Travel Feed

Driving around Vermont, Thinking


photo by Tony Hisgett

Friday and Saturday, I spent a lot of time driving around Vermont. I also spent a lot of time thinking while driving. I was thinking about whether to expand on my most recent blog post and what it is safe to say. These were the most beautiful drives I have ever taken in Vermont.

The leaves were at peak and the air was still, so there were many reflections. (Unfortunatly, I didn't stop to take pictures.)

Continue reading "Driving around Vermont, Thinking" »

An unexpected day in Boston

The trip to California was exciting and its hard to know where to start. We launched Hieroglyph on September 10th in Silicon Valley to a very enthusiastic reception. We did authors@google at lunchtime and then had a sold out panel discussion at Kepler's in Menlo Park. Our event in LA was also sold out.

Here I am in the cab on the way to LAX early yesterday morning. (Though not early enough!)


I had an unexpected overnight in Boston because I missed my connecting flight. So I did the obvious thing: I went to bookstores.

At the Brookline Booksmith, not only did they have Hieroglyph on the regular shelves in the SF section, the also had a pile of them towards the front with some very interesting books.


Then we went to the Harvard Bookstore where they were displayed by the cash register. I signed a pile of them. I also stopped in at the Harvard Coop, where they had some.


(You can tell this was fun!) Special thanks to mystery writer Sarah Smith for putting me up last night, and to Mark Berstein, Eastgate Systems Chief Scientist, for driving me around to book stores and feeding me brunch, and then delivering me to the airport, and also to Ted Cornell for getting my kids off to school this morning and picking me up at the Plattsburgh Airport.

There are many more people I need to thank. That list will be long.

HIEROGLYPH Tour Schedule

ImageThe Hieroglyph tour may be coming to your town. Here are the tour dates so far. Watch this space. I will post more dates.

  • September 10: Menlo Park, CA, Kepler's Books, 1010 El Camino Real, 7:30 PM. Order tickets online. Techno-optimism: Neal Stephenson and friends. Panelists include Neal Stephenson, Annalee Newitz, Rudy Rucker, Keith Hjelmstad, Charlie Jane Anders and editors Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer.
  • September 15: Los Angeles, Zocalo Public Square at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., 7:30 PM. Can Science Fiction Revolutionize Science? Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson and Arizona State University physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, both of whom contributed to the new anthology Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, visit Zócalo to discuss whether science fiction can truly change contemporary science, and what the alternative futures we imagine mean for present-day innovation. Make a reservation.
  • September 30, New York City: Project Hieroglyph: Book Launch and Celebration sponsored by Tumblr and ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, featuring Madeline Ashby & Elizabeth Bear, Tuesday, September 30, 2014 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. The event is free, but preregistration on Eventbrite is required.
  • October 2, Washinton, DCCan We Imagine Our Way to a Better Future? It’s 2014 and we have no flying cars, no Mars colonies, no needleless injections, and yet plenty of smartphone dating apps. Is our science fiction to blame if we find today’s science and technology less than dazzling? Inspired by Neal Stephenson’s 2011 article, “Innovation Starvation,” in which he argues that science fiction is failing to supply our scientists and engineers with inspiration, and the new anthology Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, this event will explore a more ambitious narrative about what’s coming. From the tales we tell about robots and drones, to the narratives on the cutting edge of neuroscience, to society’s view of its most intractable problems, we need to begin telling a new set of stories about ourselves and the future. URL TBA.
  • October 3-5, Ottawa: Can-Con - Kathryn Cramer & Madeline Ashby.
  • October 22, Phoenix, Arizona: Changing Hands Bookstore, 7PM at the Cresent Ballroom. Tickets, which require a book purchase, required for admission. Visit the Changing Hands website for more information and to purchase tickets. Project Hieroglyph science fiction authors, scientists, engineers, and other experts share their ambitious, optimistic visions of the near future. Presenters will include science fiction author and essayist Madeline Ashby (Machine Dynasty series), Aurora Award winner Karl Schroeder (Lockstep), Clarke Award finalist Kathleen Ann Goonan (Queen City Jazz), Zygote Games founder James L. Cambias (A Darkling Sea), acclaimed cosmologist and astrobiologist Paul Davies (The Eerie Silence), science fiction and fantasy anthologist Kathryn Cramer (Year’s Best SF), ASU Center for Science and the Imagination director Ed Finn, and legendary Locus, Nebula, and Hugo award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson (2312 and Red Mars). 
  • October 26, SeattleNeal Stephenson and Cory Doctorow: Reigniting Society’s Ambition with Science Fiction. Tickets available here.

More events TBA.

a few nice words about Tokyo Asian Cuisine of West Springfield, MA

One thing I learned this weekend is that it is rather difficult to find a good restaurant when crossing Massachusetts on the Mass Pike in the area between the western border of Massachusetts and where the Mass Pike meets Interstate 84. (The kids and I drove round trip from Westport, NY to Dennis, MA for a memorial service for a relative of my husband's.)

After some driving around at other exists trying to find someplace that wasn't a McDonalds, going both directions, we ended up at Tokyo Asian Cuisine at 1152 Riverdale Street, West Springfield, MA. The food was great and the staff was really nice. It made our trip much better going both directions. It's near exit 4 off the Mass Pike. Their phone number is 413-788-7788.

Not only do they have pretty good sushi and other Japanese food, but some of the menu items are particularly creatively prepared. (I ordered one of  their specialty rolls, and it was great!)

Anticipation/Worldcon travel advice: Exit 31 on the Northway, the Elizabethtown/Westport exit

For those driving to the Montreal WorldCon up 87 (aka the Northway), I suggest you make time for a stop over at exit 31, the Westport-Elizabethtown exit. Both Westport and Elizabethtown are 4 miles off the Northway. Also, if you are taking Amtrak to the WorldCon, Westport has an Amtrack station. An over-night stop-over should not be hard to arrange. (The Westport Hotel is next door to the train station.)

Westport map

David Hartwell and I are in process of opening a bookstore at 10 Champlain Avenue in Westport, which will be open by chance and appointment. To make arrangements to view our stock, call me at on my cell phone at 914-837-7623; the house number is 518-962-2346, but we lack an answering machine on that line. (Admit it: you have been harboring the secret desire to shop David Hartwell's book collection, right?) Come see our futuristic new location!

antique vehicles outside 10 Champlain

yes, let's found a bookstore in the middle of an economic downturn!

Caption: "yes, let's found a bookstore in the middle of an economic downturn!"

getting organized at 10 Champlain Avenue

I have prepared an elaborate travel information site about Westport with complete lodging and dining information in the sidebars. Westport is a great place. I can't say enough good about it.

The Inn on the Library Lawn has a book store, and even has rooms named for some of your favorite authors. Stay in the Peter Beagle room:


. . . or the J.R.R. Tolkien Room


. . . or if you dare, in the Edgar Allen Poe room!

There are many other fine places to stay in Westport, listed on my other site

I also highly recommend the B&B Stoneleigh in Elizabethtown, a great old stone mansion converted to a B&B. Serious bibliophiles might want to make an adavnce arrangement to visit L. W. Currey's which is walking distance from Stoneleigh. (Currey's is not an open shop, but he has a truly amazing stock of science fiction & fantasy, so call first to make an appointment. David Hartwell's high-end books are offered for sale via L.W. Currey.)

Do stop at exit 31 if you have the time.

Peter on the Shore

PS: If you're heading for the WorldCon by boat, we also have a very nice marina here in Westport!

A response to Christopher Elliott's "Should kids be banned from first class?"

Angel As the opening to an article entitled, "Should kids be banned from first class?" Christopher Elliott (writing for Tribune Media Services) begins by explaining that drugging his toddler worked out badly the time he and his wife got a first class upgrade.

I think I'll begin by saying that I don't think I've ever actually ridden first class on a plane, though I was once given a business class upgrade on a flight to Japan. The larger seat was uncomfortable as it seemed to be constructed for a large man, rather than someone of my proportions.

Elliott's article contains such amazing passages as:

One of the most persuasive arguments for limiting first class to adults is that the premium cabin is essentially an adult product. Which is to say, it's difficult for a youngster to appreciate a wine list or a gourmet meal. It's just no place for kids. Plus, it's pricey -- even if you're using miles to upgrade.

Flying these days is such an ordeal that I avoid it whenever possible. On a recent trip to California, it couldn't be avoided since we were traveling coast to coast. My first question when my husband booked the tickets was "They're going to feed us, right?" He replied that the tickets seemed to suggest they were giving us dinner. After many delays, the plane finally left the gate and the kids and I instantly fell asleep and missed the food service. Afterwards, my husband told me that we were lucky; that the food had been some awful plastic cheese enchilada thing that he regretted having eaten. 

