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All posts for the month January, 2017

I’ve continued hitting the languages pretty hard. I’m listening to foreign language books and/or podcasts in the car on my way to and from work, I am doing at least two Duolingo Spanish lessons per day, and I also am doing Rosetta Stone for both Vietnamese and Mandarin. My employer requires us to do five hours per month to keep our access to Rosetta Stone and as we get farther into it, that has become more of a challenge. I’m on-target for January and may even exceed my five hours. Let’s see how I do in February, though, when the material is becoming tougher and I have three fewer days to get it than I will have had in January.

I really like Rosetta Stone, by the way (and you don’t know how tempted I am to link to their page at Amazon). The biggest challenge for me, the way they teach foreign languages in school, is to stop thinking in English and translating into my target language, because that’s how they teach a foreign language. Rosetta Stone doesn’t ever get you using your first language as a crutch by taking it entirely out of the equation. I have had to look up a couple of things where I couldn’t quite grasp what they were getting at. One of these was the difference between “chúng tôi” and “chúng ta,” which both clearly mean “we,” but I just couldn’t quite tease out the difference.*

In addition, I bought a copy of Pride and Prejudice in Vietnamese and am rereading the original paired with the translation. I’m still trying to avoid the whole translation trap, so I am doing it chapter by chapter. The night of January 24, I reread Chapter 8 in the original and then followed it up by the first two pages in the translation. My Vietnamese is not so good yet that I understand very much of it at all, but that’s okay. It’ll come with practice. Right now I’m just looking at the words for things that look familiar. There are so many diacritical marks on the vowels in Vietnamese, and I’m hoping that the book will also make those come a little more naturally.

I started paying myself to do this, and it looks like I’m on-target to have $70 saved up by the end of January. Once I have $100, I’m going to start investing the money that I’ve saved up. I’m not sure if I’ll be buying a CD or putting it on the stock market. We’ll see what I decide once I get there.

Alex and I did go to the march. He told his dad that we were going, so I felt pretty much committed when he did that. We got there a little late, but managed to join up with the march and Alex and I walk pretty quickly, so it didn’t take long to reach near the center of the 1,500 people who were marching in San Antonio. I hope to keep up with the things that the Women’s March organizers are suggesting we do to keep up the momentum, including mailing my representatives about issues that are important to me. I’m not sure if I’ll use the official Women’s March postcards or just pick up a few touristy ones at my local store and use them.

And, finally, my planned trip to Canada is now less than six months away. That means that I can finally put in for the time off at work and can shell out the however-many dollars it’s going to take to pay for this trip. This is my least-favorite part of travel. The interface for putting in for time off is awkward, and then there’s the whole “paying for it” part, even though I’ve already got the money saved up.

*”Chúng tôi” is the exclusive “we” and “chúng ta” is inclusive. So, if I am speaking to you and including you in the “we,” I would use “chúng ta.” If I am speaking to you of something that affects me and someone who isn’t you, then “chúng tôi” is appropriate.

Despite it being out of the way, I’ve been to Stone Oak Park twice. The first time was July of 2015 and it was just amazingly hot. It seemed like a nice park, though, so Alex and I returned in November of 2015 so that we could finish the rest of the main walking path.

It turns out that we saw most of the exciting stuff on that first trip.

Stone Oak Park has the usual things, bicycle trails, a playground, a picnic pavilion, portable restroom facilities, and so forth. The park also has a 2.7-mile walking trail marked by public artworks. I am trying to find the names of the artworks, but haven’t had much luck so far. Perhaps this will be my excuse to return.

Stone Oak Park Artwork

Artwork at Stone Oak Park, San Antonio, Texas 2015

Stone Oak Park is also home to two caves, known as Bear Cave and Cub Cave. Bear Cave got its name from the bones of a black bear that were found inside. Cub Cave got its name because whoever named the caves wanted to stick with the “bear” theme and Cub Cave is smaller than Bear Cave. Bear Cave is blocked off to keep people from climbing or falling in. As of my last visit, Cub Cave was still open.

