Category Archives: General

In Seattle

I had a long trip to get here, starting at 2:30 AM Central (two-hour bus ride from Columbia MO to St. Louis, two-hour plane ride to Charlotte, five-hour plane ride to Seattle), but I’m at the Museum of Flight, where I’ll be giving a talk and book signing tomorrow, for any Seattlites who want to show up. It’s $20 admission to the Spacefest, but it’s an opportunity for a signed book if you don’t have one.

I’ve never been here this time of year. I was surprised at the fall colors.

Back In Missouri

We drove back to Columbia today from west of Ann Arbor, after visiting family and friends up there. Initially took back roads, not the freeway, as we were trying to catch the last of the fall colors. I took Route 12 from south of Manchester all the way to Coldwater, through the Irish Hills which, despite having been raised in southeast Michigan, I’d never done, so if I had a bucket list, I’d cross that one off. Lovely (but looking a little depressed in off-season), and Michigan International Speedway was impressive from a distance.

From there we headed south to Fort Wayne, went east on 24 across northern Indiana. The plan was to go to Peoria, then continue down to Hannibal, but we realized that we would run out of light (and butt stamina in the car) long before we ran out of road, so we bailed not long after getting into Illinois, and took 57 south to 72, then 55 south to 270, then 370, then 70 west to Columbia. Got in about 7:30. Always nicer to gain an hour from the time change than losing it (we got into Michigan about 10 PM when we drove up Friday).

Anyway, here until Friday when I fly to Seattle for a book signing at the Museum of Flight on Saturday. Hope locals can make it.

The Alleged Rules Of Writing

…are actually superstitions. An interesting essay from Steven Pinker:

I have long recognised the need for a style guide based on modern linguistics and cognitive science. The manuals written by journalists and essayists often had serviceable rules of thumb, but they were also idiosyncratic, crabby, and filled with folklore and apocrypha. Linguistics experts, for their part, have been scathing about the illogic and ignorance in traditional advice on usage, but have been unwilling to proffer their own pointers to which rules to follow or how to use grammar effectively. The last straw in my decision to sit down and write the book was getting back a manuscript that had been mutilated by a copy editor who, I could tell, was mindlessly enforcing rules that had been laid out in some ancient style book as if they were the Ten Commandments.

As in many other life activities, it’s OK to break the “rules” if a) you know the rules and the reasons for them and b) you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, that’s a rare combination.

I liked this:

The real problem is that writing, unlike speaking, is an unnatural act. In the absence of a conversational partner who shares the writer’s background and who can furrow her brows or break in and ask for clarification when he stops making sense, good writing depends an ability to imagine a generic reader and empathise about what she already knows and how she interprets the flow of words in real time. Writing, above all, is a topic in cognitive psychology.

It’s what I try to do when I write, though it’s always best to have someone else read it to say, “what do you mean by that?”

The Nepal Quake

Amidst the tragedy of hundreds killed, it’s had a devastating effect on Everest expeditions, as climbing season has started. Devastation in the base camp, and a lot people all right, but trapped at higher elevations. This is one hazard most hadn’t been considering when they decided to climb, though if they knew their history, they’d know that the region was due for something like this. A quake not far from this one in 1934 killed thousands.

[Update a while later]

“Since 1570, 85% of the world’s earthquake fatalities have occurred in the Alpine/Himalayan collision belt.”

[Update mid afternoon]

Here’s the latest from the WaPo.

[Update a while later]

Here’s a roundup from Buzzfeed, with several pictures from the shattered base camp.

I wonder what all those Buddhists think when they see their iconic temples destroyed like that?

[Late Sunday-morning update]

Video of the quake and avalanche at the base camp. [Warning: Bad words in multiple languages]


Anza Borrego

We spent yesterday checking out wildflowers in Henderson Canyon, then driving up to Font’s Point, over to the Salton Sea, and back through Ocatillo Wells. Today we hiked up Palm Canyon, saw a lot more flowers, birds, and desert bighorn sheep (just a couple ewes, not rams). We also discovered how out of shape we were. Recuperating now, heading back to LA tomorrow. We clearly need to do this more often.

What strikes me about these desert communities, like Borrego Springs, Salton City (also Cal City up north of Mojave) is the boundless optimism of the founders. They’re huge, with lots of roads laid out ready for building, perhaps decades out. The optimism in Salton City was expressed in the street names — Marina Blvd, Sea Isle Lane, Ocean Avenue, you get the picture. Unfortunately, in the past few years, the lake level has receded a hundred yards from the planned shoreline. It was a depressing place.

In Borrego Springs, there are a lot of wealthy new estates, with little oases of palms and and palo verde. Most of the street names are ranch brands — Tilting T, Double O, Frying Pan…

It was interesting to see a part of California I’d never explored for thirty-five years, only a couple hours away.