Leslie's Latest News

Wednesday, April 30, 2003


Busy day today. A little too busy, in fact - I would have liked some time to just enjoy the sunshine. But I did get to spend some time outdoors at least. In the morning I went out to Lovelane to hang the new letter signs I made. I got through about half of them before my cordless drill ran out of juice, so will have to go back again later this week to finish up. In the afternoon, I took pictures and measurements of my rotting front gate to send to my father. (We talked about this on Easter. He doesn't feel up to coming up to Boston to help me with my home improvement projects, but he was very eager to subcontract any piece that he could do in his workshop at home. So making a new front gate seemed like a perfect project for him.) Then I spent some time trying to transfer my System 9 files to my new hard drive so that I can wipe out my internal drive and upgrade to System X. This of course did not go as smoothly as I would have liked. So when I got really annoyed at my computer, I went out for a while and did some yardwork.

Yesterday, Becky took me to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the "Art in Bloom" exhibit. (She's a museum member so had a couple of free tickets.) This is something they do every year - where a bunch of garden clubs each make a flower arrangement based on a particular art object. These arrangements are all through the museum - usually one or two per gallery. It was interesting, but terribly popular and quite crowded. And we were a bit rushed because I hadn't been able to park in the museum garage (it was full) and the only place I could find was a 2-hour meter a 10-minute walk away. We finally concluded that although the flowers were nice, it might be better to visit the museum at another time when things weren't so crazy.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2003


On the garden tour, I show people the Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens), which is the state flower of Massachusetts. It's a rare, low-growing plant with a tiny but highly fragrant flower that blooms in April. I also knew that the state flower of Connecticut is the Mountain Laurel, which is also found in the garden. So I did some google searching to find the state flowers of the other New England states. I found out that Maine has chosen the pine cone, Rhode Island picked the violet, and Vermont has red clover. New Hampshire is the only state not to pick a native plant - their state flower is the purple lilac, which was brought over from England and planted by many settlers as a remembrance of their homes. However, in 1991, New Hampshire added a State Wildflower, which is the Pink Lady Slipper.
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Monday, April 28, 2003


Body and Soul has an interesting post about the future of women in Iraq. An excerpt:

One of the things that struck me watching the crowds tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein was that I didn't see any women. Another thing that struck me was that no one commented on this -- as if streets without women were entirely normal. Pardon my stereotypically feminist response, but to me a world wiped clean of women is a little disturbing. It seems to say, "Here is the future of Iraq. And people of your gender aren't in it." I don't want to be a party-pooper, but it seems that about 65% of Iraq didn't get its invitation to the party.

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Alex and I went to the Apple Store today to watch Steve Jobs' latest announcement. It was entertaing, as always. Apple is now offering a music download service that looks really good - a large library, free 30-second samples of all songs, 1-click download and payment at a cost of 99 cents per song. It has no subscription fee and gives you unlimited use of the songs to burn CDs or load onto your iPod. Along with the service, there are spiffy new iPods and a new version of iTunes that is integrated with the music store. As usual, they did it right. Now I really have to upgrade to System X so I can start using this new stuff.

My main impediment to upgrading to System X is that I didn't have any good way to backup my System 9 files so that I could continue using them under System X. I finally bit the bullet and bought a LaCie 80GB hard drive to use for backups. So I should be able to proceed with the upgrade as soon as I can find a little free time to do it. (Probably the next time it rains, since I've really been enjoying the nice weather we're finally getting.)
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I went to Connecticut yesterday for Easter dinner at a cousin's house. My father was late in arriving, which had us all worried for a bit, but it turned out he'd gotten a couple of unexpected family visitors at his own house, which was nice. We had a good chance to talk; he gave me advice on a couple of the home maintenance projects I'm about to embark upon. I wish he lived closer so that he could come and supervise; he's really good at doing that sort of thing and would be a great help. My cousin had acquired a new dog, a very cute and friendly little terrier who loved playing tug-of-war and chase-the-ball and beg-for-treats. And the Easter dinner was a very nice meal featuring roast lamb.

The leaves were just starting to come out in Connecticut and the maples and Bradford Pears were flowering. When I got back, I saw that my first seeds (peas, radishes, and mesclun) were starting to come up.
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Sunday, April 27, 2003


Some encouraging SARS news: SARS may have been successfully contained in Vietnam. Of course, this required severe measures, like sealing the border with China. "Vietnam's ministry of health has recommended that the border be sealed indefinitely."
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Saturday, April 26, 2003


Daughter From Danang won the Academy Award for Best Documentary of 2002. I recently saw it on PBS and it was amazing. You are given enough of the background of each character to understand their culture and expectations, and so when the emotional climax comes, it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion - you understand exactly why it's happening the way it's happening and how it really couldn't have been any other way.

In the middle scenes, it reminded me a lot of my visits to Slovakia - meeting relatives you've never seen before, giving ceremonial gifts, talking through a translator, telling simple jokes that can be understood across the language barrier, passing around family pictures, sitting around tables of food and drink. And that helped me to understand the level of stress that the daughter was under by the end of the week. I know that when we were in Slovakia, we tended to alternate days with family visits and days of sightseeing because the visits were so emotionally draining. But this woman had to deal with the emotions and culture clashes nonstop for a week, so I'm not surprised that she melted down when things turned a bit stressful at the end. Still, it was heart-wrenching to see.
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An interesting weblog by an American in Beijing talking about what it's like there with the SARS epidemic in full swing. This may be a forecast of what we will be in for later in the year. And here's another. Finally, a really depressing article about the interaction of HIV and SARS in China, and about how thousands of students and migrant workers are streaming out of Beijing on rickety trains with poor toilet facilities. I wish I could stop reading this stuff. I'm trying to enjoy the spring, but I can't shake this feeling that something really bad is about to happen to us.
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Yup, as predicted, it rained on the Earth Day celebration at Garden in the Woods. Too bad. They were giving out free plants, and had puppet shows and animal programs for the kids, and t-shirts for the volunteers. A number of people did turn out, but it was nowhere as big as it would have been in better weather.

