Since my brain usually does not work in a very coherent or structured way,
it was inevitable that this page should be necessary. Bits and bobs, links, comments, etc.
Don’t worry, I won’t put a bunch of cat photos here.
By the way
For you HTML coders: Did you know that, under very strict rules, you are not supposed to use an h3 heading
without previously having used an h2 and an h1 heading on the same page?
This seems very silly to me. And if you have guessed that this paragraph is here
purely to squeeze in an h2 heading so that I do not have to use the work-around
which I used on other pages (there are too many of them on this page), you are correct.
Thanks to TotalValidator (from Andy Halford) for pointing this out, though I wish I had not
found out about it, as it does not appear to make the slightest difference to real-life browsers.
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy
The dark basement of the museum features
a vast display of glassware by Daum and others. Normally immune to the charms of glassware,
I was very impressed by this huge display. And it is a great place for relief from a blazing-hot August day.
The Old England building of 1899 has a magnificent
glass and iron exterior; the interior is now the home of one of the finest collections of
musical instruments in the world. Museum website
A cross between Art Nouveau and Art Deco, but really in
a world of its own, is the Tuschinski Theatre (opened in 1921). Still a functioning cinema (Pathé),
it is well worth the price of admission to examine the much-altered but restored interior.
The now little-known architect was Hijman Louis de Jong, with interiors by Pieter den Besten and Jaap Gidding,
after de Jong was fired. For more information,
see Amsterdam info and, as with so many things,
the wikipedia article.
The most fabulous object in the universe
I have no idea just what Terry Gilliam would include in the running for this honour,
but mine would certainly include parts of the Sutton Hoo treasure in the British Museum, particularly the
sword mounts. Note that the ‘highlights’ section of the BM website has been moved to the
Google Cultural Institute site—unfortunately not including the sword mounts. Extraordinary beauty on a small scale.
Hôtel Hannon, Brussels
In 1902, architect Jules Brunfaut designed this beautiful house
for his friend Edouard Hannon. The magnificent interior, with stained glass, frescoes, and originally furnished by
Gallé, still has much to see. Now the Contretype Photographic gallery, there are occasional guided tours.
Brussels is more than just Horta—almost-unknown architects created small numbers, or even single examples,
of wonderful buildings, scattered over the city.
Going to London?
Highly recommended, and a truly world-class city, although in the past few years it has gotten grotesquely expensive.
A good guidebook is a wise investment (we have long enjoyed the Eyewitness Travel Guides published by Dorling Kindersley).
A few interesting things which you might overlook:
- Geffrye Museum—features a series of period rooms from 1600 to the present day, showing English
domestic interiors. Not overly far from Liverpool Street Station. Geffrye Museum website
- London Transport Museum—located at Covent Garden, this is an entrancing museum about the
Underground, the Red Buses, and all things transportation in London – and beyond. Includes actual
locomotives, subway cars and horse-drawn vehicles. The website includes lots of photographs and examples of their
famous posters (all irritatingly small, however). There is also an excellent shop. London Transport Museum website
- Linley Sambourne House—one of the best-preserved Victorian homes in the UK, this was the
residence of Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne and his wife Marion, whose diary is a wonderful window
into the Victorian and Edwardian middle-class world (see Shirley Nicholson, A Victorian Household, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1988).
If you are interested in Victorian life, this is a required visit.
Kensington and Chelsea website, where it is listed under “18 Stafford Terrace”.
- Horniman Museum—out of the way, but reachable by train plus bus, this excellent general museum is in an
interesting building, but the main attraction for musicians is the spectacular collection of musical instruments. After the
unbelievable decision by the Victoria and Albert Museum to close down its beautiful instrument collection,
some of it has gone to the Horniman on a temporary (hopefully permanent) basis. Horniman Museum website
- Shakespeare’s Globe—or more correctly, Sam Wanamaker’s Globe.
Located on the South Bank, you can even have the fun of crossing the Thames on the Millennium Footbridge,
which ends a short distance from the Theatre. Arguably the best theatre in the world for early drama,
and worth a visit even if there isn’t a play running. If you like Shakespeare, or would like to
like Shakespeare, this is the place to go. And if you are lucky you may get an opportunity
to see one of the all-male performances. It works. Globe website
How about Cambridge?