When we finally made it to our hotel at 3AM (6AM NY time), my 6 year-old daughter said "But we haven't had dinner yet." I said, "Go to sleep. It's almost breakfast time."

It seems to me that the issue is not whether children who fly are worthy of "a gourmet meal," but rather that they are entitled (like to rest of us) to eat and to be provided with edible food. Also, all passengers behave better when fed adequately on a regular schedule.

Airlines may market first class tickets as a luxury product, but 21st century flying on commerical flights is not luxurious. Eliot partakes of this marketing kool aid:

Like a five-star restaurant or a luxury resort, the first-class cabin is not particularly welcoming to young fliers. Or, for that matter, their parents.

Elliot, you're being had! First of all, the rich have children, too, and five-star restaurants and luxury resorts can be quite welcoming indeed to families with children. But more importantly, the privilege you are being sold when you buy into a first class ticket is a ride that only slightly less resembles a ride in a greyhound bus -- PLUS it comes with a really hefty sense of entitlement, something which costs the airline nothing.

Flying these days is a pretty degrading experience no matter how much you paid for your ticket. Some people pay for an upgraded ticket in order to be less degraded. Scapegoating children and their parents for the need for this extra expense seems to me foolish.

(Image swiped from the Retired Greyhound Trust.)

Northway Border Patrol Check

This weekend there was a Border Patrol checkpoint set up on southbound I-87 near North Hudson. While we did stop at the stop-sign, a Border Patrol officer waved us through over his shoulder, since they officers were busy searching the van of people more swarthy than ourselves. We've driven through there a couple of times in the past year when the checkpoint was in operation. At least once, I think I'd mistaken them for cops checking inspection stickers. According to the New York Times, this checkpoint is a post 9/11 innovation.

Being up in the Adirondacks is mostly a relief from the current Paranoia Economy in which being hassled on a daily basis is a bizarre amenity that we are all expected to pay extra and be grateful for. This kind Border Patrol of activity is one of the few signs of it up there.

After going through the check point, David and I had a long discussion of whether the Border Patrol check point was a good thing. He said it was good that they were watching for smugglers. I said border guards belong at borders, not 74 miles south. Last time I checked (and it was a couple of decades ago), border guards have additional powers that regular cops don't.

In the early 1980s, I took a Washington State Ferry to the San Juan Islands with my then-husband, a German citizen. We took a ferry back from Orcas Island that had a previous stop in Canada. When we disembarked at Anacortes, we had to go through customs even though we'd never left the US, which I found disconcerting, especially since the only ID I had on me was a Seattle Public Library card. I don't remember whether my husband had his passport on him, or just his driver's license.

My husband was a heavy smoker and so we had a very full ashtray. I remember looking on with some alarm as the Border Patrol officer leaned into our car and poked her gloved finger through the ashtray; lucky for us, there was nothing there but tobacco ashes and cigarette butts. I remember the cigarette butts recoiling like little springs and she pushed her finger though them; I'd never seen anyone stick their finger into a bunch of cigarette butts before. I also remember my horrified realization that if she weren't a customs officer, she would have needed a warrant for that. It would have been an illegal search except for those extra powers that the INS has.

So I wasn't giving David any ground: Customs should do its work at the border unless carrying out a specific inspection. If there is criminal activity on the Interstate Highways to be dealt with, regular highway patrol cops should be sufficient. You have fewer civil rights when dealing with the border patrol; and of course the Border Patrol have real cops on hand in case they happen across anything outside their jurisdiction.

So this morning, I Googled I-87 and Border Patrol, and I discovered a whole different reason to object to that check point: sometimes people get killed there. Apparently, there were a couple of really bad accidents there in 2004 because the lines got long and big semis weren't getting enough advance notice of the checkpoint, so great big trucks were occasionally rear-ending the line.

Four years ago, Senator Schumer's officer sent out a press release about fatalities at the check-point: SCHUMER: SECOND MAJOR ACCIDENT THIS YEAR WARRANTS FEDERAL INVESTIGATION OF I-87 CHECKPOINT:

US Senator Charles E. Schumer today said that Sunday night's fatal auto accident at the I-87 North Hudson Border Patrol checkpoint, the second major one at the checkpoint in seven months, should warrant a federal investigation to determine whether the checkpoint is safe as currently constituted. With some drivers saying that the checkpoint appears abruptly with too little warning, Schumer urged the federal Bureau of Border and Transportation Security to come to New York and examine the checkpoint.

"When you have not one but two major accidents at the same checkpoint in a span of seven months, it's a tragedy and a wakeup call," Schumer said. "The federal government needs to look at this checkpoint to make sure that it's as safe as it can be - and if there are changes that can be made to prevent future accidents from occurring, they need to be made without delay."

Four people were killed Sunday when a tractor-trailer truck slammed into vehicles waiting at the North Hudson checkpoint. A truck driver was approaching the checkpoint when he ran into a line of cars stopped on I-87 roughly a quarter mile before the stop. On impact, the first vehicle burst into flames and killed the three people inside. The truck then hit a pickup truck whose driver tried to maneuver out of the way and was released from the hospital with a ruptured eardrum. The truck also hit a pickup pulling a camper, which burst into flames and killed its driver.

The Border Patrol incidents make one blogger's list of 10 Deadliest Accidents in the Adirondack Mountain Region. Ouch. Never mind possible violations of our civil right, what I should have maybe been worrying about is that people get killed there. Better Living Through Paranoia. (Who knew that driving down I-87 past North Hudson was one of the most dangerous things one could do in the Adirondacks?)

After mostly not encountering the daily hassles of the Paranoia Economy this summer, going through the check point felt oddly like clearing customs back into my Westchester County life, in which paranoia is something I'm supposed to be thankful for.

Confluence Pix

I've created a Flickr photoset for our Confluence photos  and will add more later. Here is the scene so far:

Mike Walsh sells books

Mike Walsh sells books in the Dealer's Room. (Didin't I see him last weekend?)

panel: Is the Internet Essentially Fungal?

Panel: Is the Internet Essentially Fungal? with Kathryn Cramer, Geoff Landis, James Morrow, Mary Turzillo

JJ presides over the beer tasting

JJ presides over the Beer Tasting. (Yummy!)

Charlie Oberndorf & Jim Morrow

Charles Oberndorf & James Morrow at dinner on the terrace.

Readercon Pix & Others

so many books, so little time!

I have posted our photos from Readercon, which was last weekend, as well as our photos from the NYRSF 20th Anniversary Party the weekend before.

NYRSF party

(Is Donald gesturing, or is that air guitar?)

Now, I am off to Confluence in Pittsburgh, where I will be  P. Schuyler Miller Critic Guest of Honor. Wheee! (Be there or be sqaure!)


(After that, I'm going back to the Adirondacks to rise with the sun and plant pretty flowers in the mountains.)

Staying over with the woman who broke Isaac Asimov's heart.

Last night we stayed over in a B&B in a quaint old house in New Castle, Delaware. At breakfast, we noticed a copy of Isaac Asimov's memoirs in the dining room. David remarked upon this, and our hostess, a pleasant lady of advanced age, said she had known Isaac and that he was a major influence on her life, and that she was in the book. The chapter of Asimov's memoirs entitled "Heartbreak" is about her.

After breakfast, I took the kids out to the B&B's rather nice gardens, adjacent the waterfront park in New Castle, and David and our hostess exchanged Asimov stories. Apparently, Asimov spoke highly of her to Robert A. Heinlein, who subsequently recruited her into the Navy in Philadelphia.


Liz and Peter with a statue in the garden.

Car Fire on Rt. 3 Near Kingston, Massachusetts

We were up at the beach at Fieldston, in Marshfield, Massachusetts over the weekend staying in a beach motel. We drove home this afternoon, rather than braving the full-scale 4th of July Cape traffic later. We had a bad drive up to Massachusetts on Friday: it took 3 hours to drive across Danbury.

So today when we set out and almost immediately got into a traffic jam we were pretty worried. The cause of the congestion turned out to be a car fire, of which I got a pretty good picture:

Car Fire on Rt. 3 near Duxbury, MA

Luckily, we were only delayed about 15 minutes. The Kingston Fire Department was pretty efficient about putting out the fire.

Meanwhile, there was the usual problem of people with entitlement issues feeling that they have the right to access the shoulder of the road in the event of an emergency, even if it means that they block emergency vehicles. This guy was angling for a shortcut, but ended up blocking a cop car for a minute.


I leaned rather conspicuously out my car window and took a picture of his license plate.

