Log in


> recent entries
> calendar
> friends
> Grace family photo album
> profile
> previous 20 entries

Wednesday, January 1st, 2025
7:42 am - Thoughts on education
I've been on lj over 12 years now, and I've had lots of thoughts on education [also, I was posting stuff on marypat.org in longer form from 1996 - 2002; I've also written a lot at the Actuarial Outpost on this subject]

So this post is simply to amass posts as I find them, and categorize them. I am defining "education" very broadly here. I may be linking to some friends-locked posts, and will note that when I link. Some of these posts may need to be moved around for better organization.

12 Days of LearningCollapse )

My thoughts for starting schools, business related to educationCollapse )

Responses to Charles MurrayCollapse )

Gifted education/IQ stuffCollapse )

Math educationCollapse )

Online educationCollapse )

Females and math and scienceCollapse )

Actuarial educationCollapse )

UncategorizedCollapse )

(7 comments | comment on this)

Saturday, February 18th, 2017
3:32 pm - Limits
no, this isn't math.



I am in pain. I don't mean this in some kind of figurative or existential way. I've got a screwed-up neck, a screwed-up brain, and I've had bad pain all this week. I've had to .. I've just had to.

and I've had it.

So fuck it.

When I say "fuck it", I mean I'm gonna listen to opera, read comics, and leave the damn post about asset returns in pension plans I've tried THREE FUCKING TIMES AND GOT EATEN BY THE INTERNET

I am annoyed, is what I'm saying. I've got some Mozart to listen to furiously.

(11 comments | comment on this)

Sunday, February 12th, 2017
12:40 pm - Some Call Me.... Mrs. Stu?
Just a quick response to this bit on female patronymics:

The lawyer Miriam González Durántez was unimpressed this week when she was invited to speak at an International Women’s Day event by someone who addressed her as ‘Mrs Clegg’ (she is married to the MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg). The Daily Mail deplored her ‘aggressive feminism’, while below the line its readers, inevitably, complained about bloody foreigners with no respect for British traditions.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, Emily Thornberry MP–who is not a foreigner but rather the Shadow Foreign Secretary–protested to the Speaker after Theresa May called her ‘Lady Nugee’ (Thornberry’s husband, it transpires, is Sir Christopher Nugee). Whereas ‘Mrs Clegg’ seems to have been a careless mistake, ‘Lady Nugee’ was evidently a deliberate taunt. Even as May apologised, she found it necessary to inform the House that she herself had been known by her husband’s name for the last 36 years.

You might have thought that if there was one thing we could all agree on in the year 2017, it would be the right of every individual to be referred to by the personal name of their own choice. English law affirms that right: as long as you aren’t trying to defraud anyone, you may go by whatever name you like. So why is there still so much controversy about what married women choose to call themselves?

There's plenty more at the blog post, including some interesting history. The whole thing is more a breach of etiquette than anything else. FFS, use the last name people prefer (unless they're being absurd, but using their actual legal name is not an absurd assertion in the etiquette realm).

Now, I don't really care what name you use for me in the social realm. I'm fine with being called Mrs. Grace, Mrs. Stu, Mrs.-Diarmuid's-Mother - whatever it takes to identify me to whatever audience. I'm a fairly tolerant person. I use several names that aren't my legal names (examples: meep, meepbobeep, Mary Pat Campbell), but I don't require anybody to use those.

But I will give warning: I am not Mrs. Mary Pat Grace. If you want to call me Mrs. Grace, that's fine as-is, but full name use, it's Mrs. M. Stuart Grace. I'm a Miss Manners stickler on these forms.

It's just about politeness, and if you break the etiquette rule, I'm going to assume you're being annoying on purpose.

(Okay, I don't actually get worked up over Mary Pat Grace. As I said, I'm really tolerant. But it's properly Mrs. M. Stuart Grace.)

(comment on this)

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017
3:41 pm - Opportunity Knocks; Luck Says "How YOU doin?"
Okay, not sure where I was going with that metaphor, but just a quick response to this:

The Key to Good Luck Is an Open Mind

Luck can seem synonymous with randomness. To call someone lucky is usually to deny the relevance of their hard work or talent. As Richard Wiseman, the Professor of Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, in the United Kingdom, puts it, lucky people “appear to have an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and enjoy more than their fair share of lucky breaks.”

What do these people have that the rest of us don’t? It turns out “ability” is the key word here. Beyond their level of privilege or the circumstances they were born into, the luckiest people may have a specific set of skills that bring chance opportunities their way. Somehow, they’ve learned ways to turn life’s odds in their favor.

