Archive for November, 2005


I rode over to the Natchez Trace last week. It was fun. A feature in the Clarion-Ledger inspired the trip. I toured Jefferson College, touched the Loess Bluff, climbed the Emerald Mound and visited Mount Locust. Emerald Mound is the second largest mound in North America. I have now climbed the two largest. Monk’s Mound at Cahokia just across the river in Illinois is much larger. I climbed it, too.

The best was Windsor Ruins. I had heard about this place for years and seen it on television many times. It was built on the eve of the Civil War, but burned down later in the century. It was the biggest mansion in Mississippi in a time of extreme wealth. Today only columns remain. They are giant. I wish I knew how tall they are. It was bigger than I expected. Going at dusk added to the effect. Go if you get a chance.

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Michael M. on November 29th 2005 in General

NYT connections

Michael Bérubé is a new media nexus in my world. He is an English professor at Penn State. “The Problem With an Almost-Perfect Genetic World” in The New York Times quotes him regarding his child with Down syndrome. I blogged about him earlier this year because he wrote an entry praising Saint Louis.

The topic of the article frightens me. Dystopian visions swirl in my head.


Michael M. on November 20th 2005 in General

Football connections

I went to the Ole MissLSU football game yesterday. LSU is very good, and Ole Miss is very bad. It was the worst Ole Miss home loss since the 1940s. Giving up 40 points makes the defense look worse than it is because LSU started possessions in Ole Miss territory half the time. The offense could not do much of anything against the LSU defense until the backups played, and not much then.

The night before the football game, my family went to the women’s basketball game. I got to see one alma mater play the other. It was tied at 21. The game looked sloppy. Then Ole Miss crushed Rice. They tacked 110 points on them by the time it was over. After the rough start, the women’s basketball team looked great.

It was good too see the campus and Oxford. My sister and I walked around the Square before the game. I saw Trent Lott and John McCain in Square Books. I think Lott was just politicking before the game. I still feel unhappy when I think of his loss of his Senate Majority Leader position. He hurt Mississippi with his mouth doing just what people elsewhere expect. McCain was signing books. He is much fairer than I thought; his hair is white. According to the linked article, he has had skin cancer.

McCain has long ties to Mississippi. My father knows about the Fighting McCains of Carroll County. Camp McCain, named for one of the famous military relatives, is located in Grenada County, the same neck of the woods. I stayed in Grenada many times on the way to Ole Miss football games.

Mississippi is a tangled web of personal relations, and “McCain’s ancestors owned slaves” from Salon traces another thread. That McCain’s ancestors owned slaves is unsurprising. According to the professor of a history class I took in college, slave owners were in the minority. McCain’s family, however, was wealthy and prominent. The interesting part is who one of the slaves was. The mother of John Hurt, one of my favorite musicians, was Mary Jan McCain. If I had known about the connection, I would have asked McCain about it yesterday. I did not talk to him because I thought I had nothing to say.

Among the people quoted in the article is one Simpson Hemphill. A Simpson Hemphill, likely the same one, appeared in the 1976 movie Ode to Billy Joe. The movie came from Bobbie Gentry‘s song of the same name. As evidenced by the mention of the “Carroll County picture show” in the lyrics, the song is based in the same place. Bobbie Gentry was born Roberta Streeter in Chickasaw County. I, too, am a Mississippian of Portuguese ancestry, but my roots are elsewhere in the state. In another coincidence, a group I often play with has been practicing “Ode to Billy Joe” lately.

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Michael M. on November 20th 2005 in General

Sufjan video

This This discussion thread led me to a video of Sufjan Stevens visit to KCRW‘s Morning Becomes Eclectic. I have blogged how much I enjoyed the concert and how much I continue enjoying the new album, Illinois. Although without a live audience, the video captures much of the concert experience.

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Michael M. on November 11th 2005 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

One code to rule them all

A friend in lab had to change all the minus signs to en dashes in a manuscript he is editing. He did not know exactly what an en dash was, nor did I. Even after finding the window for selecting characters in Illustrator, neither of us knew which dash was which. I told him to google for “unicode” and “en-dash.” The en dash is U+2013 (8211 in decimal). The dash has many more forms than I ever knew.

