Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Rise and Fall of a Union

Today's Washington Post has an article about the UAW: UAW's Sacrifices Look to Some Like Surrender. The article describes how the UAW won generous contracts during the golden era of American manufacturing after World War II. I look forward to using it as an example in my production management course, in which we cover the history of American manufacturing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How to Carve a Turkey

Just in time, the Art of Manliness blog has an article on turkeys:
How To Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man.

Children’s Books, Lost and Found

The December 2008 issue of First Things has an article by Joseph Bottum on Children’s Books, Lost and Found about the old and new golden ages in children's literature.

The First Things blog also has an interview with Joseph Bottum.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Moving on

Here is some advice on how to kill time on the Web now that the election is over (besides reading Bethlehem Road!); I greatly enjoyed Professor Wikipedia.

(My thanks to a post on the First Things blog by Stefan McDaniel.)

Traffic in Tyson's Corner

Traffic is bad in this area, without doubt. It is especially bad in Tyson's Corner. An October 24 article in the Washington Post stated that the Tyson's Corner lunchtime rush “surpasses the morning rush by 24 percent.”

How did they get that statistic? See the
chart of traffic in Tyson's Corner.

You will notice that they define a lunch “rush hour” that is 25
percent longer than the morning rush hour (2 1/2 hours versus 2 hours).

However, the traffic rate (cars per hour) is almost the same. Dividing the total number of cars by the duration of the rush hour yields 9,359 cars per hour between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., and 9,268 cars per hour between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. The evening rush also has the same rate: 9,343 cars per hour between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.


For Halloween, I borrowed and listened to an audiobook version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (see also this version at U. Penn). You may already know that the monster in the book is not called Frankenstein; instead, he was created by Victor Frankenstein, the title character, who almost immediately regrets what he has done, and the rest of his life is made miserable by his creation, who wishes to participate in society but cannot due to his grotesque appearance. No matter what the monster does, people reject, flee from, or assault him.

The framing in the book is interesting. The beginning and end of the book consists of letters from an English explorer named Walton (who is leading a ship into the Arctic) to his sister. In the letters, he mentions seeing a monster and then finding Frankenstein. The major part of the book is Frankenstein telling his story of misery to Walton. Part of that story involves recalling the monster's descriptions of his adventures to Frankenstein during some of their meetings.

It is a fascinating tale told in an atmosphere of dread. We know that Frankenstein has come to a bad end; the suspense is about how he got there (and what will finally happen to him). The monster's evil actions are caused apparently by the failure of humans to recognize him and treat him as a person - he is driven to be an outcast, unloved by all, including the one who created him. Part of the monster's story describes how he learned first to survive and then to talk and read - he has to learn everything that children learn, but without the protection of a family.
(His supernatural strength and agility and tolerance of the elements help him survive.)

It is also a tale about obsession - Frankenstein is initially obsessed with creating life, ignoring everything else, including his friends and family and his health, as he works alone, without guidance or assistance. He does not lead a balanced life. He is also the slave to his emotions and lets them control him, leading him to make desperate plans but then distracting him from carrying out those plans.

The monster appears frequently in the story, but much more often does the thought of the monster appear to Frankenstein and control his life even when the monster is nowhere near. It is not so much a story about a monster; it is more a story of a man, his obsession, and how it brings him ever-increasing misery, leading him to revenge and hate and away from the company of man.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Great Day. Tech Wins. UGA gets crushed.

From the TechBlog at
Great Day. Tech Wins. UGA gets crushed.

There's not much more to say!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New and Improved Tastebud Tart

Tastebud Tart, Molly's website, is new and improved. It has links to the recent article about her, her CDROMs, and other cool stuff about cooking!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Old Man and the Sea

Last week I finished listening to a recording of The Old Man and the Sea, the 1952 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic by Ernest Hemingway. It is, of course, a great book - if you've never read it, I heartily recommend it. The old man's struggle with the fish is captivating (and I'm not a fisherman), the friendship between the old man and the boy who helps take care of him is endearing, and the glimpses into life in pre-Castro Cuba are enlightening.

I was reminded of something I learned in junior high English class - how most novels are about man versus man, man versus nature, or man versus himself.

I recently listened to The Road, which has been compared to some of Hemingway's work, and I could hear why - the styles are quite similar. The plot moves along with just enough description to set the emotional tone. In The Road, the man and the boy are never named; in The Old Man and the Sea, the characters have names, but the story refers them almost always as The Old Man and The Boy.

