May 18, 2003

Cipo wins!

I was rooting for the guy all the way to tie Binda’s record, and he finally did today, after several near misses in the first week of the Giro. The fact that Alfredo Binda won 41 stages of the Giro over his career is impressive enough, and no one in the 50 or 60 years since has ever come closer than 31 (even Eddy Mercx “only” got to 25), but Mario Cipollini won five stages in last year’s race to bring him so close that he just had to come back and tie, and hopefully break, the record this year. Now that he won Milan-San Remo, followed by his Giro showing last year, culminating in winning the world championship (and taking several weeks off in the middle when he suddenly retired after being snubbed the Tour de France once again, only to just as suddenly unretire in time for the World’s), the only sad thing is that if and when he does break Binda’s record and bows out of this edition of the Giro he may very well retire for good, and it will be a sad day for bike racing to see him go. Where most professional cyclists, including the Italians, are small, weasley-looking guys, Cipo cuts a dashing figure, lives the lifestyle of the rich and famous, and comes up with the results year in and year out to back it up. There a few young hotheads out there who could fill his shoes, but none of them are Italian, and somehow it’s just not the same. You can’t imagine Robbie McEwen being the heir to the Cipollini mystique, certainly, even though he’s the same type of racer. It’ll be a sad day when he goes, but at least I can say I saw him in his golden years. They should include Domina Vacanze in the Tour as a wildcard, since the team is strong enough to pull Cipo to the line day in and day out, and teammate Giovanni Lombardi is a topclass cyclist in his own right. But they’ll probably be passed over yet again so that some third-rate French team like Bonjour can limp through the tour instead. One thing’s for sure, if Cipollini breaks Binda’s record, who ultimately wins the Giro this year will be only a footnote.

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May 16, 2003

Instead of wasting time working today I spent some time formatting the remaining files of grandma’s diaries that I have here at work and posted them here, with an index finally to go with it. There’s still seven or eight more at home, but I have a system down now where it doesn’t take too long to convert each one, although it’s just mindnumbingly tedious enough it might be a little while before I get completely caught up. Grandma kept meticulously diaries for nearly 50 years, and Mom inherited them along with the rest of her stuff and thought it would be fun to type some of them up. No one else could both read her scratchy handwriting and interpret a lot of the names and events that she makes reference to, so if she decides to stop we’re out of luck. Mom’s formatting is very utilitarian and hard to read, and I thought they might benefit from having a similar layout to my own weblog, although some of the entries are so short, particularly the first couple of years, that it’s hardly worth it. But once you’re into the ’50’s you start to develop an over-arching rhythm to daily life in the Pearce household, where grandma was in the early stages of M.S., grandpa was carting the kids to church and the laundry to the laundromat seemingly all the time, and Mom was only in grade school. It’s kind of an eye-opener as to how things were with both Pat and Mary Ellen in their formative years, and how difficult things were for everyone both after Grandpa died in 1958 (which I don’t have up there yet) and when Mom and Dad decided to get their own house. Grandma was never one to complain, and her diaries bear that out in that there’s very little negative to say about anything, very little about her own condition or state of mind. Just an endless stream of miniscule facts that taken as a whole make up an intricate depiction of mostly routine daily life. Since grandma hardly ever left the house, everybody came to her, and she kept track of all the comings and goings meticulously. I would think that somebody who doesn’t know the family would find it marginally interesting, especially if they were given some kind of guide as to who’s who. Some pictures would help, too. So there’s still plenty left to do, but it’s a good start and at least an attempt at a tribute to someone who was so influential in my own life.

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May 15, 2003

Here’s Laura’s summary of last night’s reading group:

We had a somewhat smaller turnout than tonight than we’ve had for the last few meetings – nine people – but another good, vigorous discussion (despite the fact that only four people had actually finished the book). Everyone in the group agreed that they liked the book, to one degree or another, which made it all the more surprising that we still had an enthusiastic and fairly long discussion (usually disagreement add a little extra “juice” to our discussions). We talked about several of the characters (primarily the two leading women, Becky and Amelia), the unusual narrative style, and the historical setting of the novel. We also talked about Thackery’s own “historical setting,” including his rivalry with his contemporary, Charles Dickens, which led us to compare the styles of those two authors. There was some agreement that the book, as a novel, rather than as the serialized story that it was originally, might be a bit longer than it needed to be.

