Monday, December 29, 2008

Lucy @ Pacific Science Center

Lucy's Legacy - Exhibition Poster

The exhibit Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia is at the Pacific Science Center and runs from Oct 4, 2008 to March 8, 2009. Lucy is the fossil AL 288-1, a 40% complete skeleton found in 1974 in Ethiopia and estimated to be about 3.2 million years old. She was a significant fossil find because she shows evidence of walking upright (bipedal) like humans, yet had the brain size of an ape. Her fossil lends support to the idea that bipedalism preceded large brain size. 

Lucy is on a six-year tour of the United States and she is currently in Seattle. It costs 21 dollars for adult admission. 

Travelmarx thoughts on the exhibit? We liked Lucy but not the layout of the exhibit. The curators try to set the context of Ethiopia, the country, before anything about Lucy is mentioned. In fact more than one half of the exhibit is a quick rundown of the major points in Ethiopian history from about 10,000 BCE to the early 20th century. While interesting in itself, it really has a disorienting effect because you walk in expecting Lucy and you don’t see her. By the time you reach the part about Lucy, you will probably be tired and not able to drum up the wonder that Lucy deserves. Also, the transition from the historical background to Lucy’s Legacy part is quite abrupt. You are reading about Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (1892 – 1975) and then the next stop is where Lucy was found. (Did you know that when Haile Selassie became king he became known as Ras Tafari from which the Rastafari or Rastafarian movement takes its name? )

Our suggestion: go straight to the part about Lucy, see that and then work your way backward time permitting. 

Lucy was found by American anthropologist Donald Johanson and is she is named after the Beatles’ song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Lucy’s scientific name is Australopithecus afarensis which means “southern ape of the Afar region” – but, technically, she isn’t an ape so the name is a bit misleading. 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nordic Museum – Ballard / Seattle

Danish Room - Nordic Museum
We spent a couple of hours in the Nordic Museum located in (the northern part of) the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle. Considering how long we’ve been in Seattle and that we feel like we’ve passively absorbed a little of the Nordic vibe that still exists, it was worth a visit to this museum. On the whole it was an interesting presentation and worth a stop if you are into understanding different cultures, the immigration experience, some early Seattle history, or just plain love dioramas.

First things first, geography: “Nordic” means of, relating to, or characteristic of Scandinavia. “Scandinavia” refers to the region of northern Europe which includes Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland (east of Sweden), and Iceland (an island in the North Atlantic Ocean between mainland Europe and Greenland). The museum is on three levels in an old school house (for now, before it moves to new digs sometime in the future). The first level gives you an overview of life in Scandinavian countries before the immigration started in the late 19th and early 20th century and what led people to immigrate. The second level talks about life in Washington that Scandinavian immigrants were involved in like the fishing and logging industries. The third floor is a gallery with a room dedicated to each of the five Nordic countries. (Did you know that Swedish Hospital (duh?), Frederick and Nelson, and Nordstrom were all founded by Swedish immigrants?)
Floor Plan of Nordic Museum

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Aspidistra Elatior

Aspidistra elatior in Seattle snow

With the weird weather we’ve had (unusual snow fall amounts and cold, down to 17 degrees at night) here in Seattle, there is one plant that we don’t have to worry about and that’s the Aspidistra elatior, Cast Iron Plant. We have a number of them in our yard and they are hardy. About the only thing I would say it doesn’t like is full sun because the leaves tend to get bleached out. Other than sun, the plant is pretty flexible. We have A. elatior in various situations: potted, in the ground, north side of the house, west side, medium light, and low light. We rarely water it. 

The genus name, Aspidistra, comes from the Greek word for shield aspis –referring to the shape of the long, tapered evergreen leaves (correction: it refers to the shape of the stigma). A common name for A. elatior is “cast iron plant” - named because of its durability under all sorts of tough conditions (like a sooty Victorian parlor perhaps?). The plant originates from East Asian forest floors and not until recently was it understood that the plant is pollinated by tiny terrestrial crustaceans called amphipods

2021-07-16 Update

It appears that it might be fungus gnats that are doing the pollinating.  For more information, see Subterranean flowers of Aspidistra elatior are mainly pollinated by not terrestial amphipods but fungus gnats.  For photos of the flowers of Aspidistra, see the aforementioned reference or our companion blog post, Aspidistra elatior flower.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow Graffiti

The first day of winter hit Seattle hard with snow and temperatures that haven’t been seen for some time. On a stroll out this morning to enjoy the snow and chat with neighbors we came across some graffiti written on the snow on some bushes. The perps also spray painted snow on cars.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Seattle and Snow - Bus Jackknife

