November 2010

Posted by Ellen

 

Uncle R in New Zealand recently attended a casting call for hobbits and giants. Those who know R are pretty certain there's a part in that movie with his name all over it.

Among the questions he was asked: Are you strong enough to run up and down a hill four times carrying a sword?

They say they'll let him know in about a month.

Posted by Ellen

 

About twenty years ago, we went paddling round a bend in the Little Cahaba River near Montevallo, Alabama, and came upon this rope swing. It looked like fun, but even twenty years ago I was a boring old lady without the gumption to give it a try.

Posted by Ellen

 

As winter descends upon us in the northern mid-latitudes, the summer sun is beginning to bake the Antarctic peninsula, which angles northward from the Antarctic continent toward South America. This part of Antarctica has warmed up substantially in recent years and is currently shedding its sea ice.

When Sir Ernest Shackleton approached this peninsula during a polar expedition about a century ago, his ship was trapped by sea ice and held fast for more than two years, before being crushed to splinters. In today's climate, a ship could sail freely throughout most of the peninsular region--and it's still springtime in Antarctica, not quite full summer yet.

This picture was taken two days ago by a circumpolar satellite. It shows a few bits of bare brownish ground and several large blue patches, which represent weakened sea ice flooded by meltwater. Relatively warm westerly winds have been breaking up the ice cover and blowing bergs and mini-bergs eastward out to sea. 

At the left edge of this picture is a horseshoe-shaped island that is probably a volcanic crater. The Antarctic Peninsula is a mountain range, with peaks and ridges that poke up above the waters of the Southern Ocean. These mountains have been snow-covered for tens of thousands of years, but tune in later this winter/summer to see if we can catch a glimpse of newly naked land hereabouts.

Posted by Ellen

A couple of weeks ago, before the new bridge opened, I snuck out onto it while the workmen were at lunch. When I looked upstream along the Schuylkill, I saw railroad tracks cutting straight through to Center City and beyond,  past all those skyscrapers ssoaking up the sun.

 

Posted by Ellen

 

Sunday was warm and sunny, maybe the last pleasant day this fall. While the humans sat chatting on their stoops, Toby the dog and Samantha the cat had a little fun with each other.

Samantha is often kept on a leash when out of doors. She doesn't seem to mind the restraint, and whenever Toby stops rassling for a moment to catch his breath, she goes straight at him, begging for a little more nip and snort and tussle. He generally obliges.

Posted by Ellen

 

This past weekend, when 46 college quidditch teams from around the country gathered in New York City for the fourth annual International Quidditch World Cup, Portland's own Ben Nadeau, was right there on the pitch, representing Emerson College. Emerson placed second last year, falling to Middlebury in the finals, and hoped to go all the way this year.

College quidditch, much like the Harry Potter version, is a complicated game, played with broomsticks, of course, and also with multiple balls, hula hoops mounted vertically at the ends of an elliptical pitch, beaters, seekers, chasers, and a keeper and a snitch. The style of play has been compared to rugby, basketball, soccer, and dodgeball.

The game was devised about five years ago by Middlebury College students in Vermont, and Middlebury won the first three World Cups. But Emerson College, which practices and competes in quidditch on the Boston Common, has taken the sport especially seriously in recent years. Emerson students wrote the official quidditch rulebook (there are 700 rules) and field both intramural and varsity teams.

On Saturday, the first day of World Cup competition, Emerson sailed through pool play, beating some teams by more than 100 points. The NYU Hipster Hyperions fell to Emerson, 150-10. But Sunday afternoon in the quarter-finals, Tufts ended Emerson's season, 60-50. Tufts went on to lose to Middlebury in the finals.

Quidditch is a fast-growing activity--part sport, part tongue-in-cheek frolic, part recreation of childhood joy in the world of Harry Potter. Today's college students grew up with the Harry Potter books and movies. Will the game maintain its popularity with future generations of students, for whom Harry Potter is just part of the background of growing up, nothing new and exciting about it?

