Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Basis point

Who uses it: Economists and financiers
What it means: 1/100th of a percentage point. When the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee votes to change interest rates, they usually do so by 25 or 50 basis points, which is 1/4 or 1/2 of a percent.
How you can use it: To make small amounts sound much bigger. "Okay, maybe our productivity has only increased by half a percent, but that's 50 basis points!"

Today's term is in honor of Alan Greenspan, who leaves the Federal Reserve today. I feel downright superstitious about that; he's been at the Federal Reserve for longer than my 18-year-old nephew George has been alive.

It's a pretty big news day otherwise, too. Coretta Scott King has died, and my heart breaks for her family, and for the movement that has lost its matriarch. A former postal worker has reinforced her occupational stereotype by killing herself and six co-workers, in California. The Oscar nominations are due later this morning, and President Bush delivers the State of the Union address tonight.

Despite all that, this story gets my vote for news item of the day. From the AP:

A visitor to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, got tripped up by his own shoelace, tumbled down the stairs and fell into three ancient Chinese vases. The valuable antique vases were smashed into "very small pieces," officials said.

"It was a most unfortunate and regrettable accident, but we are glad that the visitor involved was able to leave the museum unharmed," said the museum director, Duncan Robinson.

"They are in very, very small pieces, but we are determined to put them back together," said Margaret Greeves, the museum's assistant director. The three Qing dynasty vases dated from the late 17th or early 18th century.

The museum, kindly, did not release the name of its clumsy visitor. I'm guessing it was Bean.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Grandfather paradox

Who uses it: Physicists and science-fiction writers
What it means: An argument against time travel -- if you could travel back in time and kill your own grandfather before he met your grandmother, you would never exist, so you would not be able to kill your grandfather.
How you can use it: To make yourself dizzy.

I'm fond of time travel stories -- Jack Finney's Time after Time and Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog are my favorites, and I admit that I love Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, too.

Kevin Wignall, on his Contemporary Nomad blog, recently posted the advice his time-traveling self might give to his younger incarnations. My advice to my younger selves probably wouldn't be that different from the advice I'd give myself right now: 1) you are not as central to the process as you'd like to believe; 2) everything manages to work itself out, the vast majority of the time; 3) don't let yourself get too isolated; 4) ask for help, dammit.

If I could travel back in time, I wouldn't bother with anyone as boring as my younger self. I'd pillage with Vikings, or sit in an audience at an Oscar Wilde lecture, or consult the oracle at Delphi (although, if I were coming from the future, I'd already know the future, so what would be the point of that?). Where would you go, in the Wayback Machine?

It snowed at least four inches overnight, and the snowplow man came to my parking lot at 5:30 a.m. When he comes during daytime or evening hours, he honks for the residents of this building to move our cars; wisely, he did not honk at 5:30 this morning.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Frost heave

Who uses it: Roadbuilders and drivers in New England
What it means: An upthrust in the pavement, caused by water freezing underneath.
How you can use it: To discuss why winter makes the roads bad.

Sugarloaf Mountain is an easy drive from Gardiner, right up Route 27 through some beautiful countryside: Belgrade, Farmington, Kingfield. I don't really ski -- and the Lechners reported that the runs were seriously icy this weekend -- but I'll go back soon, I think, for skating and snowshoeing and maybe some cross-country skiing.

The Lechners and I saw Assembly of Dust and Big Head Todd & the Monsters last night. Big Head Todd did an excellent version of "Bittersweet" and a fascinating cover of "Mona Lisa," but I'd rather have listened to a full set of Assembly of Dust. They describe their music as "hick funk," and I'd file them somewhere between The Band and Bare Naked Ladies, with a lead singer who sometimes sounds like Neil Young. They're playing Portland in late February, and I'll try to be there.

It was good to be away for a couple of days, or maybe it was just good not to be alone. Solitude is a good thing and something I prize, but this week's made me consider that it's not necessarily the best remedy for sadness.

Happy Chinese New Year, everybody. Dizzy trusts that you'll all make the most of this Year of the Dog. (Not, of course, speaking culinarily.)

Friday, January 27, 2006

K number

Who uses it: Classical musicians and fans of Mozart
What it means: A number assigned to each of Mozart's works by Ludwig Koechel (1800-1877), who was the first to catalogue Mozart's works. The Koechel catalogue assigns each work a number, based on what Koechel believed to be the chronological order of composition. K.1, an andante piece in the key of C, was apparently written in early 1761, when Mozart was five years old; K.620, The Magic Flute, was written in 1791.
How you can use it: To discuss Mozart with the experts.

Today is the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birthday. My friend Eileen and I visited Mozarts Geburtshaus (his birthplace) in Salzburg back in 1992, and the Schulzes and I saw his residence in Vienna, a few years later. Neither made a huge impression on me; I have a much clearer memory of how shocked I was to see the McDonald's in Salzburg, just a few doors down from Mozart's birthplace.

I like the play Amadeus not because I feel interested in Mozart himself, but because it makes the point I always want to argue about this fascination with the personal lives of artists and celebrities.

Isn't the point of artistic endeavor to make something that stands outside our feeble human selves? If that's true, why would we want to know anything about the artist, and how could that information be relevant to the art itself? I don't need to know that Picasso was a jerk, that Graham Greene treated women badly, that TS Eliot was an anti-Semite, or that Joan Crawford was an abusive mother... if I'm paying close attention to their work, all of those things are pretty obvious, and none of them detract from the power of their work. I don't need to see Mozart's chamber pot to love Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and in fact, I'd rather not.

Ah, I'm ranting again. I must be feeling better... I have spent the last week in a strange sort of paralysis, and if I owe you an e-mail or a letter or a project of some kind, I apologize. I've managed to shower and brush my teeth and get the dishes done, and that's about it. Later today I'm headed up to Sugarloaf Mountain with the Lechners, for a couple of days of ice skating and heated swimming pools and very loud music, and I expect to be better when I get back. I won't post tomorrow, but will be back late Sunday.