Seattle Abandoned Bus Seattle Abandoned Bus
During unusual weather (snow) in Seattle you often run across an articulated bus that is folded back on itself – a jackknife position. The bus is typically abandoned until the weather improves when they can come rescue it. The bus pictured here seems to be parked as if you could just drive it away. We don’t know what happened that it ended up being abandoned in Fremont.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seattle and Snow

The two just don’t mix: Seattle and snow. It started last Saturday when we got a little snow and then the temperatures dropped. The last few days we’ve had some cold temperatures, mid to lower 20s overnight – low by Seattle standards. On Monday and Tuesday, schools were delayed 2 hours because of the cold weather. Well, okay. But today, it reached another level of absurdity. There was supposed to be some more snow, so schools just outright canceled classes. And what happened? Absolutely nothing. Not even a stray flurry that I could see. Actually, the temperature warmed up. I admit coming from the East Coast makes me think of all of this snow-shock as a little exaggerated. Also, being a contract worker means that a snow day equals a day with no pay.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Crema di Limone - Ladri

Soaking the lemon rinds Fillng the bottles

Crema di limone is a variation of limoncello, a lemon liqueur made with lemon rinds, sugar, water, and vodka. Crema di limone is smoother than limoncello as it also uses milk as an ingredient. Limoncello is typical in Southern Italy and is served cold, as an after-dinner digestivo. We picked the lemons, well, borrowed them from an orchard in an secret location in Imperial Valley – hence the name of this Crema di limone as “ladri” – thieves, in Italian. We soaked the lemon rinds for about 2 weeks in 100 proof vodka.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Seattle’s Green Lake “Pathway of Lights”

Even Docks Get Decorated during the "Pathway of Lights" event in Green Lake, Seattle. 

The Green Lake “Pathway of Lights” is a ring of luminarias (lights) that circle Green Lake one evening between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The event is organized by the Green Lake Community Council and this year it was held on Saturday, Dec. 13. Along the lighted way there were small choirs and instrumental music groups. There was a big turn out and people were in a great mood. The weather even cooperated as snow flurries filled the air. Participants are asked to bring cans of food to donate to Northwest Harvest. 

The luminarias along the path were small bags weighted with stones and each included one electric tea candle. There were thousands of them lining the path. 

Finally, where did Green Lake get its name? From a United States surveyor in the late 1800s who probably observed the lake in its natural state with an algae bloom.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Scarf – Finally Finished

Well the first knitting project (the scarf – la sciarpa in Italian) was brought to a close, about 4 months in the making. I pushed hard to finish it up this week. Along, the way, I think I can say I’ve learned a bit more about knitting. I still keep thinking about the analogies between knitting and programming (a computer that is). I want to talk about that more, but don’t have the thoughts in order. By the way, we found this woman’s videos interesting: Just watching the videos we picked up a couple of new tricks.

The scarf was made of Cashsoft Chunky (57% wool, 10% cashmere, 44% acrylic microfibre). Each skein was 50g, 50m, 55yards. The color is Burgundy, SH 711, Lot 37. I used 5 skeins for a total scarf length of about 60 inches. The stitch pattern is knit 2, purl 2 and each row is 28 stitches wide – about 7 stiches per inch a little which is on the tight side.

Next project? A sweater from the Knitting with Balls book, page 84 Boot cut Sweater. Why go through from the scarf to a hat and mittens? Go straight for the big project.

Favorite Christmas Card

It’s that time of year again for sending Christmas cards. As we were taking stock of our supply of cards, this card from Sweet-Relish Paperie made me chuckle. It is titled Christ versus Santa Claus. Inside it says “Happy Christmas”.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Changing the Samsung Blackjack II Alarm Volume

Why you would create an alarm feature with no apparent way to control the volume? With the Samsung BlackJack II and WM6.1 you currently have a heart-stopper-of-an-alarm because the volume is so loud. Searching around the Internet, it seems other people have run into this as well. After looking through the Profiles and Sounds applications on the phone itself, I went back to our old friend CeRegEditor – which we used a while back to solve another problem. CeRegEditor edits the registry of the phone. The registry is the repository of settings and options for the operating system and applications on the phone. Sometimes settings are not exposed in a way that the average user can get at so you have to use a registry editor. Fooling around in the registry can have unwanted consequences so be careful and read up on good practices for working in the registry.

For this problem, I must admit, the solution is not optimal, but it works.

1. Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ControlPanel\SoundCategories\Alarm. (Click the image above for a screen shot.)
2. Find the setting called “InitVol”.
3. Its setting is likely 4, change it to 2 or 3, for example.

