Sep. 28th, 2013 04:37 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I'm reading Phineas Finn, the second of the Palliser novels.

There is a major character named Robert Kennedy.

Given that Finn and several of his friends and allies are Irish, this is not a huge coincidence, but it's still slightly disorienting to someone who actually remembers June 6, 1968.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Lying in bed last night, for some reason I began thinking about my parents' library. I remember a small cupboard in a hallway, filled with books. (That can only have been temporary; we moved so often, as my father was transferred from base to base. I don't know which place we lived that was.) Most of them were my mother's, but a few must have been dad's. There was a small but thick volume of Audubon's bird paintings, and a beautiful copy of Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat. (I still have that one.) I remember an autobiography (presumably ghost-written) of Rogers Hornsby, and a historical novel about Shane O'Neill. There was The Man of Iron, another novel, which I hazily remember as having been written by a relative. There were a couple of Frank Slaughter actioners - Epidemic!, which I read, and The Gelignite Gang, which I didn't. I thought Epidemic! was pretty good, but that was maybe forty years ago; what I'd think of it now, I have no idea. I think there were a couple of Saul Bellows: Herzog, maybe, and Mr. Sammler's Planet. I didn't read either one; I seem to recall thinking the latter was science fiction. There was Uncle Wiggily, which I loved as a child ("Katy did! Katy didn't!"), and the original of Bambi. (The movie had one heartbreaking scene; the book had several, including the sad fate of Bambi's friend Gobo. I also remember the scene in which the awestruck Bambi and Gobo saw the stags, and the closing scene, when Bambi himself became one of the stags.)

Elsewhere, there were our reference books. Our home (it seems in retrospect) was filled with encyclopedias: the American People's Encyclopedia, the Book of Knowledge, Encyclopedia Americana, World Book, later the Britannica, and the two-volume Columbia Desk Encyclopedia. There was The Dictionary: two enormous volumes, their pages including gorgeous color prints: butterflies, sea shells, flags of the world.... I spent many leisurely hours browsing in all of these, poring over tables of the common diseases of alfalfa, of the taxonomy of insects, of the chemical elements; reading my first poetry - "Ozymandias" and "This Too Shall Pass", as well as doggerel playing with the names of punctuation marks ("You'd be a jack * it"); looking at pictures comparing the distances to the planets and the nearest stars....

Gone, almost all of it. Gone too are most of the books I bought from the Science Fiction Book Club (I still have the first Science Fiction Hall of Fame, one volume of a two-volume Groff Conklin anthology, the Foundation Trilogy, and a handful of others). Withered leaves of my childhood....



Jan. 28th, 2011 08:52 am
stoutfellow: (Winter)
Twenty-five years ago today, I was waiting my turn in a barber shop in Tucson. At the other end of the shop was a small TV, fastened high on the wall so that everyone could see. It was too far away and tuned too low for me to hear, but I could see it well enough. This is what I saw.

A bright blue subtropical sky. A thick column of white smoke rising into the sky, with a blindingly bright spot of light atop it. Rising, rising... and suddenly splitting into a Y-shape.

It would be some time before I found out just what had happened, but my immediate thought was "Oh, my God...."

Where were you, and what do you remember?
stoutfellow: (Winter)
Some people on the LMB list are reminiscing about their memories of the day JFK was assassinated. I have no memory of that; I was a month or two shy of my fifth birthday. I do remember, however, being taught (in school) a song that was basically his "Ask not..." set to music, and it must have been around then. It occurs to me to wonder if that might not have been after, or even in response to, the assassination.

Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis also died that same day.


Oct. 18th, 2010 03:49 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I don't know what prompted the memory, but yesterday I found myself thinking of Luke. Luke was one of the family dogs in my childhood - well, my early to mid teens, I guess. His ancestry, we never learned; he was long-legged, a galoot of a dog, very strong, not too bright, patient yet firm with obstreperous younger dogs. He also played a role in binding together what was to be our extended family; one of my brothers-in-law-to-be used to roughhouse with him, and called him a raucous animal, while another won over my previously-dubious father by his quick, selfless, and successful action the day Luke was hit by a car.

But the story I want to tell is years earlier than that, when Luke was still a rotund puppy. (The incident I'm about to recount may not have happened; I remember it vividly, but no one else in the family seems to. It may be a fabulation, but after thirty-plus years, who can say?) In his puppyhood, Luke was a digger, and there was one spot in the front yard he especially favored. He would dig his hole; one of us - my mother, I would guess, most often - would fill it in; he would return, and the cycle would repeat. Finally, my mother tired of the game, and went out and bought a spray-can of dog repellant. She refilled the hole, then sprayed the entire area liberally with the contents of the can. We then retired to watch. Soon enough, Luke came ambling over. He caught a whiff of the repellant and shied back; then, determinedly, squeezed his eyes shut, cranked his head around to avoid the stench... advanced, and resumed digging.