My own two cents: I was actually kind of surprised that everyone pretty much liked the book, although those who hadn’t finished it didn’t feel compelled to do so. Sometimes with long books turnout is lower not because people didn’t read it, but because they got into it but couldn’t finish it in time, and don’t want to have revealed what happens next by attending. I’ve done that myself more than once. What’s interesting about Vanity Fair is that most of the characters are fairly unsympathetic, yet you still feel compelled to read about them, as they seem to have turns at both good and bad behavior in various unpredictable ways. The two main female characters, Amelia and Becky, start out the book basically socially equal, then each goes through various highs and lows within society, until at the end, they’re both more or less equal again. Although this was meant to be read in installments, and from what I can tell wasn’t meticulously plotted out beforehand, it does seem to have a cohesive narrative structure about it. Unlike Dickens, who pads his novels with countless subplots and conjuring up of eccentric throwaway characters, Thackeray shows more restraint and instead pads his installments with more commentary on the background or the action that has just transpired. This makes reading the book in one go more of a slog, as the narrator tends to wander quite a bit sometimes, but he does manage to pull it all together in fairly short order. It certainly could have been shorter, but I was never completely bored with the book.

Next month is Ivanhoe, which if I really get ambitious I could work in between Hugo nominees, but I need to get a couple dispatched first and see how much time is left. So far Bones of the Earth is a quick read. In fact it almost feels unnatural to just read page after page without constantly flipping to the back to read the footnotes (there were 70 pages of them in the OUP edition of Vanity Fair).

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May 13, 2003

Now that it’s May that means bike racing season is in full swing, which means countless hours spent in front of the tv watching edited highlights of stuff that happened 12 hours ago on the other side of the planet. This year for some reason OLN isn’t showing the weekend stages of the Giro live, which means every single stage I tune in for will have already happened. But it’s still more fun to watch than to just read those annoying scrolling updates that you can call up on One thing that I liked about the Giro was that it seemed to be more of a gentleman’s race than the Tour, there are actually stages where nobody tries that hard for most of the day, either because it’s too hot, or yesterday’s stage was too hard or whatever. And it’s just as scenic as the Tour, also (unlike the Vuelta, which mostly plays out over the blasted desert-like landscape of Spain). Sure some of the non-Italian big names aren’t there, and it takes some doing to keep all the Italians straight, never mind what teams they all belong to. Last year’s Giro was kind of a bust in that several of the big names (Simoni, Garzelli, Casagrande) got the boot for one thing or another, such that relative dark horse Paolo Salvodelli won and Tyler Hamilton came in second, broken shoulder and all. If there’s one other thing that the Giro does best it’s scandals, maybe as a result of having so many Italians in one place, but they even had to cancel a whole stage two years ago after a big police raid looking for drugs. There’s always a few contenders who end up heading for home early, proclaiming their innocence. And it was the first of the big tours to have an American team competing, back in the early ’80’s with Andy Hampsted and his Seven-Eleven teammates (including Bob Roll, who now on OLN has found the niche job of cycling commentator, held by only two other people in the English-speaking world, the legendary Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, and can hold his own with both of them). The grand tours are like soap operas, you tune in every day to see how people are reacting to what happened yesterday, there’s usually something that’s happened overnight to catch up with, and then you watch the drama play out over the course of several hours (when it’s live anyway), waiting for those unexpected moments when something interesting or memorable happens. You root for your favorite characters (like Cipollini) and boo and hiss at the bad guys (like Pantani). And I like the fact that it’s not that widely followed in the US, so you feel like you’re part of something different and not just following the herd.