Next: Something completely different: The Princess and the Goblin.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Eric Denardo

Professor Eric Denardo, a faculty member at Yale University and one of leaders in the field of operations research, was my adviser's adviser, and I had the good fortune to attend a dinner last night honoring Professor Denardo for his distinguished career as a teacher and scholar.

The dinner was at the Cosmos Club, which may sound dangerous but is actually a social club for intellectuals with a distinguished history and many famous members. The dinner, with about 50 guests, was in a rococo ballroom extravagantly decorated with mirrors and fancy light fixtures. The food was excellent, and it was wonderful to hear colleagues and former students tell stories about Professor Denardo and the impact that he had on their lives.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Silas Marner

Yesterday, on my drive to Fairfax, I finished listening to Silas Marner, by George Eliot. The novel (published in 1861) is set in England in the early 19th century (like the novels of Jane Austen) and tells the story of a weaver (Marner) who loses his friends, the love of his life, and his religious faith due to a treacherous friend. He leaves the unnamed but apparently large city where he lived for the village of Raveloe, where he settles into a solitary life as a honest, miserly weaver and soon becomes preoccupied with his ever-growing hoard of gold.

The richest family in the town has two sons whose lives intersect with the weaver's in unexpected ways. The no-good younger son, desperate for money, steals the weaver's gold. Later, the depressed weaver finds and adopts a young girl after the death of her mother (an opium addict and the secret wife of the oldest son). The weaver becomes a father and learns, with help from one of the village's moms, to care for this new treasure. The oldest son marries the exceptionally good and beautiful young lady whom he truly loves. The younger son is never seen again.

The story of these people is a fascinating tale in which the love of others brings joy to those who despair and that reminds us that those whom we love are worth more than any hoard of gold.

George Eliot is the pen name of Mary Ann (Marian) Evans, which led us one night into a discussion of famous authors who used pen names. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was the first that came to my mind. Wikipedia has a long list of pen names.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Catholic schools

An article on the First Things blog about Catholic education with links to other articles on the topic.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Life of the Party

My sister-in-law Molly received some attention for her superior culinary and entertaining skills this week from Minnesota Monthly, a magazine in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area (link to online article). For more, check out her blog (where she discusses the food in Munich) and buy her CD-ROMs: Tastebud Classic Cocktail Party and Tastebud Dinner Party for 12 (coming soon).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Road

I borrowed an audiobook version of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and finished listening to it this week. (Recall that I read a review of it when we were at the beach.) It is a very good novel. Many of the events are frightening and disturbing (survivors who have resorted to cannibalism are a constant threat to the man and the boy who are main characters). The draw for me was rooting for the man and the boy (who must scavenge to survive but occasionally find treasures in abandoned dwellings, including a Christmas-like feast in a fully stocked emergency shelter) and wondering how they would survive hunger, cold, illness, and the bad guys.

In some very general ways it reminded me of the parts of The Lord of the Rings that describe Frodo and Sam's desperate trip to Mount Doom. The emotional and physical landscape are quite similar. (In The Road, the southeastern United States is a dead and cold wasteland.) The ending of The Road is not nearly as dramatic, but there also are the similar themes of loss and going on with life.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Marriage in Full

Also in the May, 2008, issue of First Things was an article by Gary A. Anderson about marriage, entitled "A Marriage in Full." It includes the following quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whose The Cost of Discipleship I am still reading):
Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race until the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.

It is not your love that sustains marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

Anderson then goes on to discuss the Book of Ruth and its depiction of marriage, and he concludes with "The Book of Ruth tells us that within the sacred bond of marriage there lies a symbol of the love of God for humanity."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Shoes and Democracy

When I first started working in Maryland in 1993, one of the early projects on which I worked was to help the Bata Shoes plant in Belcamp schedule the machines that they used for making rubber boots. It was an interesting problem but we didn't get very far with the company, for reasons that I don't remember now (maybe they just didn't trust a 26-year-old with a Ph.D. on which the ink wasn't dry!). I just found out that the plant shut down around 2001. Maybe they should have used my scheduling algorithm! :-)

I hadn't thought much about them recently, but Friday's Washington Post had an obituary for Thomas Bata, the Czech who started Bata shoes. Mr. Bata died September 1 in Toronto.

