Monday, December 28, 2009

For the Fourth Day of Christmas

Here is a photo of our white Christmas and a poem about the modern view of Advent and Christmas.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Do Whatever He Tells You

The November, 2009, issue of First Things has a statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together on the Blessed Virgin Mary: Do Whatever He Tells You.

It discusses the most important and widely accepted points about Mary and also includes some comments (from the Evangelical perspective) about important Catholic beliefs.

Mike Wise on Tiger Woods

Drawing on his own experience, Mike Wise, in his column Saturday, makes the following observation:
Tiger Woods has an emotional void in his life. This void must be huge. For him to be where he is today, this deep emptiness must have consumed him, must be something he has been living with for a long time.

What can fill that void?

The most satisfying answer would be God.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Mom Song

Anita Renfroe sings her famous Mom Song with energy and at an unbelievable tempo.

It recounts the typical day in the life of a mom with kids in school, and is set to Rossini's William Tell Overture.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dreaming of a white Christmas

After the Blizzard of 2009, we won't be merely dreaming of a white Christmas. We had 17 inches of snow and expect that it will still be here on Christmas.

Midtown Global Market: a Top 10 In-Store Dining Spot

Minneapolis' Midtown Global Market (which is Molly's base of culinary operations) was featured (and pictured!) in bon appetit's Top 10 Best In-Store Dining Spots this month.

Speaking of Molly, the tastebud tart is discussing centerpieces this month. She advises keeping them simple and low.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Email patterns

The September 25, 2009, issue of Science has a report entitled On Universality in Human Correspondence Activity by Malmgren et al.

The report describes research that shows that typical patterns of using email are similar to typical letter-writing patterns. The researchers studied the correspondence of "16 writers, performers, politicians, and scientists."

Sunday, November 15, 2009


The first reading from November 12 (Wisdom 7:22b–8:1) was about Wisdom.

In Wisdom is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Not baneful, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly,
Firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,
And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.

Today's reading (Daniel 12:1-3) echoes this as well:
But the wise shall shine brightly
like the splendor of the firmament.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Florida's Gulf Coast

Florida's Gulf Coast was featured in the Travel section of the Sunday Washington Post. The main article described the islands on the southwest coast.

Anna Maria Island (with less development and more nature) and Siesta Key (with a huge, beautiful beach) sound particularly nice.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A strange wedding

It would have been a nice story: man wins lottery and employs struggling working-class couple that he knows, enabling them to move out of a drug-infested neighborhood.


The man teaches Wiccan at a New Age shop, the young man claims to be a pagan, and the young woman claims to be a witch. And the happy couple gets married in a ceremony that combines pagan and Christian elements. (Mike will be glad? to know that they had a unity candle!)

Read all about it here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Science Fiction

Dappled Things has an interview with John C. Wright, a distinguished writer of science fiction, in which Wright discusses the origins of science fiction and the features of good drama (in all areas, not just science fiction). He also deplores writers ruining their stories to share their opinions about politics.

My objection is not to stories that have a point, even stories that have a political point, my objection is to sneaking little advertisements for your political or religious views into tales where they do not belong.

Along the way, he discusses Utopia, Animal Farm, Star Trek, and other famous stories.

(via First Thoughts)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Logistics of Mass Vaccinations

I gave an on-air interview about our research this morning on WTOP, the news radio station here. You can find it online here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How to avoid an untimely bad surprise

Doug McGuff wrote a post about 12 ways to avoid an untimely, unexpected injury or death.

On a list that includes cleaning gutters, flying planes, and cutting down trees with chainsaws, I was surprised that he didn't include skydiving.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The French and l'Internet

Also in the WSJ is an interesting article about how the French adopt new terms for modern technology. For example, the French word for "email" is "courriel."

To Be Prepared

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article about Capt. Sullenberger and his life, written by the co-author of his new book.

Sullenberger's approach to life has stressed being prepared, helping others, making good decisions, and doing the right thing:

We need to try to do the right thing every time, to perform at our best, because we never know what moment in our lives we'll be judged on.

