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Some of the more southerly-dwelling snowbirds have already stated north, so the shopkeepers and restaurant owners are commenting that "the season" is over. It rains nearly every day a bit, and yesterday it rained torrentially in that wonderfully tropical way, one large badass cloud wandering around the metro area with an outdraft around it and looking like a stemmed mushroom, where the cap is dark gray and the stem is dark silvery rain. Our lawn has suddenly remembered what it's for, and thick green has replaced the sparse brownish ground cover of two weeks ago.
But there are places in which "the season" isn't over until May -- places catering to snowbirds from the higher latitudes, the North Dakota and Minnesota and Canada folk who know there is still crunchy snow on the ground up there. Yesterday we had brunch in one such place, visiting Heather's family friend and nearly-relative, Max, and his lady Sandy. They are residents of Bentley, and one can tell the season by the brunch-wear restrictions: jackets are still required for men in the dining room this month.
03/25/2013, Fort Myers, FL
My personal favorite image from the joyful game against Georgetown, Chase Fieler's bass-ackwards flying dunk.
A week ago, many of our astronomer friends had never heard of Florida Gulf Coast University. Because of basketball, because of the team and the coach, this has all changed. The most impressive and compelling story of this year's NCAA tournament was the stunning upset of 2nd-seed Georgetown by the 15th-seeded FGCU Eagles, 78-68, March 22, only the seventh time such an upset had occurred in tournament history, but the thrill became worldwide last night when FGCU went on to dunk San Diego State 81-71... the first time ever that a 15th-seed has advanced to the NCAA east regional semifinals (sweet 16).
Sherwood Brown, a walk-on for the Eagles program, celebrates with his teammates after toppling the 7th-seeded San Diego State. Comer and McKnight picked up when Brown got into foul trouble early, and the joyful style of FGCU play came though for the second time in three days.
Derek was home watching the game. I was playing Irish music at Hoolihan's, where the game was on both TVs (sound down). Some of the cheering was for the music, but the spontaneous yells were certainly for the Eagles :-)
And yet, I came away from that session with a compelling tune in my head. I have learned it in the hours since the session ended, but I couldn't go to sleep last night without being able to play it through. Sometimes astronomy happens that way as well -- a particular problem or idea is just something you have to keep working at until you "get it." Here's the tune that kept prodding me:
It was composed by a 15-year-old French hurdy-gurdy musician, Gilles Chabenat, in 1983, and is properly named "Les Poules Huppees" (but is widely known in the US as The Crested Hens-- especially since there is another Poules Huppees out there!). The fellow playing it hesitates a wee bit in a couple of spots, but you get the idea -- that is, if something similar has ever happened to you, and I'm guessing that many of our friends have these interesting ideas or stories or techniques or tunes that compel them to fully investigate before they can rest! I suspect Andy Enfield feels something like that about coaching basketball...
03/11/2013, Fort Myers, FL
This is the week... After a wonderful but too-short visit from Derek's mom (we are in the market for a queen-sized comfortable daybed, now!), after the Irish music session Sunday evening at TP Hoolihan's, Monday evening we're hosting a smallish group for after-work chatter and food, then Tuesday is haircut day for Heather and also Womynfolke practice (a cappella women's singing group at our church. Really fun!), then Wednesday is Irish Session and farewell to John B, a wonderful accordion player who is moving out to the LA area, then Thursday morning is the "point" of having the haircut: Heather's job interview (well, a sample lesson, actually, since the point I guess is for the committee to see whether I can teach physics), and oh yeah, dance class in the evening: Derek is doing something more professional, Thursday is Colloquium for him. And after that? Friday if Heather still has any brain cells left she will finally get her whistle lesson (yay), and Saturday the 16th we're hosting a chili cook-off and "St. Practice Day Party." Then Sunday is... well, Ian and then Wolfhound playing Irish music all day at TP Hoolihan's. Best St Paddy's lineup in several years, for us, I think (keeping in mind that the Bahamas has only limited Irish trad venues and that's where we were last year)!
