Saturday, January 31, 2009

Howard Goodwall’s How Music Works

How Music Works Series - with Howard Goodall 

We finished watching the four part series How Music Works with Howard Goodall and wanted to recommend it to those interested in music. The series analyzes the fundamental components of music breaking the components into melody, rhythm, harmony, and bass. Each component is treated in a 50 minute segment. The series was first broadcast on Channel 4 in 2006. 

How Music Works largely focuses on western music. Within western music though, it touches on a little of everything from early church music to classical to jazz to pop to rap. You’ll even catch a couple of snippets of modern music videos. And, you can’t help but come away with the fact that Goodall is just a little smitten with Stevie Wonder who is featured at several points in the series. In particular, two of Wonder’s “classic-period” albums Innervisions (1973) and Fullfillingness’ First Finale (1974) are given high praise.

Innervisions - Stevie Wonder - album cover Fulfillingness' First Finale - Stevie Wonder - album cover

Our Name in History Books – A Critical Review

Our Name in History Series offers customized books providing a historical look at your family surname. The books are called Our Name in History. The innovative idea is that they send you a book customized for a name you specify. Sounds like a great idea, right? Well, it is sort of. It depends on where you are in your family history research and how much you want to know about your family. The bottom line is that these books are interesting from a high level point of view but can lead you astray in any sort of specific details about your family. 

I recently received, as a gift, four of these books each customized for four last names of one of my parents. The names are Bruno, Orobello, Maiuri, and Vinti. I was eager to look at them and try to make sense of the data. The more I looked through the books however, the more I realized that I could draw really wrong conclusions given the data presented. I can say this because I already know a fair bit about the family members with these names. 

Behind these books are “billions of historical records covering hundreds of years of history”. I’ve worked with enough data to know that it doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the right context or the data is not relevant. To’s credit, they try to give context to the data, but they do it by pairing a very broad historic context on a specific subject (like marriage in the 1920s) with very specific family data (like which states had the highest divorce rates for people with the Bruno surname). Sounds fine, but looking at the percentages for the Bruno name I see very round numbers like 25%, 50% and 0% which leads me to suspect that the number of data points used was too small and they shouldn’t be saying anything at all about this subject. 

I suspect that the creation of the books is highly automated and that no one is considering your family name specifically and choosing what goes into your book. Given this, it’s no mystery that an automated generation process with access to billions of bits of information can lead to weird results. In some cases the data is not even correct. For example, a table listing places of origins for the Bruno name lists Palermo and Naples as countries. You may say, oh an oversight, but if you can’t get the basics right, how can you trust other data? 

It’s not all suspect. There are some tables and charts that are interesting. For example, a graph of the number of Bruno immigrant arrivals from 1820 to 1940 is interesting but only because there are enough data points to make the graph interesting. But, then again with another name, Maiuri, the graph looks like shark teeth – jagged – since it was dealing with 1 or 2 people immigrating sporadically. This was not a particularly useful graph. On the very same page there is a “most common days of arrival” for the Maiuri name. I learned that the they arrived mostly on Tuesday, Thursday and Monday. What does that tell me? That they were busy on weekends? Similarly useless is the killers of Brunos between 1850 and 1880: trismus nascentium, pyemia, pleurisy, cynanche, consumption – with the cool part that these diseases got together and each decided to kill only 20% of the Brunos a piece. Very democratic diseases or general historic estimates? 

The layout of the book are as so: 

A two page introduction to the book. 

Historical Timeline
A two page spread of key events from 1840 to the present with callouts for facts about your family. 

Bruno Historial Timeline 

Family Facts 
The bulk of each book’s content is in this section. The number of pages will vary from name to name. For the Bruno name it runs about 60 pages. For the Maiuri name, a less common surname, this section is just 44 pages. The difference in the number of pages is due to the fact that there may be no or little information to justify a particular section. For example, if there is no information for a section title Name Distribution in 1840, then your customized book will leave out that page or two. This typical flow of content in this section of the book is one page of general information, e.g. one page on the voyage to America followed by another page (usually an adjacent page) where you’ll see a table listing the most common ship names that people with the specific surname arrived on. 

Discover Your Family 
The last 16 pages are about how to gather and organize information about your family. This section seems to be the same for all books. It’s fairly informative but not that much different from what you can find elsewhere other than it is all in one convenient location. 