All alarms except the “Wake Up Alarm” will then have a lower volume. I don’t know of a way to control the “Wake Up Alarm” (accessible from the Alarms icon in the Programs folder). However, I just renamed “Alarm 1” to “Soft Wake Up” for example, set the time of morning I want, and then set repeat to “Except Saturday and Sunday”. That gives me a weekly morning wake up that isn’t a heart attack inducer.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Paperboys at the Triple Door

We were invited to catch the Paperboys at the Triple Door this Friday night. The Paperboys’ music is a mélange of Celtic, folk, bluegrass and pop. The show? We liked it. The band played a straight set of great music including songs off their latest album The Road to Ellenside like California. There were at least two covers (that we recognized) that were very good: Fragile (Sting) and All Along the Watchtower (Dylan) – listen to that fiddle! I swear I thought they covered Blame Sally’s La Llorona too, but can't be sure.

The venue, the old Embassy Theatre, was great too. We never had been there before. We had a front row “booth” – yes there is dining – and ate some goodies off the Wild Ginger menu before the show started. Cracked coconut martini and ahi tuna bruschetta anyone?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Seattle Art Museum: The Italian Room

The Italian Room - SAM
We went to the Seattle Art Museum to see the Hopper exhibit and afterwards wandered (by chance) to the Italian Room. We had been there in 2007 just after the museum opened in its new space but had not thought about it since. Suddenly, as we read the information sheet explaining the room, we went “a-ha”.

During our sabbatical we spent the last 10 days in northeast Italy in the Alta Badia region. While there we were struck by both the exterior and interior architecture. One feature in particular that is interesting in the living rooms are the stoves that kept the house warm. These stoves, called stua in the local dialect, are large and you can sit and even sleep around (or on top) of them. We wrote a post describing them.

The “a-ha” moment happened when we read the description of the Italian Room as “The rich warm glow of the wood-paneled room through the doorway beckons you into the northern Lombard town of Chiavenna, where this room was installed in the sixteenth century. Called a stüa in the local dialect, these wood-paneled rooms contained stone or tile-covered stoves around which the family would gather on cold nights.”

Enrico David – Bulbous Marauder

Enrico David - Bulbous Marauder
There is a room in the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) featuring an installation by Enrico David, an Italian-born artist based in London. This installation runs from November 8, 2008 to March 15, 2009 and is called Bulbous Marauder. It is part of the SAM Next program that is designed to feature emerging artists from around the world. After the Edward Hopper exhibit, this room drew our attention immediately. It was darkly lit with harlequin-patterned, paper lanterns emitting a beckoning glow. David provided all the works in the room. The theme? We don’t know for sure, but the flyer accompanying the installation probably best summarized it as “…somewhat like stepping down a back alley in Dickens-meets-Lewis Carroll London.” We saw strong elements of Italian design in David’s work. It reminded us of something that you might see at La Biennale and that made us sigh.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Far Side of the Moon

Photo of the moon. Dark Side of the Moon album cover.
Photo of the moon and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album cover. 

I was reading an excerpt from Eudora Welty (1909-2001)’s One Writer’s Beginnings in Lapham’s Quarterly (see previous post) and I started thinking about the moon. In the excerpt Welty talks about her misunderstanding about where the moon “rose” and in one story she wrote that the moon rose in the west. 

After reading that I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure I could speak to the mechanics of how the moon rotates around the earth. In particular, I thought the “dark side” of the moon was, well, always dark. You see? The arts can lead you astray because I always think of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and assumed that it is always dark. 

Well, after some schoolin' at Travelmarx headquarters I’m happy to report that the dark side of the moon is not truly always dark and is probably more aptly called the “far side of the moon”. The moon is tidally locked to the earth which means that the same face of the moon always faces the earth. 

And now the tricky part: “A tidally locked body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner.” Or, in other words, the moon takes 27.3 days to rotate once on its own axis as well as revolve around the earth. The sticking point for me was squaring the fact that the moon keeps the same face towards earth yet rotates around its axis. You can think of it this way: You are in the middle of a merry-go-round and a friend is facing you at the edge of the merry-go-round. After one complete revolution of the merry-go-round, your friend has made one revolution around you *as well as* one on his own axis. Think about it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Seattle Art Museum: Edward Hopper's Women

Hopper's Chop Suey
The exhibit Edward Hopper’s Women is at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) from November 13, 2008 – March 1, 2009. A small number of paintings are presented including the famous Chop Suey (1929) pictured above. Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967) was an American painter and printmaker whose work spans 60 years.