He also discusses decision-making:

Sully values the concept of "goal sacrificing." When it's no longer possible to complete all your goals, you sacrifice lower-priority goals. He instinctively knew that goal-sacrificing was paramount on Flight 1549. "By attempting a water landing," he says, "I would sacrifice the 'airplane goal'—trying not to destroy an aircraft valued at $60 million—for the goal of saving lives."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nationalizing Higher Education

Robert J. Birgeneau and Frank D. Yeary, at the University of California-Berkeley, offer a possible response to the state budget crises that are affecting public universities: asking the federal government to fund them.

But not all of them: only "a limited number of our great public research and teaching universities" that qualify based on "their research achievements, their success in graduating students, commitment to public service and their record in having a student body that is broadly representative of society."

Of course, many public research and teaching universities are already receiving millions in research funding. While most of that goes to support the research directly, the universities spend nearly a third of that money (the overhead amount) to support staff and other expenses beyond the ones that the states support.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Future of Higher Education

The Washington Post today carried an article from The Big Money by Zephyr Teachout on the future of higher education. The article argued that universities (like newspapers) will soon be under intense competition from aggregators that grant degrees by offering online courses with standardized content, with adjunct faculty grading tests. The article also claims that only the elite schools (like elite newspapers) and state-funded institutions will survive in the coming era.

Links to the article in the Post and the article at The Big Money.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Patience with others is love; patience with self is hope; patience with God is faith.

- Adel Bestavros

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Using EOM to make email more efficient

Use the subject line for the content of your email message, and end it with EOM. Get the full story in the article at LifeHacker.

Speeding Evacuations

Nicole sent me a link to an article at Scientific American about improving evacuation capacity: Limiting the number of pedestrians that approach an exit at once can have beneficial effects.

Pizza Night

Over at Good Bite, Molly has an article describing how to make a healthy, delicious pizza at your house.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Horse Country

In Ireland we saw horses in two settings: (1) the Irish National Stud, where horses for racing are bred near Kildare, and (2) the Dublin Horse Show, which included a large number of events, including world-class show jumping competitions.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Late summer diversions

A couple of things:

My Uncle Eddie winning a soapbox derby in Dade City, Florida, in the late 1940's. (via Barbara Sutton)

A web page poking fun at the design of objects in Star Wars.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Round Towers

In Ireland, some of the old monastic sites have round towers that were used to watch out for invaders and as refuges from them. We saw four at Monasterboice, Kildare Town, Glendalough, and Kilkenny. We got to climb two of them. Here is the one at St. Brigid's Cathedral in Kildare :

and the view from the top (the Wicklow Mountains are in the distance):

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to make a decision

The Art of Manliness blog has a post on how to make a decision. The post mentions Ben Franklin's two-column approach and a basic weighted sum multi-criteria approach. (Thanks to Adam Montjoy for the pointer.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Taste of Ireland

We saw a good deal of Dublin last week - we concentrated on the city center around Trinity College where we saw the Book of Kells and the Long Room. We saw some of the old churches, including St. Ann's, St. Theresa's, and St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral, where we went to Mass. Ate lunch at a pub but also found some familiar chains from home. Tossed a frisbee at St. Stephen's Green during a glorious sunny lunch hour.

We went to the Dublin Horse Show at RDS and saw some amazing show jumping and a highly-entertaining hunt race. The first was a very serious international competition, with riders from across Europe, the U.S., and Egypt. Everyone was reserved, gasping when a horse knocked down a rail from a fence and applauding when one cleared all of the fences with no penalties. The last was a more relaxed team competition, almost like a relay race, with teams from different parts of Ireland, and the fans were whooping and hollering like a college basketball game. The RDS is a unique agricultural organization that sponsors a variety of events related to agriculture, arts, industry, and science. Hint: if you ever visit the Dublin Horse Show, the nicest bathrooms are near the RDS library.

We also made it out to Kildare to visit the Irish National Stud, a horse farm where we saw various stallions, mares, and foals enjoying the nice weather in their paddocks. The horses there are mostly bred for flat racing (around a flat track), not show jumping. We also visited St. Brigid's Cathedral and climbed the round tower for an excellent view of County Kildare.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Make You Feel My Love

The terrific (and often-covered) Make You Feel My Love by Bob Dylan. (The "video" is just the song title.)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Galway Chronicles

As we prepare for a trip to the Emerald Isle, I'm reading some historical fiction about Ireland: The Galway Chronicles by Bodie and Brock Thoene.

