Friday, August 14, 2015

Three songs

Here are three great songs that all seem to have something to do with sickness. That's weird, right?

"Cough Cough" by Everything Everything (which is "about having no money, and wanting more money, and wanting nothing to do with money at all," according to the lead singer, so maybe only metaphorically about sickness?)

"Cough Coughing" by Menomena

"Germs" by Yeasayer

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Aqua regia

I came across the term aqua regia while reading, and looked it up. Wikipedia says the term is from Latin for “royal water”, and is also known as aqua regis (Latin, “king’s water”). In modern chemistry it’s known as nitro-hydrochloric acid. It got its name “because it can dissolve the noble metals gold and platinum.”

A great story is related there:

When Germany invaded Denmark in World War II, Hungarian chemist George de Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prizes of German physicists Max von Laue (1914) and James Franck (1925) in aqua regia to prevent the Nazis from confiscating them. The German government had prohibited Germans from accepting or keeping any Nobel Prize after jailed peace activist Carl von Ossietzky had received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935. De Hevesy placed the resulting solution on a shelf in his laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute. It was subsequently ignored by the Nazis who thought the jar—one of perhaps hundreds on the shelving—contained common chemicals. After the war, de Hevesy returned to find the solution undisturbed and precipitated the gold out of the acid. The gold was returned to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation. They re-cast the medals and again presented them to Laue and Franck.

(From Wikipedia article “Aqua regia”.)

I know the name Carl von Ossietzky from many street names in former East Germany, but didn’t know anything about him, so it was time to fill that gap a bit. I figured he was a persecuted Communist from the pre-World War II era. Actually he was not: He wasn’t a Communist and actually criticized German and Soviet Communism. He was a German pacifist who was “convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931 after publishing details of Germany’s alleged violation of the Treaty of Versailles by rebuilding an air force, the predecessor of the Luftwaffe, and training pilots in the Soviet Union.” He died while in a hospital under police custody. Interestingly, the case was later reopened by his daughter and in 1992 the 1931 “verdict was upheld by the Federal Court of Justice”.

These two anecdotes send a mixed message to us about how historical wrong may or may not be righted. When you are right but treated as wrong in your own time, even if many later view history as having vindicated you, sometimes it is formally recognized and sometimes not.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

A few weeks ago we took a family vacation up to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We drove through Missoula, Montana; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Spokane, Washington; and Seattle, Washington. It was a long drive, but beautiful, and we got to meet up with some people along the way.

In Vancouver we stayed at the Sylvia Hotel, a hundred-year-old hotel right by the beach on English Bay. Here was one of the views from our room on the top (8th) floor:

And here is the nearby beach we went back to many times:

We were in Vancouver at this time primarily to meet Erin's brother Colter Jacobsen for his art show at The Apartment art gallery. See Colter above wearing their Grandpa's work shirt with his name Virg on it! Here are photos of some of the pieces from the art show:

The area of town around the art gallery is where the heavy drug users congregate, and with the kids we saw junkies and near-zombies roaming in their altered states, along with the beautiful gardens and interesting mix of shops in Chinatown.

Colter stayed with us at our hotel most of the time and we got to see a lot of sights together, play games in the hotel room, and so on, which was a lot of fun.

On Sunday after church we went to the nearby Queen Elizabeth Park, which has the highest point in Vancouver (which is of course still not very high):

And in the evening we walked halfway around Stanley Park, near our hotel on English Bay:

On Monday, Jacob, Phin, and I hiked the Grouse Grind, which climbs 2800 feet in 1.8 miles. It earned the name. It was a fun hike, with beautiful forest and occasional views. It was a busy trail with people from all over, and I got to speak to several Germans who were visiting. We were disappointed that they don't allow you to hike down, and you have to ride the gondola. But that was fun too, and we spent a little time hiking around more on top, where we saw some captive bears let out to play.

We walked a few miles to Gastown, an historic and touristy district:

All around English Bay were nice walking paths, seawalls, beaches:

And to wrap things up with a sighting of urban confusion, the owner of this car seems to be a little confused about the industrial technology and infrastructure required to make it go:

We had a great time in Vancouver and look forward to visiting again someday!

Cicely, Alaska (Roslyn, Washington)

We missed out on the TV series Northern Exposure when it first aired, but Erin got into reruns of it in the late 1990s, and we’ve watched most of it on DVD since. Phin has lately started watching it from the beginning too, during his rare allotted blocks of TV time.

During our recent drive up to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, we took the opportunity to make a little side trip to Roslyn, Washington, which was the actual location of the fictional Cicely, Alaska portrayed in Northern Exposure.

It’s a very small town, and we were there late enough in the day that most businesses were closed, but it was fun to see it in person at last.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Look! Lorelai from Gilmore Girls wrote a novel! Okay, it's written by the actor who played Lorelai, but whatever. I will continue to refer to it as "that book by Lorelai."

Apparently, Lauren Graham used her own experiences trying to become an actress in New York as inspiration for this fun story. It's funny and fun and sweet and enjoyable. I liked it a lot.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I loved this novel about an architect mother who goes missing. The story is told through emails, letters, notes, and journal-like entries compiled by her 15-year-old daughter. Sometimes it reminded me of Douglas Coupland's writing. Also, it made me think about going to Antarctica. Really good book!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Broken Music by Sting

I picked up this memoir several years ago at a used bookstore, not knowing if I would ever get around to reading it. I thought it would probably be pretentious and pompous, which is kind of how Sting strikes me, even though I'm a long-time fan of much of his music. Jon brought it up from our library a couple of weeks ago, because I was revisiting some of his albums after seeing The Last Ship in New York in October, and I thought I'd better give it a try so I could decide if we should keep it.

It starts with a religious hallucinogenic drug experience that Sting and his wife Trudie had in Brazil, which might be off-putting to some, but it leads into his memories of his childhood and family in Wallsend, England, where he grew up. I loved this part. His childhood was more like something my grandparents would recognize than what my parents experienced, even though he's a few years younger than my parents. Lighting fires in the early morning, delivering milk with his dad in the early mornings, being caned at school -- it was a tough life in Wallsend.

The memoir covers Sting's childhood and then the years after school when he was working all kinds of jobs while he played music with various bands, trying to get to the point where he could make a living with music. There's very little after the initial success of The Police, but I liked reading about the struggles. There are great funny stories that are a bit self-deprecating, like the time he accidentally sprayed metallic-colored hairspray directly into his eyes right before the first TV appearance of The Police. You can watch the video of that appearance here, and now you know why he was wearing the huge sunglasses!

The book was not at all what I expected. I suspect there are other sides to the stories therein, but I found it entertaining and delightful and fun to read. I did have to ignore an inexplicable switching between past and present tense, but I decided I wasn't going to let it bother me, and it mostly didn't. Besides that, it's well-written and engaging. I liked it a lot.