Mr. Bata left Czechoslovakia to get away from the Nazis. He served in the Canadian army during World War II. He was forced to leave Czechoslovakia again by the Communists. According to the obituary:

Mr. Bata broadcast support to the dissident movement on Radio Free Europe and offered his business as an example of what could be "so that people would see that the democratic system, based on democratic economy, would be the most advantageous for them."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Inspirational Pregame Speeches

The blog the Art of Manliness has a post about Inspirational Football Locker Room Speeches. It includes two videos from Georgia Tech: the 2007 games against Notre Dame and Clemson.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Awards arrive infrequently but bring some pleasant attention, and I have been enjoying some of that this week due to the announcement that our Clinic Planning Model Generator has earned an award from the the Maryland Daily Record magazine.

Of course, developing and testing such a software is a team effort, and many students have contributed to the success of the project. And none of it would have been possible without the financial support of our sponsors at the Montgomery County, Maryland, Advanced Practice Center for Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response. The award goes to me, but it is really for all of them.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Commonplace Book

The May 2008 issue of First Things included a column by Alan Jacobs about his writing a commonplace book. Such books first appeared in the sixteenth century as a way for readers to cope with the panic of feeling swamped by information. In a commonplace book, one records notable passages from other works. Commonplace books eventually disappeared, replaced by journals of one's own thoughts.

Jacobs then compares these books to blogs:
It is curious that the history of the weblog, insofar as it can be fully understood, mirrors that of the commonplace book. The term weblog seems to have been coined by a very strange man named Jorn Barger, and for him it is simply a log of interesting stories he discovers on the Web.

(Barger's weblog is Robot Wisdom.)

But blogs are now most often online journals (see, for example, Further In & Higher Up, Mike Warner's interesting record of his journeys around Great Britain, Europe, and the rest of the world).

For those who do keep blogs with links to other web pages, Jacobs concludes with a warning:
The task of adding new lines and sentences and paragraphs to one’s collection can become an ever tempting substitute for reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting what’s already there. And wisdom that is not frequently revisited is wisdom wasted.

Book reviews

We were at the beach last week and had beautiful weather while Hurricane Fay was drenching everyone back home in Florida. In addition to other activities, I caught up on reading some back issues of Touchstone and came across the following items of interest:

A review of What’s So Great About Christianity. The review is by Thomas C. Reeves, and the book is by Dinesh D'Souza.

A review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a post-apocalyptic novel in which a father and son try to survive and keep alive something like a conscience. The book won the Pulitzer Prize.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mars needs lawyers

A post on the First Things blog brings to our attention an abstract for an article in a journal called Political Theory. The article is about UFOs and sovereignty, and the abstract includes the following sentence:
Drawing on the work of Giorgio Agamben, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, the puzzle is explained by the functional imperatives of anthropocentric sovereignty, which cannot decide a UFO exception to anthropocentrism while preserving the ability to make such a decision.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


A post on the First Things blog led me to The Art of Manliness blog. Today's article there is about how the "indie" culture is really about consumption of a certain class of goods.

Even more interesting is a post by Cameron Schaefer on how one becomes a man: serving others, being consistent, and being humble.

A more practical post covers how to shine shoes.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Buried in a Pringles can

Fredric Baur, the man who invented the cylindrical Pringles can, died in May. I read today in Industrial Engineering, a magazine published by the Institute of Industrial Engineers, that, after he was cremated, some of his ashes were buried in a Pringles can. (Baur's Wikipedia page has links to short news wire articles about it.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wikipedia and a war of words

It is not my favorite magazine, but it is the one we get the most often - the Washington Post Magazine arrives every Sunday. It had the wonderful Jeanne Marie Laskas column Significant Others, which she is no longer writing. It also has the sometimes stupid, sometimes hilarious Gene Weingarten.

Today's issue has an article about the president of Iran that provides some insight into how Wikipedia works. (More precisely, the article is about his controversial Wikipedia entry.) As someone who has contributed a tiny bit to Wikipedia (including some things in the article on Henry Gantt), it was very interesting.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

New Religions

Today's Style Invitational released the winners of its contest to invent and name new religions. Here are my favorites:

Oxymormons: A sect of polygamous monogamists.

Church of the Guiding Light: Adherents believe that no one truly dies; those who expire will become renewed as their evil twins -- after a season or two.

Church of St. Andrew: Followers of a little-known Scottish monk who manifested stigmata in nine places on each hand; its members celebrate these 18 bloody holes by playing golf every Sunday morning.