Better than the Other Place. And easier to get to from London (only one hour from
King’s Cross). And it has a court for Real Tennis. The official website is
In addition to the standard touristy kind of things
(museums, the Chapel, the Backs, the buildings), try these as days-out from Cambridge:
- Ely—less than half an hour by train, and the walk to
Ely Cathedral, although uphill, is well worth it. Cambridge has no cathedral, and this is the closest one.
Superb building, with the occasional surviving ceiling decorations in the aisles; do not overlook
the separate Prior Crauden’s Chapel. Cathedral website
- Duxford Airfield—officially the Imperial War Museum Duxford,
this is a must-see for anyone interested in World War II aircraft. Includes the impressive
American Air Museum building (have you ever seen a bomber hanging from the ceiling?) and
the Land Warfare building, with tanks and other vehicles. Several flying days during the year.
Reachable by bus from Cambridge, through attractive countryside. Duxford Museum website
- Audley End and Saffron Walden—a strenuous 15-mile cycle ride (each way! –
get a cycling map to pinpoint the route), or take the train and walk from the station. Originally
constructed in the early 17th century, what survives today also includes some beautiful 18th century
rooms by Robert Adam. The estate includes Jacobean stables, a reconstructed kitchen garden and a
Capability Brown landscape. One of the best ‘stately home’ visits in the country.
Audley End website
The town of Saffron Walden is a delightful walkabout, with many fine examples of an East Anglian specialty,
decorative external plasterwork called pargeting. The town also has a fine church, and the
instructive remains of a castle which reveals how castles were usually constructed: all of the outer
finished stonework has been robbed out, showing the original rubble core of the walls.
- Denny Abbey—just a few kilometres north of Cambridge, and reachable by bus,
this is an excellent introduction to medieval buildings and how to read them. The abbey is small enough to be
comprehendable, but has a history which is complex enough to be engrossing. Founded as a Benedictine house in the
mid-twelfth century, Denny was acquired by the Knights Templars only a decade later. With the dreadful suppression of the Templars,
in the early 14th century, Denny passed through the hands of the Knights Hospitallers for a few years,
then became a nunnery for a Franciscan order, the Poor Clares. Most of the Franciscan construction has disappeared,
but the earlier buildings survive in an intriguing mash-up.
A farmland museum is next door, in the Franciscan refectory, long used as a barn.
Denny Abbey website
What’s in a name?
Saffron Walden, mentioned above, is a wonderful name, and East Anglia is full of great names,
often pronounced at odds with the way they are spelled (or spelt). Try these as your home town:
- Orford Ness
- Waterbeach (what other kind of beach is there? Oh – less than a mile away is Landbeach)
- Potter Heigham
- Saxlingham Nethergate, which is sandwiched between Saxlingham Thorpe and Saxlingham Green
- Little Hautbois
- Saham Toney
- Colne Engaine – near, of course, to Earls Colne, White Colne, and Wakes Colne
- Abington Piggots
- Juxta Clare
- Thornham Magna and Thornham Parva
- Belchamp St Paul, alongside Belchamp Otton and Belchamp Walter
- Newton Flotman
- Westley Waterless (the idea of any place in East Anglia being without water is rather amusing)
Those who are still in university, or younger, will find it difficult to believe
the Olden Days of computing: when ‘portable’ meant 28 pounds,
when a 13-inch monitor was a whopper – and without graphics –
and when the operating system was small enough to fit on a floppy disk.
A single-sided, single-density, 191-kilobyte (not megabyte, let alone gigabyte) floppy.
And even then there was plenty of room left over for programs and/or data.
Back in those Dark Ages (1982), we bought our first computer, in order to produce my wife’s
doctoral dissertation without going crazy from re-writes.