I was scheduled to give the 12:00 tour, and I was a little nervous for my first tour. Luckily, one of the more experienced guides came along and was able to help out when I couldn't identify something. The tour was very small, just one older woman and one family group with two kids. The older woman was in a bit of a hurry because of the light rain, so ended up breaking off from us. She flustered me at the start because she didn't seem very interested in the tour anyway, and I found myself cutting things short at first. But the family group was rather nice - especially one of the kids who was very knowledgable and asked lots of questions. So talking to them got me back on track. The mother and one of the kids broke off part way through the tour, but the father and the interested boy stuck it out to the end - they were even eager to take the Hop Brook trail which goes off into the natural woodland along a stream. So it was fun, in spite of the rain. I hope I can do better next time.

The best part was showing them things they hadn't seen before - like the scouring rushes, which are ancient plants from the dinosaur era that are in their own separate division of the plant kingdom, known as the Equisetum, or Horsetails. They look like bamboo, with thick stems and no actual leaves, and reproduce by spores. They grow happily in the wild area near the stream. These were new to me, too, until I took the guide training, so it was fun to show them to people who were interested to learn about new things.
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In the products you never knew you needed category, I noticed this advertisement in a gardening magazine:

Is your mulch going gray prematurely? It's a common problem. But now, there's Nature Scapes Color Enhanced Mulch by Scotts. Thanks to advanced technology its color lasts all year long - guaranteed. So don't settle for mulch that looks old. Get lasting vibrant color with Nature Scapes.
So I searched the web and found that there are all sorts of people producing of this stuff. They claim that the colorants are natural and non-toxic, but I wonder about that.
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Friday, April 25, 2003


It had to happen. Bush Regime Playing Cards.
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I thought this was an interesting comment from a Roger Ebert radio interview:

Ebert: There's an interesting pattern going on. When I write a political column for the Chicago Sun-Times, when liberals disagree with me, they send in long, logical e-mails explaining all my errors. I hardly ever get well-reasoned articles from the right. People just tell me to shut up. That's the message: "Shut up. Don't write anymore about this. Who do you think you are?"


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I don't want to write about this a lot, because it's too depressing, but I might mention that I'm really worried about SARS. From the Agonist's latest SARS update:

The best hope to fully control SARS is for a vaccine, rather than a curative drug.  A vaccine will likely be available, but may take many months, or perhaps years to produce.  

Can SARS be stopped without a vaccine, or are we all doomed to catch it, sooner or later?   Dr. Alison McGeer is an Infectious Disease expert and a SARS survivor.   She said that the experience of having SARS was very bad.  As for the risks of widespread SARS, she said, "If we don't have a vaccine -- yes we are all going to get it…  Containment strategies will delay, but they won't stop it."    

Dr. McGeer felt that maximal efforts should still be made, to limit the spread of SARS.  Our efforts would minimize SARS-related illness and death, giving us more time to produce a working vaccine.  


That site has also pointed out that the official estimates of the death rate are flawed, since they compare all people who currently have the disease with the number of people who have died from it so far. If the disease has a 2- to 3-week delay between onset and completion, the correct calculation is to compare the number of people who had it 2 or 3 weeks ago with the number who have died so far. That calculation produces a death rate between 10% and 20%.

And it's not just fear of getting SARS that worries me. It's the tremendous effect on the already shaky economy that has me bothered. First there's the hit on travel and conventions and big events. Already it's beginning to look like we won't be going to the World Science Fiction Convention, which is scheduled for Toronto on Labor Day. Then in the fall, people will start getting colds, that cannot be easily distinguised from SARS. Everyone with a cold will need to stay home from work, and that will have a huge effect on productivity.

All I can do is hope they find a vaccine real, real soon.

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Thursday, April 24, 2003


Brrr. I had my last training walk at Garden in the Woods today, and it was cold again - in the 40's. There were a lot of buds ready to pop but not many things in full bloom. It's supposed to be warmer tomorrow, so that might push a lot of things to open. Then Saturday, the day of my tour, they're predicting rain (sigh). This time I brought back some pictures....

This is the rare and protected Trailing Arbutus (Mayflower), the state flower of Massachusetts. It's a tiny little flower on a low-growing plant, but it smells lovely.


The Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia) is another rare flower with an interesting story. During the French and Indian wars, a French botanist found it near an Indian village. He took a leaf sample back to France where it was filed in a herbarium and promptly forgotten. Around 1839, Asa Gray of Harvard came across the leaf sample and asked his students to try to find the plant in the wild. It took another 40 years or so before they finally did find it, in a very restricted location in North Carolina. According to the person who told me this story, much of its original habitat is now at the bottom of a reservoir, but there are examples grown in various botanical gardens around the country.


The Bloodroot was just starting to open. (That blue flower in the middle is Scilla - not a native plant.)


I couldn't resist buying a plant of double bloodroot to plant in my garden. The flowers of double bloodroot have extra petals, but no sexual parts, so they can only be propagated by division. The plant I bought was only a bud when I bought it, but by the time I'd gotten it home, the flower had opened in the warmth of the car.

The first azaleas to open were the Cornell Pink Rhododendrons, a hybridized variety of the deciduous Korean Rhododendron (R. mucronulatum). They were a lovely bright pink scattered through the leafless woodland.