Confusionism: The belief that death is final. No, just a temporary interruption. Maybe an abstract plane. Or something transcendental. I think.

Geek Orthodox: A sect that worships technology, but only up to the 2003 upgrades.

Jews for Allah: A group even more conflicted than Jews for Jesus.

Lowest Common Denominationalism: The religion that lets you get away with the most stuff without going to Hell.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Listening to your Car

For anyone whose GPS has told them to make a legal U-turn: Yesterday the Washington Post had an article by Joel Garreau about listening to GPS navigation devices.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Maybe it's a Puma

A large feline was sighted on the University of Maryland campus earlier this week. The first reports said it was a cougar. Turns out it is probably a breed of cat called the Savannah, which is extremely large. Here is an excerpt from the email the University sent Friday evening:
The markings and size of the feline do appear consistent with a type of cat called a Savannah Cat. This is a hybrid of a Domestic Short Hair cat and a Serval, which is a larger African feline. Savannahs can grow to be as large as 35 pounds and can be a great deal larger than normal domesticated cats. They have been referred to as the Great Danes of the cat family.

The cat was still on the loose last night.

For some reason I'm reminded of a Smothers Brothers routine about pumas.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Men and Beasts

The op-ed page in yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section included an opinion by Russell Paul La Valle about the decision to support giving rights to various primates by Spain's parliament, the Cortes Generales. The Wall Street Journal had an editorial about this on Friday.

In particular, the parliament's environmental committee approved resolutions urging Spain to comply with the recommendations of the Great Ape Project, which seeks to extend human rights to great apes. According to Reuters, the resolution "is expected to become law and the government is now committed to update the statute book within a year to outlaw harmful experiments on apes in Spain."

It is hard for me to see how mere beasts can have rights. That does not follow from our responsibility as stewards to care for animals and protect them from unnecessary suffering and death. Often one hears that rights accompany responsibilities. But apes have no responsibility to humans.

When Pope Benedict addressed the United Nations, he praised the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and said:

"The rights recognized and expounded in the declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high point of God's creative design for the world and for history. ... They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Reason, Faith, Vocation

Tony Snow, the former White House press secretary who died earlier this month, gave the commencement address at Catholic University of America in May, 2007.

In this address, Snow gave five tips for living boldly, living a whole life:

  • Think

  • Go off-road

  • Commit

  • Get out

  • Love

Of course, he gives examples and explanations of why these actions are important. His discussion of "Commit" highlights the importance and joy of religious faith and of solid, happy marriages, both of which depend upon making commitments.

(My thanks to Amanda Shaw at the First Things blog for her article on this address.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Value of a Life

People have to make decisions about whether or not to spend money to reduce the risk of dying. For instance, should we spend more to buy a safer car? Or, should we purchase and install smoke detectors in our house? The typical person doesn't explicitly quantify the value of a life; they implicitly weigh the reduced risk versus the cost and make a decision.

Government agencies cannot make these decisions implicitly. They have to use explicit criteria, and often they do a cost-benefit analysis. An item in the news recently discussed the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency reduced its Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) to about $7,200,000.

The EPA, like other government agencies, must decide whether the cost of a new program or regulation is worth the cost. If the agency predicts that the cost of a regulation will be $100,000,000 but it will save 100 lives, then, using the VSL, one can state that the benefit (equivalent to 100 times $7,200,000 = $720,000,000) is greater than the cost. If the benefit were only 9 lives (equivalent to $64,800,000), then one would state that the benefit is not worth the cost.

How to do that and how to explain it are discussed in this article:

But how do you put a dollar value on a life, even in a generic sense?

It wouldn’t work for researchers to survey Americans at gunpoint and ask how much they would pay not to die. Instead, an unlikely academic field has grown up to extrapolate life’s value from the everyday decisions of average Americans.

Researchers try to figure out how much money it takes for people to accept slightly bigger risks, such as a more dangerous job. They also look at how much people will pay to make their daily risks smaller — such as buying a bicycle helmet or a safer car.

“How much are you willing to pay for a small reduction . . . in the probability that you will die?” asked Joe Aldy, a fellow at the Washington-based think tank Resources for the Future.

The rest is more or less multiplication: If someone will accept a 1-in-10,000 chance of death for $500, then the value of life must be 10,000 times $500, or $5 million.