Then cutting-edge, and triumphant over the legendary Osborne,
our Kaypro II had the following specs (the ‘improvement’ numbers have been rounded down to lessen the pain):
Then vs. now
| ||Kaypro II ||Current iMac (2014) ||Improvement
|Clock speed ||2.5 Mhz ||3.5 GHz ||×1,400
|RAM ||64 K ||8 GB ||×125,000
|Disk storage ||2 × 191 K ||1 TB ||×2,600,000
|Operating system ||CP/M 2.2, 7 K ||OS X 10.9, 5+ GB ||×–700,000
Is OS X really 700,000 times better than CP/M? The Kaypro featured a spiffy aluminum case,
keyboard including a numeric keypad, 9-inch green-screen monitor, and – a feature of computers
from earliest times – it could be modified, even by someone as ignorant as I. Double the clock speed !
Double the disk drive capacity ! (Those DS-DD floppies, at 390k, were similar in capacity
to the first not-so-floppies on Macs – but 5.25 inches in diameter rather than the Mac 3.5-inch
hard-cased format.) I also added a huge 1-megabyte solid state RAM-disk
(i.e. a bunch of RAM chips on a circuit board), which stayed alive even during warm boots.
All due to excellent articles in the much-appreciated journal Micro Cornucopia, published by
David Thompson in Bend, Oregon. (Reading through the advertisements now is mind-boggling.)
We still have the Kaypro. And it still works. Perfect Writer beats WordStar anytime.
Books are dead, so some say. The people who don’t read, that is; real people
know better. Some of my favourites of recent years (non-fiction, since I rarely read fiction):
- Steven Pinker—any of his books, but I particularly like
How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct. The Blank Slate should be required
reading for anyone involved in education. And The Better Angels of Our Nature has certainly stirred up comment.
(I have not yet had the chance to read his newest book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.)
If you are interested in language or how the mind functions, or just good writing, he is excellent.
And he’s Canadian. His website is at Harvard.
- Jared Diamond—it isn’t often that a geographer gets famous,
but Guns, Germs and Steel did just that. Collapse followed a few years later,
and although not without considerable controversy, also makes fascinating reading.
Try The Third Chimpanzee and his newest, The World Until Yesterday as well. His website is Diamond site.
- Michael Shermer—famous skeptic and ex-Christian, his books are both
fascinating and disturbing; if you like to think people are rational beings, he will dispell that notion!
Try The Believing Brain and Why People Believe Weird Things.
His 2015 book, The Moral Arc: How science and reason lead humanity toward truth, justice, and freedom, is perhaps a bit disappointing,
being over-long and repetitive. Perhaps worth an essay or two, but not a five-hundred page book,
although it is a good companion to Pinker’s Better Angels. Shermer website.
- Massimo Pigliucci—a triple-PhD in genetics, botany and philosophy of science,
and a prolific (and skilled) writer, his Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk makes an excellent read.
He also has several books on the topic of evolution. He seems to bounce around with websites, starting and stopping blogs;
major sites now appear to be plato footnote website, which says the currently updated
site is Figs in Winter
- Daniel Kahneman—Thinking, fast and slow. The 2002 Nobel Prize winner in Economic Sciences
(I love the pretense that economics is a science!), psychologist Kahneman writes extremely well,
and his examination of how we make decisions and protect our biases makes a fascinating read.
A bit of information about him at Princeton.
Being a bit of a curmudgeon, I thought I would include a few railings:
- Imagine, if you will, a time when even a Navy enlisted man could afford to buy a house;
when you could get a 30-year fixed interest rate mortgage;
when people looked at a house as a place to live, not a way to make money. And no, we have
never been able to buy a house. On the other hand, our debt load is zero.
- Much has been written about overfishing and the collapse of several
fishing areas, with more collapsing to come. Some articles even express sympathy for the poor fishermen,
who risk their lives year after year to put fish on our tables. Hooey. Fishermen have no one but
themselves to blame for the situation. Grotesque overuse of inappropriate technologies (gill nets,
drift nets, scraping the ocean floor bare of all life with drags), ignoring
drastic falloffs in catches which clearly signify population crashes, it is the fishermen who are
causing their own problems. Granted, some of this is merely corporate greed being expressed as the industry
moved from individual fishing vessels to large conglomerates interested only in short-term profits;
but fishing requires fishermen, who should have realised long ago that they are cutting their own throats.
- No, it isn’t. A constitutional right, that is. Guns. You don’t have to be a constitutional
specialist to know exactly what the discussion about militias is conveying, and why it was important at the time.
(You do need to know a little about U.S. history, but of course that takes a bit of work.)
