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January 9, 1999

Still a bit under the weather from the remnants of the whooping cough...I've got a muscle pull or something from the coughing. It was pretty bad most of last week, but it's easing up now.

I went to the library today, and looked up my great-grandparents who lived in Newton Centre. John George Joyce and Mary Elizabeth (Bliss) Joyce lived at 1032 Centre Street, Newton Centre from around 1918 to the ends of their lives (1927 and 1938.) I found their address in the old Newton City Directories, and found their obituaries on microfilmed newspapers. I've put this data on the site. I also drove by the house and took a few photos, which I'll add later.

I found an old friend, Peter Moncure, on the web, after losing track of him maybe 20 years ago. He's not in Woodstock any more, but has moved to Florida. He was the one who originally got me interested in photography back in the late '60s, when he used to live across the street from me on Symphony Road.

January 15, 1999

Film: Lés Misérables

Lés Misérables is a book very dear to my heart. I spent about 10 months reading the original in French, and absolutely fell in love with the book. As a result, I'm perhaps a bit overcritical of translations to other media. I've seen at least 3 other film versions, and also the musical on Broadway, and none of them have been entirely satisfactory to me...but, how can you compress 1500 pages into an evening's entertainment? My favorite adapatation remains the Claude Lelouche version with Jean-Paul Belmono and Jean Marais, re-set in WWII.

(I heard once that, in the early part of this century, a young law student came to Paris to study from one of France's asian colonies. He was on the fast track to become a successful lawyer when he read Lés Miéserables--and it changed his life. He gave up his legal studies, and determined to go home to his native colony and fight to free his people from poverty and oppression. He chose the nom-de-guerre...Ho Chi Minh!)

I had high hopes for this latest attempt with Liam Neeson as Valjean and Claire Danes as Cosette. It started fairly well, though I found it very jarring to see Valjean strike the bishop who was his benefactor; I can't imagine why the director, Bille August, felt it necessary to add this gratuitous blow.

While I understand the need to make drastic cuts for such a short film (2 hours 10 minutes) I was truly dismayed that they cut out the splendid scene where Valjean first meets the 8 year old Cosette in the scary woods on Christmas night:

Forests are apocalypses, and the beating of the wings of a tiny soul produces a sound of agony beneath their monstrous vault.

Without understanding her sensations, Cosette was conscious that she was seized upon by that black enormity of nature; it was no longer terror alone which was gaining possession of her; it was something more terrible even than terror; she shivered. There are no words to express the strangeness of that shiver which chilled her to the very bottom of her heart; her eye grew wild; she thought she felt that she should not be able to refrain from returning there at the same hour on the morrow.

Then, by a sort of instinct, she began to count aloud, one, two, three, four, and so on up to ten, in order to escape from that singular state which she did not understand, but which terrified her, and, when she had finished, she began again; this restored her to a true perception of the things about her. Her hands, which she had wet in drawing the water, felt cold; she rose; her terror, a natural and unconquerable terror, had returned: she had but one thought now, -- to flee at full speed through the forest, across the fields to the houses, to the windows, to the lighted candles. Her glance fell upon the water which stood before her; such was the fright which the Thenardier inspired in her, that she dared not flee without that bucket of water: she seized the handle with both hands; she could hardly lift the pail.

In this manner she advanced a dozen paces, but the bucket was full; it was heavy; she was forced to set it on the ground once more. She took breath for an instant, then lifted the handle of the bucket again, and resumed her march, proceeding a little further this time, but again she was obliged to pause. After some seconds of repose she set out again. She walked bent forward, with drooping head, like an old woman; the weight of the bucket strained and stiffened her thin arms. The iron handle completed the benumbing and freezing of her wet and tiny hands; she was forced to halt from time to time, and each time that she did so, the cold water which splashed from the pail fell on her bare legs. This took place in the depths of a forest, at night, in winter, far from all human sight; she was a child of eight: no one but God saw that sad thing at the moment.