“[Wiseman's] research is hilarious,” says [Christine] Carter. “He takes people who self-define as lucky and people who don’t say they’re lucky, and then he puts a $20 bill in the street and the lucky people notice them and pick them up. And unlucky people don’t.”

The experimental design may seem a little silly, a superficial way to distinguish the fortunate from the unfortunate. Yet this was the kind of result that Wiseman found in several related experiments over the course of about 10 years, from about 1993 to 2003. In one such study, Wiseman provided a group of volunteers with a newspaper and instructed them to count the photographs inside. Written in large font on half of the second page was this message: “Stop counting—there are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” A similar insert placed halfway through the paper read, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.” Overall, the self-identified unlucky participants were left counting. It suggested that luck could have something to do with spotting opportunities, even when they were unexpected.

Wiseman didn’t stop there. He turned these findings into a “luck school” where people could learn luck-inducing techniques based on four main principles of luck: maximizing chance opportunities, listening to your intuition, expecting good fortune, and turning bad luck to good. The strategies included using meditation to enhance intuition, relaxation, visualizing good fortune, and talking to at least one new person every week. A month later, he followed up with participants. Eighty percent said they were happier, luckier people.

I will just talk about the first item: maximizing chance opportunities.

I call this "Go do stuff". Sometimes it just means going to an event, or going for a walk for 15 minutes, or whatever.

But many of the random opportunities I've gotten came from me going up to somebody and telling/asking them something, because I was so moved.

Example: Early in the days of "googling one's name", well, let me not re-write what I wrote before:

Friday, August 30, 2002
Mary Pat Campbell's puzzle solution

A couple years ago, in a little competition with a friend of mine, I searched on my full name at google.com (we were trying to see which of us had more mentions on the web). And I found that there was a letter to Games World of Puzzles, praising an extra-large Paint-by-Numbers puzzle (it was of a butterfly) and asking for more! more!

I noticed that this was on a little site called conceptistech, and I noted that it gave me "attitude" because I didn't use Internet explorer, so I sent a pissy email to the people running the site... and the rest is history.

The rest of the story is how I came to write the original letter to Games World of Puzzles, but let me tell the story of the pissy email to Conceptis. (I'm infamous for my pissy emails.) I don't have the original (it was from my grad account at NYU), but I basically bitched them out about how crappy IE was and couldn't they use something better like Netscape?

And they said "How would you like to test puzzles for us?"

I said "...HOT DAMN!"

For several years, I got pdfs of the puzzles they wanted to be tested -- I would print them out, time how long it took me to complete, and my gauge of the difficulty. They were using my results not so much to let others know these things, but to train their code for automatically grading difficulty/time for puzzles. Conceptis is still around, though they re-branded. I still play their puzzles online, and I've got their apps, too.

But my point is that I "get" these opportunities because I communicate with lots of people about things I care about. Sometimes it's stuff that's complimentary -- it's not just bitchy letters from me (it's just that I find the responses to those to be really funny, and it's usually due to what I'm complaining about.) Sometimes it's just asking a question.

But the point is that I respond, and I go do stuff. Some of the bitchy letters (and complimentary ones, and questions) end up with no response at all, but that's okay. I'm not going into this expecting any particular result. I certainly wasn't expecting to test hundreds of puzzles (and I was basically paid in free puzzles, including the puzzle portrait of me), but man, free entertainment! I loved it! I've gotten side jobs, picked up some email pals, free CDs (and free drinks) from hanging out in bars -- all sorts of things. You just never know. It's not all the time, but it's often enough to keep life interesting.

The issue is that some people go in with "luck" and "opportunity" looking for something extremely narrow, and miss all sorts of possibilities that surround them because they've got the blinders on. I find that with various professional networking functions. Blech.

So just wander about, say howdy, and maybe luck will say howdy back.

And it may not be something you were ever expecting in the first place.

(4 comments | comment on this)

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017
4:12 pm - Story of a playlist
There will be videos, so give me a moment to be nice.

videos! videos for all!Collapse )

(1 comment | comment on this)

Sunday, January 29th, 2017
7:55 pm - Regifting
Last weekend, I was in South Carolina for my Grandma Campbell's funeral.

This is not about the funeral.

can you find it?Collapse )

(1 comment | comment on this)

Sunday, January 15th, 2017
12:38 pm - Never Forget: Thoughts on To Build A Castle - a Dissident Memoir by Vladimir Bukovsky
This is not a full review; not yet. Here is a link to the current US Amazon listing for the book; I will be re-posting a cleaned-up review later this year. I mentioned the specific project to publish an e-book English version of this book, and I await the final form.


