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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

While walking in the woods today...

... along Paint Branch Creek, I came across this grouping of animal hair.  The find wasn't by accident because a neighbor had described the scene and location to me.  I've handled a lot of deer hair while tying flies for fishing, and I'm 90% certain that's what these are, probably from the rear section.

Sights like this make you wonder what happened to the deer.  If it was killed, what killed it and what happened to the rest of the remains?

Among the browns and grays of the winter woods, patches of green stand out, and I guess that's why this moss growing on a tree stump caught my eye:

 The camera I used today is a gift from daughter Rebecca and son-in-law Sean.  It's waterproof, so they correctly figured it would be handy for my fishing trips.

Monday, December 29, 2014

History of Architecture I

Enjoyed this class and plan to continue with the next two courses in the proper chronology.  This course began in prehistory, goes approximately up to 1000 AD, and covered a multitude of building types including Sumerian ziggurats, Egyptian pyramids, Greek and Roman temples,  Byzantine and other early Christian churches, mosques, and Buddhist temples in India, Sri Lanka, and China. 

We learned about various building materials such as wood, mud brick, stone, and concrete; lots about concrete.  Although residential building has historically been done with materials such as wood which will decompose over time, the instances where sufficient remains survived were of particular interest to me for the same reason that I like looking at paintings of the Dutch Renaissance- because we get a glimpse of how people lived their daily lives.

One very old example of an ancient village has been uncovered in Turkey, Catal Huyuk, which goes back 8-9,000 years:

As the above re-creation shows, these people lived in attached structures much like a modern apartment building except entrance to each unit was by ladders through the roofs.  The entire village is thought to have had a population of about 10,000.

The population of a village from centuries later, Herculaneum, were all killed by the same volcanic eruption that destroyed nearby Pompeii in 79 AD.  Although Pompeii is the better known of these two Roman towns, more residential material survived in Herculaneum because the super-heated pyroclastic flows preserved wooden objects like roof tops, beams, beds, and doors for reasons I don't understand because we weren't studying archeology.  The ash from these flows is as thick as 60 feet, so it is understandable that 75% of the town is still buried.

Atrium houses were among some of the remaining types of residences of Herculaneum.  The structures also contained the family business that was advertised on the wall facing the street.

Taking courses in architecture effects how I look at buildings and other structures,  especially as I walk or drive through cities.  It increases my understanding and appreciation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Potomac from Georgetown

These days I seem to visit Georgetown only when I drive Pam to her hairdresser's, and that was the case yesterday, a foggy winter's day.  While she was getting her hair done, I walked down to the river and took this picture of the Key Bridge crossing to the Virginia shore.  I could have browsed stores, but I guess I'm drawn to the water.  Astrologers might say it's because my sign is Pisces.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


People seem to have an affection for fictional outlaws (and sometimes real ones) as long as they are portrayed in an acceptable manner.  For example, when the outlaws are shown to be loving husbands and fathers, they become humanized and sympathetic.  It also helps when they display loyalty and honor among themselves and also when their crimes are of a nature that doesn't seem too offensive.  Frank and Jesse James were bank-robbers, and for many of us it doesn't seem nearly as bad when the crime is against a financial institution as oppose robbing the common folk.  In many of the many films about the James Brothers, they are also shown with their families, so the movie-goer tends to identify more with the outlaws than with the lawmen pursuing them whose domestic life is never portrayed.  Family life among criminals is central to many Mafia movies such The Godfather, a movie which also softens somewhat their crime-life by displaying their refusal to deal in hard drugs.

All this brings me to The Sons of Anarchy, a TV series about an outlaw motorcycle gang which ended recently after seven seasons.  I watched most episodes for the first few seasons, but after that I missed many, including an entire season, I believe.  However, like a soap-opera, it wasn't too difficult to get caught up once you were familiar with the main characters, and I shrugged off not knowing all the complexities of the many subplots.  One early subplot involved a rivalry with a neo-Nazis gang, and I decided that another way to make a criminal gang sympathetic is to pit them against a more odious group like the Nazis.  Like the James gang and Godfather's Mafia gang, the motorcycle gang's members, or at least their leaders, were shown to be loving fathers and husbands, and their main methods of money-making seemed to be illegally selling guns (that alone would make them heroes to many Americans) and adult pornography which isn't really a crime.

I don't have any direct experience in the outlaw life, but when I was young I had friends who made money in an illegal activity.  I observed then that a big difference between a legal and an illegal business is that criminals could not go to the courts when cheated out of money in their dealings.  The willingness and the ability to use violence then becomes an important method of keeping those dealings straight.  (My friends were not violent people, and that hurt them in their business at times.)  Violence and criminal activity are generally linked then, in my opinion, so fictional portrayals of a criminal gang like the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Gang are likely to be violent, and the series certainly was.

Some TV critics have compared The Sons of Anarchy to Hamlet.  While no one seriously puts this TV show in the same literary league as Shakespeare, I do think the series aimed high in its themes, and Shakespeare as well as the classic Greek dramatists were often pretty violent as well.  The storyline of The Sons of Anarchy built up to a bloody crescendo, and in the series finale the main character faced directly what he was, a criminal and a killer like his father, and wanted to break the cycle of violence for his own sons.   I found this last episode moving, and even days later it's still in my thoughts.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Basketball season is here

The Maryland team was undefeated until last night when we had to play one of the top ranked teams in the nation without our best player and one other starter.

Even though it was a loss to Virginia, the arena maintained a supportive and even festive atmosphere.