But it is one thing to calculate the numbers and another to explain them to the public. The EPA has been fighting that battle since last week, when the Associated Press revealed that the agency’s air office had reduced its Value of a Statistical Life.

Al McGartland, the director of the agency’s National Center for Environmental Economics, said the air office had revised the old figure in 2004 after new academic research showed it was skewed too high.

“It’s based on better methods,” McGartland said of the air office’s assessment. He said the new number would increase over time, in part because of inflation.

The EPA’s value for life remains one of the highest. Earlier this year, the Transportation Department raised its value — but even after the increase, it stood at $5.8 million, more than a million dollars less than the EPA’s.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Atlantic Coast Conference

The Washington Post has had a couple articles about the ACC, five years after its expansion to 12 universities. The reviews are mixed. See Five Years After the ACC's Expansion, Is Bigger Really Better? and ACC's Forward Progress Limited.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tanker Decision

The U.S. Air Force's decision to award the contract for new tankers has been getting a lot of press in the last month, after the GAO decided that the Air Force used an inappropriate decision process, and the Air Force has decided to reopen the bidding.

The Washington Post had news stories on June 25 and on July 9.

The GAO has the following documents on its website: the decision to uphold Boeing's protest and testimony explaining the decision to Congress.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Featuring R.E.M.

Earlier today, the featured article on Wikipedia's home page was R.E.M.. It reviews the band's history and has lots of quotes from the band members and from others about their legacy and impact.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


The May-June 2008 issue of Interfaces, a publication of INFORMS, has two things of interest (the links below go to the abstracts; from there you should be able to get the full-text PDF).

First, another thought-provoking article by Gene Woolsey, this one about being an expert witness.

Second, the Books Review column has a review of the Handbook of Production Scheduling, edited by yours truly. The review says lots of nice things about the book, whose chapters were written by folks to whom I will always be indebted.

Team of Rivals

Stephanie says that she just finished Team of Rivals, a biography of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and it "is really wonderful." NPR has an interview with the author, and the New York Times has a review as well.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tennis, anyone?

Remember watching McEnroe and Borg at Wimbledon when we were kids? Those were the golden years for tennis. Michael Wilbon argues in the Washington Post today that last weekend at Wimbledon the sport of tennis recaptured some of the glory days.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Changing Faculty

The New York Times has an article about the changing demographics of university faculty and the moderation of their politics. (Thanks to The Catholic Thing for the pointer.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sts. Peter and Paul

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, two of the first disciples of Jesus. These two men are known around the world. Less well known is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian pastor who was killed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945. I was reading recently about his work and decided to start The Cost of Discipleship, some of which I was reading this morning. Certainly Peter and Paul had the "single-minded obedience" that Bonhoeffer describes. Through the grace of God, they heard Jesus' call, set aside their work, followed Jesus, and believed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

All Good Things

come to an end, unfortunately. Today we said goodbye to Mom & Dad, Jill & Dan, and Jacob, Andrew, and Sarah, who all left Crofton today for their trips home via airplane and Amtrak's AutoTrain.

It was a wonderful week, with lots of group activities, good food, and perfect weather! I am extremely blessed to have such an opportunity to spend time with the folks who mean the most to me.

More later on specific events, and then I'll be back to discussing books and other things that catch my eye.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Monumental Update

For everyone going to the Washington Monument, we have tickets for 3:00 PM on Tuesday, June 17, 2008. (This was the earliest I could get - there were only a few openings left in the morning.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008


If you are interested in a ticket for taking the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument, please let me know by March 23. Thanks!

There is also interest in visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for which advance tickets can be acquired. If anyone is interested in visiting that, please let me know.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Ideas for activities (besides sightseeing) during the week; let me know if any sound good (or awful):

party at the pool, miniature golf at Rocky Gorge, pancake and waffle breakfast, board games, pinochle tournament, other ideas?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Arlington and Bowie

Natalie and Terry are planning to visit Arlington National Cemetery and would like to know if anyone else is interested in joining them. Please let me know as well.

The Bowie Baysox are the local minor league baseball team. (They are in the Baltimore Orioles organization.) They will have home games at 7:05 P.M. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The stadium is just a few miles from Crofton. It has some activities for kids besides the game (a bounce thing and a small carousel) and is a good place to see a baseball game. We try to go at least once a year.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Coming and Going

As far as I know right now, here is the schedule of arrivals and departures:

Saturday, June 14: Natalie, Terry, and Amber arrive.