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May 12, 2003

Most of the weekend was fine, but I seemed to have developed a bad cold while I was sitting minding my own business yesterday afternoon during the BPAA soiree. Fortunately I’d already played at this point, but I hightailed it out of there as soon as the program was completed, skipping the socializing so I could get back home for Mother’s Day part 2. Moreso than the first soiree, there was actually some real playing yesterday, with some very good accounts of Scriabin and Barber, on a Steinway that was fairly new but not too stiff, which was also nice. I played the Suite Francaise d’apres Claude Gervaise by Poulenc, which clocked in at about 11 minutes. Some people were up there for closer to 20, so it was a longish afternoon.

As part of this competition thing they’re sponsoring next month, they want to sell raffle tickets for a few prizes that have been donated, including a Bose Wave Radio and a Sony portable cd player. But the tickets cost $5, so I evaded taking any to sell. When the Chorale had a raffle over 10 years ago, I couldn’t sell $2 raffle tickets, and while now $2 may not be so bad, I still think $5 is too much to expect your average person to want to cough up for an organization’s fundraiser that isn’t exactly a public charity. It’s kind of like passing around a birthday card for somebody you know but no one else knows, and asking for $5 donations to buy them a nice gift. At least selling fruit the buyer gets something out of the deal no matter what. But it’s a new group and they’ll figure it out. They want to sell a thousand tickets, I think if they can get past 200 they should consider it a success. There’s also some weird laws about raffles that actually don’t require people to pay money to get a ticket, sort of like a sweepstakes giveaway where you read in the small print “no purchase necessary”, although I guess they can make it more of a pain to get them without paying, since that’s what those Mcdonalds-type contests will do. Given the cost of the ticket, the prize should be of a commensurate value, so a $300 radio isn’t really that great of a return on a $5 chance, either. But maybe I’m just jaded by 12 years in the Chorale trying to sell people stuff. The only thing that ever worked consistently was fruit, and that requires a certain amount of infrastructure that I don’t think this group is ready to take on yet.

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May 9, 2003

Wednesday Beth and I had our annual meeting with Justin’s battery of teachers over at the pre-school, as part of the review of his IEP (individual education plan) and planning for next year. The big question to be decided was where to put him next year, since he’s technically eligible for Kindergaten but his birthday is only two weeks before the cutoff. Since he was born, we’d never intended to send him to kindergarten this year, but Beth wasn’t sure if the preschool would be able to give him enough next year that was different from this year. But they were all in agreement that the preschool was a better place to have him, since there’ s smaller classes and fewer kids per teacher in the special ed programs especially. They did agree that he could have more of his individual instruction before or after school, thereby maximizing the amount of time he spends in the regular classroom, so that will make for a slightly longer day for him and hopefully give him some more time to do everything so he doesn’t start feeling like a lab rat (assuming he doesn’t feel that way already).

What struck me about this meeting is that for the first time in the three years or so all this has been going on I’m starting to get a sense of what exactly we’re dealing with. When we met last year, he was just finishing up his first year at the preschool with one individual speech class a week and one PT class a week, and there didn’t seem to be much to show for it. I had been kind of hoping when he started there that after a year of this comparatively intense instruction all his speech problems would be fixed, but that was not only not the case but it was hard to point at much progress that couldn’t just be attributed to the fact that he was a year older. This time around, his progress is much more obvious and, more importantly, seems to have directly benefited from the extra therapy session, with not only speech and PT but now with OT as well.

To my mind, speech is the whole reason we’re there at all. Justin was a little late to start talking, but when he did he had the odd habit of dropping the beginning consonants off of words, and by the time he was two he was barely stringing more than a few words together, and it was very difficult to know what he was talking about. As he’s gotten older, he talks all the time now, and those of us who spend a fair amount of time around him can understand him most of the time, but strangers and particularly kids his own age still don’t get 90% of what he says in most situations. The major progress he’s made this year has been in putting those beginning consonants on words, sometimes the wrong one but usually the right one. Stringing words together makes them harder to understand, as substitutions of one sound for another make it harder to figure out what he’s saying, particularly if he comes up with something out of context or as a non sequitur, which is quite often. So this coming year, while continuing to work on intelligibility, the ability to say individual sounds and words, they also want to work on fluency, the ability to string those words together into sentences and still be understood. You can tell when he talks now that he can be conscious of speaking very deliberately, of how to position his mouth to say certain things, and without the speech instruction he wouldn’t be doing that.

