Thursday 16 February, 2023


Seen on a walk the other day. Amazing what nature comes up with.

Quote of the Day

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

  • Frederick Douglass

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

J.S. Bach | Concerto for Oboe (from BWV 105, 170 & 49) | 2. Andante


Long Read of the Day

7 minutes from the end of class

Intriguing essay by Harry Brighouse on Crooked Timber, one of my favourite blogs

I sometimes employ an undergraduate to observe my teaching, and criticize what I do. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years, but I really employ them, these days, to hold me accountable to the standards I set myself and to tell me what is happening in the room (this is especially valuable in large classes) more than with the expectation that I’ll learn something brand new.

Anyway, last week my new observer, Allyson, solved what has been a longstanding problem for me. In my large classes students get antsy n the last ten minutes, and start, slowly, and discreetly, to put their stuff away and get ready to go. Each individual student is not disruptive, but having most of them doing this over a 7 minute period is very distracting (for them and for me). It’s especially bad in winter because they have lots of clothes to put on.

And I am not blaming them for this. My campus is large, and there is a 15 minute gap between classes. Unless they are ready to go the second class ends many of them will be late for the next class.

Allyson pointed out the antsiness, and suggested the following: 7 minutes from the end of class tell them that they are not leaving till the end of the class, but that I am giving them one minute to get their stuff together…

So he tried it. Read on to find out how it worked.

Gasoline Car Review

Lovely satirical spoof by Geoff Greer.

I recently purchased a Mazda Miata. This car is interesting because instead of running on electricity, it is powered by a combustible liquid called gasoline. The vehicle has an engine that mixes the gasoline with oxygen from the air, ignites the mixture, and uses the resulting combustion to push the car forward. I don’t fully understand the details of how it works, but this difference in propulsion technology totally changes the experience of owning and operating a vehicle.

After taking delivery of the car, my first hurdle was getting it to do anything. I opened the door (the handles are very prominent), sat in the driver’s seat, and… nothing happened. No screen showed any messages. The climate control didn’t turn on. The car seemed dead. I pressed the accelerator (Mazda calls this the “gas” pedal) but again, nothing. I called their support line and quickly figured out the issue: Unlike a normal car, a gas car needs to be “started”. Apparently it would be wasteful and expensive to keep the gasoline engine running all the time, so you’re only supposed to run the engine if you’re moving the vehicle. The starting process is pretty painless: You insert your key into a slot on the side of the steering column, push the clutch pedal (more on that later), then turn the key and hold it for a second or two. I succeeded on the first try, causing the car to jump to life and emit all kinds of crazy noises. Imagine if a steam locomotive had a baby with a machine gun. That’s the sort of noise that comes out of a gas car. It evokes both excitement and concern…

It goes on like this. Hope you enjoy it a much as I did.

Vermeer: the ‘Watch with Mother’ version

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a huge (and sold-out) Vermeer retrospective. Since thousands of people will be unable to see it in person, the powers—that-be in the museum had the bright idea of commissioning a little film in which a Famous Person would escort the grateful viewer through the pictures, pausing to utter helpful homilies from time to time. The Famous Person chosen for this task is none other than Stephen Fry, the great actor and Jeeves imitator who was then hijacked by being given a fatuous, patronising script to read. The result: an embarrassing flop.

My commonplace booklet

How Sam Pepys spent Thursday 16 February, 1660

In the morning at my lute. Then came Shaw and Hawly, and I gave them their morning draft at my house. So to my office, where I wrote by the carrier to my Lord and sealed my letter at Will’s, and gave it old East to carry it to the carrier’s, and to take up a box of china oranges and two little barrels of scallops at my house, which Captain Cuttance sent to me for my Lord. Here I met with Osborne and with Shaw and Spicer, and we went to the Sun Tavern in expectation of a dinner, where we had sent us only two trenchers-full of meat, at which we were very merry, while in came Mr. Wade and his friend Capt. Moyse (who told us of his hopes to get an estate merely for his name’s sake), and here we staid till seven at night, I winning a quart of sack of Shaw that one trencherfull that was sent us was all lamb and he that it was veal. I by having but 3d. in my pocket made shift to spend no more, whereas if I had had more I had spent more as the rest did, so that I see it is an advantage to a man to carry little in his pocket.

Home, and after supper, and a little at my flute, I went to bed.

The annotations for this day are fascinating. Now I see where the term ‘trencherman’ comes from, for example.

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