Out in the natural woodland, we saw these Marsh Marigolds blooming along the banks of Hop Brook.



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We're making nuclear weapons again. Great.
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A newly-released study of 90,000 people concludes that one out of six cancer deaths is caused by excess weight.

Both Ryan and Calle said attitudes must change about weight the way they did about smoking. They said communities, workplaces, schools and transportation all need to change to make it easier both to eat right and exercise.

"We've developed a culture where you have to work really hard to eat right and exercise," Calle said. "We're kind of stacking the deck against ourselves.

"Until we accept that it is a bigger problem than one of individual discipline, we probably won't be too successful in turning it around."
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Wednesday, April 23, 2003


I spent the morning doing boring paperwork related to medical insurance claims and transferring my medical records to a new doctor that I have to go to because my old one wasn't covered by my new insurance provider. The recent law enacted to protect patient privacy has all sorts of annoying consequences. You can no longer call up your doctor and ask them to send your records somewhere. You have to write a letter approving the release of the specific information you want to have released. Another side effect of this new law is that my HR department and their contractors can't assist me with any problems relating to my medical insurance unless I send them a separate signed release form for each situation that I need help with. What a pain. (There was an interesting article in the Globe the other day about the high levels of overhead associated with our current methods of funding health care. They pointed out that the insurance companies have no incentive to make things easier - in fact just the opposite - so things look grim for any sort of reform. Currently it takes an average of one person in the billing office to collect the payments for every 5 doctors.)

After that was over, I did get to spend a little time outside. I planted some more veggie seeds (beets, swiss chard, bok choy, carrots, parsley) and spread some more mulch. The crocuses are mostly past now, but the first daffodil is opening. The purple hyacinth is amazingly fragrant, and the ice blue chionodoxa growing wild in the front lawn looks great against the pink viburnum. I hope to get out to Garden in the Woods tomorrow morning to see what is blooming there and to get ready for the Earth Day garden tour I'll be doing on Saturday.
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Ta da!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2003


There's so much stuff planned for Earth Day. I agreed to work at the Garden in the Woods (leading my first-ever tour), and I'm looking forward to that, but also sorry that I'll be missing some of the other activities - a Scout orienteering meet that I've often helped with, and a couple of different cleanup projects, including one along the Charles River. It's supposed to be nice on Friday, so hopefully that will carry over into Saturday. On Sunday, I'll be driving to Connecticut to spend Orthodox Easter with my father at a cousin's house, and I'll probably stay over at my father's house until Monday.

I got a good amount of outdoor work done over the last few days, until it rained today. I completed priming the section of fence I was working on, and also finished making the letter boards for the special needs riding program (although they still have to be hung up around the riding ring). Also did some more general garden cleanup, spreading of mulch, etc.

This morning I had a meeting with my nutritionist advisor in the Diabetes Prevention Program. We talked about my difficulty in losing weight since the start of the year. Sarah's advice was totally predictable: "Eat less, exercise more." I pretty much figured that out. She also showed me some materials that have been prepared for distribution by doctors to people at risk for diabetes - developed as an outcome of the DPP research study. The program's tagline is "Small Steps, Big Rewards", and includes two information booklets, plus a calorie/fat gram counter and weekly food and activity tracking booklets very much like the materials we used in the program, except spiffed up a bit by a graphic designer. (I found the two information booklets online: Am I At Risk for Type 2 Diabetes? and Your Game Plan for Preventing Type 2 Diabetes.)

I also had fun reading Nancy Atherton's latest book: Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday. It's particular fun for me because the heroine's friend, Emma, is based on me. In this book, she discovers that she's a viscountess by marriage and visits an elegant country estate, where she gets to garden and ride horses. Yup, that's my fantasy, all right.
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Sunday, April 20, 2003


Catching up with some notes on movies seen over the past few weeks:

I'd never seen The Apartment before - Billy Wilder's classic 1960 movie with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Jack Lemmon plays the ultimate Organization Man - trapped in a soulless corporation, unable to say no to his bosses, who are using his apartment for their extra-curricular romantic trysts. Things get complicated when Lemmon's character falls in love with elevator operator Shirley MacLaine, who turns out to be his boss's mistress. There are some dark moments, but this is basically a sweet romantic comedy. The young Shirley MacLaine was a delight to watch.

Triumph of Love was an accurate adaptation of a real 17th-century French play by Marivaux. It offered some historic interest, and the settings, in a French chateau and its gardens, were incredibly gorgeous, but I basically didn't enjoy it. The type of plot that was interesting in the 17th century, full of mistaken identities and romantic deceptions, just doesn't appeal to me. In fact, I found parts of it (like when the heroine is disguised as a boy and is leading on the older woman) were just downright uncomfortable. I also didn't much like the modern editing - the jump cuts just didn't go with the old-fashioned atmosphere of the movie. Not recommended.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed The Importance of Being Earnest. It was very true to the Oscar Wilde play, and Oscar Wilde really holds up across the years. The bits that were added to "open up" the story seemed very much in the spirit of the play and the performances were all outstanding. I loved Colin Firth and Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon was very convincing as Cecily, and Judy Dench was amazing as Lady Bracknell. Even the smaller parts were outstanding, with Tom Wilkinson as Dr. Chausable and Anna Massay (with her funny walk) as Miss Prism. The only thing I found a little jarring was the use of out-of period music (although the silly song that Jack and Algy serenade Cecily with actually is based on an Oscar Wilde poem). This is one movie I'd be happy to watch again.

