Saturday, November 16, 2019

More from the Iceland visit: Golden Circle Tour, Part II: Geysir and Stokkur

The last part of the Golden Circle Tour was the Haukadalur Geysir area.  The first big geysir's name is, yes, Geysir.  And then the general term was named after it.  How cool is that?  But Geysir doesn't do its thing much these days, so most people go spend more time at Stokkur.

Me, too.   Walking around the Geysir area, I saw several birds, all of which looked an awful lot like this one.  It's a Redwing, which is a member of the Thrush family, and the same genus as American Robins.  It was acting very (American) Robin-like, foraging on the ground in fairly openish areas.

 Below is a sheep-separating thing.  The shepherds let the sheep do their thing, with flocks mingling, and then when the time's right, they drive the sheep into the center area, and then separate them into the outer fenced yards.

More from Iceland Travels: The Golden Circle Tour

On the only full day I spent in Iceland, I took a tour of the "Golden Circle."  As you'd guess, it was utterly beautiful.

(you can click to embiggen)

We went to Thingvellir National Park, first.  It's an area with gorgeous scenery, historical sites, and visible evidence of the split between the tectonic plates of North America and Europe.  Alas, we didn't get to spend much time there, but did take a little walk.

Here are some pictures!

This is the rift, to the left in the picture above, and centered in the picture below.  They've put in a lovely path for walking, which makes the area pretty accessible.

 I THINK these are Greylag Geese.

 Neat lave formation!
 Maps are so helpful!  As the captioning says, Thingvellir was the site of the old Parliament until the 18th century.

After Thingvellir, we went to the famous waterfalls at Gulfoss.  It's a good bit east of Thingvellir, but worth the drive!

This is a monument to Sigridur Tomasdottir; she's super important in this area because she helped make Gulfoss a tourist attraction and guided lots of people there.

Between Gulfoss and the Haukadalur geothermal area where Geysir and Strokkur are, we stopped at a farm and got to pet a couple of Icelandic ponies. 

Monday, September 02, 2019

The Syllabus Thing

I'm pretty happy with one of my three courses so far.  One of the others is almost done, just some passages to choose.  The other has the calendar done, but not assignments or passages.

Those all have to get done tomorrow, copies made, AND loaded up to the new course management web thingy.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 01, 2019


It's been a long while.  I didn't intend for it to be, but it was.

I'm about to start teaching again, and I'm a bit nervous.  Maybe more than a bit.  I keep wondering what it is I'm supposed to do with classes, except for Shakespeare.  Shakespeare seems okay.

But my other two courses, an intro to the major and an intro to drama, are courses I haven't taught for ten years of more.  That's a long time.  It means all new books, and a lot of new planning, because the world has changed a lot.

On the upside, though: I've noticed over the years that the most interesting blogs seem to be when people start new jobs or adventures, because they have a lot to think and write about.  So that seems healthy.

Since I last blogged much, I've become a bit more involved in the local bird banding citizen science project at the local nature reserve.  (I blogged a little about the class here.) 

In other news, my violin teacher left for a WAY better faculty position, so good for her.  Not for us, though.  Before she left, she suggested that I try lessons with a new teacher I'll call Flute.  Flute's the partner of one of our music adjuncts, and also a musician.  He's primarily a flute player, and super good, but also quite good at violin, and willing to teach.  It's a big adjustment to change teachers, and I really liked working with Strings.  Flute's less overtly enthusiastic, but very kind and I think very musically astute. 

The focus changes a bit, not a lot, but a bit.  Flute has me paying a lot more attention to intonation, which is probably really healthy.  But he's less interested in the Sevcik shifting practice I'd been doing.  He's also got me paying more attention to phrasing and flow.  (I think Strings was working on more basic stuff still.)

A thing I meant to blog about but didn't is my trip to Iceland.  So I'll include some phone pictures today, and then add more tomorrow from my camera.

Here's my hotel in Reykjavik, Hotel Leifur Eiriksson.  Dr. Virago (from Quod She) suggested it, and it was a great suggestion!

It just so happens that the hotel is right across the street from the Hallgrimskirja, an amazing, fairly new Lutheran parish.  (That's what the person in the picture above is taking a picture of.)  It made it way easy to find my hotel, since you can see the Hallgrimskirkja sitting at the top of the hill from much of the city.

It's a really beautiful church.

Other sights in Reykjavik:

I got in one afternoon, May 15, stayed May 16, and left late on May 17.  If I were to do it again, I'd spend a few more days.  There's lots to do..

On the 16th, I took a bus tour.  On the way, we went by some of the greenhouses that supply fresh veggies to Reykjavik all year around, using geothermal energy.
And on the morning of the 17th, I took a short boat trip to see puffins.  PUFFINS!!!  Here's a picture of the boat:

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Another Drowned Phone

I did it again.  I drowned a phone.  Third time!

The first time, I had a flip phone and went kayaking with a friend.  I put the phone in two "sealed" plastic bags, but the kayak was an inflatable, and there was a lot of water, so drowned phone.