I've finished and enjoyed two of them so far. The books don't compare to the classics by James Joyce, but they do have good guys and bad guys and lots happens to the poor Donovan family. The books are set in the 1840's, when the English ruled Ireland and sent troublesome young men to America or the gallows. Knowing something about Irish history and geography helps make them interesting.

I'm listening to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by Joyce. Again, my increased familiarity with the country helps me understand the context in which Stephen Dedalus struggles to figure out who he is.

If Man Walked on the Moon Today

If Man Walked on the Moon Today is a nice satire of today's media industry.

Choosing a career

Purdue University's Center for Career Opportunities has a page for discovering who you are and finding an appropriate career (major).

It relies on identifying oneself as one of six types.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How the media work

Archbishop Chaput's essay on the media, its obligation to present the truth, and its shortcomings in doing so.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Leave 'em at home

Apparently, one cannot take snow globes on airplanes. Who knew? (You gotta love the little picture showing the red circle and slash over the cute little snow globe.) (Note, however, that the slash goes from upper left to lower right on street signs; on the snow globe, the slash is on the other diagonal.)

Mike's wanderings

Mike Warner made it to Four Corners at the end of June in his journey around the country visiting national parks.

Failure and system architecture

Charles Perrow's opinion piece in the June 28 Washington Post discusses the role of human controllers in systems such as subways and airliners and discusses the different system architectures of the airliners designed and manufactured by Boeing and Airbus.

He argues that Boeing's modular design may be safer in situations when the consequences are catastrophic.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Terrapin Adventures

While Jill and Sarah were here, we went to Terrapin Adventures at Savage Mill. There, we zoomed across on the zip line and then tackled the Terrapin Tower (pictured here). The weather stayed sunny and warm, and we all enjoyed the challenge. Colleen says that she liked it very much!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Those crazy orthodontists!

Two local orthodontists (Stewart and Labbe) sponsor a photo contest - the patients are supposed to have their photo taken while they wear a t-shirt with the doctors' names in different places (some distinctly related to Maryland, and others are more general). Sort of like a summer-long scavenger hunt.

ANYWAY, someone who did this last year posted a YouTube video featuring their photos, set to the 1982 hit "Da Da Da" by Trio! (Somehow, it fits.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

St. Leo celebration

Today St. Leo Abbey is celebrating the 120th anniversary of its founding with a celebration Mass. The Benedictine monks of St. Leo taught my parents when they attended high school and college at St. Leo. The abbey is part of a historic district on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The following links provide more information about recent renovations to the abbey: video and article.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

St. Kevin's Day

Happy St. Kevin's Day!

His Wikipedia article has some links to more information about the Irish abbot whose feast day is June 3.

Dante 2009

Dante's Inferno is now a video game.

Thanks to Icons & Curiosities for the pointer.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Online dissertation

My dissertation is now an online book in the Internet Archive, thanks to the George A. Smathers Libraries UF Retrospective Dissertation Scanning Project at the University of Florida.

My thanks to Cathleen L. Martyniak, a preservation librarian there, for her help with this.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Diversifying the Supreme Court

In today's Washington Post, an article by Robert Barnes discusses the lack of diversity on the U.S. Supreme Court. Although race, ethnicity, and sex are the normal measures of diversity, the article points out some other important aspects: the current members are all from private universities, eight went to Harvard or Yale for law school, and all were appellate judges.

The future seems to be a court filled with justices who look very different from each other but all attended the same schools and had the same experience.

UPDATE: Sonia Sotomayor, who was just nominated, follows the same pattern, for she went to Princeton as an undergraduate, then attended Yale Law School, and served as appellate judge in New York.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ping Pong invention

Aaron Scott, a Georgia Tech mechanical engineering graduate, invented a mechanism to pitch ping-pong balls. He and some classmates created a computer model, and then he built and tested a prototype. See the YouTube video. (Thanks to the final edition of Tech Topics for the pointer.)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A Ferrari for the dining room

From the British car show called Top Gear, an interview with a telecommunications engineer who spent 22,000 hrs building a functional Ferrari 312 at 1/4 scale.