Are you old enough to remember the trial of the Chicago Eight? If not, you might be interested in Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago Eight. This is a play based on the actual trial transcripts, interspersed with reminiscences by some of the players. At the time, I followed the trial in great detail, so it was kind of fun to see it enacted. The Chicago Eight were a group of people who the government decided to blame for the riots surrounding the Democratic National Convention. The charges of conspiracy were very tenuous, because many of these guys had come to Chicago independently and with different goals. Bobby Seale was a black activist, David Dellinger was an antiwar activist, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were the founder of the yippie party that used humor and street theater to attack the government, and so forth. (And of course the riot was actually caused by police wading into a peaceful crowd and whacking people with billy clubs.)

Unfortunately, they went up against a judge, Julius Hoffman, who had no clue what was happening with the younger generation. He tried to exercise iron control over his courtroom, and the defendents would have none of it. Chaos ensued. The Chicago Eight turned into the Chicago Seven after Bobby Seale was bound and gagged in the courtroom to put a stop to his vocal demands to represent himself. Witnesses called included poet Alan Ginsberg (who intoned Ommmms as part of his testimony), Judy Collins (who sang "Where Have All the Flowers Gone"), and Mayor Daley (who arrived with a contingent of bodyguards). At the end of the trial, Hoffman tried to impose huge contempt of court sentences on all the defendents and the lawyers in the case, but these were ultimately overturned. A very interesting historical record of a very turbulent time in our history. (You can read more about the trial here, which has the trial transcript including witnesses mentioned above, as well as Phil Ochs, Dick Gregory, Arlo Guthrie, and Jesse Jackson.)

I decided to rent Iris because of the many acting nominations it got. And the performances were excellent. But, gosh, what a sad and depressing subject! Iris Murdoch was British writer who recently succombed to Alzheimer's Disease. This movie intercuts between her vibrant youth, played by Kate Winslet, and her slow decline, played by Judy Dench. Winslet and Dench were quite convincing as the younger and older versions of the same woman. Both were nominated for an Academy Award, and Jim Broadbent won an Oscar for his role as her husband, John Bayley. The depiction of the course of the disease seemed to be extremely accurate. Alzheimer's is always a tragedy, but even more so to this woman who had a deep love for words and the life of the mind. I'd never read any of her books, but after watching this movie, I plan to find them.

What a Girl Wants is a fell-good movie with a predictable plot. An American girl discovers that her father is a British peer and goes to England to meet him. The standard complications ensue. I love Colin Firth, though, so that helped (he played the father). Also amusing was Eileen Atkins as Lady Dashwood. ("No hugging dear. I'm British, we only show affection to dogs and horses.")



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Saturday, April 19, 2003




I am Charlie Brown

Which Peanuts Character Are You Quiz



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Friday, April 18, 2003


The Hugo Award nominations are now out. This is the first year that the Dramatic Presentation Hugo has been split between Short Form and Long Form. Not surprisingly, all of the Short Form nominees are TV episodes and all of the Long Form nominees are movies. I was pleased to see that an episode of Firefly turned up in the Short Form list (along with Angel, Buffy, and two Star Trek episodes) - I thought that show was better than its ratings would indicate. Long Form nominees are Harry Potter, LotR, Minority Report, Spider-Man, and Spirited Away. Good nominees, I think, but LotR is bound to win. I'm sorry to say I haven't read any of the novel nominees except for Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt, which I am part way through (and was planning to write about when I finished it.)
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Go here for a really cool Honda ad - the ultimate Rube Goldberg machine.

Addendum: And this article tells how they did it. The amazing thing to me is that it was live action (I had just assumed it was digital) and took 606 takes to get right!
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I haven't been too eager to do outdoor work for the past few days now that the weather is cold again, so instead I made progress on the letter boards for Lovelane. I cut the sheets of hardboard into 1-foot squares and applied primer and topcoat spray paint in 4 different colors. Now my garage floor is completely covered with newspaper and colored squares that are waiting to dry. I'm not terribly thrilled with how the spray paint came out, but it was cheaper than buying multiple colors of regular paint, so I guess we'll live with it. Also, the 8-inch stick-on vinyl letters that I ordered over the internet (lettersunlimited.com) arrived in the mail. So all that's left is a quick second touchup coat and applying the letters. I don't know if they're going to want me to install the boards onto the fence or do it themselves, but I've bought some galvanized screws in case I'm going to be the one to do it. So this should be all done by next week's lesson.
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Thursday, April 17, 2003


In thinking about leading tours at the Garden in the Woods, I've been reading up a bit on botany. One question that I had was how ferns are different from other plants. I knew that ferns bore spores instead of seeds, but what exactly are spores and how do they differ from seeds? Well, it turns out to be rather complicated. Ferns and many other types of plants reproduce via an alternation of generations. The ferns that we are familiar with represent the sporophyte generation, and their spores are produced by meiosis and contain only half of the genetic material of the parent plant. The spore grows into a tiny heart-shaped plantlet which is the gametophyte. With only half the genetic material of the adult fern, the gametophyte is analogous to the sperm cell or egg cell. The gametophyte grows both male and female reproductive parts, where fertilization takes place, and that gives rise to a new generation of the familiar sporophytes. Mosses work this way also, although in the case of mosses, the parts that we're used to seeing are the gametophytes, and the sporophytes are little structures that grow at the tips of the gametophytes.
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I heard a bit of a Howard Dean interview last night on the radio as I was driving home. Gosh, he sounded like an intelligent man who made a lot of sense. So there's obviously no way he can get elected president. (Yes, I have gotten that cynical.) But I was intrigued, and went on to read this transcript of his recent interview on Meet the Press (skip down to after the Colin Powell interview). Go take a look - he seems like the real deal. Talking about civil unions for gay couples, he said:

The more important part in some ways is even if you disagree with me - I signed that bill six months before my fifth re-election with 35 percent of the people supporting me. Now, if I am willing to do that, that means that what I value in my political career is doing the right thing as I see it and change and not just being re-elected and re-elected and re-elected. I think that’s one of the selling points for me in this election is going to be that I am not politics as usual, that I am going to do what I think is right and sometimes the American people will disagree with me, but I think I did the right thing in that instance.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2003


We had a couple of very nice days - it was up to 82 yesterday, but a very pleasant dry 82. Just a perfect day. Lots of things started popping into bloom: my pink viburnum, forsythia, and lots of the minor bulbs like squill and chionodoxa. This morning was very fine also. Then this afternoon some dark clouds rolled in with gusty winds and dropping temperatures. They say it's going to go under freezing tonight and stay cold and rainy for the next week or so. Too bad. But spring was nice while it lasted.
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Gah. I've been working on painting the fence for the last two days. Actually, just a small section of fence, surrounding the back gate, that has been peeling particularly badly. But it's so much work! I just keep telling myself that by doing the work myself I'm saving lots of money I would have to pay someone else to do it. The problem is that my back gets sore, so I can only do a few hours a day. Scraping took forever, and now I'm part way through putting on the primer. The next question is whether the gallon of paint that's been sitting around for years since the last time I painted the fence is still usable. It's been sealed the whole time, so I have hopes.
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The NY Daily News has more on the Rowena paintings found in Saddam Hussein's love nest. "I am so upset that they are there," Rowena is quoted as saying. On her campy fantasy style: "I was looking for a way to make a living, and it paid the rent."
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Tuesday, April 15, 2003


I made a rustic bench today. I have a spot under my spruce trees where I wanted to put a bench because it's a nice cool place to sit and has a nice view of the garden. But I didn't want anything too obtrusive or too expensive, as it's in view of the street and I was afraid of it getting stolen. Today I got the brilliant idea to make a rustic bench using some short logs I had from when I had a tree cut down. I took two of the log segments, and put a board I happened to have in the garage across the top, and nailed it down. Voila! Instant bench! Once I paint the board dark brown like the fence it will blend right in.
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We are having a rare warm spring day, and I fortuitously chose this morning to go to Garden in the Woods to "shadow" an experienced guide as part of my training. Unfortunately, nobody showed up for today's tour except two of us trainees, but the guide was generous enough to do the tour anyway just for the two of us. Nothing much is blooming yet - just one clump of bloodroot and the very tiny hepatica - but it was still a lovely day to be out in the garden. After the tour, I walked the Hop Brook and Lost Pond trails, which only took about 15 minutes, and then drooled over the plants for sale in the nursery.

Lost Pond trail goes by a vernal pond - a pond that appears in the spring but dries up over the summer. I had always known that conservationists get excited about vernal ponds, but hadn't entirely understood why. It turns out that vernal ponds are special because they don't sustain fish (which obviously can only live in ponds that have water year-round). But what's bad for the fish is a real good thing for the frogs and salamanders, because they can lay eggs which don't get eaten by fish. Which is why vernal ponds are an important habitat and need to be protected.
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Monday, April 14, 2003


Teresa Nielsen Hayden writes movingly about the loss of antiquities from the National Museum of Iraq. Also worth reading: the many passionate and thoughtful comments on her article.
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With the aid of TiVo, I've been picking up two garden/landscaping shows on the Home and Garden Channel. In Ground Rules!, two families work out a design with an advisor, get a $1000 budget for plants, and then have 8 hours to install the design. Then they get judged by the advisor. After a couple of repetitions, this show gets a bit boring. The low budget and and limited time means that they don't get to do anything very ambitious - it's basically just a facelift on an existing design. But sometimes you get an interesting idea. I like Landscapers' Challenge a lot better. In this one, they describe a design situation, then show you how 3 different designers approach the problem. The budget is set by the homeowner and ranged from $10,000 - $35,000 in the shows that I've seen so far. The homeowner picks one of the designs, then it is constructed and you see the finished result. So far, this show has been a lot more interesting. The only problem with both of them is that they are set in southern California, so the plants that are used are entirely different from those that will grow in the northeast.

I think I'm also going to start watching Victory Garden again. This was my very first garden show, back in the 70's, when it was Crockett's Victory Garden. I still have the first book that they put out, which was my bible when I first started vegetable gardening. The original show concentrated mainly on vegetables, and the original Victory Garden was a small space carved out of a parking lot next to the WGBH studios on Western Ave, behind the Harvard Business School. After Jim Crockett died, others took over the show, and the locations changed and the coverage broadened. But at least it has kept its roots in New England. In fact, I believe I heard that they will be filming segments at the Garden in the Woods this year.
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A couple of nice days, at last, and the crocus are in full bloom. Things are about two weeks later than normal, though. Usually we have forsythia in bloom by April 1, but it isn't open yet. Of course, once it gets warm, everything will get compressed, which is too bad. Spring is already much too short in New England. I've been taking advantage of the weather to try to catch up on my outside work. In a flower bed on the street corner (outside of the fence), a snowplow had pushed up a big mound of dirt, so I regraded that and replanted the vinca and daylilies that had gotten uprooted. I dug up one of my veggie garden beds and planted two rows of peas, one row of the very tall Sugar Snap and one row of the shorter and earlier Sugar Ann. I shifted around some perennials in one of my flower beds, cut back the clematis and honeysuckle vines, and pruned the roses and callicarpa. And spread pre-emergent crabgrass killer on the lawn. And continued with cleaning up leaves and dead foliage from the perennial beds. And installed some edging. Whew! No wonder I'm feeling sore today.
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Sunday, April 13, 2003


Cypress Gardens is closing - the end of an era. I'm glad I got a chance to go there last year. It was definitely a different flavor than the current generation of amusement parks - less slick and frenetic, and very kitschy. I hope someone will continue to maintain the botanic garden; there was a banyan tree there that was quite spectacular.
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Teresa Nielsen Hayden was surprised to discover, in a photo of what may have been Saddam Hussein's mistress's house, a Rowena Morrill fantasy painting that she once helped hang at a science fiction art show! And in the comments, someone pointed out that the painting on the other wall was also a Rowena, although it's not clear whether these are the originals or copies. Who knew Saddam had such bad taste?
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Saturday, April 12, 2003


This article in Daily Kos says it all.