From Jishnu Das of RISE-PAK: A Long Interesting Report on a Trip to Pakistan for Earthquake Relief

One of my New Year's resolutions was to finally get 'round to editing down this wonderful long letter from economist Jishnu Das of RISE-PAK on his trip to Pakistan in December for earthquake disaster relief. (My previous post on RISE-PAK was Asim Khwaja: “The nice thing about computers is that they don’t go into shock.") Here is Jishnu's December 13th letter, a response to my asking how his trip went:

Part of my trip involved working with Lahore University of Management Studies faculty and students on a field trip. For me, working with volunteer students from LUMS in the field was an incredible experience. They would wake up at 5:30 every morning, brew tea, cook breakfast and hike off to the villages for a full day before daybreak. On walks, they would be crossing landslides, talking to each and every person they met and returning well after dark by torchlight. These are some of the most committed and enthusiastic people I have been fortunate enough to work with and their commitment to information and transparency is amazing (were this a holiday hike, I would definitely have viewed being pulled out of a warm sleeping bag at 5:30 as a dastardly act...)




1. Creating a universal list of settlements: One big problem in compiling and understanding the data is that villages are divided into multiple settlements, and there is no universal list of settlements available. Since text (specially with translation from Urdu to English) is not standardized, it is impossible to tell, for instance, whether the relief provided to "Berbazar" is the same as that provided to "Berbush" and which village this settlement belongs to. I worked closely with the UN-HIC towards developing their gazetteer of locations. Unfortunately, things are almost as prelim there as they were 1 month ago, with everyone still stuck with settlement names issues. Piet and I will be working on this more this week, and we should have something that will be made public by the end of this week. We are also working with the Population Census Organization in Pakistan on finalizing this. By the way, we came across, and this contains geo-locations for millions of locations around the world. If someone can send out an html crawler and capture the database that would be great (we did Pakistan).

2. Villages versus settlements: There is problem with what is a "village" and what is a settlement, but I am not sure that it is really bad. 3 villages that I covered in a recent survey are in the database as villages--Batangi, Gajoo Khokhar and Basantlok. Indeed, so are the villages that Jawad's group followed (Sund Ban, Chamata, Doba and Harama). The one problem is a village called "Muslundi" which is on the other side of a smallish stream (so batangi is at the start of this side-valley; basantlok is further down on the same valley. On the other side are Ratanser, which is in the census list). While this is NOT in the Noura Seri Patwar Circle list of village, IT IS in the Seri Dara list of villages--Seri Dara is the neighboring PC. So, my impression is that someone who is aware of the mauza-settlement issue and has a list of mauzas can sort this out pretty easily, but this is based on a very very limited sample. (One problem with going the settlement route is that most villages will have a Dhana, which literally means "top" and a kayer, which means "ridge").

3. Google Earth: Unfortunately, (a) no-one is aware of the VBR's (I told everyone I met, and sent them the link), (b) they work too slow on the broadband in Pakistan. I took the UN-HIC compound guys through it fairly carefully, and hopefully they are using it now.


1. RISEPAK was set up as a self-coordinating enabling environment, where all relief actors and those affected by the earthquake could come on a common platform by posting information about damage and relief. Constantly updated, these postings would provide regular information that could help target future relief to those who need it most.

2. By a number of accounts, RISEPAK has achieved a lot of what it set out to do. Within 2 months of its launch (its now 7 weeks), there are 1800 messages that have been posted, and updated information on 950 villages out of around 2500 that were thought to have been affected (close to 40%). In addition, the RISEPAK site has also proved useful in a number of other ways. Organizations have used our pre-prepared forms to organize their own information systems; most organizations have worked closely with our maps, which were the most detailed available at the time and bulletin board posts have allowed sellers and buyers to get in touch with each other. Some anecdotes:

a. One organization that we went to had not heard about RISEPAK. They insisted that they were very organized in collecting their data at the village level, and were using standardized forms to record this information. It turned out that the forms were the RISEPAK damage and relief forms about villages!

b. In a recent pilot (more on this below), Shandana (a faculty member at LUMS) was speaking to the army major in charge of a particular area. The major was adamant that they were doing a great job and were making their information transparent and accountable through their own website. When asked about the website, he said that they were using RISEPAK---something that he had developed a full sense of ownership over.

3. At the same time, a lot more can be done. What is very clear is that smaller organizations in the relief effort have used and posted to RISEPAK on a very regular basis. For them, RISEPAK has turned out to be a boon---it has developed the trust of most players by acting in a non-partisan manner, and organizations who are regularly posting to the site are able to point out the work that they are doing to the entire world. What they are doing is transparent, accountable and verifiable; at the same time, it allows for massive benefits in coordination among the various relief actors.

4. Key to the success of RISEPAK has been the central role of the Lahore University of Management Studies (LUMS) faculty and students. Early on, we realized that the RISEPAK effort was a bit rushed. If the system had been set up before hand and key organizations had been trained in its use, information would have been posted regularly without much prompting. As it is, we were working on the fly. This meant that relief actors had to be taken through the site, trained on using it, trained on the importance of data at the village-level and data had to be constantly obtained from these groups.

5. The LUMS faculty and students took this challenge heads-on. Instead of celebrating Eid with family and friends (Eid is somewhat like Christmas, only larger, since it comes after a month of fasting) faculty and students headed out to Islamabad and the affected districts to get this data collection exercise moving. In Islamabad they developed close networks with relief organizations, helped them systematize their data and start sending it into RISEPAK. They set up a team of volunteers who took in this data---from fax transmissions, e-mails and the website itself---and parsed, collated, and updated it on the website. Their field-teams also visited the affected district headquarters and started working with the district governments, the UN and relief organizations in the field. The activity led to a huge increase in postings to the website---RISEPAK had updated information on 200 villages before the LUMS team went out; within a week of their return, the numbers went up to 500, and now stands at just above 950.

6. I was fortunate to be a part of the next such team that went up; again, the students and faculty taking off from their hectic schedules in their quarter-break (7 days) to head up to quake affected districts and villages. Key to the medium term reconstruction and relief in the region was an assessment of how well government compensation programs have worked so far, and I went to Pakistan to work with the government and the UN and to visit the quake affected areas to arrive at some assessment.

7. In Islamabad, I met up with the team from LUMS (close to 35 students and 10 faculty members); we then headed out into different directions---one team went to Bagh district, another to Mansehra and a third (including myself) to Muzaffarabad. The team I was in consisted of 15 people including myself; some of these would work in the district headquarters, others would head out to villages (both those that are more and less accessible) to assess the state of compensation and data.

The Post-Earthquake Household Survey In the five days of the field-trip, much was accomplished.

1. The 12 teams that went out to the villages surveyed close to 3000 households in 18 villages---easily the largest independent survey of households in the post-quake scenario by an independent group. We branched out into Bagh, Muzaffarabad and Mansehra/Balakot and then chose villages according to a stratification based on close to road/far from road and large relief activity/low relief activity. I was in a group that went to "low relief activity and both close and far from road". In addition, I was also part of a team that visited a relief-camp in Muzaffarabad. These data are currently being collated, and will be made public for all agencies to use fairly shortly on the RISEPAK site.


1. People are very, very used to making lists in the villages we went to---indeed, it turned out to be harder to do a focus group than to make lists. The moment we sat down to do focus group, people would start gathering with ID cards to get their names entered. NOT entering names is, basically, NOT an option--we would have people running down to ensure that their names are on the list.

2. At the same time, there is very little movement across settlements within the same village. People are able to, fairly accurately, give names and rough family composition (total members and children) for families in the settlement, but not across settlements in the same village. Batangi, for instance is 3 settlements---lower Batangi (an abbasi settlement), main Batangi (chaudhuris) and dhana (mostly abbasis). The first day we went to batangi, drew up a list of settlements and then went to dhana. We made the list of families with the school teacher on the advise of locals and then went to every sub-settlement. The school-teacher missed out some families (abbasis) right on top---nevertheless, it would have been hard to miss them out all together, since the moment we sat at a central location, this was pointed out to us.

3. Another village, we went to is similar, though spread out over a larger distance. The village contains two settlements at a 1/2 hour walk from each other, and it is impossible to get names of households in one settlement sitting in another. To get a sense of how fast a village could be covered with just basic household-level information and damage, we split up and went to each settlement. We then asked people to gather at these settlements and completed close to 120 households in 4 hours or so. We then verified that households had not been left out, though am not a 100% sure.

Relief Camps Relief Camps are also reasonably easy to survey in---again, people are used to surveys and the kind of information we are asking about. There are problems with split families---don't know what we can do about them in terms of verification. People should e-mail the women who went to the relief camp (Nadia and Erum in the team I was with--erum is copied on this note) and ask them about their experience. Stories were very different depending on who was telling them---the relief-camp organizers, men, or women. There is absolutely no sanitation or toilets in these camps, and women are having a horrendous time. This is something that I know a lot less about...