Sunday, June 15: Mom & Dad; Kevin, Stephanie, Ben, Zachary, and Karen; Keith, Molly, and A.J. arrive.

Monday, June 16: Jill, Dan, Jacob, Andrew, and Sarah arrive.

Friday, June 20: Natalie, Terry, and Amber; Keith, Molly, and A.J. depart.

Saturday, June 21: Mom & Dad; Kevin, Stephanie, Ben, Zachary, and Karen; Jill, Dan, Jacob, Andrew, and Sarah depart.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Another Sight

Those interested in journalism and the news may want to visit the Newseum, which is opening a brand new facility in April. The Newseum, on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House, is a museum about the history and profession of journalism and the freedom of the press.

Reunion Planning: Sightseeing

Over the next three months I'll be posting information related to the 2008 Herrmann Family Reunion here. First up are some lists (thanks to Keith) and ideas (thanks to Jill and Stephanie and Laury) for things you might be interested in seeing, along with my own comments.

Keith sent the following links: the 15 Best Places to Go with Kids in the Washington DC Area and the Best Museums for Kids in the Washington, DC Area.

First on the 15 Best Places list is the National Zoo, which Stephanie mentioned as a good outing for the little ones. It is a big zoo, good first thing in the morning (in June, the grounds open at 6 AM, the buildings at 10 AM) as it might be too much in the summer afternoon heat. Certainly kids will love it.

Also on the list is the National Museum of Natural History. Laury noted that there is a new butterfly exhibit and a new butterfly pavilion (which requires tickets except on Tuesday, when it is free) now at that always popular museum.

Another Smithsonian, the National Air & Space Museum, is on the list. (Stephanie said that Kevin may want to take Ben to see the airplanes and spacecraft there.) New there is the America by Air exhibit.

The National Postal Museum is near Union Station. When it was still relatively new, Kevin and Stephanie and I went there on a cold February day way back in 1994.

The Best Museums list includes the College Park Aviation Museum, which is smaller and closer (and less crowded) than the Smithsonian. We had a good time when we took Colleen and her Renuart cousins there when they were younger.

Both lists include the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (one of Jill's suggestions). According to their web site: "Free tickets are required for all tours from the first Monday in March through the last Friday in August, on a first-come, first-served basis. The ticket booth is located on Raoul Wallenberg Place (formerly 15th Street). We offer same day tickets only. The Ticket Booth opens at 8:00 a.m."

And the lists and Jill suggest Mount Vernon , which is south of Washington near Alexandria, Virginia. That would be a good day trip for anyone interested. We haven't been there in years, but I believe that they have a new museum and visitors center.

Jill had some other suggestions: the National Museum of American History, which has many interesting exhibits and some big trains, but it is unfortunately still closed for renovations, which are supposed to be complete this fall. One can take an elevator to the top of the Washington Monument. This requires tickets that can be picked up for free first-come-first-served first thing in the morning or reserved in advance for $1.50 per order.

Mom and Dad expressed some interest in seeing the World War II Memorial. I went there with Michael a couple of years ago. Though not kid friendly in my opinion, it is impressive and right in the middle of the Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Friday, February 08, 2008

In the Spotlight

With the "Potomac Primary" coming up on Tuesday (when Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., have their primary elections), the University of Maryland will be hosting two campaign events: Mike Huckabee will be on campus on Saturday, and Barack Obama will be here on Monday.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The custom is to give up something for Lent. A priest once explained that, because Lent is a time of prayer, charity, and fasting, one should give up whatever is getting in the way of being a follower of Christ. Abstaining from candy is probably not that important. Doing something positive to help others and grow closer to God is a worthy activity. Ryan Anderson, on the First Things blog, suggests reading the Pope’s Lenten Message to get some insight into Lent.

The Psalm in today's Mass was Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance. O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on thy altar.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Trapp Family Singers

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp, is a very interesting and inspiring book. It tells the story of the von Trapp family, from the time when Maria, as an aspiring nun in Salzburg, Austria, first joined the family to teach one of the children until some time after World War II, when the family had settled in Stowe, Vermont.

Of course, this is the true story of the family better known to the world through the musical The Sound of Music. Some of the early scenes from the book are quite similar to scenes in the movie; after that the two diverge greatly. The book discusses the family's adventures after they left Austria and moved to America. They settled in Philadelphia for awhile. The family worked hard at their music and became a successful musical group (after nearly completely failing). They bought a farm in Vermont. Two sons served in the military during the war. They ran a summer camp where music was taught and enjoyed. Eventually, they became American citizens.