The second time, I put another flip phone through the laundry. 

This time, I had my "new" smart phone (I got it, used, from my brother in December 2015, when he and his son were upgrading to the newest, latest phones; the 5s came out in late 2013, so my brother probably got his in 2014) in a lifeproof case.  But, since I put the case on three or so years ago (when I first got the phone), it had been failing, and finally failed. 

I was teaching a friend the very basics of kayaking, and the phone was in my side pocket, and got wet, and blah blah. 

So now I have a new phone, in a new lifeproof case (I figure two years and I should replace it).  I got the smallest "new" phone available, an 8, and it looks like it has 4 times the memory as my last one.  (Can I say, the salespeople at Verizon were incredibly obnoxious about the phone insurance thing; even after I said I didn't want the insurance, they kept on and on, and then a second person started in.  They must get a nice kickback from selling those.)

I lost all the contacts, except somehow there are now old contacts on the new phone, so I guess I must have saved them way back when?

And I lost pictures and stuff.  But fortunately, I have a habit (because the phone had smallish memory) of downloading pictures onto my computer fairly regularly, so I didn't loose many.

Last night, I spent a long time doing the settings thing, reloading some of the apps I use regularly.


A small rant: why oh why are they making phones bigger and bigger?  I want something that fits in my pocket, and fits in one hand easily, and the new phones keep getting bigger and bigger!  (I guess most people like them that way?)


Non-rant: one cool thing about the blog: I could find exactly when I got the last phone, and when I got my first cell phone.  Neat.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


A week or two ago, Teho, a fiddle duo from Finland came through the Northwoods, hosted by a colleague over in the earth sciences who's, I guess, into fiddle music.  Who knew?

They gave a campus concert one evening, then a master class on campus the next afternoon, followed by an evening session at a local coffee shop. 

I went to the evening concert, and it was quite good. 

The next afternoon, I went to the masterclass.  At the concert, they'd said that it was open to anyone who came, and we should bring instruments.  So I did.  Me, with the fingerboard tapes.

There were only four student players there, including me, one seemed to be a teacher, one an entering college student, and one a high schooler.  Let's just say, I was WAY out of my depth. 

They taught us two songs in a traditional fiddle way, which is to say, they played slowly for us.   First the A part, a couple bars, repeated, and so on, then more bars, and when the A part was down, the same thing for the B part.  (For both of these songs, there's an A section of 8 or 16 bars, which gets repeated, and then a B section of the same length, also repeated.) 

If you look on the media page, you can hear the two songs we learned simplified versions of: Teksan Maijan roskapuuvalssi & Pettanvalssi, and Kom hem.  They're both mostly in first position (I guess that's quite typical of traditional fiddle music).  Here are recordings of them playing.

As for out of my depth, well, it's quite embarrassing, especially at first, to sit on stage like a lump with my instrument in hand, just watching, while all the other students catch on.  One of the musicians was clearly worried about me, and I felt sorry about that.  Once I got over my embarrassment, I was having a good and interesting time trying to figure things out.  But I'm just way slower than the others were.

It's sometimes really good for me to be uncomfortable learning something.

If I'd done a very traditional Suzuki method, learning the first books only by ear, I'd probably have an easier time picking things up by ear.  But since I already read music, I learned mostly by reading the music.  Still, it was very interesting.

My Dad would have enjoyed it.  You know how we all have memories we regret?  Here's one of mine.  I must have been a tween or maybe a little younger.  On a hot summer day, my family was driving in the Central Valley of California, and we happened to see signs for a fiddle contest/festival.  So we stopped, because my Dad liked fiddle music, and played the violin (and played some fiddle music, too).  I remember he was enjoying it, but the rest of us pretty quickly grew bored.  The public hall was hotter than the outdoors, even, and I remember being impatient and whiny.  I wasn't the only one.  And sooner than my Dad would have liked, we left.  I wonder now, why I couldn't have been a bit more patient and let my Dad enjoy his music more?  I regret that impatience so very much now.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Week 58/66: Been a While

Things have been busy in my life.  I'll post some pictures from my visit to Reykjavik soon.  I hope.

In other news: my Mom's retirement community is closing because it can't be made fire-safe and is in a dangerous area for fires.  So my Mom had to find a new place to live.  Fortunately, the organization that runs her old community also runs others, and since my Mom has something called "life care," that's super important.  So she got that news.

And then she got diagnosed with cancer.  But for reasons that make total sense, the surgeon says they can't operate, and they've got her on some other drugs.  As I understand it, she's likely to die with cancer rather than of cancer, if that makes sense.  And she knows this.  But it's still really upsetting, and she wishes she could just have an operation.  But if a surgeon says an operation would be too dangerous, you know they'd like to operate if they could, so it really would be too dangerous.

At first my Mom said she didn't want me to come out and help.  And now she does.  And she's upset that my brother doesn't seem as concerned as she thinks he should be.  And so on and on.