It has nothing to do with individuals getting their hands on machine guns.
If you like to play with guns, just say so. There’s nothing wrong with that.
(If you are wondering, I have used an M1, an M14, and an over-and-under .22/410.)
But please stop hiding behind the Constitution. You dishonor an amazing document –
one from its own time, of course, but that is hardly surprising.
- What is it with all the ‘superhero’ nonsense? The appeal of guys dressed up in spandex and bad logos
is totally lost on me. Get into trouble, get out of it with ‘magical’ powers. Whoopee.
And now we have a Black superhero, and a woman superhero. Still whoopee.
- Where has intelligent political debate gone? The days of William F. Buckley are but a memory,
and the right doesn’t seem to have anyone capabable of making reasoned argument or demonstrating rhetorical skills.
If you have to shout your message, it is probably an incoherent, bad message,
and you are probably more interested in making your paycheck even bigger than helping to create a better country.
The left seems to be content with humor, but repeating “what fools these [right-wingers] be”
over and over does not actually get anything done.
I remember when…
- Airlines gave you metal utensils. And allowed idiot smokers to have their way in the closed confines of a long-distance flight.
- Even young children were allowed to walk up the street to school without an adult tagging along.
- Popular toys did not use batteries. Lincoln Logs. Tinkertoy. Etch-a-Sketch. Rag dolls.
Balls that you propelled with your own arm. Roller skates that made so much noise, everyone knew you were coming.
- Making a telephone call to your friend down the street did not require an area code.
- Television networks believed that they should broadcast high-quality news programs, which cost them a fair amount of money, but also brought them prestige. A word which these days seems to be in no network’s vocabulary.
But on the other hand, it was OK to play with a puddle of mercury.
These are a few of my favourite things…
- colour—must be blues, to judge by my shirts. Or perhaps those reflect Pat’s favourite colour?
- food—not really a foodie (my waistline to the contrary), but it is hard to beat a good vanilla ice cream. When we go out to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, it is usually to a Chinese restaurant.
- Shakespeare play—The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Partly because it is a very funny play, partly for historical reasons (1975: music director at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Cedar City).
- city—Vienna. Yes, of course the one in Austria.
- animals—cats of all sorts, domestic and wild, although lions are rather boring as big cats go;
also killer whales, red pandas (much more interesting than their big cousins), pangolins and dragonflies.
Favorites suggests anti-favourites:
- dogs—especially yappy little rat-dogs.
- children—the younger, the worser.
- coffee—and anything which smells or tastes like coffee.
- ‘reality’ TV—in what sense are these in any way real?
- lawyers—for their belief that truth doesn’t matter – or do I need to aim this at trial lawyers?
- social media—put down your devices and go meet real people, for goodness sake.
Pretending you have ‘friends’ because they send you a 10-second message now and then is really lame.
They say that one can tell a lot about a person by their taste in humor.
As usual, They is wrong, but it is nevertheless interesting to compare one’s
humorosity with that of someone else. The following list of TV/film ‘comedians’
or ‘humorists’ covers verbal humor. On the drawn ‘cartoon’ side,
I really like Scott Adams (Dilbert), Gary Larson (The Far Side), James Thurber,
and the wordless Kliban cats. (I also seem to find Edward Gorey rather more amusing than most people.)
Some of these may not be familiar to those of the MTV era, but I am after all an old geezer.
In the “not funny” category, we have:
Burns & Allen,
Cheech & Chong,
The Three Stooges,
and any modern comedian who thinks that foul language is in itself funny.
And in the “funny” category we have:
Stiller & Meara,
Billy Connolly (in spite of the bad language!),
Peter Cook & Dudley Moore (usually),
Sanjeev Bhaskar (and the cast of Goodness Gracious Me),
Fry & Laurie (although thinking of Hugh ‘House’ Laurie as a comedian these days is as difficult as accepting Takeshi Kitano as a stand-up comic),
French and Saunders,
Ricky Gervais (half the time),
Eddie Murphy (in the old days),
Bill Cosby (in spite of current accusations),
Stan Freberg (who deserves to be much better-known these days),
Monty Python and (less so) The Goodies.
So, I lied…
There are cat pictures, after all.