And her mother, no doubt, alas!

For there are things that make the dead open their eyes in their graves.

She panted with a sort of painful rattle; sobs contracted her throat, but she dared not weep, so afraid was she of the Thenardier, even at a distance: it was her custom to imagine the Thenardier always present.

However, she could not make much headway in that manner, and she went on very slowly. In spite of diminishing the length of her stops, and of walking as long as possible between them, she reflected with anguish that it would take her more than an hour to return to Montfermeil in this manner, and that the Thenardier would beat her. This anguish was mingled with her terror at being alone in the woods at night; she was worn out with fatigue, and had not yet emerged from the forest. On arriving near an old chestnut-tree with which she was acquainted, made a last halt, longer than the rest, in order that she might get well rested; then she summoned up all her strength, picked up her bucket again, and courageously resumed her march, but the poor little desperate creature could not refrain from crying, "O my God! my God!"

At that moment she suddenly became conscious that her bucket no longer weighed anything at all: a hand, which seemed to her enormous, had just seized the handle, and lifted it vigorously. She raised her head. A large black form, straight and erect, was walking beside her through the darkness; it was a man who had come up behind her, and whose approach she had not heard. This man, without uttering a word, had seized the handle of the bucket which she was carrying.

There are instincts for all the encounters of life.

The child was not afraid.

August seems to have objected to this and many of the other coincidences in the novel; many of his cuts and rewrites seem intended to avoid such "unrealistic" episodes. This scene would seem to me to be supremely cinematic, in the hands of a director with any feeling for the story.

While August couldn't find time for this, he managed to find time for an irrelevent and unimportant focus on Fantine's cameo necklace.

I mainly know Claire Danes from her work in the splendid TV series My So-called Life, and had high hopes on learning she was to be Cosette. Unfortunatley, this film really goes down the toilet as soon as she makes her appearance. Her very first scene is in the chapel of the convent, there's a solemn cermeony going on--and she's leaning her head, fidgeting and craning her neck around to look at Valjean in the balcony behind her...extremely inappropriate behavior under the circumstances. In most of her shots she's chewing the scenery and overacting to a ludicrous extent. She acts like a stereotyped '90s teenager, getting into shouting matches with Valjean. It's really a shame. I don't know how much of this is Danes's fault and how much August's, but it really stinks.

The whole end of the film is ruined by re-writing; the irony of Marius not knowing who saved him by spiriting him through the sewers to safety is thrown away; Marius is concious through this, and Valjean sends him to his own place on the Rue Plumet, instead of to the Pontmercys (who have all been chopped out of the film.)

The final scene has Javert handcuff himself and throw himself into the Seine from a low bank...while Valjean stands next to him and watches! Valjean then walks away with a smile on his lips...roll credits. What a travesty!

January 16, 1999

Concert: Boston Symphony Orchestra

Harriet was off camping in the snow with George and the Boy Scouts, so I took Tova to tonight's concert. It opened with Flourish with Fireworks by Oliver Knussen. This piece is so short they played it twice. I liked it better the second time, but it didn't really do much for me.

Then was Judith Weir's Natural History, sung by Dawn Upshaw. This is a setting of four ancient chinese poems. I really liked this work, the first I've heard of Weir. Some of the vocal setting seemed slightly at odds with the text, but on the whole it is a wonderful work. Upshaw was suffering from a throat infection, but did very well considering.

The Mahler 4th was quite a weird interpretation, as if Rattle had purged his brain of all memory of the piece and approached it as a new piece. Some of the tempi were quite slow, and much of the music seemed bloodless and mechanical. In some places, instrumental lines that normally are emphasized were nearly inaudible; some internal lines that I'd never noticed were given sharp prominence. Perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of the approach, but on the whole, I didn't much care for this performance.