In the meantime, here's

What I Read This Week

Roddy Doyle, The Giggler Treatment. My mother thought this children's book was hilarious, and I gave it to Our Chris to read while we were in Virginia Beach last week. Then I reread it myself. It's a wicked little story about the Gigglers, who revenge themselves on people who are mean to children by arranging for them to step in dog poo. As a conscientious apartment-dweller with a large dog, I'm a little too familiar with dog poo to find it hilarious, but there's very funny stuff in this book, and it is a nice cautionary tale about 1) being nice to kids and 2) not jumping to conclusions.

J.B. Priestley, The Good Companions. This was the fourth book Mom gave me when I had my back surgery, and another of her favorites. Three unlikely travelers meet up with a "concert party" troupe in the British countryside, and form a new theatrical venture that ultimately helps all their dreams come true. Originally published in 1930 -- with some of the casually racist language of that time -- I believe it's out of print now, which is a shame.

Mary Roach, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. I meant to read this book when it first came out, because Roach's Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers is one of my all-time favorites... but some happy chance gave me this book this week. Roach explores many different avenues of scientific research into the afterlife, from attempts to weigh souls to experiments that artificially create near-death experiences. Roach manages to be both funny and respectful of her subjects, and while she comes to no conclusions, ultimately admits that she believes in something.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Who uses it: Polar researchers and snow adventurers
What it means: "Waves" of snow; ridges of packed, dry snow formed by winds
How you can use it: When venturing out into the tundra.

Jen's snowplow man referred to Monday's snow as "greasy." I was going to use that term today, but found that most people use the phrase "greasy snow" to mean just that: snow that's mixed with oil or other scum on the road. Jen's snowplow man used it, however, to refer to a particularly slippery type of snow, which becomes slick when packed.

Monday's snow was greasy, but yesterday's snow was the "diamond dust" kind. The air was colder and drier, and the flakes gleamed like mica dust on the surface of the snow. Greasy snow is good for sledding and snowman-building, but the shiny snow is harder and rougher, and doesn't hold together as well.

Either way, Dizzy loves the snow. I wondered whether I was projecting my own fondness for snow onto him, but I'm not. At the cemetery yesterday morning, Dizzy could have stayed on the well-packed paths, but chose to plow through the drifts, instead. He likes to dig in the snow, and seems to think it's funny when it gets up his nose and he has to sneeze it out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hail Mary

Who uses it: Football and basketball players
What it means: A pass or shot at the goal that travels the entire length of the playing field or court, giving the thrower enough time to recite a fast "Hail Mary" before it lands
How you can use it: When making one last, desperate attempt at something.

If you haven't already guessed, my mother was a serious sports fan. She wasn't a gambler, and would never have bet any money on a game. For her, it was a vast panorama of human interest, and she was as fascinated by losers as by winners. Well, she'd have had to be: the greatest loyalty of her life, aside from her family, was to the Washington Redskins.

She also rooted for her family's teams -- the Midshipmen of Navy, the Hoyas of Georgetown, the Hokies of Virginia Tech, and the Monarchs of Old Dominion -- and, because she was an American Catholic of Irish descent, she rooted for Notre Dame.

So it was hardly surprising that last night's basketball game between Georgetown and Notre Dame went to two overtimes, before the Hoyas pulled it out. Now that Mom no longer has to worry about having a heart attack, she obviously doesn't mind if her children have them.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Aristotle's lantern

Who uses it: Marine biologists
What it means: The mouth apparatus of a sea urchin, named by Aristotle because it is five-sided, like a Greek horn lantern
How you can use it: To explain the "doves" inside a sand dollar; sand dollars are a type of sea urchin, and those "doves" inside are actually its teeth, part of its Aristotle lantern.

I've never been known for adventurous eating. I survived until my teens mostly on peanut butter and carrots, and pretty much quit eating altogether between the ages of 14 and 16.

It may surprise some family members, therefore, to hear that I have eaten sea urchin. Once, in Grenada, after a couple of rum punches. My friends Carla and Bill can confirm it; they were there. I didn't eat much of it, and what I did eat was part of a heavily-mayonnaised salad, but I ate it. It wasn't bad, although that might have been the dressing.

What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten? Frances Kao, legal expert and co-owner of The Mystery Bookstore, probably takes the prize for strangest thing I've ever heard of: she was given frog's eggs as a delicacy at a banquet in China. As if co-owning The Mystery Bookstore weren't heroic enough...

We got about five inches of snow yesterday, more than anyone had predicted. We're supposed to get more tonight. It's pretty, though I forgot to put the YakTrax back on my shoes last night before I took Dizzy out, and slipped on the hill in front of my apartment building. It was good practice, because I'm going ice skating at lunch today.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Dual controls

Who uses it: Auditors and accountants
What it means: Having two people perform every financial function -- from counting money to writing financial statements -- to keep everyone honest.
How you can use it: Trust but verify.

I'm back in Maine today, trying to gather up the tatters of my routine. I've got some things to do this morning, so it'll be the afternoon before I'm back at work in earnest, sorting through a week's worth of work undone.

Thanks again to everybody for being so terrific this past week -- a lot of you have said, "I don't know what to say," and many have shared their own stories of loss, and all of these messages have let me know that I'm not alone, and I'm grateful.

Jen and Anna met me at the Augusta airport yesterday, and Jen even brought Dizzy in. No one objected; the Augusta airport is literally a Greyhound bus station with a runway behind it, so it's never very crowded. Dizzy seems pretty happy to be home, though he loves it at the Lechners'. (And as a cosmic reward to the Lechners for taking care of Dizzy, Steve's beloved Seahawks triumphed last night. Perhaps Mom has taken over the celestial betting pool. I wouldn't be surprised, though numbers were never her thing.)

I got home last night, put away the milk that Jen had kindly bought for me, and saw this quotation. I'd scrawled it on an index card and tacked it up on my refrigerator in the summer of 2004, after my Aunt Judi died. It's part of the Stage Manager's last speech, from Our Town.

We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars... Everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.