After reading the copy I had, I posted the following review to Goodreads:

Amazing book, chronicling Bukovsky's run-in with the absurdities that kept the Soviet Union afloat for a while. Specifically exposes the abuse of psychiatric diagnoses for imprisoning/abusing political targets. I am a child of the 1980s, so Bukovsky's narrative is of an earlier Soviet Union that is forgotten by many. Just as Nazi era narratives are important, this is very important for people to read to know what it was like to be an individual caught up in the machinery of the Soviet Union.

There is a thread of humor, reminding me of Crime & Punishment by Dostoevsky, where I just had to laugh. The pyramid scheme of prisoner complaints to gum up Soviet bureaucracy was genuinely funny.

Key passage in the book:

Why should I do it?” asks each man in the crowd. “I can do nothing alone.”

And they are all lost.

“If I don’t do it, who will?” asks the man with his back to the wall.

And everyone is saved.

That is how a man begins building his castle.

I bolded the bit from the book itself.

This is important. It is the heart.
Thoughts and quotesCollapse )

(comment on this)

Friday, January 13th, 2017
11:16 am - The importance of Instapaper for self-treatment
I use Instapaper for all sorts of things, but by far the most important is saving important blog posts for offline viewing on my ipad when I'm in dire need.

This is what happened yesterday.

I am currently at home, as part of an extended pain episode that started yesterday soon after lunch. I ended up leaving work early, but having to stop a couple times on the way home (work is 70 miles from home) Both stops I made were wifiless, and while I had Pickwick queued up for my delectation, a bit of the ole Charles D wasn't doing it for me.

So I scrolled down my Instapaper saves... to this bloggess post. I saved this post in instapaper back in 2015 when I saw it. It's come in handy many times when I'm in deep pain.

This is how the post starts:

Not really all that bad, obviously -- the kind of brain fart people have all the time. So obviously, people reply to the tweet with their brain farts, too; again, many of them are run-of-the-mill.

But some of them....

fun with screenshotsCollapse )

(comment on this)

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017
9:39 am - Thinking through secondary effects of self-driving cars
On my political blog, I've got a post trying to think through the effects of self-driving cars on government revenue (because parking tickets and traffic violations would go away), and at the end I'm spitballing ideas:

- no more valet parking
- only hobbyists will get to drive sports cars, out in closed tracks elsewhere
- short flights (such as under one hour) will no longer make sense — for the time it takes to drive to the airport, go through security, etc. — you may as well take your self-driving car. Especially given how often flights are delayed/cancelled.
- will small regional airports make sense? Connecting flights?
- Maybe all flights become huge hub to huge hub as a result – faster to take the last 100 mile leg in a car
- More income inequality? People like me spending the brain time doing work, making revenue — and thus peeling farther apart
- More in person meetings? Can get work done between physical locations in the self-driving car
- Speed limits increased on highways when all cars are self-driving, so everything above accelerates
- Acceleration to development of rural areas, as there’s so much empty land out in the U.S., but they were really inconvenient
- People who have anxiety over not being able to control the vehicles… I can imagine new psychiatric practices around this

So let me think of a few more random ideas:

- MADD will have to re-brand, as drunk driving will no longer exist. I suggest: Mothers Against Drinking yourself to Death. Related story: Nine charts that show how white women are drinking themselves to death

- people like me who use vehicles for storage may be on the way out, if cars become more of a rental concept. People will need personal trailers to tote stuff around.

Okay =I= will need a personal trailer I can easily hitch & detach from the self-driving car.

- I'll assume the tech will be good enough that specific crimes will no longer exist: carjacking, car insurance fraud

- no need for traffic lights -- the cars can just communicate with each other/the system. There can be some sort of in-vehicle messaging where people are notified something has happened (say a tree has fallen across the road) which is why all traffic has stopped

- interior car design will be like trains -- more people sitting sideways to direction of travel. People can do ride-sharing so they can have a bridge four during the commute... hell, there will be commuter clubs set up so that people with similar interests can schedule a ride share so they can practice their hobby/discuss

- like the Met Opera in HD facebook group I'm in - can do a group watch of an opera broadcast; the MST3K Revival League can watch new episodes together -- just like people did group watching of games/Game of Thrones in bars. Can do it in cars now!

- commute dates? Mmmm, I'll shelve that idea for now

- sex, obviously

- pre-programmed sight-seeing cars. Hmmm. Tourism cars! Like a personalized land cruise!

Okay, that's enough.

Y'all got ideas?