Stone Oak Park was founded for one very practical reason — it is in a vulnerable area of the state known as the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. In particular, the caves along the recharge zone are important  for cleaning the water as it enters the aquifer.  The aquifer is where San Antonio and its surrounding area gets its drinking water. The water drains into the aquifer in a region from just outside Loop 1604, stretching up past the western boundaries of New Braunfels and San Marcos, and way off to the west to around Brackettville (which is between Uvalde and the border with Mexico).  In the process of preserving this land, the city has preserved two of the most important caves for keeping our water clean.

As most of you likely know, there is a major demonstration for feminists (here defined as “people who think that women deserve to be treated like people”) in Washington, DC. You may also be aware that there are a number of “sister marches” being held in other cities (the official list is something like 673 marches with over 2 million expected marchers).

San Antonio is going to have a march today (as this posts, not as I’m writing it) and Alex and I are planning to attend the actual march itself, if not the rally part at the beginning or the planning part at the end. If we do make it, I’ll make a post updating y’all on what happened and what it felt like to participate in an event like this.

I’m categorizing this as “walking” as well as “2016 election” since the marchers will be walking nearly two miles just as the official marching part of the march. Getting there and then back to the bus stop will probably add quite a bit more.

Smartphone Americana, story and photographs by David Guttenfelder

Guttenfelder spent 20 years living abroad working as a photojournalist. He returned to the United States in 2014 and began to explore the country of his birth as if he were a new immigrant. Rather than using the expensive cameras he used in his years abroad, however, he chose to use his smartphone.  He says that he “want(s his) images to be imperfect and immediate, to capture something both fleeting and timeless about the America that (he is) rediscovering.”

And the pictures he took really are stunning. I think that my personal favorite is the tail end of an RV with mountainous scenery as it drives past a view of the Badlands in South Dakota.

I’m nearly certain that our 1988 trip to Baltimore was the second time I’d been there. The first time would have been our 1980 trip, when we visited Washington, DC, I think, and we stayed overnight in Baltimore at a Holiday Inn that was off the beaten path and I think we went to Fort McHenry, but don’t quote me on that.

This trip, we stayed at a hotel closer to the Inner Harbor. I remember taking the Skywalk (which they are apparently demolishing, much to my dismay) from our hotel to the Inner Harbor. We spent a lot of time exploring the Harborplace mall. When I was 11, we moved from our small house to a larger one in the town next door. The people who bought our old house wanted us out immediately and the people who owned our new house didn’t want to move until early July. Fortunately, the people who (31 years later) became my ex-in-laws offered to let us stay in their house for a few weeks of that, beginning around the middle of June. That still left us several weeks without a home. We ended up staying in one of those motels that had those little cottages during this time. Watching the four walls of our cottage drove my folks crazy and so we started visiting shopping malls just to get out of the house. We called this activity “malling” and we would occasionally “mall” in travel destinations. So when we found a new (not just new-to-us, but it seemed to be recently constructed as well) mall in Baltimore, of course we malled there. Why wouldn’t we?

One of the oddest things about the Inner Harbor is the World Trade Center building. The Inner Harbor area is paved with these large red sort of cement flagstones, and suddenly, in the middle of this big open area, there’s the World Trade Center. I don’t even recall the building being labeled. It took me years (until after I got the Internet) to figure out what that building had been. I wondered briefly if it was an apartment building of some sort, but it was locked up really well, which seemed like it might be a danger to the residents if there were a fire. There’s an observation deck at the top, but I don’t think I’ve ever been there when it was open. Maybe on a future visit I’ll get a chance to go up there.

We also visited Westminster Hall and the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was originally buried at the back of the graveyard, near his grandfather, but the grave grew neglected and a schoolteacher, Sara Sigourney Rice, spearheaded the effort to buy a new headstone for the grave. They didn’t just put up a new headstone, though. They exhumed and moved his entire body. So today Poe is buried near the front of the graveyard under a large four-sided monument with a bronze medallion of his face on one side.

Constellation in Baltimore 1988

The USS Constellation with the World Trade Center behind it, 1988

Our purpose for being in Baltimore was to visit the USS Constellation, the last sail ship built by the United States Navy, and the place where my paternal grandfather trained when he joined the Navy. How did my grandfather train on a ship that had been used in the Civil War? Well, the Constellation had been in service for nearly 100 years when it was finally retired in 1954. However, my paternal grandfather was also born a long time ago. As you can probably surmise from some of the things I’ve said, I’m no spring chicken, and my father was, not old, but not in the first blush of youth when I was born. My grandfather was almost the age that I am now when my dad was born. So, yeah. He trained for the Navy on a sail-powered ship that had been used in the Civil War.

