Apr 24

Special talk done, now back to normal talks

The presentation which I have been working on, off and on, for the past two days was this morning. I made all of my points in the time allotted. The audience was helpful, their interaction plentiful. I couldn’t quite get them to thing about the subject matter at the level I’d hoped, but that was my fault.

Several people thanked me when it was over. Two stayed to chat. Someone said it was an amazing presentation. Amazingly, that person was not me. The guy in the second row who slept through most of it would have disagreed, but this did not throw me. I am, after all, a veteran somnolence distribution technician.

The first time I put someone to sleep during a speech was in 1995. It’s a tiny bit harder to keep score these days. Students will hide behind their monitors in the classroom. But this guy today? Head down, sprawled out, mouth open. He might have drooled. Happily, he did not snore.

I don’t suppose he cares much for sports in general, or perhaps baseball or gambling in particular. But the rest of the room followed along and if it was any good, they’re why. Ultimately, I was pleased with the presentation, and the rest of the day surrounding it.

Let’s check in on the fig tree. We covered it — and, thanks to the wind, recovered it three times — during the winter. We stuffed the soil surrounding the roots with leaves. And now we are waiting on it to bud and burst back to life.

So we didn’t kill it in our first winter. Hooray!

Our neighbor said that the people they bought their house from left them a great history of their place. From all of that, they believe that our fig tree came from a cutting of their own fig tree. They think their fig tree is 100 years old or so. That’s within the realm of possibility for fig trees, but doesn’t make a lot of sense given the neighborhood. Of course, that could have been millennial slang. Or perhaps their fig tree descended from another that is 100 years old. All the trees came from somewhere, right?

Whatever the real story, I’m glad to see it starting to come back to life now that we’ve taken the canvas wrap off the thing. Now make a lot of leafs and an overwhelming amount of fruit, fig tree.

This is maybe an arrowwood, or Korean spice viburnum, Viburnum carlesii. A deciduous bush, it will yield some small fruit, too. Mostly for the birds. The smells are for everyone, though. That’s a fragrant flowering scent, and you can tell why this was planted in such a way to be near our delightful little garden path — or vice versa.

I didn’t notice this bush at all last summer. It was a bit … overgrown. But, it too, is doing well in the early spring.

These are, I assure you, different videos from what I shared yesterday. I figure that if you needed a little mental vacation from Wednesday, I could offer you a similar one from a Thursday. Plus, who’s getting tired of this incredible vista view anytime soon?


And this is the penultimate slow motion video from the California collection.


Not to worry, there’s still something like a dozen or so videos I plan to share here in the coming days.

I’m taking to heart the Cambria, California-inspired mantra, Relax Enjoy Repeat.

Mar 24

Papers and sticks and videos

The grading continues. I am currently reading about four dozen feature profiles. Some have some nice potential, a few are already there. Many of the students writing these pieces have found interesting people to write about. That’s the first step.

After that, well, you have to spend time with them, spend time on them. Learn all about them. And then write it. Feature profiles aren’t hard. They take a lot of time. And then they get difficult. There’s a great craft to writing a profile about a stranger, and having your audience wants to read more. And because of all of that, it’s interesting to see how people take their first attempt at trying to write such a thing.

At my current pace I should get everything done at just about midnight, tomorrow night.

I try to give everyone some useful and specific feedback, you see. So it’s time intensive for me, too. For some, I am encouraging them to continue to work on this story. A few aren’t far away from being published. Hopefully one or two will take that advice.

For one of my breaks away from the computer today I went outside to … pick up sticks. The yard is littered with them from a storm here and wind there. Initially, I despaired at what I would do with all of these sticks and small limbs. And then I remembered: we have a fire pit.

So now we have a growing stack of kindling.

It sits near this pear tree, which still looks lovely.

Also nearby is a nice little growing stand. A good place for herbs and other things that have a shallow root system. In a week or two, perhaps, we’ll get to this in earnest. But, for now, I am enjoying seeing the things that pop up all on their own.

I’m cheering for you guys, and I’ll put a version of that picture will eventually make its way into becoming another banner here on the site.

