Friday, November 30, 2007

The Children of Hurin

I recently finished reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Children of Hurin, edited by Christopher Tolkien, which I greatly enjoyed. The younger Tolkien put together the story from manuscripts that his father left.

The story is set in Middle-earth in the years long before the events of The Lord of the Rings. The Silmarillion tells the complete story of those times, but it is more of an overview or history. The Children of Hurin, however, is a tale with great detail. It is full of interesting characters, including Men, Elves, Dwarves, and a dragon. Certainly it can be read without knowing anything of the Silmarillion.

The story is a tragedy that centers around Turin, Hurin's eldest son, a heroic leader who finds many misfortunes due to his arrogance, rashness, anger, and pride. The other children are Turin's two sisters. Nienor has a major role, but she, like Turin, has inherited similar unfortunate traits from their parents, Hurin and Morwen. Turin and Nienor hate evil and act with great courage and love; they earn our admiration and affection.

But they make decisions based on strong emotions and misinformation. The promise of a bad ending grows; and there they travel, due to their faults and the deceptions of evil ones, unintentionally hurting many others as they go.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Yesterday's Washington Post had an article about the murder-suicide of a Maryland family of five on Thanksgiving afternoon. Apparently, the ex-husband murdered his ex-wife and their three kids (ages 12, 10, and 6) at a park in Montgomery County. The story reports on the constant conflict and hostility between the divorced couple. It is a sad story.

Reading it made me go back and read a book review in the December, 2007, issue of First Things. The book was Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age, by Kay S. Hymowitz. According to the review, the book describes the damaging impact that divorce has on children; they are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, to perform poorly in school, to be a crime victim or a criminal, and to be poor. The book argues that the poor and working class in America no longer value marriage or the values associated with it, and this is a significant cause of their poverty and other problems. Finally, the book describes how middle- and upper-class Americans have maintained the traditional link between marriage and family and reap the benefits of two-parent families. Trends in unmarried motherhood and divorce depend greatly upon level of education, a change from forty years ago.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fruitcake Friday

Yesterday was fruitcake day. One of our family's traditions is Christmas fruitcake. Because we won't get to Florida for Christmas, we make our own. It has to be made ahead of time, and it seems that the Friday after Thanksgiving is always a convenient day to do it. The recipe is a nut-free version of my Grandma Barthle's fruitcake; it includes candied fruit (from Paradise Inc. in Plant City), raisins, dates, spices, and standard cake ingredients. Colleen helped me assemble and mix it, and then it went into the oven for three hours; you can see the result above. Today we'll inject some blackberry wine into it and wrap it up. Next week it gets more wine, and then we wait until Christmas to cut it.

We also worked on the new nativity scene, which will have four panels depicting the birth of Christ. Yesterday I cut the panels, drilled holes for brackets, and sketched some details of the figures' faces.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

A happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I hope that you get to enjoy your favorite Thanksgiving Day traditions: going to church to get food blessed, watching the Macy's parade from New York, listening to Alice's Restaurant, cooking something good for dinner, enjoying turkey and stuffing and potatoes, watching the Lions lose and the Cowboys win, playing some football in the backyard, whatever makes this day special.

We had a nice Thanksgiving Eve yesterday - we went with Jill and Dan and their kids to Annapolis to visit the U.S. Naval Academy and the Maryland State House. The weather was sunny and warm - it hit a record 73 at BWI airport. The only negative was we discovered that the City Dock location of the Fractured Prune Donut Shoppe is no longer there.

For many other things we have great reason to give thanks. God has blessed us with a wonderful family, great friends, terrific neighbors, and good health. We are very fortunate to live where we do and to have the opportunities that we have. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone this day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What do I do?

Today was a good example of what I do (besides teach class): First I participated in a Ph.D. dissertation defense for a student in our reliability engineering graduate program. That lasted a couple of hours.

Then I met with Dan Fitzgerald, who is working at Black & Decker and on his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and discussed his progress on his research (he was on campus to give a guest lecture on design for the environment in ENME 472, our senior capstone design course).