(11 comments | comment on this)

Saturday, January 7th, 2017
5:59 pm - Why are people moving to dreamwidth?
I don't even know what dreamwidth is. (And I'm too lazy to even go and look)

I keep stuff on livejournal that I don't mind if I lose. Similarly for facebook, really. Facebook is for ephemera and chatting, in my opinion. I use livejournal when I want to do something facebook-y but longer (I don't like facebook "notes")

If I want to control/keep it, I have it on my own domains that I own. Which I've had longer than livejournal has existed.

Anyway, I assume people are moving to dreamwidth because of features it has that livejournal doesn't. What are they?

(7 comments | comment on this)

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017
6:47 am - Some Recommended Lectures for the Humanities-Minded: The Great Courses
Obviously, I'm a numbers nerd, but I love the humanities, too... especially now that I get to pick what I want to learn from that vast field of human achievement.

Back in 2012, I did a series of 12 posts on the 12 Days of Learning, but I'm not going to go that far right now. I'm copying over a bunch of facebook comments I made here and here.

I will break this up into a few posts, though, going by my first addition: The Teaching Company, now called The Great Courses. I started buying their lecture sets back in the 1990s, on cassette tape.

Lectures and Lecturers I Recommend: The Great Courses

I am currently halfway through a 24-lecture series on the Black Death, and other than the pronunciation quibble I had from yesterday, I very much recommend it. The Black Death had a huge effect on European history and played a part in clearing away the medieval social world for modernism. You may not be happy that the feudal society was swept away due to population devastation, but it is what it is. What I'm finding interesting is the disparities in mortality (most of the towns covered so far had >40% mortality over a couple years... but some were relatively untouched. I wonder why... the lecturer is fair in indicating where there is still uncertainty in current scholarly research. There are some interesting genetic results due to the Black Death, unsurprisingly.)

I do enjoy intensely focused histories, because by picking one major event, trend, or theme (like dictionaries) you can often fit the whole world, looking through a major prism.

But that's what I'm listening to now.

What have I listened to in the past, that I recommend?

Other Great Courses lecturers I've enjoyed are Robert Greenberg on Music - hell, he is the music department at Great Courses (yes, a few other peep in, but I see his count is 112 sets, some of which are repeats). If you want a taste, get one of the short musical biographies, like the 8 lectures on Mozart's life.

If you want to go whole hog, you can go with his major survey courses, like How to Listen To and Understand Great Music or How to Listen to and Understand Opera.

But forget those -- get one where he does a nice working through one composer's work. Bach and the High Baroque, Life and Operas of Verdi, and Chamber Music of Mozart -- these I have listened to multiple times, they're so enjoyable.

Other Great Courses lecturers I enjoy: John McWhorter on linguistics (I've listened to all his sets), Kenneth Harl on History, Elizabeth Vandiver on Classical Culture, and Rufus Fears on Great Men and Great Ideas. Alas, Dr. Fears has been dead since 2012, and he is a bit of an acquired taste, but I like his stuff. I don't agree with some of his interpretations, but I don't mind.

Recommendation for format and source

So if you follow those item pages, you'll often see some eye-popping prices.

I have never paid those prices. (Also, do you ever pay the tag price at Kohl's or Macy's? If so, you're a sucker. Those aren't the "real" prices.)

First off, I am a patient person, and can sit around and wait for when they discount 80% some titles. And I often scrounge in their "bargain bin" when they're phasing out a set. Separately, there are people selling their lecture sets on Amazon and ebay, used. Steeply discounted.

Finally, many libraries have these lecture sets. I just check them out. I have racked up late fees on some of them, but eh. It's not $250.

I understand you can get some of the lectures via audible.com memberships, but I have never used that.

As for format -- most of these I'm listening to on CD in my van, as I commute (I drive ~33K miles per year.) Pretty much all these lecture sets have audio-only versions - the lectures I've gotten that have video-only versions are fairly limited, and you can understand why they require video. None I linked to above require video to comprehend.

The next post, I will cover the lectures/lecturers I like from the Modern Scholar series.

(comment on this)

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017
11:06 pm - On inconsistent pronunciation of proper nouns from other languages
Okay, let me be blunt. It's French. It's almost always French.

Yes, I loved that old SNL sketch where they made fun of the exaggerated Spanish pronunciation of Central American place names. But I rarely run into it in real life, just because those American news readers can't roll their rs. (That's not a criticism... I can't roll my rs either)

So I'm listening to my lecture series on the Black Death, and it's good, but I can't get over the "proper" pronunciation of Avignon (think of that last half being shoved up one's nose), and various other French place names but it's FRANTZ and PARRUS.