Some highlights on the situation in villages

i) In Islamabad, a lot of people felt that villages had emptied out. This is far from reality. Despite the large number of casualties and injuries, the percentages are not as large as one might believe a priori. For instance, the 80,000 deaths means that 1.5% of the areas population died. I was working in one of the hardest hit areas, where all houses had been completely destroyed, yet on average, 2% of individuals in the villages died, another 2% were injured and another 1% were in relief camps. This left 95% of the original population intact in the villages----more critically, not one person said that they were planning to leave for the winter. This requires that the means to construct emergency shelters are made available immediately to the large population with destroyed houses, who cannot spend the winter in tents (since you cannot light fires in them). Ensuring the arrival of corrugated iron sheets (something that people have been pointing out for a while) will definitely save many, many lives.

ii). At least in the area I was in, the government and army have done an incredible and very fair job of giving compensation exactly according to government guidelines. Every person whose house has been destroyed received Rs.25,000 (roughly $400) and every household with a death received Rs.100,000 ($1,600). I believe that other field-teams are finding the same thing.

iii) While people feel that livestock are a major source of income in the area, they actually are not----close to 70% of the households interviewed did not own a single animal (buffalos, cows or goats).

iv) One key advantage of working with the LUMS team is that there were female students as well, who could talk to widows and other women, usually left out of the survey process (it is culturally difficult for a man to talk to a woman alone). Women's concerns were usually different from men's---while men were very concerned of the need for shelter, women, who have to deal with the everyday process of living were also anxious about the lack of warm clothing and blankets for children, and the lack of cooking utensils---something that was causing them a lot of unneeded hardship. Here is what one student has to say:

"Women’s responses tend to be more detailed. Men leave out what they feel is unnecessary, I personally found women more willing to take the time to communicate the smallest of details. However nuances such as the issue of dependence on other family members for a widow, or feelings of marginalization and perceptions of being harassed or mistreated require some probing before they are brought out. Again, these will seldom be expressed in the presence of male members of the community. Finally, women tend to have a better idea of other vulnerable women in the community, such as single mothers, and were helpful in identifying them. As with the other sex, one-on-one interactions tend to be more honest and informative. As the group size increases and people struggle to get a voice, responses tend towards the more "rehearsed" type. It is always better, I found, to initiate spontaneous conversation with individuals rather than wait for the more vocal members of the community to gather and lead the discussion" (erum haider)

Some thoughts on winter from Sadia Qadir 1. Clearly, this is going to be the large war. Here are some impressions from a student (sadia qadir)

1. Normal, un-insulated tents are not useful any more and the idea of moving to lower altitude areas is almost next to impossible. When asked them what are you planning to do one snowfall begins, they offer the plan that women and children are going to stay indoor while the men will take care of the outdoor chores. For fuel, they are depending upon (wrongfully so perhaps) the logs they have stockpile from the rubble of their houses. They plan to use it all through the winter season. Even though they anticipate they might run out earlier on, than expected.
2. The next best thing is shelter made from CGI-sheets. I had the opportunity to see one. This particular one was made in the triangular shape as that of a tent. It was however much more spacious. It was made with 20, 12-14 square feet sheets. I was told this is the minimum number of sheets required to build a shed that size, and sheets any fewer than 20 are useless. Quality (thickness) of these sheets is also an issue.
3. A small fire-place that was set in a corner and was also being used as a kitchen. Similar hearths have resulted in horrifying hazards in the usual fabric-tents. This is apparently their best chance to salvage from the extreme cold once snow falls. A family of 14 was staying here and I was told all of them fit in nicely at night.
4. Another, important issue is that of Kora (or Kori), which is a thin layer of suspended frozen moisture that layers the ground in this season. According to the people, sleeping arrangements comprising of floor-beddings, causes this frostiness to seep through the layers of bed linens and blankets and does not go away. As Shandana, suggested, perhaps providing char-pais (beds) will help combat this problem.
5. One of the limitations of initiatives like distributing CJI sheets is that people are selling them. Probably it's the fuel available to them, which leads over-estimating their ability to endure the winter. What ever the reason, the trend is been observed and confirmed by locals, the NGOs as well as other authoritative and operational bodies working in the region. This is perhaps, one of the major reasons many of the organizations are selectively distributing (and therefore accused of bias) the insulating tents and / or CJI-sheets.

Sadia (who is a doctor) also writes about health-issues that are bound to arise HEALTH PROBLEMS

In days following the earthquake, the bulk of presentations were that of extensive trauma -- mainly to the head, spine, pelvis and/or limbs, requiring surgical intervention. I was also told by doctors at Ayub Medical Complex, that a large number of amputations were carried out in the remote areas because enough resources were not available for timely intervention to salvage limbs. As I observed in Abbottabad most medical NGOs/camps came into the affected areas equipped mostly to deal with trauma cases. This requires specialized arrangements - such as x-ray facility, a small surgical theatre, relevant medicines, surgeons and OR nursing staff.

From what I gathered after speaking with the health care professionals working in the affected areas and the people, there is a high risk for Respiratory tract diseases (especially pneumonia in children), Gastrointestinal diseases particularly in areas where water is contaminated (there was an outbreak in Balakot over the period around Eid Holidays), infections particularly fungal skin infections as a result of damp cold weather (a large number of children affected in Bagh) and complicated wound healing.

Even now, most of the medical camps currently operating in and around villages, for example, near Sewar Kalu and Kafl Garh, are equipped to deal with trauma only. They have declined patients with complicated wounds and fractures, Obstetric & gynecological problems (including uncomplicated pregnancy) and skin infections. The irony is that residents of these villages have medical camps and professionals around but unable to help them. They have to travel to district hospital Bagh, which is 6km away and is not fully functioning as its building is also affected by the earthquake. To make the situation worse, these conditions usually are slow to develop and pursue an indolent course making it very likely for patients to get 'used to' their ailments until they reach an irreversible stage.

A dangerous alternative is consulting the traditional medicine-men in their areas. I personally witness such a case ~75yrs old lady resident of Kafl Garh, with a forearm fracture complicated in an attempt to fix through malish (massage). The entire arm was massively swollen as the bandage was tight enough to cut off most of the blood supply. This lady was declined medical assistance at the closely located camp and was advised to go to district hospital Bagh. She was brought back home.

An important element to consider in dealing with these people is - they are constantly prioritizing and reprioritizing their survival strategies and coping mechanisms. Prevalence of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) and acute stress syndrome (ASD) in these populations is still largely unknown but can be expected to be quite high. In the places I visited (Kafl Garh, Sewar Kalu and Kot Baroli) there are no mental health interventions so far. Point being, in there given state they are very likely to miss out or even deliberately put off for later significant health and nutritional concerns that they otherwise would take more seriously.

Data Flows

1. This is a large issue, and looks very much like the game we used to play called "chinese whispers" (sometimes called the "arab telephone" for no apparent reason). A couple of examples:

2. In the UN compound at MZD, we were told that the greatest benefit in terms of information would come from visiting the lower Neelum valley, of which little was known. This team then went to the union-council of Noura Seri, about 45 minutes from the city, and where roads had opened recently. The major in charge of the union council was very systematic in his record-keeping and had detailed records of the tents and food distributed to the villages under his command. He assured us that 90% of the households under his charge had been given tents, which we verified through door-to-door surveys. Further, compensation had been allocated exactly according to the policies laid down by the government. The key question, and one that needs to be addressed urgently, is what happened to the major's data by the time it got to Muzaffarabad--a 40 minutes drive away? If the district government of Muzaffarabad takes over the relief effort at this time, either a large data-gathering effort will again have to be undertaken, or they will have to fight blind in the face of the coming winter.

3. A second team went to Balakot/Mansehra in the North-Western Frontier Province. One mandate of the team visits was to work with district officials towards systematizing their own records and setting up data-entry systems at the individual level for compensation and relief. The picture in Balakot revealed the usual problems that face nascent data systems, leading to large problems later on. Some examples: In the list of individuals who had received compensation, names had been recorded, but ID card numbers had not (as an aside, 95% of households have at least one member with an id card, which serves as a unique identifier). Worse, there was no standard for translating Urdu to English names. With close to 10 Mohammed Afzal's in every village and with non-unique spellings for the same name, trying to relate this data to future relief will be a nightmare. Records of who had received disability payments were now virtually unmatchable to people, since they had been recorded on a separate form that omitted the village-name field.

4. The problem is not that governments are apathetic or uninformed about the need for systematic data exercises. In fact, everywhere we have gone, district governments have been delighted to work with us on strengthening their information systems. The real issue is one of capacity, the ability to work in remote locations and familiarity with data and data-issues that typically come after years of learning the hard way.

5. The LUMS team has brought this expertise to the relief effort, and it is one that they plan to maintain over the longer term. Guys: they need ALL the support they can get.

Jishnu Das is one of the founders of RISE-PAK and lives in Washington, DC where he works at the World Bank. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Economics.