Additional Material 
Two CDs. One is Our History in Images and the other is Family Tree Maker / Starter Edition. The first CD didn’t work on my laptop in Windows Vista. When I tried to autoplay a cryptic access violation message appeared. By drilling down into the CD I could see photos that I could browse, but was missing the context that the packaged viewer (viewer.exe) would provide. Too bad because it looked interesting. Advantages of the book:
  • The historical context is useful for those who are not acquainted at all with history or have not done any previous family history research.
  • For someone well versed in his family history, the book could (with careful attention) help confirm or rule out some uncertain parts of his family history.
  • The last section has resources and web sites all in one spot that can help you take the next step.
Disadvantages of the book:
  • You won’t learn much of substance about your family unless you are forced to dig and hunt for information yourself. Sorry, there’s no easy way out. No pain, no gain. Reading relatively “high-level” information in a book like this doesn’t tell you the specifics of your family. Talk to people in your family – you’ll get more relevant information. Or, if there is no one to talk to there are loads of places to start looking (like cemetery records, naturalization records, city halls, etc.) – it just takes more effort.
  • The production of these books is highly automated and data is crunched through algorithms to spit out these tables and graphs. It’s not all useful or relevant and at times the data presented can be misleading and give you a false feeling about “knowing” what your family was like.
  • The book mingles nostalgic, misty-eyed immigration information with seemingly personalized information about a family name. I found the formula a bit calculated to use any sentiment of the larger story to gloss over they were lacking in concrete information.
Recommendation: If you are just starting out in family history research and you have money to spare, try one of these books for one surname. Compare information in the book about what you find out for yourself. 

Origin of Brunos

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Our friends from Perugia came over and together we made strufoli, a sweet, fried bread/cake eaten during Carnival. Is it spelled with one “f” or two? We were told one, but it seems that many people use two. As well, the shape the strufoli take seems to depend on what region you are talking about. Ours were more or less circular. The common English name for strufoli is “honey balls”.

The strufoli we made had the same basic ingredients that other recipes you can find have: eggs, flour, sugar, olive oil, and baking powder (“lievito pane degli angeli per dolci”). They are not surprisingly as filling as they may look given that they are fried. Drizzle a nice flavorful honey over them and you’ve got a Carnival snack before you have to declare them off limits for Lent.

Coffee: The World in Your Cup

Coffee Exhibit at the Burke Museum
At the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture the exhibit Coffee: The World in Your Cup runs from January 24 to June 7, 2009. As part of the exhibit there are Saturday and Sunday coffee tastings. Today we tasted coffee from Pangaea an artisan microroaster located in the Wallingford neighborhood. We got a chance to talk to one of the founders of Pangaea and it was nice to hear the excitement and passion he expressed in providing the fair trade coffee they do.

What is fair trade coffee or fair trade anything? Fair trade had a formal definition (see previous link) that I’ll summarize as the condition of the consumer of an international product being more aware and more appreciative of a product acquired fairly than he/she is of one acquired conventionally. The definition of fair trade only came together in the late 1990s. The earliest example of fair trading of international goods was with the nonprofit group Ten Thousand Villages founded by Edna Ruth Byler who began selling handcrafted products out of the trunk of her car in 1946.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Dunsmuir Saga

The Dunsmuir Saga

After telling a coworker that I had visited Craigdarroch Castle she showed up with the book, The Dunsmuir Saga by Terry Reksten. To tell the truth I wasn’t really interested in learning anymore about the family or reading the book, but, I took the book home. While flipping through it I did become interested in two family members: Elinor Dunsmuir (1887-1938) and Dola Dunsmuir (1903-1966). Both were daughters of James Dunsmuir (1851-1920) who was the son of Robert Dunsmuir (1825-1889) who built Craigdarroch. Elinor liked to dress in men’s clothes and smoke cigars. She was also probably the smartest and best read in the family. From the book: “She found female friends who shared her preferences, women who favoured tweed jackets and jodhpurs, and who, like Elinor, wore their hair cut short and blunt.” Sounds like a character you would want to get to know.

Dola was the youngest of James’ daughters and she was smitten with and had a 40 year friendship with Tallulah Bankhead (1902 – 1968). The book describes their relationship as “In the topsy-turvy, day for night world in which Tallulah spun, Dola was the pale moon revolving around her.” Bankhead had a long career, but, for the culturally challenged like me, I think of her as the Black Widow villainess ("Batman, dahling...") in Batman and her appearance on an I Love Lucy episode (dinner scene).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ballard Farmer’s Market Sign and Oregon Black Truffles

Vegetarian Sign
At the farmer’s market in Ballard today, we saw this sign at the booth that sells salmon. The sign reads: “Vegetarian: Old Indian Word for Bad Fisherman”.