The tour of the Constellation was very interesting, but it made me glad that I didn’t have to travel like that. I would like a yacht someday, so that I can travel to other countries with my critters, but that’s a yacht and not a Civil-War-era battleship. The Constellation seemed kind of claustrophobic and it didn’t seem like there would be a lot of air circulation in there (windows weren’t a high priority in the 1850s, apparently).  In 1994, they declared the Constellation to be dangerous and took it completely apart to repair it. They put it back together looking better than it had when we were there. The inside is now brighter than I recall it being, but it still has that pesky lack of windows that make it not someplace I would like to spend an entire ocean voyage.

Great White Mystery by Erik Vance, photography by Brian Sherry

We think we know the great white shark. After all, didn’t Richard Dreyfuss tell us everything we need to know in Jaws? Actually, not so much. Vance lists some of the things we don’t know about the great white shark, including such things as the life expectancy, gestation period or the age at which a great white undergoes puberty (or whatever passes for puberty among sharks). This information was why my first thought about posting a link to my Amazon Associates account wasn’t for Jaws but for Deep Wizardry, the second book in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series.* The whole “we don’t know where they come from or where they go” part of this article reminded me of a great white shark whose very long name the kids shorten to “Ed” in Deep Wizardry.

The article goes on to talk about some of the things we do know about great white sharks, like their anatomy and the areas of the ocean where they are seen most frequently. And the article ends by asking whether the great white shark is a healthy or threatened population. The answer is, as of the publication of this article, as yet unknown

Greece, Gods, and the Great Beyond by Caroline Alexander, photographs by Vincent J. Musi and David Coventry

This is a little bit of text on the evolution of religion in Ancient Greece, from propitiating the gods that were believed to cause good and bad thing to befall them and with a fear of death and the underworld through the mystery cults that eventually informed the religion that became Christianity.

The photographs are of Greek sacred sites, including the Erechtheion in Athens and, in an interesting choice, the Temple of Athena in Delphi. The Temple of Apollo was much more famous, being where the Oracle did her oracle-ing. I wonder if the photograph didn’t turn out as well as the one of the Temple of Athena (which is a lovely photo).

There is also a two-page illustration of what Samothrace looked like at its peak, including where the famous statue of Nike was located. This page also has a reconstruction of what Nike probably looked like before she lost her arms and head.

If you want to see Nike, by the way, and don’t have the time or money to go to the Louvre, a cement reproduction of the statue can be seen at Miraflores Park on Hildebrand in San Antonio. Miraflores Park is still, a decade after the city took possession of it, not open to the public, but you can see the statue from the street.

*As threatened previously, I also need to include a link to the first book, So You Want to Be a Wizard.

 

It’s not really a resolution as such (particularly since I started both projects before the new year began), but I have decided to spruce up (and expand on) my foreign language skills. To this end, I’m dinking around at Duolingo more and I’ve dug my old copy of Rosetta Stone Mandarin out and installed it on this computer. It took a few tries to get it to work on this computer, largely because I kept trying to install an update (note for Rosetta Stone users using Rosetta Stone on Windows 8. Don’t bother with the update. Just kick it down the road some and keep going).

My employer also gives me free access to Rosetta Stone, so since we have a lot of foreign customers, I decided to learn one of their languages and have settled on Vietnamese. Rosetta Stone is good for the initial introduction, but I’m nearing the end of Level 1 and suspect that I will hit the wall soon. So when that happens, I’m going to switch to Duolingo’s Vietnamese lessons and then repeat and redo the earlier Rosetta Stone lessons. Just as long as I do at least five hours per month I’ll be good. Eventually I’ll be able to tackle further lessons in Rosetta Stone. I hope to have all three levels done by the end of 2017.

I’ve also started doing the lessons at Codecademy. I just finished the first course, on HTML and CSS. I’m starting the JavaScript course now and will need to practice at some point. I started designing my first webpage in 1997 or so, so that course was easy. JavaScript is all new to me, so I’m going to need somewhere to practice. I wonder if WordPress will let me stick random JavaScript into the blog. . . .