FFS. Just say Avignon, etc., without all the nasality, and I would be fine.

She also had a bit of fun with the German-language place names, but not as bad. She didn't attempt to make the Scandinavian place names sound all Swedish Chef, so I guess I should count my blessings.

(And yes, I was very happy to hear her mention Connie Willis's Doomsday Book, because I was just waiting to see if it would be mentioned.)

I liked Winston Churchill's approach which was to impose his own bizarre Anglicizations of foreign names. NAHZEE (yes, he did that on purpose), but also Lions, Marsails, etc.

None of these people ever say Paree or Fronce. It's PARRUS and FRANTZ. Make it all American. Own it. Culturally appropriate the hell out of their proper nouns.

And don't get me on how she pronounced people's names. I just can't.

(6 comments | comment on this)

Monday, January 2nd, 2017
7:42 pm - And with your spirit
No, this is not about religion, but about literature. No, not religious literature.

It's something I noticed a long time back, and only became more aware of as I got older: the spirit with which an author treated humans.

Mind you, this has nothing to do with how these authors behaved towards other people in their actual lives.

This has to do with how these authors treated their characters... and no, it doesn't mean that bad things don't happen to good characters, and vice-versa. But that these characters are allowed to have some sort of human spirit, and not be squelched.

the world is a stage, and the men and women merely playersCollapse )

(comment on this)

1:39 pm - This year, to save all my tears, I say fuck it
Basically, what I said last year.

It was pretty bad this weekend. On Friday, I went to work feeling like shit. I went through my email and news files... and then asked myself wtf I was doing there. So I left.

And I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday prone. I'm sitting up now, but I'm not feeling a hell of a lot better.

I had a few ideas for new projects this year, but said "meh". I'm likely to do some of what I had in mind, but I'm not going to promise to people ahead of time, just in case. I've got a lot of stuff I did in 2016 mentioned here (some of which I even got paid to do!), and I will likely do a similar amount this year. But to get that sort of stuff done, I have to say fuck-it-all to a bunch of other things other people find important. It's just not on my radar, thanks.

One thing, though: I am going to make sure my profile pics are fresher. Well, not on livejournal. I like using the baby pic profiles. But I did finally get my professional pic updated... it was almost 10 years old when I got a new pro pic. Yeah, I'm older and fatter, but that's what I look like. I should recognize that just like I got rid of all those old pants I no longer fit in.

I don't care how cheesy JC Penney studio pics are - I plan on getting more of those for my family this year, because a. that's what I can afford and b. none of my photographer friends/relatives are near me. My stretch goal for the year is to try to convince Stu to get in one of the pics. I will =definitely= do pics of me with the kids in the spring. I will promise that.

But that's all I've got in me to promise.

(4 comments | comment on this)

Thursday, December 29th, 2016
7:30 am - Rereading Books - and Dickens, Specifically
I came across this New Yorker piece by David Denby recently -- BEYOND EXPECTATIONS: REREADING DICKENS.

I'll excerpt:

At last, after many resolutions abandoned, I read “Great Expectations” and fell into a happiness granted rarely to any reader. The marvellous fable at the heart of it feels like a twisted fairy tale (Dickens was friends with Hans Christian Andersen, who showed up at Dickens’s country house, in 1857, and refused to leave for five weeks). Its hero, Pip, comes to consciousness, at least for the purpose of this first-person narrative, when he is seven, an orphan boy mulling over the tombstones of his parents and little brothers. A convict, Magwitch, rises up from a grave and threatens to cut his heart and liver out if he doesn’t run home for some food. A mysterious bequest follows, seemingly presided over by the demented and vengeful Miss Havisham, a living ghost who celebrates her own romantic disaster, using her beautiful ward, Estella, as an instrument of revenge. The bequest falls from the sky like a shower of gold greeting a newly crowned tsar. Pip, raised by a country working-class family, will be a gentleman. It is a fable that appeals to our love of social advancement, a new life, fresh experience.

Unlike Denby, once I "rediscovered" Dickens as an adult (in my 20s), I've never put him down. But there were particular novels I had put down, and Great Expectations was one of them. And recently, I listened through an audiobook version of it.

The thing is, Great Expectations was the first Dickens novel I read, and it left a really bad taste in my mouth. To begin with, I was about 13, and the whole Dickens "thing" did not impress me. Too many words (as with Mozart & his too many notes). Just get on with it! I also guessed the big "secret" of the plot and skipped over 100 pages of Pip being a "gentleman" because it was boring as hell.