Maria's determined and energetic personality enlivens the book, and she is not afraid to tell stories where she looks silly, due to her poor understanding of English or of the way things work. Her first encounter with an escalator in a New York department store ends with her shutting her eyes and taking a leap of faith.

And through all the changes, the family maintained the traditions they had brought with them from Austria, including their clothing. More importantly, they stayed true to their Catholic faith. When difficult times came, the family always prayed for help; and when good things came into their life, they immediately turned to God with hymns of thanksgiving. In answer to their prayers, friends both new and old and many strangers helped the family with guidance or a place to stay or funding. And the family repaid this, starting a charity after the war to help Austrians who were homeless and starving and collecting goods and money at every town on their tour.

Altogether, it is a wonderful story about a family who, faced with adversity, chooses to pray and work and love, a family with many beautiful voices and one loving heart.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Dumb Ox

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, the extraordinary philosopher and theologian who wrote the Summa Theologica. St. Thomas Aquinas lived from about 1225 to 1274.

G.K. Chesterton used St. Thomas' nickname (The Dumb Ox) as the title of his short but insightful biography of St. Thomas. Chesterton quotes Albertus Magnus' refutation of these impressions: "You call him 'a dumb ox,' but I declare before you that he will yet bellow so loud in doctrine that his voice will resound through the whole world."

The First Things blog has a post with St. Thomas' reflections on the Cross.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On Being a Pallbearer

The First Things web site On the Square had an thoughtful article Wednesday by Paul Gregory Alms entitled "On Being a Pallbearer". Alms discusses his experience being a pallbearer for his grandfather (which I have done as well). And, along the way, he discusses the importance of traditions, even those that are (almost) obsolete.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Role of the Professor

A colleague recently sent me a copy of The Role of the Professor, by Professor Mark Noll, Professor of Mathematics Emeritus, Carnegie Mellon University. (The unpublished essay is from 1992, when I was in the middle of graduate school.) As Noll writes, "This essay is intended not only to help professors better understand their own role, but also to help the public at large better appreciate this role."

Noll distinguishes between the professor, the teacher, and the professor. The teacher focuses on the student and helps the student learn. The researcher focuses on discovering new results and creating new knowledge. The professor focuses on the subject:

The professor's focus, on the other hand, is on understanding, gaining insight into, judging the significance of, and organizing old knowledge. He is disturbed by the pile-up of undigested and ill-understood new results. He is not happy until he has been able to fit these results into a larger context. He is happy if he can find a new conceptual framework with which to unify and simplify the results that have been found by the researcher.

This is certainly what, on the good days, makes my job so interesting, and it is the ideal to which we should strive. Noll goes on to discuss the administrator's emphasis on teaching and research and the lack of interest in the synthesis and understanding he clearly values.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dolphins in the Cold

It was cold this morning - about 10 degrees F, according to But we had prepurchased tickets for a 10:00 admission to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, so off we went. Fortunately, we didn't have to walk too far from the parking garage and the lines were short (they must have opened the doors early). We went through the main exhibits on the Pier 3 pavilion and then over to Pavilion 4 for the 11:30 dolphin show. Then it was time for lunch at the Frog Cafe and a visit through the Australia exhibit, one of my favorites, with a high glass ceiling, like the rain forest exhibit, before heading back into the cold.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Very Green

On New Year's Day, The Washington Post had an editorial by Martin Bunzl, a philosophy professor at Rutgers University. His piece, Ulysses and the Hedge Trimmer, discusses his anxiety about global warming and the conflict between his desire to reduce carbon footprint and his wish to get a good deal:
I spend most of my waking hours worrying about how to reduce my output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Yet my behavior seems to march to a different drummer. I need to get the best deal. For me, not the world. When it comes to what counts as the best deal, my values don't get incorporated into the calculation. I am attuned only to price.
He compares himself to Ulysses, who wanted to listen to the Sirens but instructed his crew to tie him to the mast so he could avoid their danger. Bunzl essentially wants the government to outlaw any product that is not environmentally friendly, including his latest purchase, a gasoline-powered hedge trimmer, so that he can avoid the temptation of buying what he wants!

