Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How To Get Manhattanites To Watch the Sunset

As described on the Hayden Planetarium website: 
[T]wice a year ... the setting Sun aligns precisely with the Manhattan street grid, creating a radiant glow of light across Manhattan's brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough's grid. A rare and beautiful sight. 

The so-called "Manhattanhenge" days for 2012 are May 29-30 and July 11-12 (with the super-photogenic half-disk configuration on May 29 and July 12).

CNN offered these suggestions from the planetarium's director:
"For best effect, position yourself as far east in Manhattan as possible. But ensure that when you look west across the avenues you can still see New Jersey," Tyson says. "Clear cross streets include 14th, 23rd, 34th. 42nd, 57th, and several streets adjacent to them. The Empire State building and the Chrysler building render 34th street and 42nd streets especially striking vistas.” 
Sure enough, on May 30, dozens of shutterbugs gathered near Herald Square.  It was far too cloudy for the Manhattanhenge effect, but we all dutifully observed and photographed the sunset anyway.

It was pretty enough, even if not quite as rare and beautiful as one might have hoped.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Pawtuckaway Getaway

This weekend, we tried two different 5-mile loops.  Day One featured spectacular dragonflies.

Designed by Tiffany's?

Petrified car? :)

I just love this - the electric blue body perfectly aligned with its perch.

Lilies on Dead Pond

The water iris in the center is hard to see, but I love the way the reflections came out.

Yellow flowers and reflections

On Day Two, we drove in to the west side of the park, a long bumpy ride.  But it was a great way to kick off the North Mountain Summit loop.  

Day 2 was all about toads.  First we saw the regular size toad.

It tried to pretend it wasn't there, but it didn't leave.

This little guy's presence on top of the rock may explain why the big one was reluctant to leave!!!


We put the key fob as close as we dared, to show scale.

Soon afterward, my camera died.  However, we found our way -- it was more challenging than expected (partially because we were hiking two days in a row), but everyone did really well.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

[Sneak Preview]

Eustace Scrubb's encounter with a dragon takes place in Chapters 6 and 7 of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, out of 13 chapters total; so it is almost literally the heart (i.e., center) of the book.  The experience is clearly life-changing for him, a spiritual transformation and reformation of his character.  But Lewis further emphasizes the significance of the encounter (even for a first-time reader) by building suspense and using poetic devices in setting the scene.  Of course, Lewis already has on his side the element of surprise, since the quest on which Eustace has unwillingly embarked does not, on its face, involve dragons.⁠*  In fact, the only foreshadowing is in the ship’s decorations: a carved and gilded dragon encasing the ship and painted crimson dragons adorning the walls of Lucy’s cabin (Voyage 6, 18, 32).  Lewis builds suspense by bringing Eustace to a deserted valley, far from the others, and alerting him gradually to the presence of some creature.  Eustace first hears “a small noise” behind him that “sounded loud in [the] immenssilence” of the valley (Voyage 83).  He freezes “dead-still where he stood for a second,” then “slewed round his neck and looked” (83).  The wording is poetic with alliteration and repeated sounds linking the words.  The phrase “sounded loud in [the] immense silence” is slow and expansive, due to the assonance and rhyme and open sounds (ou, ĕns) which can be drawn out when spoken aloud.  The phrase “dead-still where he stood for a second” repeats short, closed vowels (ĕ, ĭ, o͝o) and hard, terminal sounds (d’s and t’s) to convey a feeling that forward motion has stopped.  Eustace does not merely “turn” his head to look; his neck turns violently, as if compelled by some external force.  He then sees two thin wisps of smoke coming out of a low, dark hole at the bottom of the cliff, and some movement of the loose stones just beneath the dark hollow “just as if something were crawling in the dark behind them” (83-84).  Lewis has made this unknown “something” as sinister as possible. 

FN*: King Caspian is leading a crew of “about 30 swords if it came to fighting” (VDT, ch. 3) on a quest to sail east for one year to look for his father’s friends, the seven lost lords of Narnia, who’d been sent “off to explore the unknown Eastern Seas beyond the Lone Islands” and never came back (VDT, ch. 2).

Edition Cited: 
Lewis, C.S.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994.  Print.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Weekend Reflections

My weekend kicked off Thursday when I got together with G-san and U-chan to see "Dark Shadows." We met up at the Tick Tock Diner, where I made the mistake of ordering a turkey burger, and they made the mistake of ordering "disco fries" in honor of Donna Summers.  The BLT and BALT were apparently pretty good though - something to keep in mind for next time.