[Heather] Have to say, it has been so much fun practicing at these sessions and with Trina for whistle lessons, we got here in August and so it's been about seven months, and although at first I was pretty tentative about bodhran playing, it's gotten to be a HUGE amount of fun! With whistle I am still shy about playing in public because I don't trust my pacing, but I will play slower airs at the drop of a hat (like Carrickfergus or Si Bheag Si Mhor), and even occasionally start a jig or reel in "slow session" (the teaching/learning hour every second Sunday before regular session starts).
Finally, I have to learn to do something lower-key at session when asked to sing; I'm used to "performing" for a crowd that wants attitude as well as high-volume sound, and session singing does not have to be that way (and in fact I gather it's less annoying and more musician-ly if it isn't that way!) Ah, things to learn. Then there's a boat to clean...
Grant is doing well, taking another round of tests for his Calvert program and we've been in the process of applying to local schools for fall (he starts high school this fall). The private school had a testing session and he did very well, especially in math and spatial reasoning, and I registered him for the International Baccalaureate program at the public school of our first choice (Fort Myers High), but all of that is up to the committee that does school assignments, and if he goes to the private school (which is incredibly close to where we live, and is an excellent college preparatory school) the assignment would be moot, anyway.
Derek has started a colloquium series and has lined up speakers for the initial semester of it -- each Thursday. Speakers come from all of the sciences relevant to the Whitaker Center, so there are marine toxicologists and physicists and biologists... really a fun idea, and we are hoping that attendance improves as word of mouth spreads. He's also completed and shepherded through the publication process a single-author paper on a mechanism he decided was promising for providing the "extra" energy to the atmospheres of "hot Jupiters," exoplanets close to their primary star which exhibit more heating than expected. He'll be doing some more models and presenting the new results at the American Astronomical Society meeting in June (which, delightfully, is in Indianapolis, breaking the pattern of having summer meetings in really hot places -- OK, that pattern was actually broken last June, when the venue went from June in Las Cruces, NM 2011 to June in Anchorage, AK 2012! And the future lineup looks very temperate). He's also teaching physics, which he enjoys greatly, although I do confess I felt some sympathy for his students when he commented, while holding a volume of The Feynman Lectures, "I'm going to do this the way Feynman does it, it's better than the way their textbook does it, and that way they can see two different methods."
02/25/2013, Fort Myers, FL
Ah, like the gently flowing Caloosahatchee, a month slides past without moving the boat... but of course we have these good intentions. Just not a lot of time to carry them out. The weather has been alternately cloudy and sunny, cool and warm. Today the weather cam overlooking our marina shows this:
Which sums it up well, clouds and a hint of sun.
Things we need to do re: boat
1) CLEANING!!! Exterior needs complete clean & polish
2) Dinghy repair: leak developed in front tube, needs to be found and patched.
3) CLEANING!!! Grab a bucket, your bleach and a hazmat suit, it's time to clean out the fridge...
3) haul, power wash, bottom paint
4) relocate to a less costly marina
This is just what's bugging *me* at the moment, Derek maybe has his own list with some specific maintenance items.
Aside from the boat, we are excited about a first visit from Grandma, and planning for Grant's next school year.
01/24/2013, Fort Myers, FL
It has been a sad month.
Derek's mother and father spent Christmas Day with us in our new home, and Derek drove his Dad around the campus to show him his office and his new university. That was fun and wonderful. Four days later, his father was golfing with his usual friends, hit an excellent drive, and suffered a massive stroke.
Eleven days after that, Derek's father passed away in hospice. Derek and his mother were both there at his passing.
His memorial mass will be on February 1.
