(Probably) My Last Blog Entry

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It’s been a good run–well over 200 posts–but I think it’s time to hang up my spurs as a blogger. The truth is, as I age I’m less interested in writing blog posts and fewer people are interested in reading them. At one time blogging, as much of the Internet, was new and fresh, but today blogging seems a bit stale, with the exception of those who write specialty blogs. The generalist has been left behind in the way small towns have been forgotten in the migration to cities.

I would very much like to thank those of you who took the time to read my musings. Your comments and feedback have helped me along the way. If you’re interested in staying in touch, you’ll find me on Facebook.

In fact, Facebook has become my new equivalent of blogging. On Facebook I can post and repost interesting articles, thoughts, and humour, and it reaches more people than Silver Bullets ever could.

Although I have a Twitter account, I don’t tweet much. I don’t find myself simpatico with the service as a communication tool, though I like it as a newsfeed for various publications.

My activity on Flickr will pick up now that winter is finishing and it’s comfortable to get out with my cameras again. I also keep a modest set of scientific and engineering images in Pinterest.

Reading and music occupy much of my time these days, especially guitar playing. A new MacKenzie and Marr parlour guitar (Opeongo model) is my latest acquisition.

So, in all probability, this is my last post. I leave the door slightly ajar because … who knows? Thanks again for taking the time to read my posts.

May good light follow you always.

Returning to Port

Purple Monarda

I feel I’ve been at sea, drifting on the currents and tides and going where the wind blows me. The past six months have been filled with reading and the study of math, but very little writing, with the exception of my personal journal.

What I’ve been lacking are projects, other than working in the garden. I’ve not worked up any photo projects or writing projects for some time. There are times in your life when you just aren’t ready to undertake any and this has been one of those times for me.

Lately, though, the writing urge has returned and, with the spring flowers, the urge to take photos. I just finished an article for Small Print and I’m looking at some of my dormant writing projects to see if I want to resurrect any of them. I’ve also been taking the guitar out of its case more often, building a new set of calluses for playing.

The highlight of the spring was a family visit I made to Arkansas to see my brothers Jim, Howard, and John, and my sister Lori. They were all looking good and we laughed and overate with abandon.

Next time I’ll talk a little more about Small Print magazine and my role in it. For now I’ll just say, it feels like the ship has come into port and I’ve been granted shore leave.

Day of Change

Obama 2008 (by StarbuckGuy)

I had a different entry ready to post today, but after watching the inauguration of US President Barak Obama, I thought it more appropriate to acknowledge this fundamental change in American politics.

I have little to add to the extensive media commentary about today’s event other than I thought his speech was feisty and deep felt.

Two things in his speech struck a deep chord in me:

  •  “We will restore science to its rightful place.”
  • … in speaking of faiths he included a wholesome reference to “nonbelievers”

I don’t know how realistic it is to expect major changes, but he has brought hope, and that’s a major change after the Bush era.

Remembering Trig

Trig Function (by StarbuckGuy)

I went through school before the ‘new math’ arrived. Grades 1-12 focused on arithmetic, including the rote memorization of the multiplication tables, which occurred in Grade 3. I don’t recall a lot of specifics but I remember being bored to tears by arithmetic homework. As the grades progressed the columns of numbers to add became deeper, and long division got … longer. (Electronic calculators hadn’t yet been invented.) By Grade 8 I was sick of the whole thing, despite getting straight A’s. Looking back, I rather wish some of that ‘new math’ had trickled into our curriculum for at least Grades 7-8.

Then I graduated to high school and landed in algebra class. I couldn’t believe it. Math was suddenly exciting and novel. Solving equations for those mystery numbers, the x’s, y’s, and z’s — I was blissed out. I fell completely and totally in love with algebra.

Second year high school brought plane geometry. I had a sense of distrust about geometry before I even took it — a foreboding that it was going to be supremely boring. The prophecy was fulfilled. I intensely disliked geometry, even while acing the course.

Third year high school: advanced algebra. Back to my first love and it was sweet. The equations got tougher but deliciously solvable and I enjoyed the ‘story problems’ — like the ones about trains going different directions and speeds and where would they meet? My greatest high-school achievement was scoring 100% on the advanced algebra final exam.

Year Four was different. Being university bound, students in Year Four math received a hodgepodge of more advanced maths, including spatial geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. Spatial geometry surprised me. It was fun — more like problem solving than memorizing axioms. Calculus was exotic, and scary. But Trig, my oh my, trig hit me the way algebra first did. It was amazing.