The exhibit opens a new window on to the artist beyond the creator of “those” mid-century, nostalgic, film-noir-ish, iconographic views of diners. (Sorry, we can’t help but to mention OMD’s inspired Hopper cover for Crush.) Instead, Hopper’s work becomes more narrative as you learn about him as a person (introverted) and his relentless study of people, especially the modern American women in urban scenes. Part of the key to deciphering Hopper, is understanding his relationship with his wife Josephine. She was the model for most if not all of the women in the paintings, and more importantly, the psychology of their hinted-at cool relationship makes the paintings perhaps a bit more understandable. Aspects of their relationship seem to be played out in the paintings: cool and detached, figures, whether one or more, seem isolated and you the viewer feels voyeuristic.

Through two world wars, the Great Depression, and various art trends not much changed in Hopper’s work. Was that because American life truly didn’t change or Hopper’s interest didn’t?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lapham’s Quarterly : Ways of Learning

Ways of Learning
We were shopping the other day in our nearby grocery store and this magazine caught my eye: Lapham’s Quarterly: Ways of Learning. I bought it and am glad I did. The quarterly contains over 200 pieces (often excerpted from larger works) that focus on education and learning. The roster of contributors is varied and includes Plato, Thomas Jefferson, Helen Keller, Leonardo Da Vinci, Confucius and Salvador Dalí to name a few. I wasn't familiar with many of the contributors and that is half the fun: any one of the pieces is a jumping off point for further exploration. The quarterly is worth it, if not to get some exposure to different voices throughout history.

The forward by editor Lewis Lapham lays out the theme of the issue: the state of education past and present as viewed by authors “whose writings have passed the test of time.” The lead off quote by Plutarch states succinctly one of the ways educations could and has gone wrong: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” While some of the writing gives advice, most of the pieces are stories of individuals in, out, and around the educational system. You the reader are left to draw your own conclusions. One story in particular that demonstrates this is an excerpt by Helen Keller (1880 – 1968): The Story of My Life. In the excerpt Keller describes how her first teacher Anne Sullivan spelled words into her hand (fingerspelling) and the transformative effect that had on her – the naming of things and the fire that kindled in her to then know all the names of things. Keller became deaf, blind, and mute after contracting an illness as an infant.

One theme that arises often in the quarterly is an idea raised in the 1905 essay The Ph.D. Octopus by William James (1842 – 1910): that our educational system often emphasizes the diploma as the best measure of future instructor’s capability, an idea in which James takes issue. In the essay (also included in the quarterly) James tells the story of a man who becomes a professor but didn’t have a Ph.D. and how that caused a bit of a scandal at the time. James advises that we must keep in check the hold of the Ph.D. Octopus upon American life.

The quarterly includes a funny excerpt from Anders Henriksson’s book, Non Campus Mentis, where he assembles “historical” writings from college exams and term papers to create a new kind of history. The essay starts as: “Civilization woozed out of the Nile about 300,000 years ago. The Nile was a river that had some water in it. Every year it would flood and irritate the land.”

For a description of the quarterly in Lapham’s own words, there is an ABC (Australian Broadcast Corporation) interview that is informative.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pioneer Museum – Imperial Valley

Produce Labels at the Pioneer Museum in Imperial Valley

We spent an hour touring the Pioneer Museum of the Imperial Valley. What I learned: 1) The current incarnation of the Salton Sea was formed from a 1905 flood when the Colorado River broke a dike and flooded what was called the Salton Sink. 2) Barbara Worth was a character in the novel The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright (1872 – 1944). Wright was a resident of the Imperial Valley and has a section in the museum dedicated to him. 3) A sand spike is a natural concretion that they still don’t know for sure how it is formed. (Wave action in Pleistocene sea is one possibility). The spikes seem to be only found in the Imperial Valley and, in particular, around Mt. Signal. 4) After water was first brought to what was called the Colorado Desert in 1901 and now is called the Imperial Valley, people of all nationalities came to the valley to farm. The museum in fact has a large section with small exhibits dedicated to nationalities like French, Japanese, Portuguese, Lebanese, East Indian, Greek, and of course Italian to name a few. Local families of each nationality donated items for the exhibits.

We happened to go with a couple of long time residents of the area so it was interesting to watch their reactions to the museum pointing out so-and-so and getting the back-story .

The Pioneer Museum is located near the Imperial Valley College at 373 East Aten Road on Highway 111 in Imperial, California. There is a small admission fee.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Puerto Nuevo

A Band in Brawley

Puerto Nuevo is a Sea Food and Mexican restaurant in Brawley California (1191 Main St.). On this particular night a very loud 4-piece band (Norteño is my best guess of the style) accompanied an interesting Mexican meal focused on fish. We had a tasty cold, mixed fish appetizer composed of different types of fresh fish mixed with cucumber and avocado. Each of our main plates looked good but I opted for the simple fish tacos which were good.