Let’s head back to California for another peaceful little beach video.


Relax. Enjoy. Repeat.

And if you, like me, are a fan of the slow motion crashing of waves, here’s another one of those.


Not to worry. There are plenty more videos where those came from.

Mar 24

You will get teary-eyed by the end of this post

We’ve come to the part of the week where I wonder if I could be doing more, right now, to help future me. Future me is the me of next week. And the answer is, no, I can’t do a lot more next week. I could do more. We all could, but where’s the fun in that. But for the version of me that will be task oriented and checking things off lists next week, I can’t help that guy yet. The To Do must still be formulated. The lists are just big piles of things to grade.

And so I wait. And rest. Next week, there will be around 100-140 things to grade. That is not an exaggeration. Seventeen of them will be easy to work through. Another 40 or so can be evaluated rather painlessly. But there will be 40 or so items that will require time and care and repetition. And that’s three days, easy.

There is a valuable lesson in this for me. The next time I build a multi-class semester, there will be flow charts, fact sheets, multiphasic slide decks and calendar overlays, just so that I can make sure key assignments are staggered for everyone.

And by everyone I, of course, mean me.

But you can’t do the work on Thursday that will be turned in Saturday through Monday. And so earlier this week I felt like the carefree grasshopper. By tomorrow, it could be the neurotic ant who is waiting for the other boot to land on his exoskeleton.

That’s probably one of my best remembered fable from Aesop. That and the boy who cried wolf and the lesser known The Writer and Public Domain.

Why hasn’t someone reworked these for a cynical, metal audience? Do you mean to tell me that the world isn’t ready for a version of The Crab and the Fox where the crab wanders into that meadow and doesn’t get eaten by the fox because, I dunno, global warming hardened her shell, or she’s got crrrrrrab power or is about to persuade the fox to leave her alone, big, stupid fox, thereby subverting the patriarchal paradigm of knowing one’s role and overcoming caste systems inherent and explicit while on the way across that meadow and into Red Lobster for a crowd pleasing plate of cheese biscuits, which signifies our consumerist society and a heavy dose of postmodern irony through a crustaceanist lens?

We could churn these out in a few days, get a clever artist to illustrate the thing and be on the late night talk shows by next week, is what I’m saying.

But I’ve got all of that grading to do. Good point.

It turns out we have not two, but four pear trees on our property. Two are well apart from one another. And this one, and its twin, were carefully planted close by one another.

Pear trees need to be in proximity to bear fruit. And, also, they need to be the right sort. Unfortunately, these aren’t the right sort.

Fruit-bearing pear trees would be awesome.

Never mind. I just looked it up and it takes three to five years for a tree to begin producing fruit, and there is an impressive amount of work in between. So while I can’t do next week me any favors today, I just did the me of 2025-2030 a huge solid.

I’ll just go buy pears from a produce store every once in a while.

I am enjoying the blooms on these trees, though. More trees and shrubs should be perpetually in bloom. It’s a cheery thing, really. Particularly right now.

We saw quite a few elephant seals in California last week. Here are some of them now. Hunted to the brink of extinction for oil by the end of the 19th century, their numbers have since recovered.

This beach does look like a nice place to nap. If your seal friends will leave you alone long enough.


These are northern elephant seals, and they grow large. Mature males weighing more than 8,000 pounds!

What do you suppose the largest one in that video weighs?

These guys spend their lives across North America’s Pacific coast. They breed annually and are seemingly habitual. Some of the older ones here have been visiting this beach for a while.

There is so much money involved, and the audience can be so stratified, that it makes sense to see an increasing number of analytics and metrics in play. Fox, Netflix quietly built sports ad deal that wasn’t based on TV ratings:

More advertisers are trying to tie their ads to so-called “business outcomes,” such as making a purchase, visiting a website or showroom, or asking for information to be sent about the product or service being pitched. The thinking on Madison Avenue is that knowing how many people watched an ad just isn’t enough; it’s better to understand how many people took an action that brought them closer to an actual sale. Interest has grown as the size of TV audiences has been cut down by the rise of streaming.

Creativity beats fascism.