Bipolar Man gets Himself Shot Dead by a Federal Air Marshall

From the New York Times: Air Marshal Shoots Passenger at Miami Airport:

According to a witness, The A.P. said, the man appeared to have been accompanied by a woman who ran after him as he bolted from the plane, shouting that the man was mentally ill.

The passenger, Mary Gardner, said in an interview on WTVJ in Miami that the man had run down the aisle from the back of the plane. "He was frantic, his arms flailing in the air," she said.

Ms. Gardner said he had been trailed by a woman shouting: "My husband! My husband!"

Ms. Gardner, according to an A.P. account of the television interview, said she had heard the woman say her husband was bipolar and had not taken his medication.

UPDATE: It gets worse. From the Orlando Sentinel, Witnesses heard no talk of bomb

Rigoberto Alpizar may have just been scared.

As more details emerged about Wednesday's anxious moments aboard American Airlines Flight 924, it became increasingly apparent that the Maitland man killed by federal air marshals may have been fleeing in panic as he suffered the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

To grieving relatives, two air marshals acted rashly and an innocent man died -- one whom at least seven passengers said they never heard say anything about a bomb.

(Via Working Families Party Man.)

Cruise Ship Adventures

Sometimes you read a line in a news story, and you just don't believe what you just read, it just seems so off-the-wall. I had that experience today.  The news story was Congressman plans cruise disappearance hearings on MSNBC, apparently picked up from The Business Journal of Jacksonville. The context was the emerging problem of people disappearing from cruise ships.

At least 16 people have gone overboard or missing from cruise ships since 2000, according to research by The Business Journal. Three were rescued, two were confirmed dead and 11 remain missing.

OK. That's sort of odd. But then we come to the next line of the article:

Officials with Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. have said their companies do not track such incidents.

Cruise companies don't track reports of physical disappearance of passengers on cruise ships?  Weird. Really weird. It would seem like something their insurers would require, even if no one else was interested.

But there have been several weird news reports about cruise lines lately. However did Carnival end up with a candidate for FEMA's most controversial contract following hurricane Katrina? From the Washington Post: $236 Million Cruise Ship Deal Criticized

But the Carnival deal has come under particular scrutiny. Not only are questions being raised over the contract's cost, but congressional investigators are examining the company's tax status. Carnival, which is headquartered in Miami but incorporated for tax purposes in Panama, paid just $3 million in income tax benefits on $1.9 billion in pretax income last year, according to company documents. "That's not even a tip," said Robert S. McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. U.S. companies in general pay an effective income tax rate of about 25 percent, analysts say. That would have left Carnival with a $475 million tax bill.

Carnival's public records boast "that substantially all of our income in fiscal 2004, 2003 and 2002 . . . is exempt from U.S. federal income taxes," largely because it maintains that its operations are not in the United States but on the high seas.

Carnival does not want to see that tax status jeopardized just because three major ships are clearly operating in the United States. After it won the FEMA bid, Carnival appealed to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow for a waiver of U.S. taxes. "We do not want to jeopardize our tax exemption, nor do we want to interrupt our relief efforts for failure to secure this assurance from the Treasury Department," wrote Howard Frank, Carnival's chief operating officer.

(And who knew that they were headquartered in Panama to avoid taxes? And, yes, sure, their campaign contributions were munificent; but they also gave generously to the Democrats.)

And then there was the pirate adventure, on a ship owned by one of Carnival's subsidiaries. If those waters were so dangerous, why was the expert crew of the ship careless enough to let the ship wander off course off Somalia, of all places? Looking for adventure? Or, on the other hand, if cruise ship attacks are so rare, just what was the crew of the ship doing with their handy dandy military-grade LRAD sonic blaster? Communicating with whales?

And is that even legal? I mean, what if the pirates had gotten the LRAD rather than just an earful? And won't the public announcement that a cruiseship carried an LRAD attract upwardly-mobile pirates who'd really like one of their very own? And what other fine munitions might be available for the taking on post-9/11 cruise ships? Aren't there some really good reasons for passenger ships not to pack this kind of heat?

I breathlessly await the next installment of this amazing tale of adventure. (But, um, guys, it would be a really good idea to start keeping track of vanishing passengers.)

Viewpoint for the Burgess Shale at Emerald Lake

Here is an attempt to recreate the view of the Burgess Shale near Field, BC as seen from Emerald lake, BC. (Click here for overlay.)

Google Earth could really do with some better satellite photos of the Canadian Rockies. Also, I'm not sore how good their data for generating the terrain is, in that the mountains still didn't look quite right, even if you took the fuzzy satellite imagery into account.

However, the most significant problem was that the tools for adjusting viewpoint didn't work the way I expected. I couldn't get Google Earth to let me raise my gaze enough to see the mountain ridge when I seemed to be in the right spot to see the Burgess Shale from the lake side.

And here is what the view actually looks like. The Burgess Shale is located where the ribbons of snow are on the upper right of the ridge.

  The actual view of the Burgess Shale from the shores of Emerald Lake 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

(By the way, I have more photos of the Canadian Rockies than you could possibly want to see in a Typepad photo album. And further to the subject of the Burgess Shale, the Royal Ontario Museum sells marvellous plastic Burgess Shale creatures. We collected the whole set.)

Cindy Lee Berryhill: "When Did Jesus Become a Republican?"

CindyleeFurther to the subject of women taken out of circulation because of taking care of children, singer/songwriter and anti-folk heroine Cindy Lee Berryhill is emerging from semi-retirement. (I was not able to make much in the way of helpful sugestions to questions like How do you go on tour with a toddler?)

Her son Alexander, is now about 4. She appeared on Air America on October 21st. She is currently working on a CD, and on her webite, you can now listen to her new song, "When Did Jesus Become a Republican?" (click on the link in the upper righthand corner).

My husband David was in California and visited Cindy and her husband, famous rock critic and former executor of the Philip K. Dick Estate, Paul Williams. David took a lot of pictures.

Here's a nice shot of the Berryhill Williams family:


The Execution of Elmo

Just thought I'd share a couple of photos taken at the Marshfield Fair in Marshfield, Massachusetts in mid-August. First of all: The Execution of Elmo (found art; I videotaped it and then made David go take a picture).

. . . and First Prize in the Vegetable Sculpture Contest (true fact).


A Windfall Kite, Mass Pike Sunday Drivers, & the Oncoming Storm

Img_0042Here is a photo I took yesterday morning  returning to our motel from the beach in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Before heading home, I got the kids up at 7AM, so we could go to the beach one last time.  It was high tide, but almost immediately we found a kite. The string was stretched a long way down the beach, and at the end of the string was a wet, but flyable, Dragon Ball Z kite.  I shot this picture as we were carrying our windfall kite back to the motel just before changing clothes and checking out. This is the beach where David's grandfather built a beach house in about 1910 which remained in David's family until the 1970s, so it is the beach where David spent summers as a child. We stayed over on our way back from Maine.

So now we're home in this final week of summer before school starts. Taking stock when we got home yesterday after a long grueling drive back from Massachusetts, it began to appear that New Orleans was in significant danger of being wiped out by the incoming hurricane.

Img_0067Looking at the photos of long lines of cars streaming out of New Orleans, I was reminded of our midday experience on the Mass Pike: Here are a few Mass Pike pictures. There was some kind of huge accident west of the Millbury exit, so the Pike was closed in both directions. This set the stage for some really appalling behavior on the part of frustrated drivers. I honest to God saw someone pull out onto the shoulder of the road and cut off an ambulance with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Here are the cars driving in the breakdown lane next to a guard rail, cutting off access for emergency vehicles, and the cop car and the car it was trying to escort. Most drivers behaved themselves, but there was a significant contingent that seemed mostly unconcerned with getting out of the way of emergency vehicles that were trying to reach the accident. There were scores of minor accidents as cars jostled each other in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. From the radio coverage, I gather that the traffic jam was ultimately resolved by the arrival of a Medvac helicopter. We didn't see the actual accident site.

I wish I'd thought to get out my video camera to tape the scene of a frustrated cop trying to escort a couple in a visibly damaged car off the  highway. He got out of his car and rapped on the window of the car in from of him twice. And he also went to one of the cars trying to tag along, put his hands on his hips and asked "Why are you following me?" I didn't hear the driver's reply.

Img_0069I hope the Louisiana drivers were more considerate of each other than the people I witnessed yesterday. 

And so now, a hurricane, a huge hurricane. Lucky me, we don't have cable TV. So I don't have the opportunity to subject myself to endless looping anxiety as CNN covers the story with way too little data because it would be potentially lethal to do the usual coverage. My first words to David this morning were "Well, New Orleans isn't gone yet."

My great-grandmother, Agnes Gleason Cramer, died and was buried somewhere in New Orleans in about 1908; we don't know where. She died when my grandfather was 10 months old, as I understand it from complications from childbirth. So my grandfather never knew his mother. A few years ago, we established that the family seemed to have no copies of her picture. Last night, I had a dream that her bones were floating out to sea.