I swear I remember this.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I've moved on from Forge of God to the sequel, Anvil of Stars, and just ran across a casual mention of playground games - dodgeball, in particular - and it got me to reminiscing.

Dodgeball has a reputation of being a game for sadists. (Cf., for example, the Buffy episode "The Pack".) But I always enjoyed it. Don't say it; I rarely tried to catch the ball, let alone throw. I dodged, and I was good at it. I was a skinny little kid, and I've always had good reflexes. I got hit, of course, but not as often or as hard as other people.

The playground game I enjoyed most, though, was British Bulldog. The idea is this. All of the players but one line up on one end of a roughly square field; the other, the Bulldog, waits in the middle. On signal, the other players try to race across the field, while the Bulldog tries to catch one. Anyone who is caught and lifted completely off the ground has to join the Bulldog for the next round. Once there's more than one, they can work together or separately, adding to their number. The last person caught, after however many rounds, gets to be the lone Bulldog for the next game. We used to play it after Scout meetings, sometimes.

I got to be the Bulldog a lot. I wasn't that strong, but I was wiry, and I'd keep a foot, a hand, an elbow on the ground until I could twist free - and a lot of the time, I could. I'm still kind of proud of that (long since lapsed) ability.

Anyone else have fond memories of playground games?
stoutfellow: (Winter)
The old "first line, first post each month":

January: "At this point I have to recap a little bit of philosophical history."

February: "Tuesday, at about noon, the temperature here was around 60F."

March: "Does anybody else remember the short-lived TV series 'Frank's Place'?"

April: "The development of quaternions was only one of several more-or-less independent events in the rise of abstract algebra."

May: "I just got word on Ben's biopsy."

June: "I was going to write a 'things I didn't know' post, briefly discussing three or four things I've learned or noticed lately."

July: "This is somewhat embarrassing."

August: "Just a quick note to say that I'm in San Diego on the second leg of my vacation."

September: "It's been a long time since I last read anything by Avram Davidson."

October: "In the spring of 1994, I went down to the Humane Society to get a companion for Murphy."

November: "In a comment to [ profile] jrittenhouse, I mentioned that I was considering revising the Keyword system in my library database."

December: "Happy birthday, [ profile] commodorified!"


Jul. 26th, 2008 03:08 pm
stoutfellow: (Murphy)
Memories )
stoutfellow: My summer look (Summer)
Brett, at English, Jack, has tagged me with the Eight Facts meme.

These are the rules:
  1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  3. People who are tagged need to write in their own blog about their eight things and include these rules in the post.
  4. At the end of your post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  5. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

Eight Facts )

I don't go in for tagging, so I'll skip #4, but if you're reading this and want to play, feel free.
stoutfellow: (Ben)
I'm not sure what brought this memory to mind, but it amused me to remember it.

Background: it will probably come as no surprise that, as a child, I was fascinated by taxonomy. One of our sets of encyclopedias - World Book, I think - had detailed and illustrated lists of phyla, orders, families and genera, and I spent many happy hours poring over those pages.

Now, since my father was in the Army, my childhood was a peripatetic one, as he was transferred from base to base. When I was about eight, we spent a year at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. We lived at the top of a little hill - or perhaps it was the rim of a small valley; there was a footpath that led downward, at any rate, and at the bottom of the path was a small wildlife reserve. (In hindsight, it probably was more like a tiny zoo than a reserve, but whatever.) I don't recall what-all was there, but I do remember the donkey (relax, C, I won't tell that story!), various birds, and a javelina. We kids frequently trooped down there to look around.

There was a small office building adjacent to the reserve, and for some reason we occasionally went in there as well. In that building was a file cabinet, and on that cabinet was a sign declaring that "this cabinet does not contain classified material".

I can't tell you for how long I labored under the belief that that cabinet contained animal and plant specimens whose nature had not yet been determined. The phrasing seemed odd, but as an Army brat I was used to that...
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
Back when I was in eleventh grade, I took a course titled "Advanced American Literature". I'm not sure why it was called "Advanced"; as far as I recall, it was the only course in USAn literature offered at old Crawford High. In retrospect, I don't think I got a great deal out of that course. I seem to remember that the instructor talked a great deal about symbolism, but I came away with the impression that symbolism was some kind of sekrit code that the author artificially superimposed on the story. It wasn't until a few years later, in college, that I got a glimmering of what literary symbolism really is.