Here is another excerpt:
George Orwell remarked in an essay on Dickens, from 1939, that though Dickens had attacked the entire British establishment (law, parliament, nobility, educational system, etc.), no one was personally mad at him. It was almost universally felt that his malice was the underside of his love of sunshine and good people; his rage has as much excited life to it as his celebration of decency and loyalty.

Push that one away -- I have another lj post in mind in the future, to be titled "And with your spirit". I recently realized why I've changed my favorite authors into the order: 1. Dickens, 2. Dostoevsky (and I just "discovered" him last year) and 3. Austen. But that's for later.

The main thing that kept me from going back to Great Expectations was the remberance of what a whiny bitch Pip was. What a fucking snot, being an asshole to Biddy and Joe, kissing Estella's ass just because she was pretty and Miss Havisham because he thought she was his benefactor.

And while that is true for part of the story, upon this later "reading", I decided to power all the way through and I found that yes, Pip was a little snot for most of the book, but once Magwitch shows up in the second half, Pip does change. And so does Miss Havisham. I missed that part -- she realized her screwup (a little too late to help Estella, but early enough to achieve redemption).

But what really helped was having a good audiobook version. I listened to the Blackstone audio version, and I've always found the Blackstone productions to be good. Going back to the New Yorker piece, I see Denby originally experienced Dickens in a way I had not:

knew a couple of the other novels because they had been read to me, after lunch, in seventh grade, at my New York private school. You could put your head down on the desk and go to sleep—no one would bother you. The rest of us listened. Our homeroom teacher, a woman with freckled skin and white hair named Ruth K. Landis, read first “Oliver Twist” and then “Great Expectations” in a steady dulcet voice. At the emotional climaxes, Miss Landis grew rather tearful, but no one mocked her. It was an enchanting way to launch the rest of the school day. I mention all this because my acquaintance with Dickens was more or less typical of what literary-minded, privileged boys and girls of a certain era enjoyed.

While we did read out loud some Shakespeare in English class in middle school, the last novel I remember being read to me in school was James and the Giant Peach, and I was in 3rd or 4th grade. That's quite different from Dickens.

The benefit of an audiobook is that the text inexorably goes on, and that way Dickens' extended scene descriptions do not bog you down, as it would when you're having to do the work of reading it. And if you get a good audiobook version, you get someone who will convey the characters well -- and Simon Prebble read excellently. I actually caught that Herbert Pocket wasn't a dumbass, but merely a rather nice chap who wasn't particularly savvy; I caught that Jaggers is neither a villain nor a good guy, but he is an extreme professional, taking things a bit too far in being precise in a lawyerly way. But that it's important to have a few sticklers like that around.

But one of the big things is that people forget that consuming books has not always been a solitary pursuit. I remember in a lecture in the Dickens club, the lecturer, Elliot Engel (and I still have his cassettes in the attic)) talking about the man of the house buying the latest Dickens number (usually three chapters of the current book) and reading it through himself so that he could "perform" the piece for his family at home. This was something to be wallowed in - and I love wallowing in Dickens now, but I tend to prefer Martin Chuzzlewit and Our Mutual Friend.

That said, if you've not had a good taste of Dickens, I recommend getting an audiobook, and I recommend starting with Great Expectations. There are other "short" Dickens novels, but most are problematic. Somebody did a sorted list and here are my comments on the shortest pieces (the numbers are word count):

1. The Mystery of Edwin Drood: 96,178 (first 6 of 12 parts only) -- not completed, only for completists [note: I haven't read this]

2. Hard Times: 104,821 - this is a very modern novel, and it is quite brutal. There is no sentimentality here, and may be a bit difficult to digest. There are sympathetic characters, but only one or two are actually likeable.

3. A Tale of Two Cities: 137,000 - sure, read it eventually [Miss Pross is kickass!], but it smacked of Dickens trying too hard in writing a historical novel. Not his best. It has a lot of very famous lines/scenes in it, though. The beginning and the end are the best-known bits.

4. Oliver Twist: 158,631 - the one novel I refuse to read a second time. I consider it sadistic. The only thing I find salvageable from this book is Mr. Bumble and "The law is a ass"

5. Great Expectations: 186,339 - yes, start with this one; not too many characters, has a few very famous Dickens characters like Havisham, Estella, and Magwitch that you should know. Don't worry about plot spoilers - it's not hard to figure out some of the "mysteries" in this (like many of the Dickens novels), but the point is to watch the characters and what they do.