To simplify, the Allies used signal counterintelligence, inflatable tanks, audio, and a bluff with Gen. George Patton to convince the Nazis that the 1,1000 members of the 23rd HQ Special Troops were actually two divisions, 30,000 men, massing to attack elsewhere. In more than a dozen engagements in 1944-1945, they feinted, disguised and distracted from actual assaults, tying down enemy units and, it is estimated, saved thousands of lives among Allied ranks in the process.After decades of secrecy, the ‘Ghost Army’ is honored for saving U.S. lives in WWII:

Present at Thursday’s event were: 100-year-old Bernard Bluestein, who joined the visual deception unit from the Cleveland Institute of Art and went on to pursue a career in industrial design; 99-year-old John Christman, who served as a demolition specialist and 100-year-old Seymour Nussenbaum, an avid stamp collector who joined the Army from the Pratt Institute. He helped make the counterfeit patches worn by the unit, and worked in package design for many years after the war.


“The Ghost Army’s tactics were meant to be invisible, but today their constructions will no longer remain unseen in the shadows,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., one of the bill’s two Senate sponsors. “Their weapons were unconventional, but their patriotism was unquestionable.”


While the Ghost Army helped liberate Europe and end the war, it wasn’t publicly given credit for another half a century.

“Following the war, the unit’s soldiers were sworn to secrecy, records were classified and equipment packed away,” says the National WWII Museum.

Wormuth said Thursday that immediately after the war, Ghost Army soldiers received a letter of thanks from then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, with a memorable P.S.: “If you tell anyone, I’ll see that you hang.”

Beyer told WUNC before the ceremony that the mission had been so deeply classified that the “Army basically lost it.”

“It kind of forgot about it until the late 80s, when they suddenly rediscovered this and started bringing Ghost Army soldiers to the Pentagon for briefings,” he explained.

I shared an obituary yesterday, and i have one more today, simply because this story should be told over and over and over and over again.

(Amnon) Weinstein was the founder of Violins of Hope, an organization that provides the violins he restored to orchestras for concerts and educational programs commemorating the Holocaust.


“Violins of Hope, it’s like a huge forest of sounds,” he said in a 2016 PBS documentary. “Each sound is standing for a boy, a girl and men and women that will never talk again. But the violins, when they are played on, will speak for them.”

There are more than 60 Holocaust-era violins in his collection.

Some belonged to Jews who carried them in suitcases to concentration camps, and who were then forced to play them in orchestras as prisoners marched to the gas chambers. Others were played to pass the time in Jewish ghettos. One was tossed from a train to a railway worker by a man who knew his fate.

“In the place where I now go, I don’t need a violin,” the man told the worker, in Mr. Weinstein’s telling. “Here, take my violin so it may live.”


One afternoon in the 1980s, a man with a prisoner identification tattoo on his arm arrived with a beaten up violin that had, like him, survived Auschwitz.

“The top of the violin was damaged from having been played in the rain and snow,” Mr. Grymes wrote in “Violins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust — Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour” (2014). “When Amnon took the instrument apart, he discovered ashes inside that he could only assume to be fallout from the crematoria at Auschwitz.”


During a radio interview, he asked listeners to bring him instruments connected to the Holocaust. Soon, families began showing up at his workshop with violins that had been stored away in attics and cellars, each with its own haunting story.

Mr. Weinstein was especially shaken by those recovered from concentration camps after the Allied invasion of Germany in 1945.

“This was the last human sound that all of those people heard, the violin,” he said in a 2016 radio interview on WKSU in Ohio. “You cannot use the name beauty. But this was the beauty of this time, these violins.”

A previous interview with the famed luthier.

And the concert in Cleveland where the Violins of Hope sang out again. They played Beethoven.


Mar 24

Down to Burbank, and our conference

We loaded up the rental and headed south from Cambria this morning. The mini-vacation has come to an end. The three-day convention is beginning this evening.

Cambria is about three hours down the road. The first two hours or so was views like this.

It looked like this for a long while, until we reached the high high winds in the San Emigdio Mountains and, then, back to the towns and cities that orbit Los Angeles.