I liked some aspects of "Dark Shadows," but it ultimately left me unsatisfied - feeling as if I'd been slightly cheated, somehow, by this particular celebration of misfits matched.  There's just something disheartening about the combination of relentlessly unpleasant eccentricity + grafted-on happy ending.  There were also some very predictable plot twists.  For instance, I easily guessed what would happen after our hero speaks with the villain in the villain's conference room,  and the little "reveal" at the end (sequels, anyone?) was no revelation.  On the other hand, I didn't foresee the teenage daughter's secret... but I wish they'd made more of it rather than a mere "Booyah!"   Oh well.  

A few scenes from the end of Saturday's unambitious skating jaunt (from 75th down to Vesey Street):

Look carefully for the assisted hand-stand in the center of the picture.  I just love that!!!

View from dinner at Le Pain Quotidien
(that bit of green is the Irish Hunger Memorial) 

Love this intersection of light and surfaces

Illusion of seeing through the clean frame of the building

Irish Hunger Memorial

On Sunday, I spent several hours in the evening reading on the rooftop for class (and for the paper I will present at Mythcon).


Nice contrast between distorted and pure reflections.

Reflected sunset


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Distracted by Grace

This morning, I got to church on time (yay me!) and sat in the front row, strategically near and almost behind a pillar (for a full view + the illusion of non-conspicuousness).  Soon after I sat down, I heard a woman in the aisle suggest to someone to "put our bags in there," and a man squeezed by me, deposited two shopping bags, and left.  I was wondering for a while if I ought to be nervous about unattended bags, but just as the service was about to begin, the man and woman came back in and joined them.

The woman promptly began clacking away on her hand-held mobile device.  Indeed, throughout the service, the two were almost constantly in motion, frequently texting, whispering, fidgeting, touching each other, adjusting their garments, looking at a watch, trying to melt frayed edges of their apparel with a lighter, etc., etc.  

As for yours truly, well, I am easily distracted.  I was alternating between paying fascinated attention to their conduct, and trying to ignore them and focus on the service (all the while suppressing a smile).  

It was hard to know what to make of these two fellow worshipers, and it would be very tempting to pass judgment on them.  For all I know, they may be pillars of the church - regular attendees, members, significant financial supporters, or even elected lay leaders, deacons, etc.  I had to deliberately hold these possibilities in mind, because I recognize that certain aspects of their mere appearance (tattoos, piercings, casual attire) triggers unfounded assumptions and indeed a degree of prejudice in a traditional church setting.  

But even if they are not regular church attenders, it is worth emphasizing that they -- unlike so many others -- made the decision to be there this morning.  They stayed from beginning to end, even if they perhaps (like so many others) wished the proceedings were shorter or more engaging.  And they fully participated in all parts of the service that called for participation.  

And there was one more thing for which I must praise them, a weakness that turns out, on closer examination, to be a real strength.  Because they were so tuned in on the human level, they were thinking of others a lot more than many church-goers.  After she sat down, the woman asked me if I could see okay from my partial hiding place behind the pillar.  When someone sneezed, the man said "Bless you".  And they thanked me each time I stepped outside the pew to facilitate their entrance or exit.

The restraint that is culturally expected in church certainly makes it easier for others to extract whatever meaning they can from the worship service, and is - to that extent - more considerate of others, and yet this same restraint can easily bleed into self-righteousness and hypocrisy, and it can just easily mask a lack of concern or even deliberate indifference to others around us.  

And thus these two were themselves a beacon of grace for those with eyes and hearts to perceive it.

Oo, Those Awful Explicatives!

An attorney in another jurisdiction was recently disciplined for misconduct which apparently included (among many other things) the use of "explicatives" while he was cursing.

I am trying to imagine* the complained-of dialogue:
So after you've served the effing pleading on our effing opponent, you should take the remaining copy and bring it to the effing clerk of the effing court.  Now, don't get effing confused; this is the courthouse on effing Main Street, the one where the effing clerk's office is on the left-hand side as you enter...

(Although this merely illustrates the use of curse-words while explaining something, so it's not quite right.)

My favorite line from the actual opinion is: "When making business calls, it is not necessary to give grammar lessons, but that is not a sanctionable action."  


FN* In its opinion, the court of course explained in detail the attorney's misconduct, including examples of the profanities uttered and their context. The court concluded that the attorney exhibited a pattern of conduct that showed indifference to his legal and ethical obligations, as well as a "debonair nihilism" with respect to moral principles and the feelings of others.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Done, and Done.

(Following my earlier post, I organized my electronic files for ease of reference next semester, put away my clothes, washed the dishes, dropped off 1.5 suits with the dry cleaners, met up with a friend for baked goods, went rollerblading while listening to one of the books I need to read for next week, dined at Le Pain Quotdien, and cashed in my free movie ticket to watch The Avengers again.  I was pretty tired when I watched The Avengers, and had some trouble remembering why I thought I should give it a second viewing ... until I saw the closing credits.  Joss Whedon.  That's why.)