6. The Old Curiosity Shop: 218,538 - Quilp is an awesome character, but the whole thing is really odd. I didn't laugh over Little Nell's death, but ffs, the child should have been dead long before she actually was. Quilp's death is best villain death ever, imo.

7. Barnaby Rudge: 255,229 - another try at a historical novel, and it really didn't work well. I found it interesting for info on the Gordon Riots, which I wouldn't have known about absent this book. It has the most grostesque deaths in it, and that's saying something for Dickens. When you read about how a guy's skull was melted with lead that poured off the roof of a burning mansion.... yeah, you don't forget it.

8. The Pickwick Papers: 302,190 - I'm re-reading that one now, but it's a big ole shaggy dog of a story. It does coalesce on a plot by the end, but it basically starts out with a bunch of vignettes

9. Nicholas Nickleby: 323,722 - still early on in Dickens' career, and a lot of the random-crap-is-kinda-a-plot stuff.

10. Our Mutual Friend: 327,727 - My favorite. LOADS of characters and plot lines, so it's for people who love to get entangled in story. It's Dickens' last completed novel.

11. Martin Chuzzlewit: 338,077 - My second favorite. You can skip the American "episodes" and miss nothing, but has two of the giants of Dickens characters that you =must= know: Mr. Pecksniff and Mrs. Gamp. Tigg Montague/Montague Tigg comes in second billing, and Tom Pinch is my favorite hero in the whole Dickens oeuvre, though I think he's not intended as a hero.

12. Little Dorrit: 339,870 - has a ridiculous villain (Blandois) but also a believable "bad guy" (Merdle). My favorite bit has to do with the Barnacle-Tite clan (or is it Tite-Barnacle?) and the Circumlocution Office, but there is a great "quiet" plot unrolling through the book about financial bubbles and frauds. I wrote about it for an actuarial newsletter. (The other fraud was a fraudulent life insurance company in Martin Chuzzlewit).

13. Bleak House: 355,936 -- considered the best of Dickens by many, but the cloying Esther Summerson is a bit much. Dickens never really understood how to write a young heroine. An older lady who is to be admired, yes, but not a young lady. Nice plotting and an excellent character/professional study in Inspector Bucket, showing the precursor of Scotland Yard and its investigators.

14. Dombey and Son: 357,484 -- it's okay, and with a very believable character growth and reconciliation from the two central characters - Dombey and his daughter. This has a very sad child death (yes, Dickens kills off at least one child per book, and sometimes multiple children)

15. David Copperfield: 357,489 -- I didn't realize this was the longest; it seems to go by so fast. This is the one most relatable to youngish people still trying to make their way. I most identify with Aunt Betsey Trotwood, David's aunt, and there are some other good characters in here. You must know Uriah Heep and Mr. Micawber. They're classics.

So reviewing the list... yes, start with Great Expectations. It's the best place to get to know Dickens to start, and then you can really stretch out into the long ones.

Oh, and it doesn't really matter what ending you get for Great Expectations. There's a "happy ending" and a "downbeat ending", but that doesn't really matter. Who cares. Either one seems tacked on to me.

(5 comments | comment on this)

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
12:52 pm - On scaring the shit out of children
In an "acceptable" way, that is.

For the longest time, the Brothers Grimm and granny tales had this area sewn up, but then Disney intruded. While adults of my age are bracing themselves for the next Pixar movie intro to rip our hearts out, we can also remember how scary the Disney movies were. I can't speak for the boomers, but maybe they found them scary, too.

Two movies in particular stand out for me: Sleeping Beauty....where Maleficent turns into a dragon and BOOM


And then there's The Rescuers, from the shitty period of Disney animation. Yes, yes, I loved Robin Hood, too, but come on. It was the era of cheap animation and cheapass songs. WE GREW UP ON HANNA BARBERA FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

I would say Medusa is the reason I don't wear makeup:

[Okay, the real reason I don't wear makeup is the same reason I don't wear jewelry - it bugs the hell out of me, and I end up taking it off in no time at all.]


As this person writes, you can pretty much only scare little kids with this villain. She's so ridiculous. Luckily, I was a 3-year-old kid when this movie came out.

Medusa and her alligators....


So what brought this on was Althouse's post on the death of Richard Adams, who wrote Watership Down. I've not seen the movie nor read the book, but I understand the movie scared the shit out of a lot of kids.

It's tough for books to really scare people, whether adults or kids, compared to movies. In movies, you can have a sudden surprise - a loud noise, an abrupt movement leaping towards the screen, etc. You can't really get the same visceral reaction from books, so usually the scare from books is more abstract.