It is a morally bankrupt leadership which plunges another nation into chaos with no plan for its reconstitution.... The anti-war movement, from my perspective saw two things: one, the immense human suffering war would bring, and two: the consequences of the war.

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This NY Times article about the looting of the National Museum of Iraq is just sickening.

The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein's government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with a least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters.... Ancient stone carvings of bulls and kings and princesses; copper shoes and cunieform tables; tapestry fragments and ivory figurines of goddesses and women and Nubian porters; friezes of soldiers and ancient seals and tablets on geometry, and ceramic jars and urns and bowls, all dating back at least 2,000 years, some more than 5,000 years. "All gone, all gone," he said. "All gone in two days."
You'd think we could have spared just one tank to stand guard over the museum. We're going to have an awful lot to answer for when this war is over.
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The pastitsio was great! :-) My weigh-in this morning was not. :-( Ah well...
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Friday, April 11, 2003


The therapeutic riding program (as well as the Red Sox opening game) got rained out today. We got in one lesson and then it started to pour. I drove home smelling of wet horse. After I get cleaned up, I'll be going to Alex's family's house for his birthday celebration. He thought I was getting too obsessed with dieting, so he is planning to ply me with pastitsio (a yummy but terribly rich greek dish) that he and his sister are making this afternoon. I plan to indulge.
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It's amazing how energized I feel when the weather is nice. Yesterday I replaced a rotting board in one of my raised beds, filled up some bags of with leaves and debris for pickup today, and did some lawn work. I tried to use my old drop spreader, which had been increasingly creaky over the past few years, but finally decided that it was just too corroded and got a new one at Home Depot. I had time to spread lime, but didn't quite get to the pre-emergent crabgrass preventer. I also tried to work on fixing my front gate, but have run into a problem that I can't manage to unscrew the old hinges from the fencepost. I don't know what to do at this point. I could try to pry them out, but that would leave big holes and then I'd have a problem of how to screw in the replacement hinge. I suppose I could replace the fencepost entirely, but I've never done that, and besides, the post itself is fairly new. I guess I'll go down and talk to the hardware store guys. Besides replacing the hinges, the frame of the gate is also rotting out, so I'll need to get a 2x4 cut in pieces to try to replace that. Of course, I could just give up and call someone to do the whole job, but I've been trying hard to see how much I can do on my own. I guess I'll just set that job aside for the time being - I have so many other things to work on right now.
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It's very wrong to make fun of a defeated enemy, but if you have a sense of humor, check out We Love the Iraqi Information Minister, a collection of quotes from Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf (currently on administrative leave). T-shirts with his most famous pronouncements are available.
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Thanks to Phil at the Blog Help Forum I've at least now got a workaround for my blogger problem, so comments are back again.
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George McGovern pulls no punches in this article appearing in The Nation. A few excerpts:

Thanks to the most crudely partisan decision in the history of the Supreme Court, the nation has been given a President of painfully limited wisdom and compassion and lacking any sense of the nation's true greatness.

This President and his advisers know well how to get us involved in imperial crusades abroad while pillaging the ordinary American at home.

The President and his team, building on the trauma of 9/11, have falsely linked Saddam Hussein's Iraq to that tragedy and then falsely built him up as a deadly threat to America and to world peace.


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Well, okay, I had my one day of optimism about the war. But it's over now, as I read about the looting of hospitals and the killing of a cleric and the general descent of Baghdad into anarchy. Here's where we find out what sort of Pandora's box we have opened.
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Thursday, April 10, 2003


A gorgeous day at last, and the snow is melting fast. I went walking/jogging along the river, listening to Chess on my iPod, and felt really great. Then lunch at the Low Fat Cafe, followed by shopping at Home Depot for gardening supplies. I'm not sure if the soil is dry enough to plant peas yet, but if not today, then soon, I think. It's so hard to decide what to work on first - there's so much to do! The crocuses are starting to bloom at last.
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Here's a beautiful picture of hope (thanks to Patrick Nielsen Hayden).
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Here's another excellent site - a Reporters' Log from BBC News
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Here's an interesting story from the Tehran Times suggesting that there was a secret agreement between US and Iraqi forces.

Suspicions rose on the same day when U.S. troops, that had been stopped at the Euphrates, immediately were able to advance toward the heart of Baghdad without any significant resistance by Iraqi forces. Nobody asked why Tikrit, that was once called the ideological heart of Saddam's government and the last possible trench of the Iraqi army, was never targeted by U.S. and British bombs and missiles. Or why when the elite Iraqi forces arrived in eastern Iraq from Tikrit, the pace of the invaders advancing toward central Baghdad immediately increased. Also, it has been reported that over the past 24 hours, a plane was authorized to leave Iraq bound for Russia. Who was aboard this plane?

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Signs of spring: There are starting to be really good strawberries in the markets now. I made a yummy low-fat strawberry shortcake the other day, using low-fat Bisquick (instructions on the back of the box). Serve warm topped with vanilla frozen yogurt and strawberries marinated in sugar and strawberry or raspberry liquer.