Eternal is too big a concept for my brain, but I can believe in things I don't understand.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

De minimis

Who uses it: Accountants, lawyers
What it means: An amount that is so small that it cannot be considered material (the ten dollars that gets rounded off in a million dollar deal for example.) Activities and amounts that in larger numbers would be illegal or illicit get a free pass if they are of a de minimis quantity.
When to use it: To put little things in perspective.

As in, gee Clair I wish’d that I’d have posted something earlier today! But there are times when weekends seem like more work than workdays, even when a decent part of my day involved going to the movies with my younger daughter and her buddy. We saw Hoodwinked, by the way. And may I say that this movie was ridiculously good? This went so beyond the arch “here’s a joke for you parents” playfulness of the good Disney animated movies (um, the good parts of the good Disney animated movies.) This movie had a song sung by an aspiring actor whose day job was driving a truck that sold schnitzel on a stick. Who can not love that?

So: an early welcome back to the blog, Clair, and not just from me, but from all the readers who rely on you for a daily missive. Please write this blog for precisely the audience you always had in mind….we’re just happy to be in on the conversation.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Pick and roll

Who uses it: Basketball players
What it means: A play in which one member of the team (usually a guard) plants himself in front of a player defending the goal, blocking the defender from getting to the player carrying the ball -- and then rolls around the defender to accept a pass from the ball carrier.
How you can use it: To describe a one-two play toward a goal.

Okay, did you see that game? Did you SEE that game? Any doubts as to whether they show sporting events in Heaven -- and whether my Mom is currently ensconced in Heaven's best sports bar, with a cigarette in one hand and a Gibson on the rocks in the other -- are dispelled completely, now that the Georgetown Hoyas have beaten the #1 team in the country, the Blue Devils of Duke.

On Monday morning, I made two predictions: 1) one of Mom's four unmarried children will be married within the next 12 months, and 2) the Redskins will win next year's Super Bowl. Based on today's performances, I will expand that to predict stellar seasons for all the sports teams Mom followed -- maybe even a pennant for her Cincinnati Reds.

Georgetown v. Virginia Tech in the NCAA final. You heard it here first.


Who uses it: Industrial engineers
What it means: Any built-in method or tool that prevents operators from making mistakes.
How to use it: To refer to your own prophylactic measures for not screwing up.

A traditional poka-yoke could be physically designing parts in shapes that can only fit in one hole (like having different size nozzles for hoses to prevent them from being fitted in the wrong place.) When Toyota was a weaving company it designed looms with automatic shut-off devices triggered by faulty processes.

Yesterday Hetchen was reading a booklet that came with the latest issue of the British music magazine Q. She pointed out a great story, which I have decided is the coolest example of poka-yoke, especially one that has never been identified as such. We’re talking brown M&Ms here. To be precise, as the Thomsons would say, brown M&Ms, or the lack thereof. Ya know that apocryphal tale of rock stars throwing a fit when they discover that the promoter of a gig has failed to remove all the brown goodies from the bowl? Well, apparently it’s not only true, but true for a good reason.

According to Q, which quotes from David Lee Roth’s autobiography, the band Van Halen always insisted on having the de-browned candies in their dressing room prior to a show. In fact, they would write this demand into the contract with the promoter, burying this clause among other more prominent terms. Seeing just one brown M&M in the bowl immediately alerted the band that the promoter hadn’t honored their agreement, and so was likely to fail in more important matters. Q quotes Roth: “So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl….guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.” One gig at which brown candies appeared in the bowl was held by promoters who also failed to check the weight requirements of the stage, which sank under the band’s gear, causing thousands of dollars of damage (though no injuries.)

Man. I guess it really is such a fine line between stupid and clever.

Lucy goes off on a trip for a school project today for a week. Helping her pack, I’m trying to ensure that no mishaps can happen: tag the luggage with the proper information, pack with her with everything she needs. But I jwish there were foolproof poka-yokes to guarantee that everything goes right while she’s away. I know, that’s completely muddle-headed and not even healthy (the girl’s a wise 14 for God’s sake); but I can’t help it. As the French would say, “zat’s life.”

Friday, January 20, 2006

Mise-en-place, or Meez

Who uses it: Cooks
What it means: The carefully prepared setup of spices, cooking oil, softened butter, rough-cracked pepper and other essentials laid out by a cook before a shift.
How to use it: As a proxy for the readiness and attitude of an individual at work (on anything).

In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain compares the state of a chef’s meez to his state of mind. “The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it: you know where to find everything with your eyes closed, everything you need during the shift is at the ready at arm’s length, your defenses are deployed. If you let your mise-en-place run down, get dirty and disorganized, you’ll quickly find yourself spinning in place and calling for backup.”

Two things call this passage to mind. First of all, my own sorry mise of a desk. While I think that the state of my desk and the pace of my productivity are to a degree inversely proportional, over the long term the only way to get things done is to have an ordered environment. Never mind the fact that writing this post required me to dig through piles of books, set aside piles of paper, and topple other neatly-ordered oblelisks of crap atop my desk. Soon I shall find order.

The other reminder of Bourdain’s great book comes from my current new reading love, The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine, by Rudolph Chelminski. The kitchen thing that is. This great book lovingly recounts the story of Bernard Loiseau, an ambitious and exceedingly talented French chef who earned the fabled three stars from Michelin for his country restaurant, and then committed suicide when confronted with the pressures and the threat of negative press that may have lost a star. This book is a perfect blend of story-telling and reporting. Chelminski uses his deep knowledge of French cuisine (not to mention his personal relationships with many of the main figures) to share a great biography of Loiseau; and in so doing he shares amazing details about the role and power of the Michelin guide in France, the culture of a traditional French kitchen, and above all the rigor necessary to produce French cuisine of the highest quality. I’d be through with this book if my daughter Lucy wouldn’t keep taking it from me to read.

Bourdain, by the way, describes the chaos of a chef in trouble as “being in the merde.” My next book (which I completed by the way) is all about the merde, and literally. The Great Stink by Clare Clark is without doubt the best murder mystery set in the sewer system of 19th century London. Okay seriously…it is set in the sewers under the city, but in a good way. Clark brilliantly depicts the life of the sewers under the city—the way they are built, the role they played in spreading cholera, the way that crumbling brick decayed along wall and subchambers, the smell of the wild and varied elements that made their way there. The book is propelled by a gripping narrative involving characters who, for different reasons, cannot stay from the sewers. Yet the star is the sewer system, which functions as both an evocative setting and a moving metaphor. “In the tunnels moral judgments were suspended,” writes Clare. A terrific and thoughtful first novel.

