent vintage. The food is nothing to write home about - though it runs to the kind of "comfort food" that my mother enjoyed: things like pot-roast and "mashed puddies" - but one of her best days in the last months was spent there. She was undergoing rehabilitation after surgery to install a shunt (she had had trouble walking for some time and an MRI showed she suffered from Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus or NPH: they discovered the lung cancer while vetting her for the surgery), and it was really starting to look like the shunt was improving her gate and her ability to get around without falling. We took her from the rehab clinic for an afternoon outing, had lunch and then spent an absolutely delightful time in a lovely sitting room they have there, with a secretary, big comfy armchairs and a sofa, and a roaring fire. Today of course there was no fire, but it was nice to remember that day at that place she enjoyed so much.

My mother was very proud of being a Scot, even though alone of her family she was not born in Scotland but in London, and certainly she had no trace of Scots in her accent. She was proud of her heritage as a "Black Douglas" and that her mother, a Burns, was descended from Robert Burns himself. (No doubt everyone in Scotland with the surname of Burns says so: and I gather from the story of his life that a great many people in Scotland probably are descended from him, though the majority of those definitely would not have Burns as a surname).

My mother had an extraordinary life, and a whole career, all before I was born and even before she met and married my father. The youngest in her family - 10 years younger than the next youngest, her sister Peggy - she managed to steal out of the house in secret one evening to audition for a singing job, at the age of 15. She got the job, but only because she looked older than she was. Once they did learn her age, she was able to keep the job only on condition that her older sister accompany her as a chaperone: something I gather my aunt Peggy was very happy to do.

I'm not sure of all the jobs my mother had during her career. I think that the longest-running one was as one of the singers with Geraldo and his Orchestra - a Big Band ensemble that I have heard described as the "British answer to Glenn Miller". Actually, I know that she also sang on occasion with Glenn Miller as well, performed in many BBC broadcasts and even had a show on the BBC called "Songs for Sally"when she was only 16. And during the war, she was a performer for ENSA (the British equivalent of the USO) and on one occasion was with a group of performers who barely managed to avoid getting caught in the Battle of the Bulge, by only 5 miles. She had engagements at the Palladium, performed with Noel Coward, Petula Clark and many others, and dated Peter Sellers for quite some time - in fact he proposed to her.

Her first husband was Jimmy Young. In his autobiography, a used copy of which I managed to find after she had died, he refers to her as "tall and Junoesque", a very apt description, I think. Especially when she was wearing the cats-eye glasses with edges like cut-out lightning-bolts that she designed and had made for herself.

It is strange to read about one's mother in a book, especially one written by someone who is to you a total stranger. I didn't even find out that my mother had been married before until I was already in college, though I had known about her former singing career from childhood. But some of the stories in Jimmy's autobiography did seem to tally with some of the stories my mother had told me of their time together: stories about their first apartment, and how they met because he was competing with her for a gig. Jimm even includes the fact that my mother was behind the glass in the Studio when he recorded his first #1 hit, and that she was the one who picked the Take that was used. His version of the story makes it clear that she was not the "official" producer (one imagines something of a Yoko Ono situation), but he does seem to credit her with a good professional ear. By his own admission, their marriage ended due to his countless adulteries with various "groupies" over the years. Unfortunately, I don't think my mother got much support from their other show-business friends, whom I gather rather felt that it was "unsporting" of my mother to make such a big deal about it all. Britain is still considerably more sexist than the United States, especially in the older generations, and it was much worse in the 1950s.

She gave up her singing career upon marrying Jimmy Young, I think, since his was so successful and the taste in music had changed from the Big Band Standards she had made her career on. Growing up, I never heard any recordings from her professional career, but she did keep some reel-to-reel tapes through all the years and moves between England, Urbana, and Columbia that she had made at her and Jimmy's apartment in the mid 50s - an attempt perhaps to try her hand at the sorts of songs that were popular at the time. Songs like "Fire Down Below" (where she gives Rita Hayworth more than a run for her money) and "Our Love is Here to Stay", and an incomperable rendition of "If I Ever Fall in Love".