Also, today was the first time we ran into Oregon black truffles, Leucangium carthusianum. They are also known as the Chartreuse truffle. They don’t at all resemble the European truffles we are more familiar with. The Oregon blacks have a more sour, almost blue cheese smell. They also have a very short shelf life.

Oregon blacks are native between Northern California and southern British Columbia at lower elevations of the west side of the Cascade Mountains. They are collected by raking away litter and soil matter to get at them – a method that has raised concerns about the damage incurred and the ability for the truffles to recover.

We had them with some eggs immediately after purchasing them. Very nice.
Oregon Black TrufflesEggs and Oregon Black Truffles

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Douglas-Fir – What’s in a name?

Looking out our window we can easily spot a half dozen Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), it being a common tree in Seattle. But what does the name mean? After a little digging we found out that the origin of the Douglas-fir common and scientific names are kind of interesting. The common name honors the Scottish botanist David Douglas (1798 – 1834) who introduced the tree into cultivation in 1826. (Douglas died under mysterious conditions after falling into a pit trap in Hawaii!?) The genus name, Pseudotsuga, means “false tsuga” because it resembles trees of the Tsuga genus, but isn’t one. The species name, menziesii, honors the Scottish surgeon and naturalist Archibald Menzies (1754 – 1842). And finally, the hyphen in the common name indicates that it isn’t a true fir or a member of the Abies genus.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Burke Museum, University of Washington

Burke Museum - Mastadon

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is located in the north end of the University of Washington campus. Today, we spent a few hours there looking primarily at the two long term exhibits Life and Times of Washington State and Pacific Voices

We were impressed by the Life and Times exhibit because it takes you from about 450 million years ago to present day and along the way shows you fossils and discusses geology. For us, the most interesting fossils were the full size mastodon (Mammut americanum) and the giant sloth (Megalonyx) called the Sea-Tac sloth. The later fossil is 12 feet long and was discovered in 1961 during work for the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. 

The Life and Times exhibit also does a good job of introducing you to Washington’s geologic history. By the end you might have a better idea of what the channeled scablands are and where the Palouse grasslands are. How old do you think the Cascade Range is? Surprisingly, they are not that old, only 5-7 millions years old. 

In the Pacific Voices exhibit there a lot of cultural things to see, but the one I’ll mention that I thought was the coolest was a Marshall Islands stick chart such as the one pictured here. They are typically made of coconut frond midribs with island locations represented by shells. The charts are interesting because they represent ocean swell patterns and how islands disrupt those patterns.

Burke Museum Brochure

Monday, January 5, 2009

Royal BC Museum, Victoria

Woolly Mammoth at the Royal BC Museum

Sunday, after a nice breakfast at Abigail’s Hotel, we walked over to the Royal BC Museum . The museum is located at 675 Belleville Street, almost at the harbor’s edge and between the Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel. We had heard that this was a definite-not-to-miss place and we’ll have to agree that it was pretty special. 

First, where did the “royal” come from in its name? In 1987 following the museum’s 100th birthday, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, gave it the new name directly from Queen Elizabeth II. Don’t forget that Canada is in the Commonwealth of Nations that each has Elizabeth II as their monarch. 

We started in the Natural History Gallery and were immediately wowed by the exhibits. Note the woolly mammoth exhibit has real ice! I think after wandering around there we finally know our Thuja plicata (western red cedar) from our Tsuga heterophylla (western hemlock) from our Pseudotsuga menzieisii (Douglas fir). 

Next was the Ocean Station exhibit, which was pretty cool. Kids were running around playing with everything and it certainly satisfies them, but there’s a lot for adults too. (I felt a little bad for elbowing out a little kid to look through the microscope, but it had to be done since she was hogging it.) The exhibit was cleverly designed to feel like you were in an underwater exploration vessel. 

Next on the list was the First Peoples Gallery which again, was well done. Usually Northwest Native American exhibits always leave me cold (for example, the Seattle Art Museum’s never has worked for us) but here it was very interesting. Maybe because here it’s done through an anthropological lenses and it’s not in an art museum. I found I was reading about different aspects of First Peoples’ life and was truly interested and thought wow, some of this stuff is beautiful, without be told explicitly: this is art.

After an interesting IMAX movie break and lunch at the nice café in the museum, we tackled the Modern History Gallery. Again, it was interesting for sure and well executed, but it felt a little like a strange cross between Disney and Westworld (Remember that movie? Here’s the trailer to jog your memory). I kept expecting Yul Brynner to start chasing us through the streets of the small faux town.