Finally, I’ve been laughing out loud from John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise. There’s simply no point in explaining this book, an extraordinarily detailed—and accurate—almanac of facts that the author has entirely made up. Much has been made of his 700 hobo names. Much should be made of his 700 hobo names. Iowa Noam Chomsky. Constantly Sobbing Forester. Magnetized James. There’s funny, and there’s funny, but this guy is, um, really really funny.

What I Read This Week

I know Tom's going to post his own list later today, but I have a few minutes on a DSL connection, so figured I'd post my list.

When I had back surgery about ten years ago, my mother sent me four books to speed my recovery. I reread three of them this week, and recommend them without reservation to anyone who needs a little mental escape.

P.G. Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves. In which we meet Bertram Wooster, man-about-town, and his redoubtable manservant, Jeeves, and Jeeves ensures the happy marriage of Bingo Little and the continuing bachelorhood of Bertie.

P.G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves!. In these eleven stories, Bertie once again narrowly escapes matrimony, but is ultimately unsuccessful in his attempts to avenge himself on Tuppy Glossop.

P. G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves. Bertram intervenes to save the romances of his friends Tuppy Glossop and Gussie Fink-Nottle, and almost causes the resignation of his favorite aunt's chef, Anatole... but Jeeves, thank goodness, saves the day once again.

I have given collections of these stories to at least half a dozen friends over the years, and am currently missing my single-volume Jeeves omnibus. If you're the friend who has it, I don't need it back; I just want to be sure it has a good home.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Source Reduction

Who uses it: Chemical and environmental engineers.
What it means: A strategy of reducing pollution by redesigning manufacturing or other systems so as to reduce any waste from being produced at all—in contrast to so-called “end-of-the-pipe” approaches that treat waste and pollution downstream.
How you can use it: To refer to a powerful new way of looking at and solving a problem.

Tomorrow I will post a list of What I Read This Week. (Though to be fair, I’m going to call it What I Read This Month. Under my math, one week of reading time for Ellen is roughly approximate to one month of reading time for us mere mortals.)

In the meantime, a propos of today’s quote, I’m going to tout a fairly obscure book, but one which I highly recommend for anyone interested in how a company develops a powerfully new way of operating that creates sustained excellence. I’m writing a proposal for a business book, and in the process realized how much one book means to me. For the past year and a half I’ve studied Toyota, and its famed Toyota Production System, referred to as lean production, and remain in awe of what it does. So here’s a passage from the proposal. To me, one of the most important business books written is Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production, by Taiichi Ohno, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Here’s why:

Toyota is the most successful company in the world of the past 25 years.
Google, Microsoft, and Dell may be sexier, have had better isolated quarters, and symbolize for some a new form of competition. Yet no other company has performed at Toyota’s level in what is arguably the most important industry in the world. The company has grown its market share in almost every country throughout the world, delivered consistently superior performance (i.e. profits) on a sustained basis for decades, and has done so without slipping from its disciplined goals and values.

Toyota is the most teachable company that matters.
As opposed to trendy Quantum laws of competition—i.e. those that guide a miniscule number of companies who don’t operate in our Newtonian world, the Toyota principles are crucial to everyone. No major global manufacturer has kept competitive without learning the key principles of TPS. The system is indispensable. Yet this is just the beginning: as Womack/Jones, Spear, and Liker are brilliantly showing, the applications of lean thinking are even more powerful in white collar work such as services and knowledge work.

Toyota’s system addresses the most important challenges for all businesses today.
At its very core, the Toyota system is not about making better cars—far from it. The heart of the system is producing problem-solvers. That’s right, let everyone else talk about empowerment and people and so forth. Toyota’s operations rely on the full participation and development of the people doing the work. The company exemplifies systems doing rather than systems thinking, operational learning as opposed to organizational learning.

In View of the Fact

Sometime late last summer or early last fall, between hospital stays, my mother and I spoke on the phone, and she said she wanted to read me a poem she had seen cited in that Sunday's New York Times Book Review. She couldn't get through it without crying -- I thought about reading it at last night's wake, but I couldn't get through it, either, and neither could my brother Ed (who spoke beautifully last night, all the same).

But I wanted to post it here today.

In View of the Fact
by A. R. Ammons

The people of my time are passing away: my
wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year-old who

died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it's
Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:

it was once weddings that came so thick and
fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo:

now, it's this that and the other and somebody
else gone or on the brink: well, we never

thought we would live forever (although we did)
and now it looks like we won't: some of us

are losing a leg to diabetes, some don't know
what they went downstairs for, some know that

a hired watchful person is around, some like
to touch the cane tip into something steady,

so nice: we have already lost so many,
brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our

address books for so long a slow scramble now
are palimpsests, scribbles and scratches: our

index cards for Christmases, birthdays,
Halloweens drop clean away into sympathies:

at the same time we are getting used to so
many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip

to the ones left: we are not giving up on the
congestive heart failure or brain tumors, on

the nice old men left in empty houses or on
the widows who decide to travel a lot: we

think the sun may shine someday when we'll
drink wine together and think of what used to

be: until we die we will remember every
single thing, recall every word, love every

loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to
others to love, love that can grow brighter

and deeper till the very end, gaining strength
and getting more precious all the way. . . .

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Who uses it: Priests
What it means: Hey I’m just a Jewish kid from the suburbs. I leave this definition to my Catholic buddies.
How you can use it: To describe a moment of sudden and deeply realized intellectual or emotional truth.

Dear Ellen:

Over the past year your blog has become a daily ritual for me. Your primary reader has always been your mom, and it’s striking to me when I go back over prior entries to see how deeply that has informed everything that’s appeared here. So here’s my request:

Keep writing.