Update 2011-05-31: This place is now closed and our Imperial Valley hosts say that a number of businesses have come and gone in this location.


Sugarcane stalks
While driving around the Imperial Valley we went by a field where a crew was throwing what looked like sticks into furrows and covering them. We stopped and talked to some of the crew and found out that they were planting sugarcane (Saccharum) – a genus of tall perennial grasses from which sugar is produced.

The crew gave us a sample (see photo) of the cane they were planting. Once buried the new sugarcane sprouts from the nodes of the old canes. New plants can grow up to 12 feet or more. Once they are mature they are harvested (leaving the roots and a few inches of stalk for re-growth – called ratoons) and then brought to the factory for processing. In the factory canes are crushed to extract the sweet juice that goes through further processing to make sugar. Sugarcane is the source of 70% of the world’s sugar supply. Other uses of sugarcane include ethanol production.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

TravelMarx Music Recommendations– Music to Think By

Englaborn Fordlandia
This past weekend, I went out looking for some new music and discovered a couple of new (to me) artists: Jóhann Jóhannsson (Icelandic) and Max Richter (British, German-born). Often this music is described as post-X or experimental-X with X being a variety of genres. I’m not sure about music labels, but I will say that you will not find this music on the radio.

The first CD I’ll mention is Jóhannsson’s Englabörn (preview the tracks) – the name of an Icelandic play it was written for. The title means “angels”. The music features quartet, piano, glockenspiel, percussion, and organ. The second CD is Jóhannsson’s Fordlândia (preview the tracks) – inspired partly by the story of the rubber plantation, Fordlândia, that Henry Ford established in the Amazon jungle in the 1920s. The music on both CDs is part thoughtful, part wistful, part hypnotic. It’s spacious if that makes sense in terms of music.

The third CD is Richter’s The Blue Notebooks (preview the tracks) – inspired by Kafka’s Blue Ocatvo Notebooks. Interspersed in music are short literary readings by Tilda Swinton. On Richter’s site, the music is described as “somewhere between a certain dream sense of wonder / awe and a heavy melancholia.” It’s interesting why The Blue Notebooks and Englabörn seem to be what I’m craving musically: a desire for wordless music that is slow-moving, and sad (though sadness is in the mind of the beholder I guess).

On a side note, these two purchases also represent the first digital purchases I ever have made. I don’t like the fact that I don’t get any decent liner notes or album imagery (at least from Amazon where I purchased the music), but, getting the music quickly is nice and the fact that I only have to worry about digital storage and not physical storage of the CD is a bit of a relief.

Second side note: Fordlandia can be purchased in the AAC (designed to be the successor to mp3) format at 192kbp at 4AD.
Blue Notebooks

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Museum of Flight

Great Gallery - Museum of Flight Seattle
We went to the Museum of Flight last weekend and had a good time. There’s a lot to see and even if you have just a passing interest in space and aviation there will be something to keep you interested. We spent two hours and really didn’t get past seeing the Airpark and the Great Gallery. The Airpark has aircraft that you can go into including a Concorde and a former Air Force One plane. The Concorde could fly between Paris and New York in ½ the time of a normal flight. In certain transatlantic flights leaving from Paris or Heathrow it would be possible to leave after sunset, catch up with the sun, land in daylight and experience sunset again! The Air Force One at the Airpark was in the presidential fleet from 1959 to 1996.

After the Airpark visit we spent the rest of the time in the Great Gallery wandering around. We tried one of the two simulators (the easier one). One of the sexiest airplanes (did I just say that??) is the Blackbird – cruising at 85,000 feet and at speeds of more than Mach 3.

It’s definitely worth a visit back to catch the rest of the exhibits. The Museum of Flight is located several miles south of downtown Seattle here.
Presidential State Room on Former Air Force One
Aerial View of Airpark of Musume of Flight - Seattle

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Voting Buddy System

Ballot Instruction
We filled out our absentee ballots Saturday night and Sunday morning using teamwork. It really took several hours to review all the information. There were 35 choices ranging from county charter amendments, judicial positions, regional transit issues, and local levies not to mention the biggies like president and governor. For each choice we both did research (internet) and argued different sides until we came to a conclusion where we agreed or disagreed but felt firm in our decisions. The hard choices for us in this election were Lieutenant Governor (what does this position really do?), Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Superintendent of Public Instruction. (For the latter one we called our neighbor a teacher and her first hand experience helped us decide.) For the judicial positions, this Web site was of use. For ballot measures, this site was useful if not a bit incomplete. This site had some concerncs about absentee ballots that are interesting.