Find the Flounder

Seapoint Bach, Kittery Point, Maine

David said, did you see the flounders? I said, no, I didn't see them. David points at the screen, showing me the flounder in the picture I took. Can you spot it?

Here are a couple more pictures from the same tide pool. (I don't think these have flounder in them.)


PS: Chopped fresh kelp added to the cooking water of instant mac & cheese (Annie's White cheddar in this case) improves the consistency of the sauce.




Un-Glasgow Photos

I've begun a photo album of what we did while David went to Glasgow, which features such amazing shots as James Morrow climbing a tree, the skeleton of an extinct Stellar's sea cow, and even a live bear in a dumpster.

Typepad won't let me into the Configure screen this morning, so I'll have to wait until later to do the album design work.  (Also, I've got to get on with my day in a few minutes.)


Elizabeth shows her teeth.

A tech note: The photos taken in Washington, DC are by far the sharpest, because they were taken with my brother-in-law Tom's expensive Nikon digital. The photos of kids in the kiddie pool were, in fact, taken by Tom. After DC, all the photos are taken with my video camera (most extracted from video footage).

Mapquest vs. Google Maps: A Difference in Opinion

Mqmapgendwebsysaolcom_3I asked Mapquest and Google Maps directions from Washington, DC to State College, PA. Google Maps says: 216 mi (about 4 hours 38 mins). Mapquest says: Total Est. Time: 3 hours, 49 minutes Total Est. Distance: 208.20 miles.

I won't quibble about the difference between estimated distance, but the difference in estimated time is greater than 20%. Why is that?  Looks like basically the same route to me.

Maybe Mapquest users drive faster.

Flying with Children

Finally, a David Brooks piece that leads me to believe I might enjoy encountering him at a cocktail party: Pain, Agony, Despair: Flying With Children. Clearly, he has observed plane-bound children and their parents in the wilds of airline travel. Some of his hypotheses are wrong, but they are based on actual data:

It is an iron rule of plane travel that the parents who are trying to hush their children are more annoying to their fellow passengers than the children who are being hushed. Accordingly, other fliers in the area begin to develop hostile feelings toward the desperately shushing parents.

Well, actually, no.

Why, David, did you know that a two-year-old has the power to make a full-sized plane pirouette in the runway right before take off? All she has to do is take off her seat belt, stand up in her seat, and loudly proclaim her victory to the nearest flight attendant. Take-off aborted. Simple as that. FAA regulations.  (I got a whole lot less embarrassed at the prospect of appearing an evil controlling witch to the other passengers after that.)

And I don't imagine Brooks has sat in front of my son back when he flew strapped into a car seat that fit into an airline seat.  The car seat had the advantage of a five-point-harness, so Peter couldn't inadvertantly hijack the plane by unstrapping his seatbelt. But it had several disadvantages. Not only did it move him about four inches forward, but it made it so that when he kicked the seat in front of him, he had a perfect shot at the kidneys of the man in front of him. He wasn't even trying to kick the seat. The rows were packed so tight, that the target spot was only about an inch and a half from the furthest back position for his feet.

Now, kids are not truly to blame for these incidents, in that US airlines steadfastly insist that modifying restraint systems in planes to accommodate children is just not their problem. And there are many other ways that airlines in the US are in denial about the existence of child passengers. (What are the odds that there will be a changing table in an airplane restroom? And what's this new thing about denying passengers food?)

Some inexperienced parents do many of  the high-energy counter-productive things he describes. Me, I don't bring piles of toys on planes. I get out the safety brochure and interest them in the prospect of a sliding board. And I just cope. Sorry if I got on your nerves. (No, it almost certainly wasn't me.)  I actually sort of enjoy flying with kids.

Canadian Rockies Photo Album

Crsm60178We have put up more pictures of our trip through the Canadian Rockies than you can possibly want to see. No, we didn't put them all up, we have lots more, plus about 2 hours of video. The video includes some great footage of an avalanche off Angel Glacier, but I haven't figured out how to put it up without killing my bandwidth allotment.

Here are some of my favorites:


Sudden Temporary Architecture of Chaotic Light

I had lots of lovely blogging planned for late last night when the kids were asleep, but our hotel's Wayport internet connection was a bit spotty overnight, so I'm going to rush through a bunch of material that I had planned to address in a more lesiurely fashion.

One fringe benefit of the net connection being down is that since I couldn't keep a good connection, I followed Rudy Rucker's excellent example and went out and did early morning yoga by the pool. I picked my spot next to the whirlpool, since it was a little chilly out. Just as I finished up, the first rays of the rising sun came in through the palm fronds illuminating the rising steam, creating a sudden temporary architecture of chaotic light: vectors of golden light textured by the steam's vortecies. (I couldn't resist using that as a title.) For those at ICFA who would like to try seeing this tomorrow, it happened at about 6:45-6:50 AM.

OK. Quick run through of what I want to cover:

First of all, my dad, John Cramer, has some new physics stuff in the news. I was waiting for a few free moments to carefully write this up so you would think I knew what I was talking about, but this is not to be in the immediate Floridian future, so here is the link:

American Institute of Physics: A Puzzling Signal in RHIC Experiments:

A puzzling signal in RHIC experiments has now been explained by two researchers as evidence for a primordial state of nuclear matter believed to have accompanied a quark-gluon plasma or similarly exotic matter in the early universe. Colliding two beams of gold nuclei at Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, physicists have been striving to make the quark-gluon plasma, a primordial soup of matter in which quarks and gluons circulate freely.

However, the collision fireball has been smaller and shorter-lived than expected, according to two RHIC collaborations (STAR and PHENIX) of pions (the lightest form of quark-antiquark pairs) coming out of the fireball. The collaborations employ the Hanbury-Brown-Twiss method, originally used in astronomy to measure the size of stars. In the subatomic equivalent, spatially separated detectors record pairs of pions emerging from the collision to estimate the size of the fireball.

Now an experimentalist and a theorist, both from the University of Washington, John G. Cramer (206-543-9194, and Gerald A. Miller (206-543-2995,, have teamed up for the first time to propose a solution to this puzzle. Reporting independently of the RHIC collaborations, they take into account the fact that the low-energy pions produced inside the fireball act more like waves than classical, billiard-ball-like particles; the pions' relatively long wavelengths tend to overlap with other particles in the crowded fireball environment.

This new quantum-mechanical analysis leads the researchers to conclude that a primordial phenomenon has taken place inside the hot, dense RHIC fireballs. According to Miller and Cramer, the strong force is so powerful that the pions are overcome by the attractive forces exerted by neighboring quarks and anti-quarks. As a result, the pions act as nearly massless particles inside the medium.

Secondly, ICFA Guest of Honor Rudy Rucker has much of the material he's been presenting here up on his web site: His speech from lunch, "Seek the Gnarl" and the PowerPoint slides from his his science talk.

I didn't get to see the luncheon speech, but really enjoyed the science talk. The PowerPoint slides don't give you the full sense of the experience, since they don't include such things as Rudy projecting fractal patterns onto his skin or using a gnarly stick as a pointer. A good time was had by all.

Also, Rudy's blog has great stuff about his recent trip trip to Palau including an interesting discussion of his experiences swimming with jelly fish.

Finally, we have more pictures to put up in my ICFA photo album, but they'll have to wait until later today.


Img_4675Yesterday when I got up it was snowing cats & dogs. We had to dig ourselves out of five inches of snow to get out of the driveway. But we have escaped. This is the view from our hotelroom window when I woke up this morning. Note the plam trees in the foreground and the absence of clouds.

We are in Ft. Lauderdale and the weather forecast is for sunny days with highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s and 70s for the whole time we're here. (It might rain Thursday night.) Soon our friends will begin to arrive for the ICFA. Looks like a good time will be had by all.

The Flights

Of course, I would like to treat you to a lavish trip report on Australia and New Zealand. But I also have a huge backlog of things I should have done over the past 3 weeks. So I'm going to deal will some small bits now. You may recall that I was concerned about the trip -- about how I was going to manage with ELizabeth on a long flight and other about other possibilities that had afflicted women travalling recently. In particular, I was concerend about US government requests that Quantas not allow passengers to "congregate" (i. e. line up) outside the restrooms on US-bound flights.

So here's what happened: Quantas is a terrific, child-friendly airline, esspacially when compared with US carriers. There was a wall-mounted bassinet for Elizabeth to sleep in, lapchild seatbelts, very helpful flight attendents, changing tables in some restrooms. The flight over went better than I could have hoped despite weather-related delays. My cold hit hard the night before I left. So while Elizabeth was over her ear infections and was not bothered by pressure changes, I was in agony. When we landed in LA, I lost most hearing in one of my ears to a pressure problem. It didn't return until the cabin was pressurized in the next leg of the flight.

