Saturday, November 23, 2013

Words, politics, memorization

I dislike most memorization, although my love of words makes vocabulary an exception. However, when I'm learning a foreign language, I resist learning a lot of grammar rules, especially those that make no sense to me.

One small example is the gender of nouns in languages such as German and Spanish. Not only is it entirely illogical (a bridge shouldn't have gender), it also offends my anti-sexist politics.

So, imagine my thoughts when, on my umpteenth walk through one section of Mérida, I finally noticed these two storefronts, less than 50 yards apart, with competing gender for the same noun (Click the image to enlarge):

I had a rapid series of thoughts:

First, I looked two and three times and simply wondered

  • "WTF?"
  • "What does that word mean, anyway?"
  • "What does my dictionary say about that word?"
  • "Next time, I have to bring my camera!"

Next, I was amused and annoyed: "They're just doing that to intentionally confuse non-Spanish speakers like me!"

Next: "Well, what do you know? Maybe gender of nouns is becoming less important even in Spanish! Maybe there's hope!"

When I got to the dictionary, I found both el huerto and la huerta (garden) listed!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Mexico's "Space Trail" (Nov. 2013)

At White Sands National Monument

At Spaceport America

Link to more photos.

I found this tour in the Caltech/JPL retiree newsletter. I wanted to see White Sands, and Spaceport America, and perhaps the Very Large Array. On the other hand, the tour also included Roswell's International UFO Museum, which I did not want to visit! As I told friends, I would have substituted a Los Alamos or Sandia Labs tour (but I don't think those places even offer tours).

My usual vacation is more toward nature and wildlife or exploring new cities, but this 6-day tour went well. The weather was a bit cool at times, but good overall. (I never opened my umbrella.) The sights were mostly worthwhile. There were 15 people in our group, plus the guide and driver. Twelve women and three men -- not what I would have guessed. Only two of us were from JPL. The bus was much larger than we needed, so we all had lots of space. As usual when I'm on a meals-included tour, I ate too much and exercised too little, gaining weight of course.

I was a bit disappointed that we couldn't see more of the insides of the two buildings at Spaceport America, but, on the other hand, once those are open for tours (if ever), they probably won't allow people to drive on the "spaceway" as we did.

It was also a shame that we couldn't go to the Trinity Site, only to the marker on the highway miles away. But the actual site is only open twice a year.

I was surprised to learn how much work Goddard had done in New Mexico, and I was generally impressed with the several missile- and space-related museums we visited. Even for someone not particularly into these things, the displays of missiles and bombs are certainly eye-catching.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

New York City, Sept. 2013

In Central Park
Link to five photos of Central Park.

I'm just back from a month with Victor in Yucatán.

The stay was interrupted by a short trip to New York City for 1.5 days of work at the College Board's offices. (I love being sufficiently retired to write that!)

When the APCS Reading was in New Jersey, in the late 1980s and again one year in the mid-2000s, I always extended the trip to visit New York. This time, I didn't want to further cut short my time with Victor to stay longer in NYC, so I only had one morning and one afternoon and evening free, and I spent most of that time in Central Park. The weather was great, as you can see in the photos.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Autographs - Daniel Vieyra

Dan and I attended Rice together. Dan is an architecture professor at Kent State.

Since leaving Rice, we've only gotten together a few times. Once, when he visited me in the 1970s in Los Angeles, we spent a good deal of time visiting gas stations he wanted to photograph for his upcoming book, "Fill 'Er Up": An Architectural History of America's Gas Stations

When I visited him in Trenton in 1982, I probably said that I was sorry I forgot to bring the book and have him autograph it for me. Instead, he autographed this item.

The inscription says:

March 24, 1982
To Rodney
My close personal
& moderately demented
friend. FIRE DRILL!

Maybe someday I will manage to get his autograph on my copy of "Fill 'Er Up".

(Index of autographs)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Oregon (August 2013)

At Crater Lake

Link: Photo album (22 photos)

I've flown over Oregon many times, especially all those Alaska trips, and every time I saw Crater Lake from the air, I said, "I want to visit!" I also wanted to see Portland, and I have long wanted to visit California north of Sonoma County. But, of course, I didn't want to drive. Driving is not a vacation for me!

So this tour looked good: nine days in Oregon and far northern California. It would also let me try out Elderhostel (now Road Scholar). I added two days before the tour to have extra time in Portland.

As I feared, I ate too much and exercised too little. But other than that, the trip went quite well, with good weather, too. We only had rain one lunchtime. There were 31 people in the tour group, including at least one gay couple. I'll probably try Road Scholar again sometime.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


I sent the following letter to the Los Angeles Times (not published (see below)):

I hope one of Bezos's experiments with the Washington Post is with micro-payments and pay-per-read.

I am a news and non-fiction addict, a print media junkie. For many years now, that has included print on-screen.

I am a long-time subscriber to the Times and a few magazines. However, I am not interested in subscribing to the dozens of additional separate newspapers and magazines whose stories I occasionally read. But I would happily pay a few cents to read each such item.

Micro-payment schemes have been talked about for many years, but no one has put one together that covers a multitude of content providers. Here's hoping Bezos does it.

As has too often been the case, I sent this in too late. I read about Bezos's purchase of and his wish to experiment with the Post on the afternoon the story hit the Internet. I immediately thought about micro-payments. The story appeared in the next day's Times, of course, and the day after that, the Times printed letters about it. Only then did I realize I should have written one! Cursing my own needless delay, I then wrote and sent the letter, clearly too late for it to be seriously considered.

Subsequently, I have posted it in several places: here, on Google+ in a comment to David Brin's item, and in a comment on the story in KCRW's Left, Right & Center.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Taking campaign promises seriously

The Los Angeles Times printed this letter from me last week:

Opponents have many complaints about Morsi, but one is that while campaigning, he promised to share power, but once in office, he failed to do so.

Maybe Egypt has something to teach the world: If you make a campaign promise that is important, easy to keep and easy to verify, and then you fail to keep it, you will be forcibly removed from office.

Imagine that: taking campaign promises seriously, with an enforcer to hold politicians to their word.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

San Antonio - June 2013

Dale Chihuly's "Fiesta Tower" at the San Antonio Central Library

Born and raised in San Antonio, I left after graduating high school, first for college in Houston, then for grad school in Los Angeles, where I still live today.

I've been visiting family and friends in San Antonio two or three times a year ever since I left, more than 40 years ago. But after my mother's death last year, I hadn't been there again in more than a year, the longest time I had been away from San Antonio in my entire life.

The unveiling of my mother's tombstone took me there this past week. Given the occasion, I of course saw many members of my family. I also saw several friends who live there. But none of my family now lives in San Antonio, so I'm not sure how often I'll be returning in the future.

A few more photos from this trip are here. (Each has a caption and a location map.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Amend to fix (some of) the Senate's problems

The Los Angeles Times printed this letter from me today:

Let's go a step further: I suggest that we amend the Constitution's advise and consent clause.

The Senate's confirmation power should be changed to a veto power: Every presidential appointment (including judicial) becomes effective unless the Senate, by majority vote, vetoes it within, say, 100 days.

The Times either didn't notice or doesn't care that they printed practically the same letter from me thirteen years ago!

Maryland (May 2013)

Ben and Anita

I went to Havre de Grace, Maryland for my nephew Ben's wedding. Here are more wedding photos. Each photo has a caption and a location map.

Gunpowder Falls State Park

Of course, I spent my extra days exploring the area, particularly hiking in parks. A handful of photos were lost due to my failing camera batteries, but here are the rest. Again, each photo has a caption and a location map.