After that I met with three QUEST students on a team in the BMGT/ENES 490H course. I am the team's faculty advisor. The students are working with Lockheed Martin on a spreadsheet tool for evaluating the financial aspects of facility improvements that reduce energy and water consumption.

After eating lunch, I drove across campus to the Van Munching Building give a guest lecture in BMGT/ENES 190H, another core course in the QUEST program. My lecture was on DFX (Design for X). I had some Powerpoint slides and had the students do an in-class exercise on DFX related to their project (which involves designing a product, software, or service).

Then I drove to the University of Maryland Medical Center in downtown Baltimore to meet with faculty and hospital managers about using operations research to help them improve their processes. That was over by 4:30 p.m. When I left traffic was bad and various roads were closed, so it took longer than normal to get home. (Fortunately I was not trying to go north from Baltimore; a big accident earlier in the day completely closed I-95 in that direction for most of the afternoon.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Word of the Day

Eleemosynary, adjective (pronunciation: ell-lee-MOSS-in-AIR-ee): of, relating to, or supported by charity (according to Merriam-Webster online). Use in a sentence: "Private-equity investment companies are not eleemosynary institutions. They are in business to make money, not to give it away." (Warren Brown, November 11, 2007.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Leo the Great

According to my St. James Calendar of the Christian Year, today is the feast day of St. Leo the Great, a pope (Pope Leo I) and a Doctor of the Church. Leo died on November 10, 461. He was pope for 21 years (one of the ten longest papacies) during an important time in church history. He defended the primacy of Rome and wrote many influential letters and sermons.

Of course, my interest in St. Leo is highly correlated with the importance of Saint Leo University to my family, where numerous relatives, including my mom and dad and their siblings, went to school. For example, last month, my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Eddie were presented with the Florida Benedictine Spirit Award for "their uncommon dedication to Saint Leo Abbey, Holy Name Monastery and Saint Leo University."

According to the university, Saint Leo was chartered in 1889 and was the first Catholic college in Florida (this was soon after the city of San Antonio, Florida, and other towns in the area such as St. Joseph were started.) It was originally a college, then a prep school (from 1921 to 1964), and then again a college (from 1959).

In other news related to east Pasco County, you may want to plan to attend the Kumquat Festival, which will be January 26, 2008, in Dade City. The festival was mentioned in the November, 2007, issue of Spirit, the Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Leaving Seattle

On Tuesday morning I left Seattle early in the morning. I was at the airport by 4 AM for my 6:35 AM flight. It was a foggy morning, and there was little traffic. At the airport there were few people and no staff at the Southwest ticket counter, where I needed to print my boarding pass. The two available kiosks for that task were not working, for some reason. So I went to find some breakfast (a muffin and some chocolate milk from Starbucks) and then came back around 4:30. They were still inoperative, and there were two guys standing and waiting. Eventually some staff appeared, and one lady started them, so we could print our boarding passes and get through security.

The climb out of Seattle was beautiful - the sun was just rising over the mountains, which appeared to be islands in the white fog that obscured the city and the water.

My plane stopped in Chicago-Midway and then continued onto BWI. Not changing planes meant not having to wait in line to board a second time, but it also had one drawback - I didn't have a chance to buy lunch!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Postcard from Seattle

It a foggy morning here in Seattle, where I'm attending the INFORMS Annual Meeting. I had a talk yesterday afternoon after I arrived and two more today on my work on mass vaccination clinics. Mostly I'll be attending sessions on health care operations research. I don't have time or plans to see much of the city, which I visited once before a few years ago on a trip to see a naval facility in the area. I do plan to have lunch with a former classmate who is doing some interesting scheduling research, and we'll see if there is something on which we can collaborate. Yesterday I had a nice conversation with an expert on health care operations and got some useful suggestions and insights into the area. These types of activities (not the sightseeing) are why I keep going to such conferences, and I'm glad to have the opportunity (though I'll continue to grumble about the west coast locations)!