January 17, 1999

Film: Primary Colors

This was a good one, a fictionalized version of Bill Clinton's 1992 primary campaign. John Travolta was super as Clinton...he has the voice perfect, at least to my Yankee ear. Hillary was played by the delectable Emma Thompson, whom I've had a crush on ever since seeing her in Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing.

January 23, 1999

Oops, I guess I really shouldn't try to drive while wearing my reading glasses...tore the outside mirror of a neighbor's car due to misjudging the distance.

Finally pretty much over the whooping cough, though I'm still a bit weak and short-winded, probably as a result of lack of exercise.

January 24, 1999

Book: The Centurion's Empire by Sean McMullen

I've been slogging through The Brothers Karamazov, but not greatly enjoying it. I decided to take a break and get a science-fiction fix. Time-travel stories are one of my favorite SF sub-genres, and this one was quite entertaining. It starts out in 71 A.D. in a Roman Empire secretly controlled by a cabal of a few hundred Etruscans who use a form of suspended animation as a means of time travel. The protagonist is Vitellan, a Roman legionary who stumbles across the secret of the frozen sleep technique. He is awakened in 870 in time to give military training to the Saxons of King Alfred, enabling them to free themselves from the depradations of Danish raiders. Then it's off to 1356 and France to help re-establish order in that kingdom. This takes up the first half of the book. So far, he's been a representative of advanced Roman culture among semi-barbarians. His next sleep takes him to cyber-punk 2028, where he has to cope with nano-tech weapons and mind-control technology...though his hand-to-hand fighting skills are not obsolete.

This is quite an entertaining book (it would make an excellent film) with a very nice juxtaposition of mis-matched cultures. I've never heard of the Australian writer Sean McMullen before, but I'll be looking for more of his books.

January 26, 1999

George and I auditioned for the Sea Revels. I sang 3 verses of The Wreck of the Athens Queen, not very well. Although I don't usually suffer too much from stage fright, I get fairly severe "audition fright." Being out of practice due to my recent bout of whooping cough didn't help much either. Fortunately, Paddy and George (Emlen) know me from previous productions, so I figure I've got a half-decent chance.

January 27, 1999

Tova is 18!

Last week a guy brought in a bike for some service. As I was writing up the repair ticket, I noticed that he lived in my area but I couldn't quite place the street name...he explained where it was and I said:

"Oh, yeah, I should remember that one...that's where I got a 6 inch deep dent in my driver's side door while parked. Happened last fall. Fortunately, I was able to pick up a matching door for $150." The conversation strayed from there to other topics.

Today he came in to pick up the bike. He asked to speak to me, and when I came up he said..."Do you have a red van?" "Yes." "Well, I'm very embarrassed to admit that I'm the guy that hit you. I was in a hurry at the time; my wife said I should really leave a note, but I didn't have time. I assumed the car belonged to a neighbor, and that I'd be able to square things up the next day. I went around to 5 or 6 houses in the area, but nobody knew whose car it was..."

He gave me a check. Good thing, too, because last week I made the mistake of driving while wearing my reading glasses, and tore off the mirror of the car belonging to our French neighbors. Phillippe came by tonight with the bill for $109, so I'm still a bit ahead of the game.

January 28, 1999

Book: Days of Cain, by J.R.Dunn, Avon, 1997

Another time-travel book, but rather gloomier than I prefer: most of the action takes placei in Auschwitz/Birkenau, in 1943. Although it was engrossing, I don't feel like describing this book in detail.

January 30, 1999

Concert: Boston Symphony Orchestra

This was a good one, conducted by Robert Spano. The opening work, Arena, by Finnish composer Magnes Lindberg, sounded very scary and atonal in the program book, but was actually quite enjoyable. There was a lot going on, certainly more than could be grasped on first hearing. I'm glad I set my VCR to tape the broadcast from WCRB.