Olivotto’s Tombstone

Olivotto's Marker in Fort Lawton Cemetery - Seattle, Discovery Park

Guglielmo Olivotto’s (see previous posts Italians in Discovery Park and Fort Lawton Riot, 1944) tombstone can be found in one corner of the Fort Lawton Cemetery (location). It’s sad that the tombstone is off by itself and is not integrated more harmoniously with the rest of the cemetery. Who knows if he is even buried there?

 Fort Lawton Cemetery - Seattle, Discovery Park

Fort Lawton Riot, 1944

Cover of the Book: Fort Lawton Riot, 1944

The book Fort Lawton Riot, 1944 by Dominic W. Moreo is about the bloody riot on the night of August 14th, 1944. I downloaded it to get more of a feel for what happened that night when an Italian man, Guglielmo Olivotto, lost his life. Olivotto is pictured on the front cover of the book. He was from the town of Nervesa della Battagli in the Veneto region of Italy. 

What happened the night of the riot? In short: booze, tension (from all sides, between whites and blacks, Americans and Italians), and inept leadership that at several points during the night could have limited the damage. It seems that the Army was very anxious to reach some kind of quick resolution and find culprits to appear to be complying with the Geneva Convention of 1929. However, in the rush, all sorts of evidence were destroyed. Olivotto was fearful of black soldiers because of the atrocities he had witnessed in POW holding camps in Tunisia. During the night of the riot, Olivotto leapt out of his barrack's window right into the waiting hands of several angry, black soldiers who, it appears from the evidence, drug him to his death. He was discovered the morning after the riot strung up on a wire. His gravestone. Previous post: Italians in Discovery Park.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Departures: The Day and Night Watch

Day and Night Watch
We got our Departures magazine this month (the same magazine that gave us Luxurious Flying) and were so delighted to flip through it. Boy are there lots of watch ads. You know how well we love our watches at TravelMarx (see this post). One ad stuck out for us, and that is the Swiss watchmaker Romain Jerome’s watches made from pieces of the Titanic. Okay, not so bad we thought, though, a bit ugly.

Later in the same magazine there was an article on “necessary luxuries” with a quote from the WSJ wealth reporter Robert Frank that goes like this: luxury is not dead, just conspicuous consumption is. Furthermore, we are now in an era where we are buying (luxuries) that “fuel our passion and fulfill a part of our identity”. Does that include food, gas, and healthcare?

After a bit of poking around on Frank’s blog site this article on a watch that doesn’t tell time caught our eye and voilà we are back visiting the Swiss watchmaker. Romain Jerome’s Day & Night Watch only tells you if it is day or night. Why bother with the actual time? If you are wealthy enough to buy this watch, perhaps people wait for you? I immediately think of the Elton John song Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters with the lyric (from the 1972 Honky Chateau album):

While Mona Lisas and mad hatters,
sons of bankers, sons of lawyers, turn
around and say, "good morning" to the night.
For unless they see the sky, but
they can't and that is why,
they know not if it's dark out side or light.

The watch advertising goes “the Day & Night watch offers a new way of measuring time, splitting the universe of time into two fundamentally opposing sections: day versus night”. And to think we thought the calculator wrist watch was radical.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Rashomon Effect and The Election

Do you get those election emails that subtly or not-so subtly bash one candidate or party? Do you also get the person who “passes” customized email with a personalized message of “just passing these on as they come my way…” as if he or she couldn’t help but press send? Let me just say, we are not swing voters so these emails rarely speak to us. Secondly, facts compiled in these emails are rarely trustworthy, especially when it says at the bottom, “pass this along to as many people as you can!”. Thirdly, we are in our consonant bubble of belief – leave us alone!

One of the ideas we’ve tried to keep in the back of our minds this election season is that we are not that dissimilar from our fellow Americans; not as disimmilar as you would think watching the media. We keep this idea alive because otherwise communicating and reaching out would seem out of the question. (But, boy is it hard with the current cast of characters on the national stage.) Reaching out is especially important in politically split families. One family member sees a particular candidate’s potential election to the presidency as “we are going to hell in a hand basket” while another one sees it as hope. It’s the Rashomon effect applied to our views of plausible outcomes for the next four years for this country.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Italians in Discovery Park

Magnolia Bluffs from Discovery Park Lighthouse 

We took a short bike ride over to Discovery Park today and enjoyed some great fall weather here in Seattle. Discovery Park is the largest park in Seattle at 535 acres. It was formerly known as Fort Lawton and was a United States Army fort. One interesting thing that we learned was that during World War II Fort Lawton held a couple hundred Italian Prisoners of War. The POWs were able to become Italian Service Units (ISUs) within the army once Italy left the war in September 1943. This was the case for the Italian POWs at Fort Lawton. 