I’m paying myself to do all these things, as well. With the language thing, I’m hoping that I’ll save up enough money to invest and with the Codecademy stuff I’m saving up to pay for the pro version which, they tell me, will give me opportunities to practice. If I never save up $20 for the first month, well, I’m clearly not dedicated enough to this idea to make it worth the expense.

I think I’ve been to the Adler Planetarium four times in my life. I remember going there once when I was quite young indeed and the planetarium show scared me. They were talking about the other planets and mentioned that the atmosphere of Jupiter was poisonous. I had uncorrected nearsightedness at that age* and the image that accompanied that statement looked frightening to me, like some kind of wall that was melting gruesomely. I sometimes wonder what that image actually was.

So, as a result, I wasn’t a fan until I got to be much older (and got glasses). I think we did one field trip there, but don’t quote me on that. The next time I am certain that we went was when I was in my teens or early twenties and the show was different. The one thing I came away with that time was that the Planetarium show was great, but that the building itself is very small, and the exhibits were not terribly exciting.

I returned again in August of 2016. There is a planetarium in Salt Lake City that Alex and I didn’t have a chance to visit, so I promised him a trip to the Adler during our Chicago trip. The building is much larger now. Well, they haven’t actually enlarged the building, because it’s a landmark, but they added a glassed-in portion that’s probably as large as the original building itself, plus it has several sublevels.

When we went, there were exhibits on telescopes, the nature of the universe, a model solar system that is beautiful but certainly didn’t look to scale to me. They also have a meteorite that you can touch. One can also see the oldest planetarium in the city, the Atwood Sphere, which dates from 1913 and has 692 holes drilled in it, each representing one of the brightest stars in the sky.

See what I mean about this not looking like it’s to scale? Jupiter and Saturn are almost touching and they look awfully close to Venus there.

The Adler Planetarium was named for Max Adler, an executive at Sears Roebuck & Co. (presumably Adler was the “Co.”), who donated the money to build it. Adler had seen some planetaria in Europe and felt that the United States needed one. The planetarium opened in 1930 (so the Atwood Sphere obviously was somewhere else prior to that point; where, I don’t know).

So I was much more impressed by the Planetarium this time than last time. Alex and I were trying to cover a lot of territory in a short time, so we went to a show that was held in one of the sublevels and had a flat screen rather than a dome, so I owe him a dome planetarium show. Looks like San Antonio College has a planetarium show on Friday nights. I might be taking a Friday night off sometimes soon and then we’ll have a brand-new South Texas Destination to share.

And I think I’ve found where the Atwood Sphere has been all its life. It was originally housed in the Chicago Academy of Sciences museum. The museum was in the Matthew Laflin building in Lincoln Park until 1994. The sphere was moved to the Adler in 1995, and then in 1999 the Academy of Sciences museum moved to a new building, still in Lincoln Park, and was renamed the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

So it looks like my next trip to Chicago (tentatively scheduled for 2019) will include the Notebeart museum in addition to the Chicago History Museum, the Oriental Institute Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry.

*So here’s how it was discovered that I was nearsighted. I’d been telling people that my perceptions weren’t the same as theirs for years. As an example, I didn’t believe that the candles in a Catholic church were candles. They looked like the blinking lights like on the control panel of the Enterprise on Star Trek. After the service (wedding?) my mom took me up to see that they were, in fact, candles.

I guess my parents chalked things like this up to imagination and it didn’t occur to my parents that this “imagination” that I had was nearsightedness until we went to the circus in 1973. We were waiting for it to start and I asked them what time it was and they both said, “You can’t see the clock?” I couldn’t. They indicated that it was on the wall and I looked way up and down the amphitheater (or was it the Coliseum? No, I’m pretty sure it was the Amphitheater.**). No clock. Finally my mom put her opera glasses in front of my face and adjusted until the clock came into focus. It had been right in font of me the whole time.