It got me thinking about Unicode. Unicode is cool. I learned a lot by reading its entry at Wikipedia although I got bored and started skimming after a while. “For the World’s ABC’s, He Makes 1’s and 0’s” in The New York Times a while back profiled Michael Everson, one of the leaders of the Unicode project.

Coincidentally, the alphabet just made another appearance in The New York Times. “A Is for Ancient, Describing an Alphabet Found Near Jerusalem” covers an interesting recent archaeological finding. A group uncovered an ancient Hebrew alphabet possibly older than any previously known.

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Michael M. on November 11th 2005 in General

Math schmath

An article in The New York Times covers new methods for teaching mathematics. Evidently, the children taught by these methods do not memorize times tables and other basic facts. I am a traditionalist. I never studied education, but I did study math in college. I agree that a conceptual understanding of the mathematics behind the formulas enhances comprehension. Real mathematics, as a few friends can testify, is about exploration. Invention is not the only goal, however. Memorization provides speed. It gives one a vocabulary or palette. I had to memorize a few tables and formulae. Doing so has served me well.

The controversy reminds me of the discussions over phonics in language instruction. Whole language seems to have come just a little after my time. I learned phonics. I am glad I did. I can read and calculate. I shudder to think what a child educated with both whole language and constructivist mathematics can do. Maybe I am just a fogy before my time.

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Michael M. on November 11th 2005 in General

Dalai Lama and Neuroscience

NPR‘s Morning Edition had coverage of the Dalai Lama‘s role in Neuroscience. “Scientists Bridle at Lecture Plan for Dalai Lama” in The New York Times a few weeks ago covered the same story. Yi Rao, a scientist leading the protest, was at my school not so long ago. I understand that having a religious leader with some objectionable beliefs speak at a science conference will raise controversy. The relationship between China, Tibet and Tibetans in exile complicates the conflict. I really would like to see the Dalai Lama speak, mostly out of simple curiosity over the controversy. I am going to the conference. I wonder whether there will be protesters. The conference center is very near a Chinese neighborhood. Unfortunately, my own poster presentation is just before the Dalai Lama’s talk. My chances of getting a seat are very low.

Update: The New York Times just published Tenzin Gyatso‘s op-ed piece “Our Faith in Science.”

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Michael M. on November 11th 2005 in General

School boards and evolution

A post on /. brings the bad news about the Kansas Board of Education’s decision about teaching evolution. There is also good news, though. Another post at /. links to a Register story about the electoral defeat of the school board members in Dover, Pennsylvania who supported the introduction of intelligent design into classrooms there. I glanced through some of Michael Behe‘s testimony in the court case there. He painted himself into a few corners.

Kansas is obviously much bigger than Dover, Pennsylvania.

Update: The coverage in The New York Times of the Dover elections is worth a look.


Michael M. on November 9th 2005 in General

More Karaoke Revolution

This story from about a year ago on NPR‘s All Things Considered covers the magic game that is Karaoke Revolution. I blogged before about this fun game. A new version of the game came out today! I only ever owned one video game system, but I hope I get to play this new version soon. I have crashed parties to play.

This development along with the mouse song discovery got me thinking about another innovation in the karaoke world, pitch correction. NPR‘s Morning Edition has had two good stories about it. This magical technique for studio recordings has drifted down into the consumer world. Many karaoke systems have it. I, however, prefer hitting the notes the old way.

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Michael M. on November 7th 2005 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

More Catholic evolution

A post on /. points to recent statements by Vatican representative Paul Poupard denying any conflict between evolution and the church. There is also a wire story from the AP. A post at Pharyngula and the discussion following are interesting if a little foul at points. These official statements appear to come in response to the incident I posted about last summer.


Michael M. on November 7th 2005 in General

The song they left behind

Rebecca and I were chatting last night about our Folk School classes. Hers is learning “The Girl I Left Behind.” Not knowing it by its title, I listened to an iTunes snippet. I recognized it. Lou Singer and Hy Zaret lifted its melody, with some changes, for “Why Does the Sun Shine?” Some people know it as “The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas.” They Might Be Giants covered it. Because I could not find this connection documented on the web, I am documenting it now.

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Michael M. on November 4th 2005 in General, Music, Recorded

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.