One Italian solider, Guglielmo Olivotto was lynched during a night of rioting between Italian POWs and American soldiers. The resulting (rushed and botched) trial was the largest and longest U.S. Army court-martial of World War II. 

 Guglielmo Olivotto arrived at the Fort on May 21, 1944 in a group of Italian POWs that were captured in Tunisia, North Africa. At Fort Lawton, there was an Italian section (housing) and a section for black American soldiers. On August 14th 1944 a bloody riot took place between the two groups. It was the eve of the black soldiers shipping out and tensions were high. On August 15th the body of Olivotto was discovered at the base of Magnolia bluffs. He died of strangulation; he was hung from wires. 

Within the last 10 years, the case was brought to light again with the book On American Soil: How Justice Became A Casualty of World War II by Seattle journalist Jack Hamann. His research revealed that the prosecution was flawed which led to the case being reopened and it ruled that the prosecutor had committed “egregious error” and the trial was “fundamentally unfair”. All convictions were overturned and retroactive honorable discharges were issued to the convicted black soldiers. But, the question remains in my mind, who killed Olivotto? When does his story come to a conclusion? 

Here’s a nice audio summary from Weekend America and some more background.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Means

We were at a financial seminar tonight (who isn’t these days?) about the history of the stock market. During the presentation, the presenter was talking about arithmetic means and geometric means. I realized that I didn't really remember the difference, so here is a quick primer on it based on what I learned brushing up on my math.

The arithmetic mean is the sum of a list of numbers divided by the number of items in the list. The geometric mean is the nth root of the product (multiplication) of all the items in a list where n is the number of items in the list. The harmonic mean is the reciprocal of the arithmetic mean of the reciprocals. It can be confusing to know when to use each type of mean. I’ll use some investment examples here to illustrate all three.

Scenario 1: Suppose you have three friends. Each starts with some sum of money and then each reports back after some period of time of investing (for example, a year) how much money they made. Suppose they report 20%, 10%, and -10%.
Question 1: What is the average rate of return?
Answer 1: In this case you simply use the arithmetic mean to get 6.67%. So far, so good.

Scenario 2: Suppose you start with $100. After year one, you have $120. After year two, you have $132, and after year three you have $118.80. These numbers are equivalent to having a 20% rate of return the first year, a 10% rate of return the second year and a-10% rate of return the third year. So we have similar percentages as in scenario 1.
Question 2: What is the rate of return such that for each year if you applied that rate you would end up with $118.80?
Answer 2: In this case you don’t use the arithmetic mean, you use the geometric mean to get (1.20*1.10*0.9) ^ (1/3) = 0.0591 or 5.91%. To check this we can simply calculate $100*1.0591*1.0591*1.0591 = $118.80.
If you thought the arithmetic mean would work simply run through the calculation ($100*1.0667*1.0667*1.0667 = $121.36) to find it is not correct. If you thought you could just take the $118.80 - $100 to get $18.80 and divide that by 3 (number of years) you get 6.27% which if you check the calculation gives you $120.01. Again, not correct. Both of these approaches are not correct because the compounding nature (multiplicative) of the calculation means that an arithmetic mean is not appropriate.

Scenario 3: Suppose you save $1,200 by saving $100 every month. Then, you save another $1,200 by saving $120 every month followed, finally by saving yet another $1,200 by saving $200 every month. At the end you would have $3,600 and it would have taken you 12+10+6=28 months to save.
Question 3: What is the average savings rate per month?
Answer 3: Your first response is to take $3,600 and divide by 28 which is $128.57. In this case it is easy to calculate, but if you had lots of saving periods, say over 20 years, you might want a short cut to calculate this. This is where you the harmonic mean comes into play. The harmonic mean would be 3/ ((1/$100) + (1/$120) + (1/$200)) = $128.57. The harmonic mean is used is situations when you dealing with rates.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Luxurious Flying