In any event, I'm trying to recall what-all we read in that class. I know that we read The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby. As it happens, I've just reread both of those, and, thinking back, I have to say that I doubt any seventeen-year-old - or, at any rate, I - could really comprehend either story. The Scarlet Letter is meatier, I think; though it is a moral tale, I don't judge it to be a moralizing one - Hawthorne presents the temptations that Hester and Rev. Dimmesdale faced toward the end fairly and realistically. The climax might be a little pat, but not excessively so.

The Great Gatsby... There's something about Fitzgerald that puts me off. The society he describes is brittle and shallow, and I have a hard time empathizing. Nonetheless, I do see (what I think I missed the first time, so many years ago) how pathetic a character Jay Gatsby actually is - how much of his appearance was façade, and how much of his life was built on an illusion.

I wish I could remember what other books we read in AdvAmLit. (DG, if you're reading this, you were in that class; do you remember anything else?)

Glory Days

Feb. 17th, 2007 01:58 pm
stoutfellow: (Ben)
The other day, I was passing through the math office when I overheard one of the student workers talking about a recent sporting experience. Something he said caught my ear, so I stopped and asked what he was talking about. He replied, "Ultimate Frisbee".

After that, of course, there was nothing for it but to tell him (and the other worker who was there) some of my old war stories. The rest - I'll spare you, if you're not interested - is under the cut.

Desk Jockeys )


Aug. 18th, 2006 12:21 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
In - was it 1972? somewhen around there - my Scout troop went to summer camp at Camp Hual-Cu-Cuish, in northern San Diego County. (This was unusual; usually we spent summer camp at Camp Mataguay, in the southern part of the county.) It was an enjoyable and productive camp for me; I earned three merit badges that week, in Basketweaving, Swimming, and Astronomy. (The Basketweaving was a gimme; the camp store sold these little kits, and I think almost my whole troop got that badge.)

At the first meeting for the Astronomy badge, I noticed a Question of the Day on the blackboard: "Define the Universe. Give two examples." Being ornery, I decided to take them up on it. I cobbled together some sort of description broad enough to cover the Ptolemaic and Copernican models, and used those as my examples. The next day, I handed it in to the instructor. He glanced over it, scowled, called me a smartass, and gave me (as the prize) a free bottle of Coke. The QotD the next day was... more serious, and very hard.

I was reminded of this by the recent kerfuffle over the IAU's decision to redefine the word "planet", in such a way as to include the current crop, together with the asteroid Ceres, Pluto's moon Charon, and the Kuiper Belt Object temporarily known as "Xena". It occurred to me to wonder what the point was - why the concept "planet" was useful enough to fret about. Since [ profile] pompe knows more about these things than I do, and since he had just posted about the controversy, I took the opportunity to ask him that question. His answer (scroll down to the comments) is, I think, cogent, and leads to a different and quite plausible definition.

Anyone have any other ideas on the subject?

A Memory

Jun. 25th, 2006 01:37 pm
stoutfellow: (Murphy)
In the summer of 1980, I spent two months roaming around in France and Italy. This is a memory from that summer; things may have changed, but the memory remains.

Remember )

I don't know what prompted that memory, but I felt the need to write it down.
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
Friday. The big event that day was a lunch with D and J, a couple of old classmates. We selected a restaurant near my father's place; J would pick me up, and D would meet us there.

The initial steps of the plan went off without a hitch; J, accompanied by his wife B (a vivacious Argentinean), arrived at my father's doorstep as planned, at about noon.

Unfortunately, the restaurant we'd chosen turned out not to open until 5:00.

When D arrived, a brief conference led us to another nearby restaurant, Millie's Café. (Millie's? Minnie's? Damn. Something like that.) The food there was delicious; I ordered chicken feta penne, which, along with the titular ingredients, also contained pine nuts, tomatoes, asiago cheese, and assorted other goodies. The food was also plentiful. I cleaned my plate (I always clean my plate, which probably has something to do with my inability to get my weight down under 185 lbs), but the others had to resort to doggie bags.

Thirty years is a long time, and memories mutate. An incident or two which remained vivid in my mind had apparently vanished completely from D's and J's (for which I think I'm thankful...), and the converse also held. (J credited me with teaching him the International Phonetic Alphabet in high school, but I have no memory of that. I know that I was thoroughly familiar with the IPA by then, having spent many hours poring over the diagrams in a book on articulatory phonetics and trying to imitate them, but... I said nothing, as his story redounded to my credit, but I felt a little guilty afterwards.) There was a small amount of reminiscence, but mostly we tried to catch each other up. Lots of travel stories; culture shock (B's, on coming to the US; D's, on returning from a year in Brazil); work stories (J promised to send me some references on sea shanties and other folk music)... It was remarkably comfortable. J is involved in music these days - helping with arrangements by day, performing, when possible, in the evening - which doesn't surprise me; D got a degree in physics and is apparently still involved in it, but I don't recall her actually saying what she did these days. Other classmates drifted in and out of the conversation; there were a scant handful we could place, but most of it was of the "where is...?" variety.