Online lectures

Stephanie sent me a link to Academic Earth, which has online lectures on a variety of lectures, including entire courses on Game Theory (under Economics).

Thursday, April 30, 2009


My cousin Stephanie Bires is this year's valedictorian at Pasco High School. She and the salutatorian were featured in this article. Both of them dislike the FCAT and consider their moms as the folks who inspired them the most.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

African banjos

A BBC News special report on Grammy award-winning banjo player Bela Fleck and his trip to Africa to explore the roots of the banjo. (Thanks to First Things blog for the tip.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver. The song released as a single in 1971, and the video was posted on YouTube in 2007.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler is a television movie airing tonight on CBS. The First Things blog has a note from Cynthia L. Haven, a regular contributor to the Washington Post Book World, about Sendler, a Polish Catholic, and the network of women who helped her.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The 2009 Peeps

The winner of The Washington Post's 2009 contest can be viewed at My favorite is the Escher at photo #5.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Free speech at the University of Maryland

Here's a summary of some things going on at the University of Maryland.

Update: President Mote announced that commencement ceremonies will have an invocation as usual. According to the Washington Post, University spokesman Lee Tune said that the University received many calls and e-mails supporting the tradition.

Top 10 John Williams themes

Dad sent a link to an article (in the St. Pete Times paper website) about one critic's favorite John Williams movie themes. IMHO, the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones themes deserve to be at the top. A related link at that page goes to the critic's explanations of his choices.

Musical chemistry lecture

The Faculty Voice is an independent faculty newspaper edited at the University of Maryland. The March, 2009, issue mentions a musical prank in a chemistry lecture.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

America and Europe

The United States is becoming more like Europe and that is not a good thing, according to an opinion piece by Charles Murray titled Thank God America Isn't Like Europe -- Yet in today's The Washington Post.

According to Murray, the problem is

a spreading European mentality that goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible. If that's the purpose of life, then work is not a vocation, but something that interferes with the higher good of leisure. If that's the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble? If that's the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that's the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?

For more about this issue, see also the article Secularizations by Richard John Neuhaus in the February, 2009, issue of First Things.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Tastebud Tart in the JuiceBox

Molly Herrmann, aka The Tastebud Tart, and her all-organic, locally sourced, home-cooked kid's meals were mentioned in the March 18 issue of JuiceBox, an e-newsletter from According to the article, she "so expertly wrapped that turkey wrap last week, our first-grader didn't even realize there was "salad" in it and ate the whole thing."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Seed Performance

Yesterday's Washington Post had an interesting graphic on the performance of the teams in each seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. So, for instance, out of the 96 teams who have received a #1 seed, 14 of them have won the championship.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Making of Lent

The current issue of Touchstone magazine has a column about the origins of Lent. The author, William Tighe, teaches history at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Here is his statement about what the period of Lent in the West:

In the West, among Catholics and Protestants alike, Lent will begin on Ash Wednesday, February 17, and end on Maundy Thursday, April 1. It is followed by the Holy Triduum of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday (April 2, 3, and 4). Sundays are not observed as fast days, so reckoning Lent as extending from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday gives 38 days of fasting, to which the adding of Good Friday and Holy Saturday makes 40.

He also covers how churches in the East observe Lent and how these different traditions have similar origins.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Some Diversions

1. A Coldplay concert breaks out at an English village fete.

2. New ideas for cable TV channels (from yesterday's Style Invitational):

* The Moebius Channel: A one-sided documentary that never ends.
* The Meta-Network: Round-the-clock talking heads discussing how dreadful television is these days.
* ESP-N: We know just what you want to watch.
* Wikipedia News Network: Viewer-submitted news featuring the daily program "Here's What I Think Happened," the weekly travelogue "Life in These 53 States" and the 12-part documentary "City on the Edge of Tomorrow Is the Best 'Star Trek' Episode Ever." Regular contributors include a bunch of guys in sweat pants and Hannity & Colmes.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

USS Midway

Had to go to San Diego earlier this week for a conference. While there I went to a reception aboard the U.S.S. Midway, which is now permanently docked in San Diego. The Midway served from 1945 to 1992.