The winds were something. I found a weather report that says 25 miles per hour, but that must mean there are no weather stations in the mountain passes. You could get buffeted, hard, from any direction. At one point, the wind was even coming through the mountains.

Including Burbank!

That’s where the conference we’re attending is being held. The conference is the International Association for Communication and Sport summit. This year it is hosted by the University of Texas.

They have a facility, right there in Burbank. This is no fly-by-night thing. No strip-mall-with-folding-fairs-in-the-shadow-of-Hollywood program. It is a proper school facility with a small satellite office set up. Two classrooms and all the amenities. Some real thought went into that space. Many will be hooked, most will be Texans. I am referring to it as the Texas embassy for the weekend.

Anyway, the conference began at Dodger Stadium this evening. Light dinner in a luxury box area. Great views down the right field line. And our friend, Ann. (She’s from Canada, you don’t know her.)

They aren’t plotting to take over the world in Dodger Stadium. I’m told that conversation will take place tomorrow.

The Yankee is presenting two papers at this conference. I’m watching those and visiting with friends and, tomorrow, trying to get ahead of next week. The weekend itself, though, will be a great deal of fun. Lots of nice people, and people you know from other places. Nods, waves, and some actually delightful conversations.

Mar 24

This gray, grey week …

It is going to be sunny tomorrow, I know this because I looked ahead at the forecast. And also because I saw some color to the sunset.

After four days in a row, now, of rain and/or gray skies, I’ll be pleased to see some blue in the air and shadows on the ground.

This is just four days in a row, mind you. But it makes me wonder, how ever did we live entire winters like this?

I did go outside a few times today. I am conducting a towel experiment. The experiment is trying to get the smell of ethanol out of towels. I put the smell of ethanol in towels after Poseidon broke something with ethanol in it. (It was one of those cute little floating thermometer doodads. We got it for Christmas one year, one of those $10 and under parties, so the broken gauge is, itself, not a great loss. The almost two hours I spent cleaning up the mess is a different story. As is the three times I’ve washed these towels, and, perhaps, my sense of smell. That I continually have to hide more and more and more things from that cat is the biggest loss. We’ll be living in the basement, and he’ll still be finding ways to destroy things upstairs, I’m sure of it.)

I have five big bath towels blowing in the breeze, and also six kitchen towels. And my fear of having them around an open flame has diminished somewhat. But they still stink.

So, anyway, I was outside, and I noticed this. I believe it is a camellia.

I don’t think I even saw this last summer or fall, until we had cut away a few years of overgrowth. It sits along one of the back corners of the house and it’s a bit out of the way.

The blooms might have already had their show and come and gone by the time we arrived last summer, too. (I confess to not knowing the calendar of every plant under the sun under the dim gray clouds.) But! It’s going to be beautiful in just a few more weeks, you can tell already.

I wonder what color it will be. I wonder what else we’ll discover when the flowerbeds start their show.

This is what it looks like outside. Also, this bird was circling me, until I pointed at him. He moved down the street on the next gust of air. All casual like.

“What? Me? It’s just the thermals, baby …”

Anyway, grading stuff. I hope to wrap up this round of grading by tomorrow, after which we’ll be precisely halfway through the term.


I just tallied, and removed, the total number of things that leaves to assign and grade over the course of the semester, and then deleted those two sentences and the final number. It’s not a small number.

You know what is a small number? I’ve been challenging myself on Zwift to ride with a robo-pacer that’s faster than me. Previously I held on to the better bot for 17.3 miles. Today, when I joined his already-in-progress ride, he dropped me after just 2.3 miles.

Still set two Strava PRs, though. One on a slow and steady climb, and another on a sprint that Strava tells me I’ve done 123 times before.

Strava said I hit 30 miles per hour on that sprint. That’s not a small number. Even in the moment it didn’t feel hard. I think the fastest sprint I’ve ever produced was about 36 miles per hour on a false flat and probably a tailwind, so that’s why I kept waiting for the other people’s avatars to keep trying to come around me, but no one could, which is nice. I won a 500-meter sprint that means absolutely nothing!

Thursdays are all downhill after that.