Procrastination and the INTP

"Omnipotence is most omnipotent when one does nothing!"
     --Stanislaw Lem, The Cyberiad
There are several things I have in mind for this morning, several options to spend my time in ways that are fun and/or productive.  Each of them has a claim on me as the "best" way to spend the morning.  I could finish the reading for class next week; I could finish researching and revising the paper I'll present at Mythcon in August; I could do the dishes, put away my clothes, do a spot of vacuuming; I could go rollerblading; I could shave my legs; I could drop off my suit for dry cleaning; I could write a thank-you note; I could go to the gym.  Many of these I could do outside.  And then in the background, there are other things, bigger things, related to making decisions about whether to rent, and where; whether to sell, and when; and how to make something of my life.

As always, making any one choice of what to do, no matter how trivial, forecloses other choices for how to spend that time.  And yet the hourglass runs even when I don't make any particular choice.

So I've spent the last 3.5 hours in a desultory fashion, having some breakfast (oatmeal, fresh strawberries and blueberries, a coffee smoothie), reading a bit of The History of the Kings of Britain and the (ugh) graphic novel version of The Last Unicorn (iTunes, you betrayed me!).

To remove paralysis, probably better not to ask "What is the best way to spend the day to take full advantage of my free time and the glorious weather?" but instead "What do I want to accomplish today?"  Ick, that sounds so modern and self-helpy.
"... thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action."
-- Billy the Bard, Omlette (or something like that - one of his more popular works anyway)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Days Are Just Packed: Pawtuckaway, Wizard of Oz, and Aunt's Day

 I got to spend time with my family over Mother's Day weekend, which was just wonderful.

Saturday was gloriously sunny, and my parents and I decided to return to Pawtuckaway State Park for a bit of a mosey on the way to see my elder niece appear in the Wizard of Oz.

Unfortunately, what with the late start and some minor navigational snafus, we didn't quite reach the Boulder Field this time before we had to head back.

We spotted one wild animal this time:

A beautiful striped and checkered snake

A sylvan scene 
This is the pond we mistook for Dead Pond last time.  I don't think it's Round Pond either.  

The boulder crack'd

We got to the performance hall just as the show was about to begin; luckily we knew one of the performers, and her sponsors very kindly reserved seats for us right up front.

Auntie Em, despite her youthful appearance, was an excellent actress who channeled just the right note in her interactions with Dorothy.  (She has clearly been paying attention to the way grown-ups talk... Maybe we should be more careful!)

Auntie Em and Uncle Henry

The tornado hits

Toto was the narrator and very nearly star of the show

The lollipop guild in striped shirts and yellow baseball hats; they were very convincing munchkins!

The Mayor in red tux and her blue-tux'ed escorts (perhaps the City Council?)

A grove of apple trees, who will soon be tricked by the scarecrow into giving up their apples

A non-lion, non-tiger, and non-bear.  Oh my!

The production was very fun overall, with lots of excellent performances.  We didn't see a lot of the Wicked Witch of the West, but she was really having a blast with that role, and she gave us the best live  performance of melting away that I've ever seen.  (Accomplished with creative use of the performance space, rather than any high-tech wizardry or special effects.)  

The older kids presented flowers to the director and other grown-ups involved with the production afterward.  

All's well that ends well!

Afterward, a few of us went to Otter Pond (which is bursting with bullfrog tadpoles just now, as well as crayfish and the occasional salamander) and then for a short stroll through the woods to build up an appetite for the  cookout (featuring exquisitely grilled chicken, a really tasty salad, and cheesecake - yum!).

My nieces also presented hand-made cards to all the female relatives who were in town for Mother's Day.  The visiting mothers included two grandmothers and an aunt, as well as their own mom.  So this was already a lot of work!  But they also (perhaps at Ruth's suggestion) decided to include me, which was very, very sweet of them.  So to my tremendous surprise and delight, I received one card wishing me a Happy Aunt's Day, and another wishing me a Happy LLS Day.  Swoon!  ♥♥♥

It was lovely to spend some time with my parents as well.  They are so good to me!  My mom made waffles and biscuits for breakfast, which I never have in NYC.  I gave my mom some fancy-schmancy olive oil I'd heard about on Splendid Table, which (fortunately) seems to be every bit as good as it was cracked up to be.

On the way home, I started my final exam.  I had a choice of answering either of the two randomly assigned questions (out of an original set of seven questions we were given in advance).  As it turns out, they gave me a choice between my favorite hoped-for question and my least favorite and slightly dreaded question.  So the choice was easy!  I had 24 hours to complete the exam, but turned in my 1,500-word essay just 14 hours later.  The hardest part was paring it down to 1500 words... I had to cut out a lot, and move a bunch of cool stuff into the endnotes.  Oh well.  I suppose that's a good problem to have!