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Sheldon Brown's Journal

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Barack Obama for President Sheldon Brown photo Hillary Rodham Clinton for President

This page is my attempt at a personal journal. I guess you could call it a "blog" though that term had not been coined when I started.
While I'm mainly writing this for the benefit of my kids, I'm leaving it public for anybody who cares.
This endeavor was largely inspired by the similar journal "DaZe & QuirKs" by my friend and neighbor, Sean Smith.

Vemeer Girl With a Pearl Earring January 1, 2008

Film: (DVD) Girl With a Pearl Earring Peter Webber, 2004

Delft, The Netherlands, 1665. A new maid comes to work at the house of struggling artist Johannes Vermeer, his domineering wife and even more domineering mother-in-law.

The maid becomes the model for the painting at right. The whole setting looks and feels very "period" and the various relationships within the Vermeer household and with his patron ring quite true to me. A good, but rather slow-moving film.

January 3, 2008

Film: (DVD) Music and Lyrics Marc Lawrence, 2007

A romantic comedy with Hugh Grant as a has-been '80s rock star trying to re-start his career. Drew Barrymore is his love interest and the lyricist he needs to overcome his "composer's block" so he can come up with new material, rather than having to re-hash his '80s hits at 4th string venues. It was kinda fun. I've always enjoyed Hugh Grant. Also features Kristin Johnston (Sally from Third Rock from the Sun) as Drew's older sister.

Iowa Caucuses

I've been on the fence between Clinton and Obama for a while now. I am tending to tilt more toward a preference for an Obama/Clinton dream ticket than a Clinton/Obama one, but I'm still in the "undecided" column. Obama's very convincing victory in the Iowa Caucuses adds to the tilt. Let's see what happens in New Hampshire next Tuesday...

(So, I wonder...they're also getting ready for an election in the former Soviet republic of Georgia...I wonder if the nominees were influenced by the "Caucasus caucuses.")

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January 4, 2008

Rotator Cuff

Got a letter from my primary care doc, seems the MRI shows a tear in my rotator cuff. I'll need to see an orthopedist, I'll call on Monday for an appointment. I guess that fall was worse than I thought at the time.

January 7, 2008


Got a call from Beth Israel Hospital a little after 6...Harriet got hit by a car on her way home from work. George and I drove in. She was in the CT scan when we arrived. Turns out nothing was broken, but she was very banged up, and will be pretty sore for a while. Evidently she was broadsided by a car that ran a red light as she was riding across Huntington Ave. Pretty scary!

January 12, 2008

Went for a short ride on the Greenspeed, only about 3 miles, but it was good to be back under my own power, such as it is.

Film: (DVD) Dune (Extended Edition) David Lynch, 1984

I saw this in the theatre back in '84, after reading the book a time or two. I liked the book a lot. The first time I saw the film, I kinda liked it too. Many people complained that it was hard to follow, but for those of us who had read the novel, that wasn't the case.

For this "Extended Edition" they added a great deal of narrated exposition, with paintings on the screen, to try to make it clearer. This rather slows the film down, but might be helpful to some viewers.

The acting is mostly rather over-the-top, especially the villains who are prone to bursts of manaical laughter. My favorite is still Sting as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen.

Seeing this again, it was interesting to note that two of the "unknown" actors in the film have since gone on to fame and fortune. Specifically, Paul Atreides, the protagonist, turns out to have been a very young Kyle McLachlan, later to make it big in Twin Peaks, then Sex and the City, and currently starring in Desperate Housewives.

The other is Gurney Halleck, played by...Patrick Stewart, before he became Captain Jean-Luc Picard!

My Dream Scene

For a while I thought my dream scene might make an appearance in this film, but it didn't. My dream scene is one that is theoretically possible to film, but as far as I know it has never actually been done. Hers's my dream scenario:
The hero and heroine of a film are running for their lives from some sort of danger, whether it's the villain, or some sort of natural catastrophe. Here's the bizarre twist in my version: The two of them succeed in running away and escaping the danger, and during the course of it the heroine does not trip over something and need to be helped back up to her feet by the hero!
It is my belief that someday, some brilliant director will succeed in filming such a chase scene, but it may not happen in my lifetime...

January 14, 2008

eBook: Vanity Fair Wiliam Thackeray, 1848

This was a big one...900 pages in the paper edition...took me a while to finish.

Further reminder that the reason the "classics" have survived is that they're so damn good! It's too bad that high-school students have 19th century literature forced upon them, since most of them are not ready for it. I know I wasn't when I was a teenager. However, these days I really enjoy much of it.

Vanity Fair is a real treat, in many ways reminiscent of Jane Austen, though VF is more satirical than Austen's work. It's really quite droll in a cynical, jaundiced way. Very highly recommended, a wonderful book!