At the Garden in the Woods, the witch hazel has been blooming for a few weeks, the pussywillows are out, and the red maple buds are swelling. And in the swamp, the skunk cabbage are pushing up their reddish-green conelike spathes, which are so warm that they melt the snow in a little circle around them.
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Alex and Matt and I went to see a Harvard student production of Chess at the Loeb tonight. I've seen it a few times before in various places, but it's been significantly revised a couple of times and I'd never seen this latest version (although I do have CDs of both the earlier and the later versions). To be honest, none of the versions of the script make a whole lot of sense, and the most recent version has entirely too much cold war politics, but in spite of that, I really love the music. This production suffered from the usual student production problems, most notably an orchestra that had difficulty staying in tune. But the lead singers were quite good and there were a number of electric moments that really made it worth seeing. I was disappointed that they cut "Heaven Help My Heart", though. I'll probably spend tomorrow listening to the CDs.
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Wednesday, April 09, 2003


This morning we had our last training walk through Garden in the Woods. The weather was abysmal. It started out snowing lightly, but quickly degenerated to a cold and clammy mix of snow and rain. It was really hard to take notes, and by the end of the walk my fingers were frozen stiff. Today's leader was the head of the Education Dept., and he was very much into botany. I think some of his information would have seemed a bit more interesting if the weather had been a bit more conducive to standing around listening to someone talk. Still, I did pick up a few interesting facts that I hope to incorporate when I start leading my own tours.

One thing I keep being impressed by is the big effect that the glaciers had on the New England landscape, and how recently (in the scheme of things) the glaciers actually were here. Not only has the landscape been sculpted by the glaciers - forming the kettlehole and esker features at the garden, but the plants we find in New England still have not completely returned to what they were before the glaciers. This came up when we talking about leucothoe, a low-growing graceful green evergreen shrub that makes a lovely winter groundcover under the pine trees. They are native to the southeast United States, but grow quite happily in the northeast. Our guide explained that many species were basically eradicated from the northeast during the time of the glaciers and are still only gradually making their way back. Pines returned within 1000 years after the glaciers, but the hemlocks took longer and the chestnuts only recently returned (and of course were then wiped out within the past century). Many of the other plants that could grow here don't occur here naturally for that reason.

One of the reasons this is particularly interesting is when you think about global warming. Many people seem to think that global warming is no big deal because the bands of vegetation will just move north in latitude to adapt to the changing climate. The example of the glaciers shows that it takes a long time for species to move into new areas, even when they're adapted to the climatic conditions. 10,000 years, and they're still not all back yet.
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I knew today was going to be a turning point in the war when I heard that the Information Minister didn't show up for his daily press briefing this morning. That performance had been getting stranger and stranger, as he would describe how the Iraqi army was bravely fighting off the invaders at the same time as US troops were driving down the streets of Baghdad a few blocks away. But this morning none of the Information Ministry people showed up for work, and it was the first major indication that the "regime" government was truly breaking down. As much as I have misgivings about the US getting into this war in the first place, I am going to allow myself a little happiness that we have put an end to the rule of some really bad people.
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SARS news is getting more and more depressing. Efforts to contain the disease through quarantine don't seem to be working very well.

The Lower Ngau Tau Kok cases have prompted authorities to add cockroaches to the list of suspected spreaders of the disease. Cats, rats and leaky sewage systems are also under investigation.
I read one account that said that people who have been studying SARS no longer shake hands with colleagues. Someone else predicted that SARS will spread to 80% of the world's population within two years.
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Tuesday, April 08, 2003


My dogwood tree this morning, April 7.

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Monday, April 07, 2003


I went for a walk today (trying to beat out the predicted snowstorm) and my iPod obligingly served up Cops of the World - a very relevant song today, even though it was written thirty-some years ago. (Where is Phil Ochs now that we need him?) Here are a few excerpts:

We've got to protect all our citizens fair
So we'll send a battalion for everyone there
And maybe we'll leave in a couple of years
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World

We'll spit through the streets of the cities we wreck
And we'll find you a leader that you can elect
Those treaties we signed were a pain in the neck
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World

We'll smash down your doors, we don't bother to knock
We've done it before, so why all the shock
We're the biggest and the toughest kids on the block
And we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World

And when we've butchered your sons, boys
When we've butchered your sons
Have a stick of our gum, boys
Have a stick of our bubble gum
We own half the world, oh say can you see
And the name for our profits is democracy
So, like it or not, you will have to be free
'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys
We're the Cops of the World

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I just ran into my first mention of a blog on prime time TV - the socially inept Donna on Judging Amy starts a blog, Amy's daughter reads it, and her assistant Bruce refers to blogging as the first truly free press.
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Here's an explanation of why we are invading Iraq. I hope it's all clear now.
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I'm finishing my taxes this morning. Ugh.
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I blush to admit I rented Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron, but it was a lot of fun. If this movie had been available when I was 12, I would have watched it over and over. The western scenery was gorgeous and the horses were beautifully animated. The story holds up all the wonderful cliches about the wild mustang that can never be tamed, the gentle Indian who lives in harmony with the earth, and the evil white men who mess things up. Actually, there was a movie that I remember when I was 12 that was very similar to this one. It was called Tonka, and it was a live action movie about an Indian boy (played by Sal Mineo) who tames a wild stallion and sets him free when a cruel tribemate tries to claim the horse. Tonka is then captured by the cavalry, renamed Comanche, and ends up as a survivor of Custer's Last Stand, where he meets up again with his Indian friend. I just loved that movie.
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Sunday, April 06, 2003