The Quantas section of the return flight was also very good. To get to the plane we had to clear security twice -- once in the usual place. And there was a second layer of security at the gate. I'm not sure if this was New Zealand-style air security or whether it was an accomodation that had been reached with the US government so pilots didn't have issue non-sensical commands to the passengers.

In LA, we changed to American Airlines. Like most US carriers, they were not particularly child-friendly. (in their defence, the 2 previous flights to JFK had been cancelled and so our flight was completely fiull, and many of the passengers were irritable.) This time passengers WERE instructed not to "congregate." When the time came to head for the restroom, I went ahead and congregated anyway, standing near several people for my turn.

No one stopped me.

Let me get this straight: The US government is depriving airline passengers not even in US air space of freedom of assembly?

In nine days, I get onto a 22 hour flight to Australia with Elizabeth but without David. I was already concerned about the the general length of the flights in both directions and how I was going to cope with Elizabeth on the plane. I was also worried about possibly being hassled for breastfeeding, either by passengers or the flight crew. It's never happened to me, but if it were to happen, this would be the worst possible circumstance. And I was also worried about the possibility of body cavity searches for women passengers by overzealous air marshalls concerned about possible cuntbombers.

But THIS, this makes me furious:

Australia's Qantas May Ban Bathroom Lines

Australia's Qantas Airways said Wednesday that U.S. authorities are now banning passengers from gathering near restrooms and other places on flights to America - an order the Australian government thinks might be impractical.

Commercial flights across the Pacific Ocean from Australia to the United States' west coast are among the world's longest.

``The U.S. Transport Security Administration are now requiring that passengers on flights to the U.S. are not to congregate in groups in any areas of the aircraft, especially around the lavatories,'' a Qantas spokeswoman said.

Australia's Transport Minister John Anderson, who is also deputy prime minister, described the ban as ``a little bit hard to handle.''

Qantas said passengers were being told about the new rules.

(Via Heli's Heaven and Hell Radio.)

Let me get this straight: The US government is depriving airline passengers not even in US air space of freedom of assembly TO GO TO THE BATHROOM?

I ask in all seriousness, if we are now living under fascism.

[more later]

110 Degrees!

I've been trying not to think about the heat here: we came to Austin in August. What did I expect? But it was apparently 110 degrees here on Friday, the second-hottest day on record. When I've gone outside on the hottest days, I've pretended I was in a sauna. I have no idea how hot the insides of the cars have been when we've gotten into hot cars.

It has cooled down a bit. It's only 84 now.

Eating the Rose

It rained very hard in the late morning and early afternoon. We set out in a northerly direction exploring, but turned back when the weather got too bad.

After lunch, I took the kids to the Portsmouth Children's Museum. Peter's favorite part we the yellow submarine climbing structure (on which he spent at least a half hour). Elizabeth's favorite part was the infant area in the top floor loft, though as the parent of a fast crawler, I could have done with some gates at the tops of the too-near stairs -- I didn't dare look at their selection of parenting books for fear of losing Elizabeth overboard.

We had dinner at Warren's Lobster House, which has a terrific salad bar and also has (of course) really good lobster. After dinner, we dropped of David and his mother at the house, and then I took Peter and Elizabeth for a beach walk.

At the beach, Peter busily inspected tidepools and found a shrimp (or possibly a young lobster) and a crab or two.

Elizabeth was outraged that I wouldn't put her down in the sand, but we weren't dressed for that. I handed her a beach rose someone else had picked and dropped. She ate it.

Kittery Point

We're in Maine at Sarah Smith and Fred Perry's Kittery Point House, a former fisherman's cottage built in 1836. It's about a quarter mile from the center of town, up hill. So we can't see the ocean, but we can smell it. (Geoff and Annie are at home in Pleasantville minding the house and pets.) It's foggy this morning and a little over 60 degrees. I can hear the fog horn in the distance. David's mother, who is 89, is with us. To my surprise, there is a high-speed Internet connection in the house. So here I am.

The weather's been great up here so far, but we're going to catch a piece of the band of rain moving across the northeast today, though I suspect it will be possible to go to the beach by late afternoon.

Monday morning, we drove up from Readercon. After lunch in Kittery Point, we took a boat ride in Portsmouth Harbor, around New Castle Island. It was a small boat, essentially a water taxi. I had with us the kids' life jackets we'd bought in the Florida Keys in March, so they were suitably attired. Elizabeth fell asleep almost instantly, lulled by the motion of the boat and the sound of the motor. Peter lasted about 20 minutes before dozing off. He spent most of those 20 minutes looking intensely over the side, hoping for glimpses of creatures.

Both Monday and Tuesday, in the late afternoon, we've gone to Seapoint Beach. On Monday, I took the kids for super-low tide (the moon was full) while David stayed at the house with his mother. Yesterday, David came with us. The beach has both sand and also rocky tide pools. Peter found crabs and snails, a small purple starfish, and a shrimp. But it seems to me that the tide pools ought to have more life than this. Perhaps their relative poverty is the longterm effect of having a huge naval shipyard nearby. Nonetheless, judging by the density of lobster buoys, lobsters seem to be plentiful.

Elizabeth loves the beach and gets very sandy. She fingerpaints in the wet sand and picks up all kinds of things to look at. I occasionally have to remove a rock or a live snail from her mouth, but usually saying "don't eat that" does the trick, though I must have said "don't eat that" about 200 times yesterday.

Yesterday, we drove around New Castle Island and down the New Hampshire coast to see Tom and Sue Beeler in Hampton Falls. They have rebuilt their house, which burned to the ground two years ago in a tragic fire. It has essentially the same floor plan, but is in a different orientation to make better use of the light. There is a parrot in their kitchen. They don't have nearly as many dogs as they used to (they have 5 or 6 now). They have 3 moneys, two spider monkeys and a capuchin. Peter and the capuchin, named Munchie, spent most of our visit entertaining each other. Peter loves their house. Last time, after we visited, when we got home Peter suggested that we needed monkeys in the trees in our back yard, too, and maybe a few parrots. The Beelers' idea of utopia and Peter's are very similar.

On the way to the Beelers, we went to the Seacoast Science Center, which has tanks with sea creatures in them and also a touch pond, very much Peter's kind of place. They have a shoreline with, I suspect, lots of tide pools. But it was foggy when we were there, so we couldn't see it from the main building.

When we are at the house, Peter spends a lot of time in the yard. There's a large garter snake that lives next to the front steps that Peter's spent a lot of time watching. There's an enormous friendly dog named Max who live next door, whom Peter gets along with famously. And a few black chickens who stroll through.

The fog is breaking up and the sun is coming out, though only for a little while. Judging from the weather radar, the rain will be here soon. So I should wake up Peter and let him play outside before the rain begins.

Our Weekend Adventures

First, a family commercial announcement: Geoff, who came over for dinner last night, wants everyone to be aware that The Geoff Hartwell Band will be LIVE at HOGS and HEIFFERS, 95th Street and 1st Avenue, in New York City, Friday, June 20th at 10 PM. (They are being sponsored by Rhinegold Beer).

We've been away at David's 40th Williams College reunion in Williamstown, Massachusetts. (David is Williams class of '63.) The kids and I were something of a novelty item. I'm 41. I guess that makes me a trophy wife in this context.

We stayed with Paul Park and his wife Deborah Brothers in North Adams, just outside Williamstown. (Their house is refreshingly free of an Internet connection, a condition I found quite peaceful, like going on a camping trip where there is no phone, no radio, and no TV, hence no blog for those days. I could have used a terminal on the Williams campus, but since I am used to spending quality time with my cable modem connection, I was not attracted by the idea of a quick fix.) They have a wonderful house with a view of the Berkshires and a large back yard planted with perennials. The house is very kid-friendly and Deborah shares my taste in textiles, so I find their house a very amenable place to be.

They have two children, Lukie (5) and Miranda (8); Peter had a great time with them and ducked out of the two long reunion dinners to be with the kids. As we packed to go, Peter was very insistent that he must bring his Pokmon cards along. It crossed my mind to worry that he might infect their children with the Pokmon virus. I needn't have worried. When we got there, I noticed that Miranda had a notebook of Pokmon cards in plastic sleeves and was reading a Pokmon book.

One of my favorite moments of the visit was when Miranda found a mistake in the book. She was deeply outraged. She began jumping up and down, saying that she knew more about Pokmon than the people who wrote and illustrated to book. And of course she's right. All three children were scandalized that there could be a mistake -- actually two; she found a second one -- in a Pokmon book.

Over the course of the long weekend we took Peter to three art museums: The Clark Art institute, Mass MoCA, and the Williams College Art Museum. Although Peter loves museums, up until this weekend, art museums were Peter's least favorite kind of museum. Over the course of the weekend, he warmed to art museums.