Luxurious Flying Sample 1 Luxurious Flying Sample 2
We just got back from the East Coast and took a non-stop from Seattle to Boston and back. While not a bad flight, regular class is always a bit cramped and a strain. At least we had the means to make the flight. Today we received this magazine that couldn’t be farthest from our style but it ends up in our mail every so often. (Just call us uneducated and uncouth, but outlandish jewelry dripping with gems and uber-fancy resorts with not a soul in sight just don’t register.) The magazine is called Departures. (It’s so exclusive you can’t even see its Web site without logging in, so there!) In flipping through the magazine we just had to share these two advertisements for a type of flying that is a world apart from what the average person experiences. Welcome to the world of luxury flying. In the first ad, check out the size of those seats! A family of four can easily fit in one. In the second ad, you might think it’s an ad for a hotel room and you would be partially correct. It’s a “personal bedroom at 35,000 feet with dual sliding doors”! What if you have a really loud person one “personal bedroom” over? Diminishes the $9,000 or so for the space. Stick to economy, set your expectations low, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New England Architecture

Pine Meadow, CT House
Pine Meadow, CT Church
These two photos were taken in a small town called Pine Meadow, CT (map). I have gone past this house and church a thousand times, but this is the first time I ever got out to look at them closely and appreciate the architecture. One of the photos is a church and the other is a house for sale. (Hmmm, wonder how much.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Blind vs. Hidden Driveway


Driving around residential Connecticut we saw a lot of blind and hidden driveway warning signs. After a while, we started to wonder what the difference is between a blind driveway and hidden driveway road sign. Our guess is this: to the driver on a road, a driveway can be hidden (HIDDEN sign). And, that same driver should be careful because drivers emerging from the driveway are blind to what’s coming on the road (BLIND sign). In general, it's best to interpret both as BE CAREFUL. 

We never did find a suitable but did find some fun sites where you can learn more about traffic signs: 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

New England State Nicknames

Do you know the nickname of your state? Your neighboring states? Didn’t think so. While in New England this week, we got to thinking about state nicknames. The “official” nicknames for some New England states are: Connecticut the Consitution State, Maine the Pine Tree State, Massachusetts the Bay State, New Hamsphire the Granite State, Rhode Island the Ocean State, and Vermont the Green Mountain State.

An unofficial nickname for Connecticut is “Nutmeg State” which always baffled me. It’s not because nutmeg (Myristica fragans) was grown there. The common explanation is that shrewd peddlers would sell small carved nobs of wood shaped like nutmeg to unsuspecting customers wanting a little something from the spice islands. Try grinding that for your pumpkin pie. [ref]

Cape Cod National Seashore Park

Map of Province Lands Bike Trails

We experienced the Cape Cod National Seashore Park in two ways (map). One day we just wandered around in the dunes just north of Mayflower Heights, with no particular destination. The next day we rented bikes and biked in the part called Province Lands Trail (pdf). There are several places to rent bikes; we rented at a place called Gale Force Bikes and had a good experience. There is a little market/deli in the same building where you can grab some snacks and water. The ride was a blast. There were six of us and a young child. (You can rent trailers for kids naturally.)

Much of the area we walked and biked in was completely deforested by European settlers from 1650 and 1900. Some of the forest has grown back.

View Looking North from Province Lands Visitor Center

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Quahog Clam

Bucket of Quahogs
After just a few days in the Cape and you can’t help but run into the word “quahog” - pronounced "ko-hog". It is a type of clam that are particularly common from Cape Cod to New Jersey. Quahogs can also be referred to other names based on their size, e.g. littlenecks, topnecks, cherrystones, etc. The distinctive name comes from the once-extinct-and-now-partially-revived Narragansett (Algonquin) language.
The bucket of quahogs attached to this post are from a clambake we had on the beach. Tough life, we know.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum

Pilgrim Monument
We are in Cape Cod for the weekend. Today we stopped by the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum for a few hours. The museum is in Provincetown, Massachusetts – at the tip of Cape Cod (map). The 252 foot Pilgrim Monument is an orienting landmark that can be seen for miles around and beckons you to climb it. The tower was built between 1907 and 1910 to commemorate the first landfall of the pilgrims in 1620. It was build to resemble the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy (all the more reason for us to climb it). The Siena tower is about 335 feet high.

The climb to the top of Pilgrim Monument tower is relatively easy; there are 60 ramps and 116 stairs (all inside). There is a nice view from the top as a reward. You should set aside about 20 minutes for climbing the tower and looking out from the top in all directions. Besides the monument there is the Provincetown Museum that you can easily spend about an hour looking through. (One ticket at $7 gets you both the monument and museum.) The one thing that we remembered the most from the museum was the exhibit on Donald B. MacMillan, a native of Provincetown. MacMillan journeyed to the North Pole with Peary in 1909 and then went on to explore Greenland, Nova Scotia, and Labrador (Atlantic Canada) among many, many other accomplishments. The main pier in Provincetown is named after MacMillan.

MacMillan Trophy MacMillan Trophy
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