Before she died, these amateur home-made tapes were the only recordings I had ever heard of her voice. It wasn't until later that I discovered that many of her recordings were in fact readily available on CD. Not that she ever got a penny of royalties. Some are still available: Dance Band Years for instance, and Best Sellers. We contacted the BBC and they made us some CDs from their copious archives, including several CDs from her "Songs for Sally" show, and we also got some recordings from the Imperial War Museum from her time with ENSA. It was a shame I hadn't heard all of these professional recordings before she died: it had never occurred to me, growing up, that there would be recordings one could actually buy of her singing.

Jimmy Young went on to a long and lucrative career, with his own Radio programme that seems to have been something like a cross between Casey Kasem and Paul Harvey. A coworker of mine who had recently immigrated from England sent me a tape he had recorded off the air during one of his visits home for Christmas, so I could get the flavor of the show. I gathered he had moved towards the conservative side of the political spectrum, while my mother, if anything, became more and more Socialist as the years went on. I gather that Jimmy Young was made Order of the British Empire some years ago. For all I know, he may have been Knighted by now.

After leaving Jimmy, I guess my mother tried to forget everything about the Show Business world. She met my father through his sister: they both came from what my mother considered to be the thoroughly "provincial" town of Coventry (famous for the ride of the legendary Lady Godiva, and a city that was firebombed almost out of existence: people seem to forget that the bombings of Dresden were in retaliation for the near-destruction of Coventry; my father watched his school burn down during that Blitz). I think she wanted a quiet and conventional life, after her life with Jimmy had fallen apart. My father was getting his PhD in molecular biology at Cambridge; she helped him type his dissertation. After she died, when I flew back to Urbana, Illinois to pack up my mother's things, I came across a beautiful, sad and passionate love letter to him from those days. It is very strange to be able to see one's parents as young and foolish and romantic when they were young.

I don't think my mother expected quite so much conventionality. A cosmopolitan Londoner, she found herself in the midwestern United States during the McCarthy era. My father enjoys telling a story about how she caused a total and stunned silence at a cocktail party on Long Island the night they arrived, by actually uttering during a conversation the phrase "What's wrong with Socialism?"

She never really got over the culture shock of moving to the United States, and never enjoyed living in small town America, even in the University Towns I grew up in - which were in a way oases of intellectual and cultural enlightenment in oceans of Bible Belt conventionality. Certainly she enjoyed visiting me in Boston - which I think reminded her of England more than other parts of the country, and which of course is near the Ocean, as Illinois and Missouri are most emphatically not.

So, here's to my mother. Here's to memories of the good times you had, feeding goslings by the Charles, fussing with Argus, being with people you loved.


Categories: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A few books ...

Of course I finished the fourth Harry Potter book last weekend. I enjoyed it a great deal, especially since I'm the kind of guy whose favorite part of the Lord of the Rings was the Appendices: I remember at the age of 12 wishing to god that the Silmarillion, mentioned in the Thunderous Appendix 1, was a real book. When I found out a few years later that it was really going to be published, I pre-ordered it from the bookstore months before it actually came out in the US (back in those days, of course, there was no to get it from early). And I still prefer the Silmarillion, which I have read and re-read far more times than LotR. And, of course, I have Christopher Tolkien's The Histories of Middle Earth. In Hardback. That doesn't mean that I worship Tolkien and brook no criticism of him: far from it. But this isn't my Tolkien posting.

My point is that I enjoy learning the backstory (at least in those rare cases where learning the backstory doesn't take away all the enchantment - most of the time, the enchantment only works at a distance), and you get heaping doses of backstory in the Half-Blood Prince. Many have complained that the book is rather .. lacking .. in other areas. That's true, really. You just don't see that much of the characters you got to know in the last couple of books. I could have done with the book being longer.

But whatever. I actually decided to start over and re-read the entire series from the beginning. I hadn't re-read any of them before (I've seen the movies as they've come out, but that's not the same). I'm zipping through them at warp speed. Already a good way's through the fourth (and longest) one. It's actually turning out to be a lot of fun. Quite a few scenes I had completely forgotten about - and quite a few details that they really did change in the movies. One of the most fun things is seeing where Rowlings first introduces a word or an idea - such as dittany, or the Vanishing Cabinet. By the time she really gets into it, you had forgotten completely about it. (Well, I'm sure if you are a Total Potter Nerd, you remembered - anybody remember the William Shatner Saturday Night Live episode with the "Have you ever even kissed a girl?" question?)