The young children who gather round the hoops at quidditch events, grabbing brooms and balls whenever there's a pause in the action to try learning the game themselves, all look eager to grow up and get their crack at playing real muggle quidditch someday. Maybe they will.

 

 

Posted by Ellen

 

Apparently, this picture is printed from a slide purchased in a thrift store. Written on the slide's frame is "Kitchen - Dinah."

Well? Is that Dinah in the kitchen? Or is it someone in the kitchen singing about someone in the kitchen with Dinah? (Or both?)

Now that that's out of the way, the question remaining is: When was Dinah, singer or singee, captured on film in the kitchen? My money is on 1959.

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Posted by Ellen

The hand-held GPS unit hasn't really revolutionized twenty-first-century life, but the combination of GPS and internet has definitely generated some new recreational obsessions. There is geocaching, for example, in which people search for hidden treasure boxes using geographical coordinates they've downloaded from websites. And on a larger scale, there's confluence-bagging.

 A confluence is a point where whole-number coordinates of latitude and longitude intersect--for example, 40 degrees north latitude at 75 degrees west longitude, the closest confluence to where I live. You bag a confluence by visiting it precisely, taking a picture of the numbers displayed on your GPS unit to prove you were really there. After a visit, if you upload the documentation to the confluence.org website--including a narrative describing your trip and photos of the confluence site, of views in every direction from the point, and of interesting sights nearby--then the ether-world will have a digital record of your achievement. As of today, 11,782 visits to 5,957 confluence points have been documented in the website.
 
The confluence near my house--40 north, 75 west--is on a golf course fairway in New Jersey; it's easy to find and easy to get to, if the golf course people don't chase you away. Some confluences are more challenging to bag, especially in rough, remote, uninhabited country and in relatively roadless, high-conflict regions, such as East Timor. 
 
Last summer, a team of three Russian confluence-baggers, who have documented visits to some 29 confluence points, devoted their vacation to bagging a few more in Siberia, near Lake Baikal. They visited two watery confluences on the lake itself, traveling 200 nautical miles by boat. Then they got back in their car and sought out the confluence at 52 north 108 east, in logged-over hills east of the lake, in the Siberian republic of Buryatia.
 
"Having reached the side road to Onokhoy-Shibir," they wrote, "we turned left and drove onto a dirt road headed to our goal.
 
"We passed a village and reached some road furcation. Guided by GPS arrow, we chose the left road along a creek. Soon the road turned into a clearing for the cable. We slowly dragged our wheels along it until we hit to a high fence." Time to park the car and start walking.
 
"We were unaware of the existence of a sports training camp, Druzhba (Friendship). The place where a stream flowed under a fence was a secret path on which the 'young pioneers' ran AWOL. We used the hospitality provided by the hole in the fence and got into the camp."
 
The precise confluence point, it turned out, was near the camp entrance, pictured here, easily accessible by road had they only chosen the correct fork. But by driving directly to the confluence instead of sneaking in like young pioneers returning from some unofficial adventure, "we would have lost the opportunity to plunge into the 1970s and 1980s and feel as the pioneers of those years."
Posted by Ellen

This weekend, the mayor and his guys in suits cut the ribbon reopening the South Street Bridge across the Schuylkill River, after two years of demolition and reconstruction. 

For the first few hours, the bridge was only open to foot traffic. So this group of students from the University of Pennsylvania set up card tables in the middle of the roadway and played bridge on the bridge.

Soon after the ribbon-cutting, a small parade marched past the card players, led by the West Powellton Steppers and drum team. Behind them was a ten-foot-tall papier mâché puppet bearing a sign that said "Share the Road." Bringing up the rear--and putting an end to the brief and glorious era of bridge on the bridge--was the first motor vehicle to cross the new span, a Philly CarShare hybrid Prius.

Posted by Ellen

He turned eighteen the other day. Our work is done. He's up and away now.