The Beethoven Piano Concerto #2 is my least favorite among the 5, but even when Beethoven's not at his best, he's pretty damn good! Andreas Hafliger is the son of tenor Ernst Hafliger, and acquitted himself well on the BSO's new Hamburg Steinway.

The Sibelius works, The Swan of Tuonela and the Symphony #3 were quite well played; this really is a great orchestra, and Spano is a fine conductor. The first movement of the Symphony (a favorite of mine) was very spirited, with a certain nautical swagger.

January 31, 1999

Book: O Pioneer! by Frederick Pohl Tor, 1998

A very entertaining, light hearted novel, featuring 5 different kinds of fun aliens all trying (not too hard) to get along on a neutral planet. Lots of fun.

February 4, 1999

ISP problems...solved?

I originally built my Web site on TIAC, and was a happy TIAC customer for over 3 years. I still have the Revels, Inc. and Publick Theatre sites on TIAC. Unfortunately, the Harris Cyclery site has become so popular that it became economically crazy to stay on TIAC. The basic TIAC account was $29.00/month, plus another $29.95 for the sheldonbrown.com domain. The basic account only included 10 mb of space, so I had also bought another 20 mb of space, for an additional $10/month. Thus, the base hosting cost was $68.95. The killer, however was the traffic charge. TIAC allows 1 gb per month, and charges $40/gb above that. For November, 1998, our traffic charge was $250, plus the $69 basic charge!

I found what appeared to be a great deal with a company called Internet Communications (ICOM) They offered a 25 mb account with unlimited traffic for $8.25/month, including the use of my domain. I went for this, but it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. I originally ordered my ICOM account in early November, but it didn't become active until mid-December, mainly due to ICOM's failure to handle the transfer or the domain properly. Eventually, I had to contact Internic myself and do the transfer on my own.

Even though the Web site went up OK, ICOM somehow screwed up my email, losing about 3 days worth of email (I normally get about 300 messages/day.)

It was extremely frustrating trying to deal with ICOM; if I would send them email, I'd get a form letter back. If I called them, I was told that they didn't offer "phone support." For this reason, it took much longer than it should have to get these problems squared away, and I lost much more mail than I should have. I addition to the lost business, I the bouncing email caused me to be unsubscribed from most of the email lists I subscribe to, so I had to go through the whole rigamarole of re-upping to the lists.

Everything seemed fine for a few days, though the Web server seemed a bit slower than it had been at TIAC. There were also a lot of minor, short-term outages. It turned out that ICOM had put my site on a server with several other sites, not realizing how much traffic I get. They said that the load was crashing the server, so they would move me to a different machine which would not be so crowded. This meant moving to a different IP address, and caused another gap in both Web and email service.

The failure mode of the Web site was that it would give a message "Forbidden: you do not have access to this directory" or something similar. I got a really sad and pitful email from one person who wanted to know what he had done to offend me, that had caused me to deny him access to my site? He was very sorry for whatever it was, and wouldn't I please reconsider and let him back in?

The new server was nice and fast, everything was fine...except that I couldn't update my site! Whenever I'd try to upload a revised page, I got a message that my disc quota was exceeded. I went back and forth with various people at ICOM for about a week before I was finally informed that my site was, indeed oversize, something on the order of 44 mb, while I was only entitled to 25. This came as quite a surprise, since I'd had a 20 mb limit on TIAC, and no problems there. I concluded that TIAC had been lax about enforcing it's limits. There was nothing for it but to upgrade to a more expensive account. I signed up for a "virtual server" account, with 70 mb of space, and also the ability to do a lot of customizing of the server setup (once I learn how to do this, that is) for $49/month.