Say, whatever did happen to...?
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
Via [ profile] cynthia1960: Octavia Butler has died.

She was never among my favorite authors - I've never been sure that I liked her work - but she was among my most-valued authors, if that distinction makes any sense. Her works were challenging, packed with ideas, and - often - extremely disturbing. I never read the "Parable" books and feel no great desire to, but the books I did read - Clay's Ark, Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Patternmaster, the "Xenogenesis" trilogy - keep drawing me back.

Ave atque vale, Ms. Butler.
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
There's a quiz floating around, where you identify which US states you've visited and get back a map of the US, with those states picked out in red. Now, I'm a born nitpicker1, and my training in mathematics and linguistics only made things worse.

What does "visited" mean?

I have lived in the following states (5): Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Washington.

I have gone to the following states, with the intention of doing something not transportation-related there, and spent at least one night (13+1): Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin. (DC also belongs here.)

Same criterion, without spending the night (3): Indiana, New Hampshire, Virginia.

I've set foot in the following states, spending the night, while in transit (2): Arkansas, Pennsylvania.

Same criterion, without spending the night (5): Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico.

I've ridden through the following states, without setting foot in them (2): Kansas, Ohio.

Then there's that prenatal time in South Carolina...

So how many states have I visited?

1. When I was a kid - maybe about six? - my sister O. decided to quiz me on my ability to read a clock. She asked (something like) "If the big hand was on the eight and the little hand was on the four, what time would it be?" I answered, "The clock would be broken. If the big hand was on the eight, the little hand would be between the four and the five." For some reason, O. found that answer unsatisfactory.


Sep. 22nd, 2005 09:48 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
I've been tagged by [ profile] allyra: Write 20 random facts about yourself then tag the same number of people as minutes it takes you to write the facts.

Random Facts )

I was never very good at tag, though.
stoutfellow: (Murphy)
I've alluded to this story a time or two on the Bujold list, and once, I think, on LJ, but I thought I'd put it down in full for once.

I don't remember just when what I'm about to recount happened; I deduce, from internal evidence, that I was probably about five years old. I should also mention that I've told the story - to others and to myself - enough times that some fabulation has crept in, so the details should probably be taken with a grain of salt. The core of the story, I feel sure, is true, and the details, if wrong in places, are at least in keeping with its spirit.

I was a voracious reader from an early age, and my parents made sure I had plenty of reading matter. One of my early favorites was Edith Hamilton's Mythology; I read and reread the stories of the Greek and Roman gods (and the Norse ones as well) with great enjoyment.

At this time, my parents (and perforce their children) were regular churchgoers; we attended military churches, which preached a generic brand of Protestantism. This attendance, coupled with my reading preferences, soon led me to a conundrum. On the one hand, I was reading these stories about a large number of gods, with names like Jupiter and Hera. (I knew that most of them apparently had two names; I wasn't clear on why. The very concept of a foreign language was not yet in my mental inventory. I generally settled for whichever name I thought I could pronounce.) On the other, every Sunday I was told that there was one god, whose name was God, and there weren't any others. This confused me somewhat.

Thinking about it, I concluded, something must have happened. The possibility that the old gods had died seemed most likely to me. The Norse myths, after all, spoke plainly of the death of gods. Also, in another book (The Book of Knowledge, which was, I think, a sort of children's encyclopedia), I'd been reading an article about the origins of the names of the days of the week; it included such phrases as Mercurii dies, and - to my mind, as yet innocent of Latin - this somehow supported my tentative conclusion.

Nonetheless, I was still uncertain, so I decided to ask my mother about it. She was occupied with housework - perhaps ironing, perhaps washing dishes; I remember her standing with her back to me, with light from a window framing her. Thus, perhaps, she didn't notice the urgency with which I asked the question. She replied, simply, that they (the Greco-Roman gods) had never existed.

I was stunned. I swallowed dryly, said "Oh", and wandered away. They never existed. Death I was prepared for; not this.

There is a very old Peanuts cartoon. In it, Linus is talking to Charlie Brown about a quarrel with Lucy; he says something like the following. "She said she wished I'd never been born. Can you believe that? Never been born... Brrr! Why, the theological implications alone are staggering!"

Linus, buddy, I know just how you felt.
stoutfellow: (Ben)
I mentioned that I'm rereading a textbook from one of my undergraduate classes. There's a bit of a story behind that.

Ky Fan )

And that's why I'm rereading a textbook I studied from more than a quarter century ago.

Here's to you, Dr. Fan, wherever you are!


stoutfellow: Joker (Default)

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