Missing Word?

Vanity Fair makes me search for a word that may or may not actually exist (probably an English major would know...any English majors reading this screed?)

the issue is the literary device of naming fictional characters with monikers that describe some aspect of their character or personality. This is a device that seems to come and go in fashion every generation or two. Thackeray does it with Becky Sharp, William Dobbin and other names. Neal Stephenson did it with Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash. There ought to be a word for this practice, but if it exists, it's not in my vocabulary.

January 31 addendum:

A kind soul named Francis dropped me a line from That Sceptered Isle, informing me of the word "charactonym."

"The stress falls on the first syllable.

"The encyclopaedia Britannica defines charactonym thus:

'a name of a fictional character that suggests a distinctive trait of that character. Examples of charactonyms include Mistress Quickly and Sir Toby Belch.'"

I do love the Internet!

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January 15, 2008

Film: (DVD) Ratatouille Pixar, 2007

Disney and Pixar have come up with another absolutely splendid animated film. Don't miss this one!

Boston Legal on TV

This is such a fun show, with so many talented comic actors, but I really feel the need to single out William Shatner. Although I was and am a Star Trek fan, I never was all that thrilled with his Captain Kirk. His Denny Crane role on Boston Legal, in my opinion is by far the best thing he has ever done...he's just super! it's nice to see other Star Trek veterans pop up on this show from time to time as well.

January 19, 2008

Harriet's off to Florida to see her mother for the weekend. I'll miss her.

Film: (DVD) Four Weddings and a Funeral Mike Newell, 1994

I've seen this before, but it was fun to watch it again. Highly recommended romantic comedy. Some people don't like Hugh Grant, but I'm not one of them.

January 20, 2008

Only one more year of Dubya! Hope the country can survive this deservedly lame duck's final waddles.

Sea Chanteys at M.I.T.

Always fun, I couldn't make it last month due to the snow conditions, but it was nice to be back. My contributions included:

Film: (DVD) The Bridge of San Luis Rey Mary McGuckian, 2005

A costume drama, based on Thornton Wilder's novel about 18th Century Peru. I liked it, but I'm a sucker for this sort of thing.

Film: (DVD) Keeping Up with the Steins Scott Marshall, 2006

Jeremy Piven basically reprises his role as Ari on Entourage, only this film features a competition for who can have the most elaborate, over-the-top bar mitzva. A hippie father-in-law adds an element of culture clash to this quite entertaining comedy.

January 22, 2008

Rotator Cuff Surgery?

Saw orthopedist today, he checked out the MRIs, showed me the tear in my right rotator cuff. He recommends surgery. I'll think about it...

Wonderfalls (Wonder Falls?)

(One word or two? That's not clear!)One of my Internet friends noted my fondess for Veronica Mars and suggested this short-lived TV series, which I had never heard of before.

The protagonist is a twenty-something with a Brown University degree in philosophy...who lives in a decrepit trailer and works in a tacky Niagara Falls (N.Y.) gift shop. All of the rest of her family are hyper-achievers, and they're constantly on her case to "do something" with herself.

If that wasn't enough, she also hears the voice of -- whom? -- speaking from the mouths of plastic tourist tchotchkes. It's not Veronica Mars, but I do like it, and have ordered the other two DVDs from Netflix.

January 24, 2008

Film: (DVD) Raising Arizona

I thought I had seen this early Coen Brothers comedy, but it didn't look familiar. A treat to experience a new Coen film, and one of their first big hits. I liked it a lot, though it isn't in the league with The Big Lebowski...but what is?

Oops, just as I was adding this entry to the films page, I saw that I definitely had seen this before. Funny that I didn't remember it.

Mac "Spaces"

Harriet came home from work and mentioned that one of her colleagues uses a new Mac feature "Spaces" to organize his desktop. I tried it out (System Preferences>Exposé & Spaces).

It's sorta like having 4 (the default) or more separate "desktops." You can group related applications to come up on appropriate "spaces." You switch "space" with modified arrow keys, of simply click the appropriate application in the dock to open or bring up that application in its particular space.

I'll need to play around with it a bit before I decide if I like it or not.

January 26, 2008

eBook: Opening Atlantis Harry Turtledove, 2007

Harry Turtledove is known for "alternate history" but this book enters into "alternate geography" as the take off point for its alternate history.

Apparently, the North American Plate has split and the east coast of North America has become The semi-continent of Atlantis, somewhat closer to Europe than the actual Americas. The remnant of North America is known as "Terranova" but all of the action takes place on Atlantis.

It's in three sections, each basically a separate novella, though characters in later stories are often descendants of those in earlier stories.

The first section, set in the mid 15th century details the discovery of Atlantis by a Breton fisherman, who shares his knowledge with an English fisherman.