I’ll tread water here gladly till you can jump back in and swim the channel. But I can’t imagine you not continuing this. And off course you can, in some ways, simply pick back up where you left off.

Here’s a few words from Clair this AM:

“Went over to the funeral home last night to see Mom laid out. I'm not usually a fan of that, but she looks so good -- so peaceful, and really beautiful -- that I was grateful, and I may spend a chunk of time over there this afternoon. She is so present in this house, and in my mind, that it's hard to imagine her gone. All day yesterday I kept catching myself saying, "Mom knows that," or "Ask Mom what she wants to do."

“In lighter news, I have a story up on Paul Guyot's blog (www.paulguyot.blogs.com). You will probably have no trouble recognizing the one that is mine….”

And as for the idea of epiphany, in terms of keeping with the blog’s theme of finding what you mean to say in what others say, I’d like to cite two crystalline moments.

The first from Joyce’s The Dead. Technically I guess the moment of truth would be Gabriel’s remorseful conclusion “Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age." But for me the true emotion of the story is expressed in the gorgeous final paragraph, one of the most sumptuous and moving conclusions that I know of:

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of the last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

And let’s not forget Yeats’ The Cold Heaven

Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! When the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Phantom Limb

Who uses it: Doctors
What it means: The sensation by amputees of pain or other feelings in the appendage that is no longer there.
How you can use it: To describe that invisible piece of you that's still there regardless of what the eye sees.

Gosh Clair, I wish that I could say that these painful days are the hard part. I remember grief as a kind of fog that comes over you and lasts for days. But while the mist eventually drifts away, the pain (and grief really is just that--a form of pain) stubbornly defies any five-day or five-year forecast. For me, after losing my brother, the hardest days were not the expected ones, such as his birthday, or the day of his passing (and January 16 has officially become a new day of rememberance for you); but the ones where his absence suddenly exploded in me. My first birthday after he died, when he didn't call. Your mind and soul continue to live believing at some level that this part of you still exists, and there's no saying just when you truly digest the loss.

Sorry to talk about me; but grief is so bloody personal. It's universal--but personal. So I won't insult you by saying "I know how you feel," or by looking for upbeat conclusions out of this loss (and that's what it is plain and simple: loss.) If I were to look for palliative takeaways I would remind you of all that is good in your life, in the phenomenal strength of your family, the fact that you got so much from your mother. But...really Ellen, like so many of your friends I am simply reaching out to give you a big hug. I'm sorry for you, and like your lovely friends, am here for you.

That's life, huh. One day you're dancing to They Might Be Giants and the next your mother is gone. As you wrote on this site sometime ago:

Laughter. Tears. Curtain.


Thank you so much, everybody, for all the postings, the e-mails and phone calls over the past day. It means so much to me, and to my Dad, too.

My dear friend Tom Ehrenfeld has volunteered to take over the blog for a few days, because my access to e-mail will be sporadic.

Visitation for Mom will be tomorrow night, Wednesday, from 7:00 to 9:00, at the Bayside Chapel of Hollomon-Brown Funeral Homes. (That link didn't work yesterday; maybe it will today.) The funeral is scheduled for Thursday morning at 10:30, at St. Pius X in Norfolk. Burial will follow at Colonial Grove Memorial Park, also in Norfolk. Dad is asking that instead of flowers, people send contributions to St. Pius X Elementary School, 7800 Halprin Drive, Norfolk, VA 23518.

If this link works, Hollomon-Brown has posted an obituary for my mother here. It should run in the paper tomorrow.

Thanks, everybody. Thank you so much.

Monday, January 16, 2006

No terms today

Although blogs are all about oversharing, there's a lot I don't talk about here. Those of you who know me well, know that my mother has been seriously ill for several years -- emphysema, congestive heart failure, and a variety of other ailments. When I started this blog in the summer of 2004, one of the things that kept it going was that Mom was on a respirator, and I couldn't speak to her on the telephone. Dad would bring her the postings every day, just so she'd know that I was okay and hadn't run amok.

Mom survived that attack, and another one this past summer. She was in great spirits over Christmas, and seemed to have more energy than we'd seen in a long time.

A week ago she went back into the hospital, for what we thought was more or less a routine stay. She'd had a cold, it had turned into pneumonia, she had to go back on the IV antibiotics. On top of that, she developed a painful case of shingles, so they moved her to semi-isolation on Saturday.

But I talked to her yesterday, and she sounded like her usual self: philosophical about her Redskins, aggravated with the stupidities of mass culture, worried about all of us, and funny as always.

Last night, she suffered what the doctors call an unrecoverable stroke. She's on life support right now, and is not expected to regain consciousness. The doctors don't expect her to live through the day.

So I'm flying back to Norfolk. I don't know what will happen to this blog; it's taken on a life of its own, and I know the rest of the family reads it, but it was always for Mom, first and foremost.

I don't know what I'm going to do without her.

Update 9:00 a.m.

My sister Susan just called to say that Mom passed away about half an hour ago. The comfort is, as she said, that we know she is already in Heaven and running things.

Funeral arrangements will be through the Bayside Chapel of Hollomon-Brown Funeral Homes, and I'll post details once I have them. Please don't send flowers; Mom would prefer that you send a contribution to the Davis Corner Volunteer Rescue Squad, instead.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Who uses it: Meteorologists
What it means: A storm with heavy snow and winds of at least 35 miles an hour, and visibility of less than a quarter of a mile.
How you can use it: When the weather gets really bad.

It is not quite blizzarding here. The winds are only up to 25 miles an hour or so, but it's snowing hard, and it's cold again.

The Lechners had a dinner party last night. Grace beat me soundly at Candyland, and after dinner, we danced to They Might Be Giants. "I didn't know they made a children's record," Anna said. "But then, I think of everything They Might Be Giants do as a children's record."

It's why I like them. I have lots of work to do on this blizzardish day, and while I'm at it, I'll leave the nightlight on inside the birdhouse in my soul...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Greenhouse effect

Who uses it: Environmental scientists, newscasters, ecological activists, and Stephen King in Cujo
What it means: The warming of the earth's climate due to the trapping of gases in the atmosphere (water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane), which magnify the sun's warming power.
How you can use it: To explain the weather.