Unfortunately this transfer was handled as ineptly as everything else ICOM has done. I was without email for 3 1/2 days, and the Web site was out of service for 5 days. Yesterday everything finally started working. For the third time I have re-subscribed to my 18 email lists. I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Book: Aftermath, by Charles Sheffield (Bantam Spectra, 1988)

This was quite a page turner. In 2026 Earth is hit by the first effects when Alpha Centauri goes supernova. Pretty much the whole southern hemisphere is wiped out, weather patterns are drastically disrupted, and EMP blows every microchip on the surface of the planet. Major characters include the President of the United States, the crew of 7 returning from the first Mars landing to find mission control no longer exists, 3 cancer patients who are desperately trying to find a way to continue the treatment that has saved their lives and restored their youth, despite the fact that the experimental clinic that had helped them has been obliterated by rioters.

In these enlightened times, capital punishment and prisons are obsolete; criminals serve their sentences in artificially-induced coma, during which they age normally. The characters are mostly pretty well-drawn, even the mad scientist, the inventor of the cancer cure who has the unfortnate habit of murdering 14-year-old girls. He has been sentenced to sleep for 600 years or until he dies of old age, whichever comes first. The cancer patients rescue him from the broken-down facility where he was to sleep to oblivion. The "mad scientist" is such an unforunate cliché that it is generally a sign of a third-rate book, but this character, as revealed in his secret diary, is convincing and three-dimensional.

February 6, 1999

New Web page on Mafac Brake Parts

Concert: Boston Symphony Orchestra

Another good one, conducted by Seiji Ozawa. It started with the Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande "Symphony" (as realized from the opera, by Marius Constant). This was a lovely, subtle performance, showing that the BSO still has it's long-established French expertise.

I'm not a fan of Mozart, but the Flute Concerto #1 was a great showcase for new BSO principal flute Jacques Zoon and his wooden flute. He played splendidly, and his body language suggested that he was having a great time. The highlight was his cadenza near the end of the first movement, which was utterly charming and whimsical...the whole audience interrupted with applause at the end of the movement. At the end of the piece, the response was so hearty that he played an encore (sounded like Debussy, but I don't know what it actually was...)

Le Sacre du Printemps is, arguably the most important musical work of the century, and retains its power. The BSO played it with great precision, though there were some parts where I would have preferred a slightly rougher edge, especially in part 1, and perhaps a bit faster tempo. The piece ended with a satisfactory bang, and everybody went away happy.

February 7, 1999

../Tova Triple Self-portrait

Tova's Gold Key Award

The whole family went in to Boston for the Boston Globe Scholastic Art Awards. Tova was awarded a Gold Key (one of 225 out of 3,500 entries) for her triple self-portrait. We're very proud of her!(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

February 8, 1999

The Bad News:

A malfunctioning toilet caused flooding which destroyed most of my '70s and early '80s Bike Worlds and a bunch of Bicycling!s from the same era, irreplaceable magazines with many of my early articles in them. Fortunately, I think all of the damaged ones have been scanned and are safely ensconced on my hard disc (and Web site.)

The Good News

I passed the audition for the Sea Revels, so I'll be appearing at the Emerson Majestic Theatre on April 30, May 1 & 2. This is a big-time downtown theater, as close as Boston gets to Broadway. It's only a chorus role, but I'm psyched!

February 10, 1999

Book: Heritage of Ireland, by Nathaniel Harris, Checkmark, 1998

This is an attractive "coffee table" type book that caught my eye at the library. For a person of largely Irish ancestry, and an interest in history, I really don't know that much about Ireland before the 19th century. This is a fairly lightweight introduction, with lots of pretty pictures.

February 12, 1999

Had to call Clogbusters again...the main drain was, once again, clogged with roots. Seems to happen every couple of springs. $124 down the drain. The drain guy had a very nice dog, a 4 year old pitbull/husky cross, who got to play in the back yard with Tasha while he snaked the drain.

Today was very springlike...I rode to work wearing shorts, a tee shirt and sandals!