Derek's father was trained in Hungary as a (forestry) civil engineer. He came to the USA with almost nothing and put himself through Harvard for graduate school in (soils hydrology) civil engineering while learning English. Here are some pictures of the projects Derek's father built in his long life:
The Tarbela Dam
The Tarbela Dam is the largest earth-fill dam on the planet by extent, and second largest by volume. It's naked-eye visible from orbit, but let's use a satellite:
The Yacyreta Dam between Paraguay and Argentina:
Geotechnical soils/foundations design for Shihmen Dam and reservoir, Taiwan (taken in 1963, the year before the dam's completion):
The Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 near Boulder:
And one of his last, The Charleston Aquarium (2008):
Plus geotechnical design, analysis, testing, rehabilitation and geotechnical engineering supervision of construction of more dams and reservoirs, support structures for railroads (Metro North, Oak Point Link), airports, tunnels, bridges, ports (hello, Skagway, AK and Port Everglades, FL!), piers (1000-foot pier at Pearl Harbor, for example), highways (PR-2 connecting San Juan to Ponce) and drydocks (Portsmouth Drydock 2, testpond and railway at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and drydock on Kwajalein, for example) all over the world, including a replacement wharf designed to resist strong earthquakes in San Antonio, Chile.
If you have traveled any of these places in safety, thank an engineer :-)
12/25/2012, Fort Myers, FL
With thanks to the Sayle family of Nantucket for Billy's beautiful Christmas catboat
Wishing all of our friends and family a wonderful Christmas and a joyous New Year!
-- Derek, Heather and Grant
12/15/2012, Fort Myers, FL
Ahh, it's getting better. There's been a lot to do -- there was a small lake around the pool pump and we had to have both gaskets (seals) replaced, they were crumbling away. Reconnecting the cable (to be able to post on this blog, for example, or do grading online) also required a technician visit from Comcast -- apparently when the previous owners switched to satellite, the cable was disconnected over at the box -- well, that never occurred to us last weekend when we were trying to get it working and couldn't. It was a cable coming out of the ground, we had no idea where the other end was connected. Now I know where the box is, anyway :-)
And speaking of boxes, the living room was full of empty and broken-down boxes, and more large wardrobe boxes stuffed with packing paper, waiting for Wednesday. Around here, Wednesday is Recycyle Day. On Tuesday night, therefore, Derek dragged and carried boxes -- packing boxes -- broken down for the most part (a lot of those), but also standing tall and full of white packing paper, along with some truly mammoth bags of white packing paper, to the curb in our driveway. It made an impressive pile. Then it started to rain. It thundered, it poured. Our recycling was started in its journey toward becoming paper pulp again. Wednesday morning, therefore, Heather went out to check the pile and was immediately told by two dog-walking neighbors and the lady next door (Hillary! Thanks!) that the trash/recycle company would refuse any box that was not broken down. What???!
Back inside to call the company. Yes, all boxes must be broken down, and, unbelievably, packing paper is not recyclable, it's trash. Are you kidding me??!!!
Back out to the mountain of white packing-paper stuffed boxes, with a small knife and some trash bags. A 13-gallon trash bag is nothing to these mounds of sodden but clean white paper! Drag the mammoth clear plastic bag stuffed with packing paper (it once contained a large TV) back up the driveway, this paper is going to have to wait in the scant shelter of the house wall until next Monday's trash pickup, apparently. And start breaking down boxes with my trusty knife... Derek, already dressed for work, even comes out and starts helping in this hurried effort (the recycle truck is coming! It's one street away -- we can hear it). Then finally we have to give up because there is just too much white packing paper and we'd need 100 of those 13-gallong bags to hold it -- we drag the upright wardrobe boxes back up to the wall to await Monday, and Derek, a bit hot and annoyed at the non-recyclable-white-packing-paper policy, drives off for work. I finish up with the boxes and go back inside.