They both decide to colonize Atlantis, which is a near-paradise, un-connected biologically with the rest of the planet. Virtually all of the flora and fauna are different, and there are no human inhabitants. In fact, there are no mammalian inhabitants! The only animal life is birds and reptiles. The animals have no fear of humans...and they're good eatin'!

The second story is set in the mid 17th century when Atlantis is getting more settled, but piracy is a big problem.

The third story is a hundred years later, during the "French and Indian Wars" a.k.a. the "Seven Years War."

No doubt Turtledove is planning to mine this seam deeper, there are already rumblings of possible independence struggle, and also the problem of slavery will cause its own share of trouble.

I can't say this is my favorite Turtledove, maybe because the subject is so distant in time. Turtledove does manage to fit in a few historical characters, most notably Montcalm, and also a British officer who he makes a big deal out of delaying actually naming, for some reason. I won't identify that officer lest it might be considered a spoiler.

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January 29, 2008

Rotator Cuff

I saw my orthopedist agin and explained my situation in more detail. Since I need both arms to get up from a bed or a chair, the surgery would leave me bedridden for some weeks, long enough that I might never walk again even after the shoulder healed.

Since the rotator cuff tear is not causing me much discomfort as long as I avoid pushing forward at a 45 degree angle, and I've got full range of motion, we agree that surgery is not indicated at this time. He has referred me for physical therapy for this. If it winds up getting worse, I'll re-evaluate the surgical option.

Revels Pub Sing

Another Revels Pub Sing, this time at The Skellig in Waltham, only a couple of miles from my house. I always enjoy these events.

My contributions were Boney Was A Warrior and the last verse of The Skye Boat Song which is missing from the Revels Pub Songbook for some reason.

I also contributed my own verse to Fathom the Bowl:

My wife, she is my darling, I love her so well,
Her spirit and wisdom, there's none can excel.
My wife she's an angel, O bless her kind soul,
Give me the punch ladle, I'll fathom the bowl.

The original version has a very nasty, misogynistic verse about the singer's wife being a "devil." I was always bothered by that, being an uxorious type, so I wrote my own verse.

January 30, 2008

Concert: M.I.T. Math Department

My daughter Tova is a doctoral student in math, and the Math Department had a music recital as part of IAP. Tova was in two of the numbers:

Dvorak's Der Apfel (from Op.38)
duet with Martin Frankland, baritone and Vedran Schinger, piano
Mozart's Dans un Bois Solitaire K295B
with Vedran Schinger, piano

It was a treat to hear her sing again!


I've wanted to get some work done on the two interior staircases in our house for some time. They're fairly steep staircases, with railings only on one side. I do much better on stairs when there are two railings, so I've wanted to have additional railings installed.

We had gotten an estimate from a local carpenter who advertises by putting up fliers on telephone poles, but he didn't inspire much confidence.

Then I recalled that one of my good friends from Revels, Woody Nussdorfer, is a carpenter. I asked him to look into it a few days ago.

He has just finished up, and he did a super job, at a very reasonable price.

He even did the staining and polyurethane finish in his own cellar so that we wouldn't have the smell in our house. We're very pleased with the results, and it makes it much easier for me to go from floor to floor now. Thank's Woody!

January 31, 2008

Computer Stuff

Four years ago, I bought a 200 GB FireWire drive from Club Mac. I was using this mainly for my iTunes music/video files, of which I have close to 160 GB.

When my computer stuff got moved downstairs last month, the power supply for this unit got thrown away by accident. It used an oddball sort of 4 pin DIN type connector, and none of the other power supplies I had would work. I called Club Mac, but they were no help, and my email to them was not answered, so I had recourse to my favorite computer service outfit, The Computer Loft in Allston.

These folks are always a pleasure to deal with, and they were able to simply install the drive into a new enclosure for a very reasonable $88 bucks. The new enclosure is also nicer than the original one both because it's smaller, and also it has its power supply built in. There's no brick to block up my power strip, just a normal 3-pin AC cord.

Ankle Problem

I've been having a lot of trouble walking for the last couple of weeks, not so much from the MS as from a problem with my right ankle. It is intermittently extremely painful when I put weight on it.

I've put away my canes, and am now getting around on forearm crutches or my rollator. Today I saw Cheryl Maurer at Functional Mechanics about getting some new orthotics that should help this. The orthotics I'm currently using were those she made to fit my Shimano SPD sandals, and they're not a good fit in the new orthopedic shoes I'm wearing these days.

February 2, 2008

Film: (DVD) Cleopatra Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963

I probably would have liked this better if I hadn't seen the wonderful HBO Rome series.