First Peoples Gallery at the Royal BC Museum

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

Don Jean-Louis - Silver Works Odds and Ends - Emily Carr
Left: Don Jean-Louis - Silver Works. Right: Emily Carr - "Odds and Ends" (1939)

On the way back from Craigdarroch we stopped at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The gallery is about a 10 minute walk from the castle and is located at 1040 Moss Street. On coming to the front of the gallery you might be taken aback by the fact that a very modern looking structure has grown out of a Victorian mansion – like very unlikely Siamese twins. The Spencer Mansion was built in 1889 and was donated by Miss Sarah Spencer in 1951 to become the Art Gallery. As the collection grew new exhibition spaces were added between 1955 and 1978.

Exhibit-wise there were a couple of things going on: an exhibit by Don Jean-Louis called Silver Works, an exhibit called Lot in Life which explored activities we do to survive, Lab 8.3: Reconstitution by Nicholas and Sheila Pye – a video installation representing a modern triptych, and an exhibit called Emily Carr and her Contemporaries. Emily Carr (1871 - 1945) was one of Canada’s most beloved artists. She was also the mentor of Myfanwy Pavelic (1916 – 2007) best known for her portrait paintings. Both Carr and Pavelic were Victoria-born and Victoria is rightfully very proud of them.

A quote from the Lot in Life exhibit by Baron Grocott (1940 - ), a Labour Party Politician in the United Kingdom: “I have long been of the opinion that if work were such a splendid thing the rich would have kept more of it to themselves.”
Reconstitution - Pye

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria

Craigdarroch South Exterior

The first thing we did after checking into Abigail’s Hotel in Victoria was to head off to Craigdarroch Castle located at 1050 Joan Crescent Road. It’s about 20-30 minute walk from the hotel. We actually stopped on the way and had Thai food at a place that I don’t recall, but it is located next to a nice little bakery called Bubby Rose’s Bakery and Café at 1022 Cook St. We stopped at the café on the way back for coffee and snacks and it was good. 

The castle, how was it? It was interesting. We don’t turn down the opportunity to snoop around a castle when it arises. However, the castle didn’t really seemed to have that much “people history” and really is more interesting as an example of a Victorian-era house of the late 19th century. Houses of this period, built by rich industrialists, are sometimes referred to as “bonanza castles”. This bonanza castle was built between 1887 and 1890 for the Scottish immigrant turned coal baron Robert Dunsmuir (1825 – 1889), but he died before it was completed and he never lived there. His widow Joan lived there for 18 years and then after her death it was sold. Some of the items today in the house were purchased back from the big garage sale after Mrs. Dunsmuir’s death and others are of the same time period. The castle then went through a series of different uses in the 20th century. 

It’s interesting to note that much of the castle’s components (design, paneling, stained glass, etc.) came from the US. Might one infer that Dunsmuir wanted to show his American counterparts that he too could have good American craftsmanship? Craigdarroch means “rocky, oak place” in the Gaelic language which we think describes the site of that the castle is situated on. The castle used to sit on 28 acres. Today it is down to 1.75 acres and his hemmed in by a mix of housing, some nice and some not so nice. Old Dunny must be sighing.
Bubby Rose - Cafe On the Way to Craigdarroch

Abigail’s Hotel, Victoria

Abigail's Hotel Victoria BC
For our first foray outside the country in a while we choose something nearby: Victoria, BC. We took a one night Clipper Vacation and had a good time. We hit two museums (Royal BC Museum and the Art Gallery of Greater Victory) and one castle (Craigdarroch) and in general had a relaxing weekend.

The hotel included in the Clipper Vacation package was Abigail’s Hotel on 906 McClure Street. It’s about a 10 minute walk from where the clipper docks in Victoria. It’s a distance you can easily walk with a backpack or a small amount of luggage. We stayed in the hotel’s “coach house” and were happy. The Sunday breakfast was great and enough to keep you going all day.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Shilshole Breakwater Skeleton

Breakwater skeleton
Coming back to Shilshole Marina from an overnight stay in Port Townsend we were wondering if the ‘Breakwater Skeleton’ is some kind of a symbol of the new year?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Port Townsend – The Hastings Building

Hastings Building - Port Townsend
The Hastings Building in Port Townsend would not be out of place in Barcelona and posing as a Gaudi creation. It reminds us of Casa Milà better known of La Pedera (‘the quarry’). This photo was taken while we were taking a tour, on foot, of the town.

Port Townsend was founded in 1851 and is named after Marquis of Townshend (1724 – 1807) who was a friend of George Vancouver (1757 – 1798) who explored much of the Pacific Northwest. The railroad never came to Port Townsend to connect it with Tacoma in the late 1800s and the town languished until the 1970s when people started moving back.