** I checked with my dad and, in a surprise come-from-behind victory, it was the Chicago Stadium.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt, by Veronique Greenwood, photographs by Max Aguilera-Hellweg

This article talks about the latest developments in forensic science. One of the techniques covered is what’s called genetic phenotyping, where they can now take a DNA sample and pull out hair, eye, and skin color and, often traits like whether the source of the sample had freckles. They can even sometimes get a general idea of the shape of the person’s face.

Of course, the hair thing might not be foolproof, as (totally aside from the existence of hair dyes), people do lose their hair sometimes and hair does eventually gray. In fact, I knew two young men in my youth who lost their hair at very young ages. It’s likely that there might be some kind of genetic component to the hair loss, but statistically speaking, in their teens or 20s the reconstructions would probably have shown them with full heads of hair.

We also talk about some of the mistakes made through older versions of forensic science, including Kirk Odom, whose hair was supposedly “microscopically indistinguishable” from a hair found at the crime scene. Turns out that the scientists never examined the hair under a microscope and that even if they had, <a href=https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/about-us/lab/forensic-science-communications/fsc/july2000/deedric1.htm>it looks to me like they can determine things like the species of the source of the hair and, if human, the race of the source of the hair, but it is not possible to narrow it down to an individual.</a>

The photograph of the photographer, by the way, was created by DNA phenotyping. There’s an interactive feature on the website where you can compare that image to actual photographs of actual photographers to see if you can figure out which was is Max.

The Battle for Virunga, by Robert Draper, photographs by Brent Stirton

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve had some unrest in Africa, so I guess we’re due. And since we’re talking about parks in the magazine this year, this article is a “twofer,” part of the Power of Parks series and about unrest in Africa.

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the oldest national park in Africa. It is also part of some kind of turf war between at least two militias. The Battle for Virunga covers some of this recent history and discusses some of the things that the (at the moment) current director, Emmanuel de Merode, is doing to improve the park. One of these things is that they are building hydroelectric power plants in the park, hoping that the electricity being produced will (a) cover the park’s expenses into the future and (b) give potential entrepreneurs the chance to begin to develop businesses in the region that will give the children of the area something to aspire to besides joining a militia.

Generally I write my posts ahead of time and schedule them to launch at midnight of the day in question, but since I’m up at midnight, I figured I’d write one in real time for publishing immediately.

This was an exciting New Year’s Eve. I’m trying to build on my current foreign language skills and pick up Vietnamese, so I spent most of the day working on that. On New Year’s Eve, I did eight Duolingo lessons, three each of Vietnamese and Mandarin Rosetta Stone lessons and read two chapters in Kiêu Hãnh và Định Kiến (Pride & Prejudice in Vietnamese).

I also have started doing the lessons at Codecademy. I don’t know if I’ll learn enough coding there to become employable eventually, but it’s worth a shot.

I can hear the amateur fireworks of my neighbors going off in the distance and hear Ricky Martin singing “Livin’ La Vida Loca” on television as I write this and think about things we can do to make the world (and the United States) a better place  in 2017.

Navy Pier fireworks August 10, 2016

Not my neighbors’ fireworks.

First, be kind. What’s that saying about how everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about? It looks like it was originally said by John Watson, under his pen name of Ian MacLaren, according to the Quote Investigator. So, yeah, do that.

Second, learn something this year. It doesn’t matter what. While I’ve loved my time in school, some of my favorite people are self-educated, and thanks to things like MIT’s OpenCourseWare, there is really no limit to the number of things you can learn for free, or at least for the cost of a textbook. I also love the mission of the University of the People. The University of the People is an accredited university with no tuition fees. Students pay a $60 fee to apply and $100 for every final exam they take. A bachelor’s degree takes around $4000, payable as students finish each class. Even spread out over a long period, $4,000 is a lot of money for some people, so there are also scholarship programs. And since it’s a distance learning school, they have students from all of the world taking classes together.

Third, support serious journalism. There’s so much emphasis on not taking sides in journalism today that people are getting the impression that nothing they do matters. And that’s just not true. There are serious journalists out there not taking sides. Support them. (If someone had told me ten years ago that I would someday subscribe to Vanity Fair magazine to support serious journalism, I would have asked what they were smoking).

Beyond that, be well. Exercise, and eat better than you did in 2016 and take some time off to have fun. Engage in your hobbies and pet the cats (or dogs or lizards or whatever).