Did you know that the Environmental Protection Agency has a "global warming" site for kids? No lie. The site's pretty balanced, but it makes the greenhouse effect sound entirely benign.

Dizzy doesn't think so. It's 42 degrees out and pouring rain, and almost all the snow is gone. He looks at me with the usual reproach, and doesn't believe me when I say it's not my fault; but I'd prefer the snow, too.

I woke up in the middle of the night with my ears clogged and a piercing sinus headache, and I blame the weather. The headache's backed off some, but I still feel as if my forehead is about twice its normal size.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Who uses it: Stephen Colbert
What it means: A quality of truthfulness that transcends contradictory facts
How you can use it: Welcome to America, 2006.

The American Dialect Society actually chose "truthiness" as its Word of the Year for 2005. Today's term is thanks to Mom and to Jen Lechner, who both suggested it. If you are not yet watching The Colbert Report, you should reconsider your viewing habits.

I have been working flat out since the holidays ended -- so much that I found myself fantasizing about a vacation earlier this week, which is a little ridiculous. Especially since what sparked the fantasy was getting a flyer in the mail offering me a week in Orlando for only $199, in exchange for attending a sales presentation about new time-share properties. What can I say? It was a bad-weather day; I looked at the photograph of this new Marriott property and thought, "Ooh, Florida for two hundred bucks... I could sit through a sales pitch..."

And then I came to my senses and remembered that I don't even like Florida, and I particularly don't like Orlando, which doesn't even have a beach.

Uh, but I do like large European cities, so if you hear of any special deals in exchange for time-share pitches in Vienna or Prague, pass 'em on. (And Schulzes, April in Paris is looking awfully attractive right now.)

What I Read This Week

Deborah Crombie, In a Dark House. Duncan Kincaid's investigation of a series of arson fires intertwines with his girlfriend and former partner's investigation of a missing persons case. This is the most recent book in the series, written about ten years after the book I read last week, and I liked being able to leap forward in the characters' lives -- it'll take some of the suspense out of the intervening books, when I read them, but I don't mind.

Eugene Carr, Wired for Culture: How E-Mail is Revolutionizing Arts Marketing. This was the seminar I attended on Monday, and the two big things I learned from it were: 1) e-mails are far more effective marketing tools than static websites, so a promotional website should be first and foremost a giant funnel for collecting e-mail addresses; and 2) e-mail subscribers like to hear from you at regular intervals, even if you don't have a whole lot to say. Because of my various clients, I subscribe to about a dozen authors' mailing lists, and not one of them sends out regular mailings. My client -- Joseph Finder, author of the bestselling Paranoia and Company Man, and if you don't read his books, you ought to -- will be, so sign up for his newsletter here.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women. Little Women is one of a handful of books I reread every year, because every year, I read it with different eyes. The last couple of years I've read it, it's seemed horribly sad, mainly because it makes me sad for Miss Alcott herself. She never got her own Professor Bhaer.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"All in all not a bad guy -- if looks, brains and personality don't count."

The Movie: Miller's Crossing, 1990 (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, screenwriters; Joel Coen, director)
Who says it: Gabriel Byrne as political fixer Tom Regan
The context: Tom tells Verna about the recently-deceased Rug Daniels (Salvatore H. Tornabene)
How you can use it: If you can't say something nice...

I did not watch James Frey on Larry King last night; I watched Miller's Crossing, for the twenty-somethingth time, on Fox Movie Classics instead. As many times as I've seen that movie, I've never quite decided what it is that Tom Regan wants.

We're having a strange heat wave; today's temperature is supposed to get all the way up to 43. I whine about the cold, but I've grown to like it -- reasonable cold, that is, temperatures in the 20s. Below that, it gets painful to breathe.

I don't like these mid-winter thaws. They make me uneasy; everything gets soggy, and we get sudden clouds of gnats and small flies who think it's spring already. It reminds me of a Stephen King short story called "Strawberry Spring," in which these thaws reinvigorate a serial killer.

Not that we have serial killers in Gardiner. If we did, I'm sure Dizzy would protect me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Dual banking

Who uses it: Regulators and lawyers who work with banks in the United States
What it means: The ability under the U.S. legal system for both states and the federal government to charter, regulate and supervise banks.
How you can use it: When someone asks you what the initials "N.A." after your bank's name means.

For the record, the initials "N.A." stand for "national association," which means that the bank is chartered, regulated and supervised by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. If your bank's name has the word "State" in it, it is regulated by a state agency and by either the FDIC or the Federal Reserve.

The U.S. banking system is an accident of history that comes out of the conflict between two provisions of our Constitution: the elastic clause, which grants Congress the power "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers," and the tenth amendment, which says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The Constitution doesn't say anything about banking, and the states developed their own systems in the absence of a federal one. Our current system looks absurdly complicated to outsiders -- and to be honest, sometimes it's absurdly complicated to insiders -- but it's had the effect of making the U.S. banking system the most open and competitive one in the world. Within reasonable limits, anyone who wants to can put a group of investors together and open a bank, and that's not really true anywhere else in the world.

I'm doing a lot of banking-related work this week, if you couldn't guess, and it's humbling. At one time, six or seven years ago, I probably knew more about our bank regulatory system than all but a handful of people in the country, and that's not an exaggeration. The fundamental dynamics haven't changed much, but many of the rules have, and I have to re-educate myself every time I take on a new banking-related project. It's like coming back to a language I used to be fluent in, but haven't spoken in years. I am no longer a subject matter expert; I'm just someone who knows enough of the words to be able to fake it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Who uses it: Psychiatrists, neurologists, and alcohol addiction therapists
What it means: In cases of short-term memory loss or momentary blackouts, the brain fills in missing information. As a result the alcoholic may not realize he or she has blacked out, and may not realize that the story he/she is telling is untrue, or missing pieces.
How you can use it: When you're making stuff up.