Sines, cosines, tangents, arcs, radians, and all those wonderful Greek letters — all the Φ’s, Θ’s,  Δ’s, and Σ’s that replaced the x’s, y’s, and z’s of algebra — great stuff. I’m not sure why this has resurfaced in my memories after all these years, but for me, at the time, it was a heady experience.

Now if all this makes you think I must have been a real nerd, you’d be very close to being exactly right. Almost. But the strange thing is that despite my science/math orientation (I was going to become an engineer), my best subject of all was English. And that world was less nerdy and more explorative of the human condition, which for high school nerds, meant getting to talk about poems and novels with some of the school’s very pretty girls.

Things changed when I went to university. I started out as an Engineering student, but was doomed from the start: I bought a guitar and learned how to finger pick. I began learning Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Peter Seeger, and Tom Paxton lyrics.  I became a folk singer. It was life changing.

In second year university, to the amazement and total bafflement of my older friends and family, I switched majors to English. I never looked back, and never had a moment’s regret.

But I still recall the thrill of trig.

P.S. If you ever loved trig, you might find this enjoyable: Dave’s Short Trig Course

William F. Buckley, R.I.P.

When the icons of your youth die it’s a shock. It’s one of the things you know, logically, will happen and by the time you reach your 60’s you’ve probably lost friends and family, but when your icons disappear, it comes as a jolt to the system. You feel sadness for their passing of course, but it goes beyond that. Certain people form part of the mental map of your culture and your passage through time. They can be actors, sports figures, musicians, artists, writers, professors — anyone who was part of the zeitgeist.

I first noticed this after both Mantle and Maris passed away. I was a big baseball fan in my young years and although I was a New York Yankee hater in those days (after all I lived in Illinois and rooted for the then perennial second-place Chicago White Sox), those two Yankees with their power and their crewcuts and their World Series rings represented, to a kid, the epitome of the game. The game changes, time moves on, but when figures like this are still around, they provide a symbolic living link to an era that was important to you. When they die, part of you dies with them.

Likewise I suffered an unsettling loss at the departure from this life of people like Alan Watts, Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, Glenn Gould, and especially Carl Sagan. Their thoughts, ideas, and art formed many of my precepts of the world.

Recently, we have lost Canadian singer-songwriter Willie P. Bennett, jazz giant Jeff Healey, and American political pundit and conservative thinker William F. Buckley, Jr. All are grieved, but William F. Buckley (called Bill Buckley by his friends) was very special in my life, unbeknownst to him, of course.

A girl I dated in university would often have me over to her home on Sundays for some home cooking. I liked her dad and mom and a home-cooked meal was a treat after a steady diet of food at campus eateries. Her mom, especially, was a woman I respected deeply. She was a born and bred New Yorker transported to Phoenix and never quite accepting it. She’d been raised on symphonies, operas, art galleries, and sophisticated intellectualism and one of the political shows she watched regularly was William F. Buckley’s Firing Line. When I was visiting I would watch as well, first out of politeness, then out of fascination.

I’ve always been at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Buckley. It was the 60’s, just before my tie-dye days, and we were mired in Vietnam and only beginning to improve our domestic civil rights. Nobody with half a brain, I thought, could be a political conservative.

Buckley showed me how wrong I could be. His trenchant wit and biting thrusts and parries with various towering liberals he debated on the Firing Line showed a lively, masterful, playful, magnificent and kind intelligence at work. He was not a crank or a put-down artist like some of today’s conservative radio personalities. I even began reading his columns. I seldom agreed with him on anything, but I loved his style and his sweeping intellect.

This insight, that the Right wasn’t always wrong (or at least not dumbly wrong), helped balance my world view and to this day I never underestimate people simply because they’re conservative. This was Buckley’s second greatest gift to me. His greatest were his performances while debating. I’ve rarely seen his equal.

His third greatest gift to me was musical. Buckley was a devotee of Bach and had in his home a wonderful Bösendorfer grand piano. For one of his birthdays his wife arranged for Rosalyn Tureck, the well-known concert pianist and Bach interpreter (whom Glenn Gould once said to be the only influence on him), to play a series of concerts for her husband and close friends at their home, on the Bösendorfer. These concerts were recorded and issued as one of the Bach and Tureck at Home series by Troy. It’s one of my all-time favourite recordings. If you love Bach, this one is a must for your collection, though this recording is now difficult to find. Fortunately it is also available as Rosalyn Tureck Plays Bach.

William F. Buckley, thank you. Requiescat In Pace.