Misread sign when driving by TCU stadium today: It said “General Parking,” but I read as “General Barking.” I immediately created a character named “General Barking Madd.” Been reading too much Wodehouse–if that’s possible. BTW, “wod” in Old English means “crazy/mad.” (Go ahead and call men in white coats . . .)

Trader Joe’s Day

Bought everything I wanted today at Trader Joe’s: Kerrygold butter, Tuscan pane, Trader Joe’s Stilton (creamy, not crumbly), crumpets, orange marmalade, and chocolate/vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce. Made me think of a favorite song from Sunday in the Park with George, “Children and Art”:

You would have liked her, Mama had fun;

Mama spent money, when she had none . . .

Mama said, “Honey, mustn’t be blue;

It’s not so much do what you like

As it is that you like what you do . . .”

Recent Reads

A Crack in the Edge of the World, by Simon Winchester. Ostensibly about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, but marvelously about geology in general. Now I think I almost grasp plate tectonics, thanks to Winchester.

The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914, by Barbara Tuchman. (I know it was an instant classic upon publication in 1966, but I’m slow sometimes.)

Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson. Gripping parallel stories of Marconi and Dr. Crippen.

Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson. Tremendous reading–as usual–by Edward Herrmann. About the 1900 Galveston hurricane.

Oliver Sacks:


Musicophilia (I have earworms, so this book is very reassuring. See also www.earwormery.com).

Steven Johnson: Fast becoming a hero of mine!

Where Good Ideas Come From.

Everything Bad Is Good for You.

Mind Wide Open.

The Ghost Map.



Books that have stayed with me at least 20 years

the river why

1. The Gift. Hafiz/Daniel Ladinsky.
2. The Tempest. Shakespeare.
3. Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke.
4. The Phoenix (Old English poem).
5. The River Why. David James Duncan.
6. Four Quartets. T.S. Eliot.
7. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Joseph Campbell.
8. Envisioning Information. Edward Tufte.
9. Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats.
10. Lunch Poems. Frank O’Hara

Books for Brains (i.e. for smart people or those who want to be)

Here are my favorite brain-feeders and books about the brain, in no particular order.

The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

All Edward Tufte books

Incognito by David Eagleman

The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb

Antifragility by Nicholas Nassim Taleb

Fooled by Randomness by Nicholas Nassim Taleb

I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

Everything Bad Is Good for You by Steven Johnson

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

The Hero: A Gifted Essay/Elegy about a Gifted Man

Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. . . . The death of Mr. Shadid, an American of Lebanese descent who had a wife and two children, abruptly ended one of the most storied careers in modern American journalism. Fluent in Arabic, with a gifted eye for detail and contextual writing, Mr. Shadid captured dimensions of life in the Middle East that many others failed to see. Those talents won him a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 for his coverage of the American invasion of Iraq and the occupation that followed, and a second Pulitzer in 2010, also for his Iraq reporting, both of them for The Washington Post. He also was a finalist in 2007 for his coverage of Lebanon, and has been nominated by The Times for his coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings that have transfixed the Middle East for the past year.”

Read the entire article in The New York Times here.

College Recommendation and Scholarship Letters

I am often more than willing to write a letter of recommendation for you for college admission or for a scholarship/fellowship, etc.

Here’s what I need from you:

  • My agreement to write one. Please ask me either privately at school or in an e-mail. (I will not write one if I cannot strongly recommend you. If you have just sat in class and done the work and no more, I may not agree to write one. But you can always ask; the worst that can happen is that I refuse!)
  • What will not help you get a letter from me: This kind of e-mail: “Hey Gail can you write me a letter. I need it by this Friday.”
  • The intended recipient(s) of the letter. Is it a general letter, or do I need to tailor the letter to the college or the award?
  • If it is the former, how many copies do you need? I can print and sign multiple originals on college letterhead so no school gets a lousy photocopy.
  • If the latter, give me or tell me all the information about the award or college that you can. Is it, for example, for future engineers or people who want to attend only UTA or TCC? If it is for admission to one of my alma maters (SMU and UTA), you probably don’t need to give me much information about the college, but if it’s for one of those two for a special scholarship, yes, I need everything you have.
  • Let me know if I give you the letter or mail it directly somewhere.
  • Give me a deadline. Give me two weeks’ advance notice if possible.
If you have any questions, you know whom to ask!

The Education Gap: What are we going to do about it?

Today’s New York Times has an interesting article: “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor.” Highlights:

  • One “study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s.”
  • And this: “Another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan,[found that] the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.”
Where I teach, I think we are doing something about it. As students, you may not agree; as future parents and teachers, you might. E-mail me what you think. (Yes, credit may be awarded for eloquent responses.)

The River Why

If you’re reading The River Why (those of you at MHS and LHS will find out about this at the next class), you might want to download a folder of the same name from Shared Files. The most important file is entitled “1 Reading File: The River Why Corollaries,” which may give you many ideas for paper topics; other files include relevant photos of trout, Oregon, a 1959 Plymouth, ad infinitum. Enjoy!

Note-taking software

In my classes–and in many other college classes, you are welcome to use an electronic device to type class notes. (Most of us do not allow voice recording!) I have loved Microsoft’s OneNote for years; it may already be on your computer if you run Windows and have one of the Microsoft Office suites.

And for Mac users:
Growly Notes Growly Notes is free, and it’s just as good if not better.
(Thanks to Lifehacker for the tip.)

And if you have an iPad, OneNote is available for free from the App Store.

Prewriting AND finding old web pages with The Wayback Machine

While looking for a prewriting map I’d particularly liked and cited earlier on this blog (see “Prewriting“), I saw that the web page no longer existed. After thrashing myself for not having PDFd the page, I remembered a wonderful tool that you should know about if you don’t already: You can often find an old web page by using “The Wayback Machine,” part of the non-profit project called the Internet Archive. The project takes period snapshots of web pages, going back to 1996. It can be useful for many research projects, such as finding out what a politician really said on his/her webpage in 1997, etc., etc. So I used The Wayback Machine, which fortunately had archived the image I wanted, went to the old page therein, and saved a JPEG of the image:

Apropos of current revolutions

“All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”–Thomas Jefferson

– Letter to Roger C. Weightman, declining to attend 50th anniversary of Independence Day because of his health; this was Jefferson’s last letter. He died on July 4th, 1826.

Note-taking software

In my classes–and in many other college classes, you are welcome to use an electronic device to type class notes. (Most of us do not allow voice recording!) I have loved Microsoft’s OneNote for years; it may already be on your computer if you run Windows and have one of the Microsoft Office suites. Check it out! And for Mac users:
Growly Notes Growly Notes is free, and it’s just as good if not better.

(Thanks to Lifehacker for the tip.) And if you have an iPad, OneNote is available for free from the App Store.

Why mechanics matter

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A New York Times author bio reads: [her] “most recent article was about the young-adult novelist Suzanne Collins.”
And if the Times hadn’t cared, Collins (who is 47–young to me, but not to you) could have been described erroneously as the “young adult novelist.”
Told ya this stuff was important!

Recent and recommended reading

Consider the Lobster: essays by David Foster Wallace

Lots of Malcolm Gladwell:
Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A Guide to Dashboard Design, by Juice Analytics

Juice also has a very cool poster with an elegant overview of dashboard design here.