I've temporarily had to disable comments. I've tracked down the problem to the fact that when I save my template, blogger changes a "<" in the comment code to "ampersand lt semicolon" for some strange reason. This change makes the comment code fail. Grrrrr.
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The Polar Cafe has some nice photos of twilight at the South Pole. It's awesome to think that when it gets dark there, it's for the next 5 months or so. The English Al Jazeera site seems to be back up again. Why my blog is broken and only displaying the most recent post is a mystery I haven't been able to solve yet.
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This morning I went to visit Matt and Amy and their lovely daughter Samantha - 14 months old and now quite adept at this walking thing. She also talks quite a bit, but mostly nonsense words at this point. You know she means something by it, you just can't quite figure out what it is. We went for a walk in the Middlesex Fells, and boy was it cold. Hard to believe it's April. We went to the Sheepfold meadow, which appears to be the gathering place for many of the dog owners in the greater Boston area. There were about twenty dogs there of all varieties - boxers, poodles, retrievers, pointers, scotties, corgis, weimaraners - all having a grand time running around in the snow. Matt and Amy's boxer Ella and her good friend Xena greeted each other with excited growls, and then did the boxer play thing, which is running around in big circles, shoulder to shoulder, growling madly at each other and occasionally careening into people's legs. We took a little walk through the woods, Samantha riding in a backpack on Matt's back and smiling at the dogs' antics, and the dogs continuing to race around, keeping us more or less in the center of their circles. We didn't stay out too long because it was so darn cold, but it was nice to see the sun again.
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Saturday, April 05, 2003


Okay, this is just too much! I didn't complain when it was gray and gloomy for days on end. I didn't complain when it snowed a few more times even though it was April. But now it's been SLEETING since last night! Sheesh! Is this some sort of evil plot, aimed against me because I want to enjoy a little bit of spring before going back to work? Spring? What spring?

Gotta go now. Machinka just tried to jump up on the outside window ledge, like she usually does to let me know that she wants to come in, only the bricks were coated with ice and she went sliding back off into the shrubbery...
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Wednesday, April 02, 2003


Here are a few pictures from this morning's walk through Garden in the Woods. The first picture is Ozzy, the garden cat (named after the Osmunda fern), who is very pleased that winter is over and people are starting to come back to the garden. He followed us around through the whole tour (you can see him off to the side in the second picture, as Cheryl Lowe, the Horticulture Director, is leading the tour). The third picture shows the path down into the woodland garden, and the last picture is the pond, with the red berries of winterberry in the foreground. (I wish I could include a sound clip of the wood frogs that were making a racket in the wetlands around the pond - it was such a great sign of spring!)



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Tuesday, April 01, 2003


For a bit of black humor, check out the Unofficial Official Simulator, offering answers to your questions from a simulated Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Condi Rice, Don Rumsfeld, or Paul Wolfowitz. Complete with citations.

PS: Something is wrong with blogger this morning, so none of my entries for this morning are getting published as I make them. Hopefully, they will all get published en masse sometime later today.
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The Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study has started a two-month program to help us get back on track with our lifestyle and weight loss efforts. I went down on Saturday for the kickoff meeting and got weighed in at 151 pounds (which was exactly where I started the year - about 10 pounds over where I want to be). We got a bunch of booklets for recording our eating and exercise, and were able to sign up for private appointments with the nutritionist (mine is in three weeks). So we'll see how it goes. I did pretty well during Nancy's visit, except for a stop at Toscanini's for premium ice cream, which Nancy requested. (I only had one scoop - and it was great!)
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Nancy's visit was fun. We spent two evenings together, one with just us girls (eating sushi) and one with Alex (eating Thai). We had been hoping for breakfast this morning, but her flight turned out to be earlier than we previously thought, so there wasn't time. Her publisher put her up at the Eliot Suites Hotel on Commonwealth Ave., which has been recently renovated and apparently quite nice. (And only a few blocks from the Noreascon 4 site, fans might note.) I commented that it was a great location and very near the Museum of Fine Arts, which is currently having an exhibit of French landscape painting, so she managed to spend a couple of hours on Monday morning seeing the exhibit before she had to start the rounds of bookstore signings. (I really need to get over there myself before the exhibit closes in a few weeks!) Sunday night, we came back to my house for a few hours and watched a lot of the skating World Championships, which I had saved on TiVo. Nancy is a big skating buff - extremely knowledgable - but had missed a lot of the Worlds due to her travel schedule. So we enjoyed watching Michelle Kwan win her fifth world championship with a flawless performance, and were also very impressed by the Chinese pairs team Shen and Zhao (we had to rewind and watch their finale twice - it was so exciting, and easier to watch and enjoy when we knew for sure that they weren't going to fall down!) And of course we talked nonstop, about our cats, about Nancy's new house in Colorado Springs, about my new volunteer work, about our weight loss efforts, about the various hassles Nancy had encountered on her trip (including airline security, food poisoning and early morning fire alarms) and, unavoidably, about the war in Iraq. It was great to see her again, and I'm hoping I'll get a chance to go out and visit her in Colorado in a couple of months.
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Alex and I contributed to the traffic in Boston yesterday by joyriding the new big dig tunnel (which had opened the day before) in the middle of the day. We took Route 93 from Somerville through Boston, which was really backed up and took us about 25 minutes, then turned around and zipped back through Boston in the new tunnel and across the Zakim bridge, which took about 8 minutes. Cool. We also experimented with going to the airport - missing the new exit the first time, but finally getting back on track. It was strange to ride the elevated central artery south with the northbound lanes to our left totally empty, except for construction vehicles that were already tearing down the ramps.
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MIT alums might like to check out this book on the history of hacking at MIT, which will be out in June.
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