In the meantime, I'm taking a bit of a break from Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (next chapter, Celtic), and I've acquired a couple of delightful little reads:

Cover image for Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture, Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture,
Walter Burkert
$22.95 (No discount)
Cover image for The First Poets : Lives of the Ancient Greek PoetsThe First Poets : Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets
Michael Schmidt
$19.80 (%34)

I first saw the Schmidt book yesterday at Porter Square Books, a local independent bookstore, and just grabbed it. It looks delightful, though I've only just glanced over it. It is a collection of "lives" of the major Greek poets, excluding the Dramatic poets. Amusingly, he not only starts with the obvious, Homer - whom most scholars these days consider to be mythological - but even earlier: with Orpheus, who of course is mythological. His justification:

Modern historical scepticism must not bridle us ... There is a wealth of stories, and they are worth telling, whether their truths are literal .. or indicative.
Clearly, this is not going to be some dry, biographical reference.

I do believe in patronizing independent bookstores like Porter Square, and I confess that I first saw the Burkert book there. Nonetheless, money is money and I fear I ordered it from Barnes and Noble online with my member discount (the rest of the shipment, qualifying for free shipping, of course, is supposed to arrive tomorrow). There have been books going more than two thousand years about the debts of Greek civilization to the more ancient cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East: Herodotus and Josephus, to name two. And there have been a number of books comparing, or connecting, Hebrew and Greek thought. But it appears that there is quite a wealth of books on the topic these days. This Burkert book is just the tip of the iceberg.

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So many topics to blog about, so little time...

Well, here we go again: another week, another failure to update my blog. And it's not for lack of topics. Not only do I have two "draft" topics, from the 24th and 25th of July, that I still haven't gotten around to finishing, but I have about 12 pages worth of notes to myself listed in a huge "Task" document in Microsoft Outlook. It's just so much easier to jot down a quick blurb to myself, in a shorthand way that nobody other than myself could read, than it is to try to write a real, and readable, post.

Let's see, I've got posts planned on Tolkien, the Lord of the Rings Movies, the upcoming Da Vinci Code movie, Karl Rove, John Roberts, Inspector Morse, the new Rupert Everett Holmes, why Rick Santorum Hates America, the Phoenician Alphabet, various deities (Hermes/Mercury, Thoth, Odin, Lugh, Llew), Gossip, "the Cowpath theory", Ursula K. LeGuin and Gwydion son of Dôn, the incredibly irritating habit of giving every book a subtitle about how such-and-such or so-and-so "changed the world" (yes I know there was an article about it recently but I thought about it first), "moral muddles", the Whig Fallacy, "revealed" religion, religions of personal salvation, polytheism, the Simpsons and Wings vs. Seinfeld and Married with Children, Tree-hating, Mad Miss Manton, Lupe Velez, Cipro in Memphis Tennessee, a lot on Ethics and Corporate Culture and Party Politics, Homer & Hesiod & Nagy, post-modernism, Words I recently learned, the mis-use of words like Labyrinth and Republic, word-classes that interest me like Sorcerer vs. Wizard and King vs. Emperor, my NPR moment and what it has to do with both Star Wars and the Iliad, why I liked Oliver Stone's Alexander, Anarchism and Framing and the Culture Wars, whether Software is even Possible, and, well, even more ...

Of course, I've already blogged about this problem, and in particular about how silly it seems when I finally get around to writing about a topic that is no longer in the news. One of the two postings I mentioned above that are still in the draft state is about an article in the New York Times Magazine from two weeks ago about the Roberts nomination (on the one hand, maybe I shouldn't feel so guilty since the Magazine only just today started publishing letters in response to his article - on the other, the two of them basically said a big chunk of what I was going to say).

When I was in class for two weeks, of course, I was simply too exhausted to post by the time I got home and I was going to bed super-early so I could get myself to class by 9am either up in the distant burbs or down in deepest downtown. I've been spending the last week recovering, since although I held up in those classes much better than I had expected, I was left absolutely drained and sore. Yesterday in fact was one of my worst days in a while: I was so light-headed and "bone tired" and was hurting all over. I managed to clock about 12 hours in bed last night, though, which has helped a lot. I sure had planned on making a DENT in my blogging chores during the day today, but somehow the day came and went and here I am.

Oh, well. Hopefully I'll start doing better soon ...

Categories: , , , , , ,