Lots of cool stuff on the ship, including a transparent plastic scale model used during the design of the ship. The model itself had to be about 20 feet long.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It's not easy being green

Today's Washington Post has two different views of the increasing importance of being "green": George Will's column on Dark Green Doomsayers discusses the exaggerations of those who predict an environmental catastrophe, while Can One Household Save the Planet? by Liza Mundy, describes one family's struggles to be green.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Planet Narnia

The May, 2008, issue of First Things had a review of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the ­Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Michael Ward. The review covers the book's argument that each of the books in The Chronicles of Narnia has an equivalent planet. As the reviewer Nathaniel Peters puts it:
Each of the seven planets of the ancient celestial hierarchy provides the atmospheric superstructure for each of the seven books in Lewis’ series of children’s books.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Is God a Mathematician?

Is God a Mathematician? is the title of a new book by Mario Livio. I was just reading a review of this book in the February issue of First Things when a student who works at NIST sent me a note that he had heard Livio give a talk there. He encouraged me to attend Livio's talk at the University of Maryland, which was held late on Friday afternoon, January 30, at one of the large physics lecture halls. There was someone there selling Livio's book.

So I did attend the first half of it (before I went home for dinner). Interestingly, the review that I had read gave me an excellent preview, for Livio started by stating that the title question is more important than the answer. Then he mentioned some highlights in the history of mathematics, including Kepler, Newton, Kelvin's knots, and Penrose's three worlds (physical, mental, and mathematical; described in Shadows of the Mind). He discussed the question of whether mathematics is invention or discovery, Plato, Archimedes (the world's first applied mathematician), Galileo, and Descartes.

Want to Engineer Real Change? Don't Ask a Scientist

Henry Petroski (who has made previous appearances here) had an opinion piece about the importance of engineers the other day. He aims to remind folks that science is great but not enough to make clean energy and other technologies economically feasible. Engineers are the ones designing the products and systems that make a difference.

How the States Got Their Shapes

Those who like maps and American history will like How the States Got Their Shapes, by Mark Stein. It covers the story of each state's boundaries, from Maine to Alaska. Every single straight line, river, and funny little corner (like the one at the top of Minnesota) is explained, and the reasons vary from natural geography to the mathematics of longitude and latitude to politics to surveying mistakes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tastebud Tart on TV

My sister-in-law Molly was on TV today in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area demonstrating her culinary expertise by making a Coconut Curry Tortellini Soup on the Showcase Minnesota show: you can find the recipe and video here. Don't forget to visit for more of her recipes and products!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inca Engineering

In a recent article in ASEE Prism, Henry Petroski, the Duke University historian and engineer, discusses Machu Pichhu, the 500-year-old Inca city. Petroski went with a group of civil engineers to a ceremony in Peru recognizing the site as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. See the ASCE press release for more about the trip.

Retirement Planning

Here is a novel idea for retirement: give lectures on cruise ships.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The December 2008 issue of Touchstone has a piece by Anthony Esolen about the movie It's a Wonderful Life. Esolen discusses how George Bailey's decisions (to rescue his brother, to stay home and run the building and loan, to use his own cash to save it in a bank run, and others) - not merely his existence - are important and helped prevent Bedford Falls from becoming Potterville.

He then goes on to say that most of us live in a Potterville, a place of abandonment, where we are citizens of no town at all, where we don't care what our neighbors do. But we can still turn away from "the universal wolf of avarice, ... the desire to have, have, have," by using the gifts that God gave us and staying where we are and loving our neighbors. And that would be a wonderful life.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bok Tower

While we were in Florida visiting family, we got the chance to visit Bok Tower. The most prominent feature is the bell tower that holds the carillon, though this was added later to the landscaped grounds that are full of lawns shaded with live oaks, paths lined with azaleas and other flowering shrubs and palm trees, and many other (mostly native) plants. It is a beautiful place, and visiting it provided a serene interlude to all of the chaos of traveling during the holiday season. It also has what may be the only scenic overlook in Florida (photo from Wikipedia). William De Turk, the carillonneur, gave a concert of Christmas songs, ending with Auld Lang Syne (as it was New Year's Eve).