Years ago, I had a friend with a drinking problem -- in fact, to call it a drinking problem would be like calling Katrina a rainstorm. The wife of a mutual friend once talked to me about this person, and casually dropped the phrase "pathological liar." I understood what she meant, but she was wrong. Our friend might not even have realized they were lies. They were stories about things that happened under the influence, and largely confabulated.

Confabulation is the kindest explanation I can think of for the revelations about James Frey's "memoir," A Million Little Pieces. I'm not going to talk about specifics, because I haven't read the book; I picked it up, read the first few pages, and disliked the prose and the narrator so intensely I couldn't continue.

I'm not a fan of addiction memoirs, because here's the thing: addicts lie. Addiction happens for many reasons, some physiological, some psychological -- but addicts almost always turn to their substance of choice because real life is too painful. Lying is part of that, both cause and effect. Addicts lie for the same reasons they drink or use drugs, because they can't or don't want to deal with the realities of their lives. They also lie because they can't or don't want to remember what really happened.

So some of this righteous indignation about James Frey's "memoir" being fiction is naive, at best. As the old story goes, we knew he was a snake when we picked him up.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Real real gone...

to Boston for the day. Already running late. Will post late tonight, if at all. Sorry.

Update 8:50 p.m. ...

Boston was good. The seminar was good. The Amtrak Downeaster is the height of luxury, and "Be Cool" (the movie on the bus back to Portland) is the worst movie I have seen in a long, long time.

Laura Lippman, on her Memory Project blog, asked people to name their personal theme songs. I said mine was Bob Dylan's "Up to Me," but the song running through my head all day today was Lou Reed's "What's Good":

What good's a war without killing
what good is rain that falls up
What good's a disease that won't hurt you
why no good, I guess, no good at all

What good are these thoughts that I'm thinking
It must be better not to be thinking at all
A styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete
no not much, not much at all

What's good is life without living
what good's this lion that barks
You loved a life others throw away nightly
it's not fair, not fair at all

What's good?
oh, baby, what's good?
What's good?
what's good? not much at all ...

What's good?
Life's good
But not fair at all.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Who uses it: Stage crews
What it means: Taking down the scenery and lights after a production ends
How you can use it: When you're taking down Christmas decorations.

Quite a few of my neighbors still have wreaths and ribbons and lights up, though the giant inflatables are all gone for the season. My sister Peggy has neighbors who create an entire holiday city of figurines and inflatables in their yard; I wonder how long it takes them to put it all away.

Did I mention that I'm now on the board of directors of Gaslight Theater? I think they just needed another body, but I'm glad to do it, and maybe this year I'll even audition for something. I spent yesterday morning with other board members, helping them move several years' worth of stored platforms, scenery flats, furniture and props from a barn south of Augusta to a couple of storage units west of Augusta.

The weather was perfect, the first truly sunny day we've had since I got back. I don't think the air temperature rose above freezing, but it felt downright warm in the sun.

It didn't last. The thermometer downstairs reads "4." That's not missing a digit -- it's 4 degrees Fahrenheit outside, which is -16 Celsius, and in case you were wondering, that's very cold. Cold enough to freeze the insides of your nostrils; cold enough to make your feet cold, even inside boots and thick socks. Cold enough to crack the skin on your hands, even inside gloves. Too cold even for Dizzy. It's supposed to get all the way to 34 today, but I'll be surprised.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Who uses it: Carnival people
What it means: A sideshow attraction who earns money by doing truly disgusting things, most notably biting the heads off chickens
How you can use it: Join me in restoring the power of this great word.

I used the word "geek" in yesterday's post, and then I thought about it for the rest of the day. Robertson Davies describes geeking in his novel World of Wonders, but the best description in all of literature is probably William Lindsay Gresham's, in Nightmare Alley -- a classic of 1940s noir that is inexplicably out of print.

I'm not sure how "geek" made the transition from meaning someone subhuman, who'll do vile things for money, to meaning anyone who's spent too much time on one subject. Maybe it's a question of obsession... but my impression of the original geeks was that they did it to fuel drug habits, not because they developed a taste for chicken blood.

Aren't you glad you stopped by this morning?

Anna and I saw Memoirs of a Geisha last night. Gorgeous, but empty, and the happy ending is that our heroine gets to be a businessman's mistress. Hmm.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Twelfth Night

Who uses it: Tudor Britons
What it means: The night before the feast of the Epiphany (January 6), the official end of the Christmas season.
How you can use it: To ask people to take their Christmas decorations down.

I had always assumed that "Twelfth Night" was the feast of the Epiphany itself, and in some traditions it is, but apparently the Elizabethans marked it as the eve of Epiphany. It's supposed to be bad luck to take down your Christmas decorations after Twelfth Night, unless you leave them up until the following Christmas. That would explain those lights that get left up all year round.

It's also Keith Bea's birthday today, so a very happy day to him, and the beginning of a wonderful year.

For the record, YakTrax are excellent on ice, good on packed snow, and useless in fresh powder. We got between three and four inches yesterday, and I fell down twice. Dizzy doesn't even pay any attention any more. So much for training him as a rescue dog.

What I Read This Week

Terry Pratchett, Thud. I admit it, I'm a geek. (Who's surprised about that?) I love the Discworld novels, which may be the most consistently reliable ongoing series in any genre. You don't have to read them in any order, but it helps to know that Pratchett's Discworld holds not only witches and wizards, but also trolls, dwarfs (never "dwarves"), vampires, and werewolves. In this latest installment, Sam Vimes, Duke of Ankh-Morpork and head of the Watch, races to stop an outbreak of interspecies violence that is brewing on the anniversary of a legendary dwarf-troll battle. Meanwhile, werewolf Sergeant Angua overcomes her prejudices about her new colleague, Lance Constable Sally (a vampire); the troll Constable Detritus saves a young troll addicted to Slab; and Commander Vimes has an unbreakable nightly appointment to read his son the immortal book Where's My Cow? -- which turns out to be more important than you could imagine. Where's My Cow? is also available from HarperCollins, and I might need to buy a copy... for my brother Ed, of course, not for me.