First, we went to the Clark, starting with the Turner exhibit which was written up in the NYT, Seeing the World in the Sea, the Sea in the World:

WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS. -- TEMPESTS and sun storms sweep through "Turner: The Late Seascapes," an enchanting exhibition that opens tomorrow at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute here. James Mallord William Turner himself, his brush raised like a wizard's staff, seems to preside over the show, as he did over British Romantic art nearly two centuries ago.

I loved it, though I sometimes wondered if he had actually seen two different weather conditions portrayed in some paintings coexisting at the same moment. (I suspect there was some artistic license taken with weather.)

It was a hard sell with Peter until we got to the Noah's Ark picture and the picture with a sea monster in it.

After a visit to the gift shop, we tried the Clark's main collection. The first picture you see when you enter the Clark's main collection is Thomas Gainsborough's Elizabeth and Thomas Linley (1768). Thomas Linley, who was apparently later to befriend Mozart and become a composer, looks just like Peter. After that, fine art was a much easier sell.

I showed Peter my trick with Gilbert Stuart portraits of George Washington: Hold your thumbs out in front of you so they cover your view of the corners of the mouth. Then you see that Washington probably wore a more cheerful expression when sitting for the portrait. (This also works with the Stuart portrait of Martha Washingotn I've seen elsewhere, but not with copies of the Stuart portrait by other artists.)

In the afternoon, I took him to MassMoCA. Since it was his second art museum in a day, I didn't try to take him to the main collection, but instead headed straight for Kidspace. I wasn't sure how he would respond to the Susan Leopold: Mixed-Up World exhibit, but he was quite interested and spent about half an hour with it before sitting down to do an art project in Kidspace. (Once Deborah and kids arrived, I went downstairs to see the Gregory Crewdson pictures, some of which are quite stunning. (The best of the bunch I know I'd seen in a magazine, probably in National Geographic, Deborah says.) From the Mass MoCA web site:

Gregory Crewdson's elaborately staged photographs capture the transitional moment between domestic order and natural disorder, the real and the surreal, the attractive and the repulsive. Through meticulous articulation of a wealth of mundane details, Crewdson imparts a mysterious pregnancy to his images of prosaic New England neighborhoods.

By the time we took Peter to the Williams College Art Museum Saturday, for the College Reunion kids' program, Experience the Spirit of Tibet, he seemed to have the idea that art museums are interesting and wanted to look at he collection rather than just do the Tibet-related kids' projects.

The high point of Peter's weekend was the Stream Critter Search at the William's College Hopkins Forest. It began with the catching of a large garter snake that Peter had spotted earlier. Then the group headed down an extremely steep bank to a stream to search for critters. We found a wide variety of fly larvae (stone, catis fly, crane fly) and at least four species of salamander. Peter found salamanders but was unable to catch them. I caught a dusky salamander that another little boy had tried to net but had missed. It occurred to me only later, when Deborah pointed it out, that I had caught it one-handed while carrying the baby.

We had a lovely Sunday morning brunch with the Park family in a North Adams bistro across from Mass MoCA and then headed home. I would have liked to stop off at the Berkshire Museum to see the William Morris exhibit that just opened, but we had a lot to do and so are saving that for later in the summer.

Earth to Delta

I've just had a really annoying experience trying and failing to pick up David at the airport. Westchester County Airport is a nice small airport 8 minutes from our house, and it's usually great. However I have just discovered a little problem with the ultraheavy security at airports in our brave new world: I couldn't get any information at all about David's flight at the airport beyond the obvious fact that it was delayed.

David called shortly after his flight was supposed to take off to tell me about delays due to thunderstorms. He said he'd call back in an hour if his flight hadn't boarded. He didn't call back and the Delta web site continued to list the flight as on time until it was time for me to leave to pick him up.

I circled in the airport past the passenger pickup area, but no David. Then I did the highly illegal thing of parking the car by he curb and running in to baggage claim to look at the board so I could find out whether to park in the garage or take the kids home. The flight was listed simply as DELAYED. So I parked the car in the garage and brought the kids in so I could get more information. Bad move.

I spent about 35 minutes walking around the airport trying to find a Delta employee that I could talk to. The Delta desk was closed. There were no Delta employees anywhere near baggage claim. I could see Delta employees through security, but since we had no tickets, I couldn't get to them. There was no way to talk my way anywhere because of all the security. After a good long while, the Delta desk reopened and began the serious work of rebooking passengers on cancelled flights. I stood there for a while, the line not moving, the monitor giving no further information, Elizabeth melting down as babies do when you have to stand in line for a while, Peter trying to stick his finger in the back of security equipment clearly marked DANGER: HIGH VOLTAGE!

My cell phone doesn't work there. If I'd been really desperate, I could have used a pay phone, scraped together my change, called directory assistance for Delta's number and then called Delta and braved their automated menus, etc.

Instead, I just came home. Now, the Delta web site shows the flight having a two and a half hour delay. But it also shows the return flight to Cincinati, using the same aircraft, which I know has not even landed in White Plains yet, as being on time.

Anyway, I don't ever remember being in an open airport during regular business hours and being unable to find an airline employee to speak to to ask questions about a delayed flight. (Sometimes they don't have it, but that's a different problem.)

EARTH TO DELTA: Try putting someone in or around baggage claim to answer questions about significantly delayed flights if all other employees are to be sequestered behind armed guards.

As nearly as I could tell from the information I was able to get from Delta's automated phone system (when I called the number on the web site, I still didn't manage to speak to a live human being) David's flight was taking off just about the same time as I was giving up in disgust and going home.

Amazing that the airline can do this much to irritiate me without me even booking a flight.

At Balticon

It's Sunday morning at Balticon. The Wydam, where the convention is being held, has high-speed Internet service in the rooms. We didn't turn it on for the first 24 hours because we were busy, but now here I am.

Michael Swanwick was here Friday evening. He hadn't planned to come, but his son Sean is on the gaming program and prevailed upon dad for a ride from Philadelphia to the con. We hosted the Tor party in a two-storey suite provided by the convention, so Michael stayed around for the evening. Also seen at Balticon: Tobias Buckell, Jim Kling, Hal Clement, and Greg Cox. Paul Levinson, whom we expected to see, apparently has car trouble and is stuck in Boston.

We had dinner with John Wright and Jagi Lamplighter last night. Although we had much pleasant adult conversation, the most intense conversation at the table seemed to be between infants (Jus, 4 month, and Elizabeth, 7 months) conducted in the secret language of babies.

The two best things I've seen on the program so far were on children's programming: Carpathian's Tales of the Macabre (storytelling), and a science demonstration with "Mr. Polymer." I only saw parts of each, since Lorna Logan-Edwards was keeping track of Peter for me for part of the afternoon. But Carpathian told a nice version of The King of the Cats and Mr. Polymer showed Peter how to do what he's been trying to accomplish by mixing shampoo and hand lotion in our bathroom at home. Although we only saw part of the chemistry demonstration, I think Peter really got it.

I took the kids to the Baltimore aquarium Friday. We were there for four hours. It lives up to it reputation as an excellent aquarium. However it was designed by someone with a strong notion that an aquarium should be like a film, and should therefor have a strong sequential flow. This flow is enforced by a series of one-way escalators. Peter is somewhat afraid of escalators, so this aspect was a bit of a challenge. (Perhaps the designer imprinted on Heinlein's "The Roads Must Roll" as a child.) We subverted the sequential flow by starting over at the beginning and by using the well-concealed elevators.

We have an arrangement to go to the aquarium again this morning with Lorna and Hannah Logan-Edwards. I'm hoping we're not thwarted by Memorial Day crowds.

Before we got the high-speed Internet connection working, I tried watching TV news in our hotel room. I didn't get very far. I kept thinking how can they say this stuff with a straight face?

A couple of noteworthy items I've encountered this morning:

BBC: Afghans' uranium levels spark alert

A small sample of Afghan civilians have shown "astonishing" levels of uranium in their urine, an independent scientist says.

The general speculation in the article is that some kind of uranium weapon was used in the war in Afghanistan. I have a different thought: we might have bombed caches of uranium, thus aerating the stuff.

And, from the great thinkers who expected Iraqi's to strew the path of the US military with flowers, a new plan for a "popular" uprising, this time in Iran. Regardless of what one might think should or should not be done about Iran, you've got to wince a bit at this one. The Bush people just do not have their finger on the pulse of popular opinion in places like that. Don't these guys ever learn?

BUSH'S EURPOPE: The words of Condoleezza Rice: Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia. I think I'll go buy something French.

And now, off to the aquarium . . . .

MEANWHILE: Patrick O'Leary directs our attention to Charley Reese on Bush in the Matrix world.