I need to get plane tickets to go out.

My violin teacher found a way better job, and is leaving the area.  For me and the other students here, I'm really sad.  For her, I'm happy.  She's been a kind and enthusiastic teacher.

It turns out the partner of another colleague over in music can teach violin, and has been willing to take me on, among other students.  He seems very good, and pays a lot more attention to detail.  I'm adjusting, but still a bit sad.

I've been reading a lot, and now I need to just write.  And write.  Someone find me some writing mojo, please.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Greenwich, Just Super!

Sunday's when the BL is closed, and so it's my day to play tourist for real.  I'd never been to Greenwich, and thought I'd spend half a day there, and then go birding at Regent's Park or something.  I didn't.  Greenwich filled the day!

Getting there was a bit confusing.  I looked up and saw there's a bus from Russell Square Station, but it's from the Square, not the station, and I didn't find it, and the tube was there, so off I went on the tube.  I couple changes and I was looking for the DLR, but instead there was a replacement bus, so I took that to the DLR station, and then caught another train to the Cutty Sark station.

When I got off, the Cutty Sark was right there, so in I went.  WOW!  I grew up going to the Balcutha, and this reminded me a lot of that.
 They've cut a hole into the starboard aft section of the main storage deck, and that's where you enter the ship.

You can see how the construction works.  From inside to out: The white painted metal is original structural metal.  Then there's a layer of caulked wood planking, and on the outside is a copper-based metal cladding, which served (before it was copper, I think, but some other metal) to deter barnacles and such from growing on the side, and thus helped keep the ship faster and in less danger of problems (than was typical with unclad hulls).

On the inside, the white painted stuff is original metal, some showing fire damage (from the 2012? fire; I can't remember the date, but it was fairly recent, while the ship was deconstructed a lot, and so the parts that had been moved weren't damaged, but the metal scaffolding inside was).  The darker grey is new structural steel support (more on that later).

The ship was built to move tea quickly during the tea trade, but the Suez Canal opened, making steam ships MUCH more practical, so it moved to the Australian wool trade and such.

Here's looking down the storage area.

It's amazingly large!  You can see some of the displays, which were quite good, informative, and well-thought out.  You go through the main storage area, and then the "Between Decks" storage area, before climbing up to the main deck.  The complexity of the rigging ropes must have been overwhelmingly hard to learn!

 There are several "cabin" areas built on the main deck.  Here's crew quarters, with nice bunks (a bit short, but...)
 And, (if I recall correctly), the steward's area.
 The Salon, what I think would be called a "wardroom" now, where the officers and more highly skilled crew members ate together, and where the master did chart stuffs.

When you're finished looking inside, you exit, and can go down underneath the ship.  Remember those dark grey-painted steel structures I mentioned in the inside?  They're attached to these MASSIVE steel supports all along the outside.  So basically, the ship is supported by an interior scaffolding and hangs on that, and the scaffolding is supported from the outside.  So the hull doesn't have anything but gravity working on it, and thus isn't deformed as it would be if the whole weight were resting on it.  Someone really smart came up with this idea!

From the Cutty Sark, I walked up the hill to the park and observatory.  I didn't take as many pictures in the observatory as I sometimes do, because I was so busy looking at all the cool stuff and reading the information.  It was fascinating!

Here I am, standing over the Prime Meridian.  Somewhere, I've got a picture of me at the "Mitad del Mundo" in Ecuador, the Equator line, so this could be paired with that, eh?
Here's inside the Royal Observatory, which was designed by Christopher Wren.  Damn, he's amazing!
 Walking down from the observatory after, this is another Wren masterpiece, The Queen's House, set against the backdrop of very modern London.

I started out of the observatory about 3:20, thinking I'd still make it to the park, but the National Maritime Museum was right there, free, and open for another hour and a half, so I had to give it a go.  I was glad I did, and could have spent a good many hours there!  Alas, I didn't have enough time, so...

I saw a picture of Sir John Hawkins, who has much to answer for in pursuing the trade in slaves from Africa to the Americas and Caribbean.

And in a different vein, here's the coat Admiral Nelson was wearing at Trafalgar, when he was hit by a bullet, making a fatal wound.  You can see the hole from the bullet, but I think the coat's been cleaned and looks to be amazingly preserved.

When the Maritime Museum closed, I headed back towards the DLR, but along the way, I saw a bus stop for the bus to Russell Square (I remembered the number)!  So I hopped on the bus instead.  And went to the upper floor.

I had a pretty good view for about an hour.  Interestingly (to me, anyway), my university has a tradition of buying used London double-decker busses, so I've ridden them before, just not IN London.  But now I have.  For real.

All in all, this was a GREAT day.  If I had it to do over, I'd leave WAY earlier so I was there right when Cutty Sark opened, and then I'd have more time to see the Maritime Museum.


On Monday, I left the Library early and went to the Tate's exhibit on Van Gogh.  It was just superb.  I had the best time!  If you can get there, go!