On the subject of HarperCollins, the copy of Thud! I read was a printed book, not the advance readers' edition, and it was a mess. I've never seen a commercially published book with more typographical errors. It was really jarring, and many of the errors were in characters' names -- which is particularly tough in a Terry Pratchett book, because characters' names are often puns. Shame, shame, shame, on that book's proofreader, and on HarperCollins for publishing something that sloppy.

Deborah Crombie, Leave the Grave Green. Linda Brown of The Mystery Bookstore recommended this series to me years ago, and I'm just now getting around to it. Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant, Gemma James, investigate the drowning death of Connor Swann, the son-in-law of an opera conductor and his wife, a noted soprano. Connor had been estranged from his wife, Julia, but remained oddly close to his in-laws, whose charm captures even the Scotland Yard detectives. This was an excellent psychological mystery, in the tradition of P. D. James and the better work of Elizabeth George. I'll read more.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Below the line

Who uses it: Filmmakers
What it means: Technical workers and other expenses on a movie, such as sound crews, lighting technicians, wardrobers, drivers, etc. Stars, writers, and directors are "above the line." The "line" is an actual bold-face line on a studio production budget form
How you can use it: When justifying expenses that are crucial, but not glamorous.

I am on a very tight deadline, so that's all for me this morning. It's 12 degrees here in Gardiner, and snowing pretty hard. My hat had about a quarter-inch of snow on it when Dizzy and I got back from our walk. If I get my report finished, I might check back later in the day.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sympathetic ophthalmia

Who uses it: Eye doctors
What it means: Blindness in a healthy eye after injury to the other eye. It can happen years after an eye injury, and is the reason eye doctors often recommend that seriously injured eyes be removed.
How you can use it: When an apparently minor wound has major consequences.

Sympathetic ophthalmia was the reason for Louis Braille's blindness. Today is Braille's 197th birthday, so the term seemed appropriate.

My grandmother Lamb taught kindergarten at the Lavelle School for the Blind for more than 20 years. Grandma was strict with her students, and gave them no breaks or special treatment; her job was to prepare these children for an unhospitable world, not to sympathize or cuddle.

She took my sister Kathy and me to school with her for a couple of weeks when we were very small -- it must have been the fall my brother Ed was born, so we would have been not quite four. I don't remember much about it, but I remember the Braille flashcards, and the Braille labels on the 78 RPM records she'd play. At one point I could recognize several letters in the Braille alphabet, but it was a game I soon got bored with, since I was already reading print.

Fewer and fewer blind people read Braille now, because so much is now available in electronic formats. That's a blessing, but it also seems like a loss -- one more skill deemed unnecessary, like knowing how to use carbon paper.

For what it's worth, today is also World Hypnotism Day. I'm not kidding. I once volunteered to be part of Flip Orley's stand-up hypno-comedy set, and I remember the feeling of being hypnotized as extremely pleasant -- but he'd told me I would, so of course I remember it that way.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Who uses it: Online gamers and computer programmers
What it means: A computer image that represents your online presence
How you can use it: When preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet.

"Avatar" comes from the Sanskrit word for the manifestation of the divine, a face of God. Hinduism considers each avatar a unique revelation of truth.

In our culture, we make avatars of movie stars and sports figures. On the one hand, that's understandable -- they're the faces we see most, outside our immediate families -- but it's also baffling. Movie stars get where they are by pretending to feel things they don't and be things they aren't, and sports figures play games for money. Both groups of people misbehave as regularly as anyone else, if not more often, because they have more opportunities to do so.

It's on my mind because of the two news stories that occupied most of my attention this morning: the miners lost in West Virginia, and Virginia Tech's triumph yesterday over Louisville in the Gator Bowl.

The 13 West Virginia miners went to work at 6:30 in the morning on a federal holiday, in a mine that had received 144 safety violation citations in 2005. The most recently updated AP article I read about the disaster did not give the name of even one of these men.

The Virginia Tech football team played a game in Jacksonville, Florida, before a television audience of millions. Marcus Vick, Virginia Tech's quarterback, stomped on the back of a Louisville player's knee in a fit of pique just before the end of the game's first half.

But -- it hardly needs saying -- Marcus Vick is the one who'll be getting the Nike contract. It's Marcus Vick's name we'll all know five years from now, when no one but their families will remember the names of the lost miners, and most of us will never hear those names at all.

I'm not saying this is wrong, because I don't have the slightest idea of how it could ever change. But it makes me thoughtful, and a little sad.

Monday, January 02, 2006


Who uses it: Philadelphians
What it means: People (men, mostly) who dress up as clowns for Philadelphia's annual New Year's Day parade. The word "mummer" seems to come from the German, but no one knows for sure what it means. Read all about them here.
How you can use it: When conversing with Philadelphians. "Sorry about your football team, but hey, at least you have mummers."

First of all, I want to say: YakTrax rule. I walked uphill through an ice fall this morning, and didn't even slip. Thanks, Jen and Lek!

Second, I am sad to see the holiday season end. I've had an especially happy Christmas and New Year's. Before I take Chris down to Portland -- which will officially end the season for me -- I join Ebenezer Scrooge in his vow:
I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.

Happy new year!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Boolean logic

Who uses it: Computer programmers, mathematicians, logicians
What it means: A system of logic developed in the 19th century by mathematician George Boole, which identifies sets of data by using the terms "not," "and," and "or." If I show you a picture of Dizzy, you can say that Dizzy is NOT a human AND is an animal AND has four legs AND is not a cat, and eventually you'd come up with a list of assertions that will let you prove -- by Boolean logic -- that he is a dog.
How you can use it: When you're puzzling something out.

Happy new year, one and all. Thanks to Jen Lechner for today's term. We had a lovely time down East, bringing in the New Year with Trivial Pursuit, Cranium, and Steve's favorite card/board game, Tock.

The Lechners gave me a most excellent Christmas present: YakTrax, these coils that fit on the bottom of my shoes and allow me to walk on ice without slipping. Everyone in icy climates needs some. I wish I'd had them yesterday, when I slipped and fell in my own parking lot, and banged up my shoulder. It's not just me, either; Jen fell on the Bragdons' driveway, and smacked her head. I thought of offering the YakTrax back to her, but only briefly.