24 Hours in Philly

Arrived yesterday in Philadelphia, for the ALA (American Libraries Association) Midwinter Conference. 24 hours later, I've managed to:
  • Visit Independence Hall (for the third time in my life, I believe - not counting early 2002 when it was barricaded with concrete bunkers and closed to the public)
  • Visit the observation deck at the top of Town Hall (up close to the 37-foot statue of William Penn that adorns the top)
  • Ate my first Philly cheese steak sandwich in Reading Terminal Market
There are an astonishing number of homeless and/or street beggars in Philly, at least downtown. Reminds me greatly of 1980's pre-Giuliani New York. One never knows, though, whether absence of a homeless population reflects a city's prosperity, or the fact that they've cleared them away through legislation and general harrassment by safety officers.


Bird Math

One more post about The World Without Us. Weisman devotes a full chapter to how man is impacting bird populations. The numbers are so astonishingly bad that one begins to wonder how any birds have made it to 2008:
  • Nearly 500 million birds die each year colliding with radio towers (2,500 per tower x 175,000 towers) - they're drawn toward the red lights in bad weather
  • 60-80 million birds in US lose it to windshields and radiator grilles.
  • 1 billion birds in US break their necks against plate glass windows (including mine)
  • 219 million birds in just Wisconsin are caught by the common house cat (U.S. number likely in the billions)
  • 120 million game birds per year are taken in the U.S. by hunting
  • Power lines: who knows? Some get zapped, but many more collide with them.
  • ...and he doesn't even mention wind farms or airplanes or habitat loss.
Weisman says there are about 20 billion total birds in North America. If I add up the above numbers, we're talking about 1.6 billion kills each year, about 8% of the total bird population. Can that be possible? Especially when he notes that of the more than 10,000 modern-day bird species, "only" 130 have disappeared, less than 1 percent. How is that possible?

Author Envy

Just finished The World Without US last night. Depressing at times, but ultimately uplifting. The last emotion I felt was jealousy, as I read the author's acknowledgments. I realized that he had traveled to all the places he wrote about in the book.

And then I cracked open my next read, The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War / Graham Robb, to learn in his intro that he rode his bicycle for 14,000 miles around France in order to learn about her. Again - that twinge of envy!

Where does one sign up for these globetrotting jobs?


The End of An Era

After 12 years and thousands of miles in my beloved Garmonts, I've reluctantly had to admit that the traction is completely worn away, the ankle support long gone, the leather permanently parched. I mourn them like the good friends they've been, but it's high time to move on. Out with the old, in with the new.

My new Asolos are lighter, more "sneaker like", and better suited for the day hiking and lighter packing I'll probably be doing more of in Missouri.

I wish boots came with built-in odometers and GPS units, so I could relive where my Garmonts have taken me, and see just how many blissful miles we've traveled together.


The World Without Us

I'm currently reading The World Without Us / Alan Weisman, a fascinating look at what the world would do if humans suddenly - instantly - vanished from it. Far from a negative diatribe against our species, the book is an insightful and optimistic thought experiment with fresh perspective on how man has changed the planet, and how the planet has the ability to heal itself.

Here are some particular links of interest on topics mentioned in the book (will be adding links over next several days):
  • Bialowieza Pushcha Forest - Europe (and the world's) last standing primeval forest.
  • The High Line Park - nature reclaims an elevated railroad!
  • The Manahatta Project - what was Manahattan like when Europeans first arrived?
  • Paul Martin's Blitzkrieg theory - 70 genera of North American megafauna, from giant ground sloths to wooly mammoths, all vanished in just 1,000 years time (13,000-12,000 B.C.). Man first crossed from Siberia to N. America in 13,000 B.C. Coincidence?


Les Enfants du Paradis

Joe and I watched the first half of an amazing French film called Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise). The story behind the film, called the "French Gone with the Wind", is as amazing as the film itself. Released in 1946, it was filmed during the French occupation. Actors were arrested during production for collaboration and entire sequences had to be reshot with new actors. The set designer and producer were both Jewish, had to work in complete secrecy, and were therefore not listed in the credits. Both resistance fighters (hired secretly to give them cover) and Vichy collaborators (required hires) worked side by side as extras.

The entire film is a wonderful allegory for Truth, and how men perceive her differently. The mime sees her with wondrous, naive innocence. The actor sees her as a dalliance, something to play with. The intellectual dandy treats her as a museum piece, to be coldly admired. The wealthy count - well, we haven't gotten to him yet. Intermingled with all this is an orderly parade of society from the bottom to the top as the film progresses, and lots of commentary about life imitating art, art as a liberator, and more. And I'm sure there's lots more going on that we haven't picked up on. This is a movie that requires multiple viewing.

We both cheer at the increasing frequency with which we can pick up entire phrases in French. The subtitles help, of course...


Even Years are Good Years

Happy 2008!

I'm kicking off the new year with a venture into blogging. I have no idea whether it'll prove interesting enough for me (or anyone else) to keep up with, but hey - that's what experiments are for.

Joe and I rang in 2008 with a group of fine people at Bruce Bailey's place. The champagne flowed, the food was yummy, and a good time was had by all. Joe played Auld Lang Syne, Happy Birthday (for Kim) and other tunes throughout the night. We met a couple, Pete and Tammy, that share much in common with us - including years of living in the mountain west, a love of dogs, the outdoors, and Jon Krakauer. We actually met Pete at a Knob Noster trailhead early last year, when he was building a new mountain bike trail. Tammy suggested that she and I take a jaunt together to some dog sledding event in Minnesota this February. We'll see!

Joe's never been much into resolutions, but I adore them - even if the list always seems somewhat similar from year to year. My goals, in no particular order:
  1. Arabic - review, further MSA vocabulary, particular media Arabic
  2. French - Joe and I have been making great progress with French in Action. We're on unit 18, and would like to finish the 51-unit series by the end of the year.
  3. Hike, bike, canoe - We're gonna bike the Katy trail the last week of March, and hike somewhere more exotic in June. And we'd like to get a canoe and see what the waterways of Missouri have to offer.
  4. Garden - we miss our homegrown veggies! Plans include a 45x45 foot garden, plus lots of landscaping fun.
  5. Career - career goals include publishing twice, presenting once, giving a GIS workshop at the Summit Center, weeding the business collection, and developing some spiffy library tutorials.
  6. Education - wrap up the GIS grad certificate, and make good progress towards the Competitive Intelligence certificate from the Special Libraries Association.
And the boys' resolutions? Moki plans to sleep through 2008, and Pye is still looking for a girlfriend.