February 21, 1999

Book: Deepdrive by Alexander Jablokov, Eos, 1998

This touts itself as a book of "hard" science fiction, but it's a bit squishy for my taste. I almost quit 40 pages into it, but as I closed it up I saw the spaceship on the cover and decided to give it another chance. It is set in the 22nd century, in a Solar System that has been visited and colonized by 11 different alien races. One of these has terraformed Venus, and much of the action takes place there. Basically everything inside the orbit of Saturn is inhabited. A group of adventurers get entangled in an alien blood feud while trying to obtain an interstellar drive unit for human use. Most of the technology is biologically based, including the "deepdrive." Perhaps someone more interested in biological science would like this book better than I did...I found much of it gross and icky.

Book: Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein, Del Rey, 1956

This 1956 Hugo winner is an old favorite of mine...it might even be the first Heinlein novel I ever read. I've probably read it 4 or 5 times before, but still love it. It involves a hack actor who's recruited to double for a prominent politician who's been kidnapped. The moral and political transformation of the protagonist over the course of the book is very well done. As a teenager, I learned a great deal about the operation of politics, and specifically the parliamentary system from this short but delightful book. Very highly recommended!.

February 23, 1999

The second Sea Revels rehearsal; I'm certainly glad the new location is only 2 1/2 miles from home...temp was in the 'teens, and a longer ride would not have been much fun. As it is, most of the ride is along the new path alongside the Charles River, which is pretty much deserted on winter nights.

Rehearsal went OK, though my back's been bothering me for a few days, which limited my flexibility even more than usual in the physical part of the rehearsal.

Many of us adjourned to Not Your Average Joe's for a beer afterwards. We sang a few songs, including "Here's Good Luck To The Pint Pot" and Billings's glorious Euroclydon This was the first time I've had a chance to sing Euroclydon since the '95 Sea Revels. I was surprised how much of it I still remembered. Most of the other people singing this had been in the 1998 Sea Revels.

I sang I Am The Man, The Very Fat Man, That Waters The Workers' Beer, which, fortunately, some of the others knew as well, so I had some help on the choruses.

February 28, 1999

Book: The Continental Risque James L. Nelson Pocket Books, 1998

Another wooden-ships-and-iron-men saga, this one from the American side of the Revolutionary War. Not bad.

March-April, 1999

2007:
November-December September-October July-August May-June March-April January-February
2006:
November-December September-October July-August May-June March-April January-February
2005:
November-December September-October July-August May-June March-April January-February
2004:
November-December September-October July-August May-June March-April January-February
2003:
November-December September-October July-August May-June March-April January-February
2002:
November-December September-October July-August May-June March-April January-February
2001:
November-December September-October July-August May-June March-April January-February
2000:
November-December September-October July-August May-June March-April January-February
1999:
November-December September-October July-August May-June March-April January-February
1975-98:
November-December, 1998 April-May, 1975
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Books:
AftermathCharles Sheffield2/4/99
The Centurion's EmpireSean McMullen1/23/99
The Continental RisqueJames L. Nelson2/28/99
Days of CainJ. R. Dunn1/28/99
DeepdriveAlexander Jablokov2/21/99
Double StarRobert Heinlein2/21/99
Heritage of IrelandNathaniel Harris2/10/99
O Pioneer!Frederik Pohl1/31/99
Click here for more Books

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Films
Lés MisérablesJanuary 15, 1999
Primary ColorsJanuary 17, 1999
Spoke

Music:
DatePerformersWork
February 6, 1999B.S.O.,Seiji Ozawa,
Jacques Zoon (flute)
Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande "Symphony"
Mozart: Flute Concerto #1 in G, K.313
Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps.
January 30, 1999B.S.O., Robert Spano,
Andreas Haefliger (piano)
Lindberg: Arena
Beethoven: Piano Concerto #2
Sibelius: The Swan of Tuonela, Symphony #3
January 16, 1999B.S.O., Sir Simon Rattle,
Dawn Upshaw (sop.)
Knussen Flourish with Fireworks
Weir Natural History
Mahler Symphony #4
Schumann Piano Concerto
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