Ten minutes later, doing laundry in the garage, I hear the truck in our street, and I race out of the garage. The truck is loading recycling from next door. I say hi and apologize for the huge mound of flattened boxes, and I say we were surprised that the company would not recycle packing paper, so that's why there's a huge pile of boxes and bags of packing paper at the wall by the house. I must have been babbling a little, I guess. The driver seems to be listening, then he gestures to the boxes he's picking up and tossing into his truck. He says, "you should tie." Then he gestures up our driveway to the boxes full of paper, the giant bags of paper, and he says, "Bring all. I take." Oh my goodness!
This guy is seriously getting a great Christmas present!
So I dragged all the bags and paper-fulled soggy wardrobe boxes back down the driveway while the recycle guy continued working on the pile of broken-down boxes at the curb; when he switched to the wardrobe boxes full of paper, he got the truck's little arms to pick them up and drop them into the hopper, then he'd crush them into his truck, returning an empty hopper for more bags and boxes of paper. He gestured to the boxes and bags now at the curb, and said, "Six feet." OK, got that, please put all recycling and trash within six feet of the curb, even if that means it blocks the entire driveway :-)
After a cheery wave (no reindeer), he rumbled off to the next house, taking at least one quarter of BoxPocalypse with him! Bless that man. I was hot and sticky and I still had to vacuum the pool, so I headed out back to hook up the hoses to the pump and start that.
Slower is better in pool vacuuming, you will just roil up the debris if you go fast, and it won't get sucked into the hose if that happens. So I Zenned my way around the pool, vacuuming in slo-mo, until I got to something in the shallow end. It was brown, elongated, looked like a small stick, but it moved, and where it had been was a red-brown stain. A nail! OMG, what was a nail doing in our pool?! I walked over to that edge and stepped on -- another nail! At least that one wasn't in the pool... it only dented my heel, as I had stepped on the side of the head rather than the pointy end. It hurt, but not too badly. But how was I going to get the nail off the bottom of the pool? Yeah, I know, I'm standing there all overheated from moving BoxPocalypse Jr., and Zenning my way around the pool, and finally (!!!) I realized that we HAVE A POOL. D'oh! So I shuck down to briefs (hey, they don't call 'em bikini briefs for nothing, right?) and walk in to fetch that nail.
Oh, wow... we have a heated pool! This was delightful. I was cooling off and (fetching the nail) and every time I passed one of the return vents, a blast of warmer water went past -- how fun is this, in December! I could definitely get used to this!
And that is how the first swim in our pool came about. It took a rusty nail to get me in there. But that was so much fun, I'll be doing it again soon :-)
11/28/2012, Fort Myers, FL
Well, the moving van that was supposed to come a week ago came yesterday. That's a good thing, I was a little worried when they told me they were taking our stuff off to storage until a driver could be found. It became an even better thing when the moving company lady explained that we could be compensated $150/day for late deliveries. That would help. Then the van arrived.
"Wow," said the driver, Tom, "What a beautiful house!" He was looking at the sparsely-furnished but gleaming floors and the travertine wall by the fireplace, leading out to the lanai by the pool. OK, yeah, it did look pretty good. But that was before the truck started to unload...
"Wow," said unloader Rick, "What a great place, I could really see kicking back at the end of the day by that pool! Where do you want thing number 2,847,621?"
OK, he didn't really say that last part. But it felt like it...
Now the cool and wide-open space is beset with boxes. The surprising, the VERY surprising, thing is that the garage is not full of boxes, none of the rooms are precisely full of boxes, either. This place has more space than it originally seemed to.
And with all the boxes standing around, the one box that we need -- the PARTS BOX -- is somewhere we have not found. Yes, that box in which they put all the connectors that hold together furniture the movers took apart. That box. Is it among the myriad book boxes in the garage? Is it INSIDE something else???
We don't know. We can only seek -- and pray. Because if we do not find it pronto, we are going to have to go through ALL The stuff looking for that parts box. And despite the existence of open space in the garage, there are three hundred boxes of books (according to Driver Tom). To find the parts box, we might just have to shift them all...