It'a a grand hollywood spectacular in the Cecil B. Demille mold, but without the gritty realism of the HBO version. It also suffers from the mores of the time, as evinced by its G rating. This is a story that really calls out for some hotter scenes than 1963 Hollywood was ready to film.

February 3, 2008

Super Tuesday Nears...

I've finally made up my mind, I'll be voting for Obama in the primary on Tuesday. When you live in Massachusetts, the primary is the only presidential vote that matters--if a Democrat can't carry Massachusetts in the final, there's no hope!

I'm still a big fan of Clinton, and would still be on the fence, except that my daughter is very strongly for Obama and has been working for him, which is enough to tip the balance for me.

Actually, my ideal scenario would be a Clinton/Obama ticket, with Obama running in 2016 as VP. However, it's very unclear that such a ticket is possible, so Obama/whoever is my next choice.

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November-December, 1998 April-May, 1975


The overall Booklist has been moved to a separate page.

Books reviewed on this page:
Vanity FairWilliam Thackeray1/14/08
Opening AtlantisHarry Turtledove1/26/08


The overall film list has been moved to a separate page.

Films reviewed on this page:
The Bridge of San Luis ReyJanuary 20, 2008
DuneJanuary 12, 2008
Four Weddings and a FuneralJanuary 19, 2008
Girl With a Pearl EarringJanuary 1, 2008
Music and LyricsJanuary 3, 2008
RatatouilleJanuary 15, 2008
Raising ArizonaJanuary 24, 2008


The overall music list has been moved to a separate page.

Music reviewed on this page:
January 20, 2008M.I.T. Chantey Sing
December 29, 2007The Christmas Revels
December 8, 2007B.S.O., Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Yo-Yo MaGolijov: Ausencia, Azul; Dvorak Symphony #8 (or #4)
November 10, 2007B.S.O., James Levine, Christian TetzlaffBerg: Violin Concerto; Mahler: Symphony #9


November 29, 2002Lorraine BraccoThe Graduate
November 23, 2001Helen Mirren, Ian McKellnThe Dance of Death-August Strindberg
September 30, 2000Tova/Black Box Theatre, Cornell UniversityThe Maids-Jean Genet
May 30, 2000Kelsey Grammer/Colonial TheatreMacbeth
May 26, 2000The Huntington Theatre Co.King Hedley II
September 3, 1999The Publick TheatreNine
August 21, 1999Orange Tree Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.Sonata
August 13, 1999Firehouse Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You
May 22-29Newton South/North High SchoolsRichard III
December 18, 1998Newton North High SchoolThe Bone Violin, May Flies
November 12, 1998Newton North High SchoolTo Kill a Mockingbird


November 21-24, 2007Plantation, Florida
September 25-28, 2007Las Vegas, Nevada
August 18-25, 2007Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
November 22-26, 2006Plantation, Florida
September 25-28, 2006Las Vegas (Interbike)
June 10-20, 2006Santa Cruz, California
May 5-7, 2006Aurora, Indiana
November 23, 2005Plantation, Florida
September 26-29, 2005Interbike, Las Vegas, Nevada
August 26-28, 2005'Bentride 2005, Bath, N.Y.
July 21-24, 2005Family Reunion, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
April 29, 2005Cirque de Cyclisme, Greensboro, N.C.
February 16, 2005Indianapolis
November 24, 2004Plantation, Florida
October 8, 2004Santa Cruz, California
October 4, 2004Las Vegas, Nevada
June 8, 2004France, England
December 22, 2003Halifax, Nova Scotia
November 27, 2003Florida
October 31, 2003Potomac, Maryland
October 10, 2003Las Vegas, Nevada
September 21, 2003New York, N.Y.
November 27-30, 2002New York, N.Y.
October 8-13, 2002Evanston, Illinois
October 4-8, 2002Las Vegas, Nevada
July 3-9, 2002Canso, Nova Scotia
May 24-27, 2002Long Island, New York
November 21-24, 2001New York City
October 16-19, 2001Cape Cod, Massachusetts
September 29-October 3, 2001Las Vegas, Nevada (Interbike Show)
June 16-23, 2001Nags Head, North Carolina
October 5-14, 2000Evanston, Illinois
September 30-October 2, 2000Ithaca, New York
June 22-25, 2000Urbanna, Virginia
October 7-13, 1999Chicago/Evanston, Illinois
August 19-28, 1999Ithaca, New York
August 12-13, 1999Ithaca, New York
July 23-25, 1999Bridgeton, Maine
November 25-28, 1998Fort Lauderdale, Florida
1988-89France, England
1980Yucatan, Mexico
1975England, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Turkey

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Sheldon Brown's Personal Pages

Articles by Sheldon Brown and Others

Since November 8, 1998

Copyright © 2008 Sheldon Brown

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Last Updated: by Harriet Fell