Of course, some of his agenda is moving forward: the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires that all light bulbs use 25 percent to 30 percent less energy by 2014, which should extinguish the incandescent light bulb; compact fluorescents and light emitting diodes will be the only choices. An article by Gerard Voland, the dean of the School of Engineering, Technology and Computer Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, discusses this and some of the "difficulties" with CFL bulbs: they don't last as long as they should, they dim as they age, and the inconvenience and risk of disposing of them.

Snow day

Yesterday we had some nice snow. It started in the late morning with big wet flakes and then turned to rain, with some sleet in there for awhile. Some of the schools let out early, including Colleen's, so she had time to build this nice snowman. I had to clear about an inch or two of snow off the car when I left work. The drive home was slow but not dangerous.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Eleven days into the new year and this is my first post? (Mike already has 7 on his blog, with lots of photos of New Zealand.) Well one distraction has been the online chess site, on which I created an account just after Christmas. I've played maybe a game a day there, winning about half. I still enjoy playing the software that we have on our computer, but it is interesting and exciting playing against a real person online. One difference is the use of a clock, typically ten minutes per person. Another is being unable to "undo" a bad move. I've played games where I blundered very early and resigned, and others where my opponent has blundered. The computer never blunders, so online games have more randomness. Playing against the computer is now more like training or practice (since I can take back a bad move and don't have the clock).

Another distraction has been reading The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. The movie was released in December, reawakening the controversy over the book's negative views of organized religion. I decided that it was time to read it to find out what exactly the book is about. (Maybe others had the same idea; it took weeks to get a copy from the local public library.)

The book is a good page-turner but is set in a strange world that sort of resembles ours, but not exactly. Some of the names of places and things sound archaic, like the names that were used 200 or 300 years ago. Lamps use "naphtha," which today we use to describe a petroleum product, one version of which is a fuel for camp stoves and lanterns ("camp fuel"). The story starts in Oxford but England is never mentioned, just East Anglia (a portion of modern England).

There is certainly an anti-religious theme. I noticed a version of the old science-vs.-religion conflict, in which the Church refuses to accept certain scientific theories. Meanwhile, the people have replaced their faith in God with a faith in science. Theology is "experimental," and "holy" scientific devices are worshipped in church services.

The main character is a young girl named Lyra, and her name is apt: she continually deceives the adults around her. She certainly comes from a troubled family; both her mother and her father abandoned her and, for their part, continue to lie to her. The book is full of people lying to each other. A race of witches who have extremely long lives worship a goddess of the dead; one witch tells Lyra that everyone is subject to fate but must live as if they weren't.

Finally, there is a theme of elitism: some people are superior, and everyone else must bow to the superior ones. At one point, Lyra confronts another girl, whose daemon (a kind of embodiment of one's soul) defers to Lyra's, and then Lyra knows that she's beat the girl. And the race of intelligent bears has a similar protocol: a bear always surrenders to superior force.

So there's a lot not to like, in my opinion. However, Daniel Moloney, in "An Almost Christian Fantasy," discusses the entire His Dark Materials trilogy, praises Pullman's writing, and claims that the trilogy, in the end, affirms some important values, including the value of sacrificing one's own happiness for the good of others. He concludes:
As is, I can fairly characterize His Dark Materials in this fashion: imagine if at the beginning of the world Satan’s rebellion had been successful, that he had reigned for two thousand years, and that a messiah was necessary to conquer lust and the spirit of domination with innocence, humility, and generous love at great personal cost. Such a story is not subversive of Christianity, it is almost Christian, even if only implicitly and imperfectly. But implicit and imperfect Christianity is often our lot in life, and Pullman has unintentionally created a marvelous depiction of many of the human ideals Christians hold dear.
I wouldn't agree with that after reading just the first book. However, another passage from Moloney's review identifies some flaws that I would second:
Pullman has set himself an ambitious task, trying to tell a complex yet realistic tale about the death of God and the true nature and destiny of man. He has the talent to have pulled it off, but unfortunately, his atheism gets in the way. For unlike John Milton and his other hero William Blake, Pullman is a Richard Dawkins-type materialist, and his atheism fatally flaws The Amber Spyglass, and therefore, retroactively, the whole series. Pullman, who raised more than a few eyebrows with an article in the Guardian excoriating C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories for their tendency to lapse into preaching, falls prey to that same bad habit himself. Indeed, to facilitate his preaching, he breaks many of the rules of fantasy-writing in this third volume, and although this probably makes his novel more appropriate for children, it seriously weakens it as art.