The first book that actually scared me was Fahrenheit 451, because I saw it as a believable future, and something that people would do to themselves. THEY BURNED THE BOOKS!!!! And then I read Brave New World, which was even scarier (I was about 12 or 13 when I read these books, btw).

But that's not like peeing your pants because a giant spider spat a web at your face.

That's a certain kind of scare, so the kind of "scary" most people think about... yeah, it was Stephen King's IT that did it for me. Pet Sematary wasn't quite all that, but IT... YIKES! I was 15 when I read that one. I think I kept the light on at night for months after reading that one.

But back to scaring kids -- what the hell is it with random scary shit in kids' movies? You know what I'm talking about. This:


Let's forget the whole movie/book thing. WHY?! Just... WHY?! It shows up in this list of scariest movie scenes... the highest ranked from a kids movie -- but it's not the only one from a kids movie. There's the pink elephants from Dumbo, flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, and Large Marge from Pee Wee's Big Adventure which is my fave scary bit from a kids movie. Dumbo was all kinds of freaky without the drug/alcohol sequence, the flying monkeys made sense... and Large Marge was just a standard urban legend brought to life in a movie. But the Willy Wonka movie really did not need that scary trip. What the hell.

But here's the thing with both Watership Down (the stuff I think people are saying is scary) and the cutting-the-head-off-the-chicken bit in the insane Wonka sequence. The animal stuff isn't really all that shocking/scary...I mean come on, shooting a rabbit? BAMBI'S MOTHER WAS SHOT!! Oh god, a badger. I grew up watching Wild Kingdom on Mutual of Omaha, and I'm pretty sure they had a bunch of dead animals on that. Then there was the whole "going fishing" thing. Who the hell thought "fluffy bunnies" was a great idea? BUNNIES ARE DEATH.

Wait, where was I?

Anyway, it's fun to scare children, and the scares you get as a child were a lot cleaner than the ones you get as an adult. And even as kids, we knew people were far scarier than [other] animals.

But I'm old and tired now, and would rather neither type of scares. At least I can exclude one type of them.

(3 comments | comment on this)

Saturday, December 24th, 2016
12:57 pm - Bring back livejournal? Where did it go?
WTF, I haven't left since I joined in 2000! You can't pry me away!

But welcome back to the old names I've seen post lately.... livejournal was like facebook for me back in 2000, and then it became longer-form posts around the time I left grad school (because I retired my old online journal at marypat.org). It's mainly been longer-form personal posts and some just non-political stuff (my political-ish stuff is at stump.marypat.org though today I put up a livejournal-ish post) for years.

In any case, I hadn't noticed a huge difference in livejournal when the Russians took over, though I had a little more spammy comments, which is why I screen comments from non-lj-users.

So.... here's a video. It's old.

Merry Christmas! And come back to livejournal!

(8 comments | comment on this)

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016
10:18 am - Making (Conversational) Friends at the Bar: Florida Resort Edition
Last weekend I was in Cape Coral, on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I've never really been over to that side of the state (well, maybe I went to Tampa once as a kid, but I don't remember it)

Anyway, here is a pic:

oh, right it's a pano, I'd better cut thisCollapse )

(1 comment | comment on this)

Monday, December 12th, 2016
12:36 pm - The book divestment project: slow-going
As mentioned back in October, I'm trying to get rid of books, most of which are in bad condition.

The count:

2 paperbacks pulled apart and recycled (a Larry Niven anthology and one Pratchett).

1 in progress: Vamps & Tramps (it's a looooong book)

A couple dozen books recycled donated

Five years' worth of journals recycled (they're all online)

Ya gotta start somewhere.

(comment on this)

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
4:16 pm - email search -- from:me dumbass
This post started out about me never deleting emails. What it ended up as... you'll see below.

Search Results: 1-46 of 46 [oldest is from 2009]

Let's look at that oldest email from me using the word "dumbass":

Hey Andrew -- attached a text file of riffs for Live and Learn. Some of the riffs would overlap each other, and some are repeated at different points, just FYI. I figure give y'all lots of choice.

I might be able to get another to you tomorrow morning.

btw, I do subject my kids to some of those 50s educational films, but usually ones about obedience, manners, good behavior. We have got on their cases about going to the hospital for doing stupid stuff, but this film is a bit over-the-top.

- mpc
aka meepbobeep
aka meep

Hmmm, not in the text... must be the attachment...

00 12 00 14 That's quite the dumbass epidemic

verily a circus of dumbasseryCollapse )

(comment on this)

> previous 20 entries
> top of page