Since he was already in the pre-school program, he was also evaluated for physical therapy and turned out to be deficient there, also, in that he’s fairly uncoordinated and doesn’t have much upper body strength. This has gotten better, too, but by itself I don’t know if it would be enough to warrant special services. Same thing with the occupational therapy, where the test they did for the annual review had him actually ahead of his age group in many categories, but still lagging in others. The OT teacher calls him a “kinesthetic learner”, meaning he needs to experience what something feels like several times before he can do it himself. In drawing copies of shapes on a page, it helped him to trace over the shape first before drawing it himself, for instance. Some of those kind of tricks he’s figured out on his own. The OT teacher also kind of pulled it all together, that the fact that Justin needs help in speech and OT and PT is not coincidental, but is all interrelated to some neurlogical wiring problem for which there is no medical cause or cure, but which can be fixed gradually by a coordinated effort on these several fronts, such that conditioning in PT or OT may actually help him in speech and vice versa, which is very interesting and very enlightening. Beth has spent a fair amount of time looking for The Answer, but nobody can find anything medically wrong, no evidence of seizures or any other neurological disorder which could be treated with medication. So you’re left with the more abstract and more long-term approach of addressing all these issues separately but at the same time, in the belief that gains in one area will hasten gains in another area. For this past year, at least, that seems to have been borne out. As long as Justin is still a cooperative subject, and hopefully sees his own progress while not feeling set apart from other kids, it should remain so.

Since the preschool teacher has a hand in this too, she wants to focus on his socialization skills, which again by themselves don’t warrant an IEP and can’t even necessarily be attributed to his other disabilities, although I’m sure they don’t help. He tends to be fairly private, not that interested in playing with other kids, not spontaneously social in group situations, but he’s by no means acts sullen or violent or anything like that. I was shy and antisocial at that age and I didn’t have any speech problems, so it may just be genetic in this case. They want him to be able to interact more with other kids, and being able to talk better would of course help that, and the preschool teacher sees progress in those areas, and thinks the smaller class size and individual attention of his current school will continue to better serve Justin next year too, and I would tend to agree. He definitely manifests all the standard boy characteristics, likes to play with trucks and trains, likes to play tricks on people and tell jokes, doesn’t seem to be phased by scary tv imagery, etc.

You can only do everything you reasonably can to take advantage of what’s out there to help him along, and Beth certainly has that well in hand. She wants a roadmap, or a crystal ball, or a magic bullet that will tell her exactly when and how everything will be fixed, and of course there isn’t one, but I tend to to take the approach that as long as you see definite progress and it seems to be enhanced by all this extra help, then its worth doing, but as far what happens next year or the year after that there’s no sense worrying about it now. The good news to take away from this year’s annual review was just that progress is being made, and there’s the expectation of more to come.

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May 7, 2003

Last night was the final installment in Boston Lyric’s “Season of Bonbons”, and this was the bonbonniest of them all, Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus”. I have to admit the sets looked kind of spartan, and I swear I’d seen the giant fence in back of the prison set in some other opera, most of the rest seemed to have been done for a total budget of $100 or so. But the singers were mostly pretty good, and while there wasn’t enough collective experience with hijinks or comedic timing to make it completely engaging, there were plenty of humorous moments, much more so than in “Abduction from the Seraglio” earlier in the season. I particularly liked the opera singer coming on stage after pilfering Eisenstein’s closet for a dressing gown, singing “Nessun Dorma” (which wasn’t written yet, of course, which makes it even more amusing). He probably had the most to work with, and most of the gags about opera singers that are played off of him were funnier as a result. Adele had a smallish voice, and even Rosalinde faded into the background in some of the fuller orchestral sections, so even though this was done in English, the titles were a must, which is too bad. I wasn’t particularly enamored of the woman that played Orlovsky, or the guy who was the prison warden. The actor playing Frosch was funny enough, but in kind of a subtle, understated way. After reading about how Dom Deluise did it at the Met I would like to see somebody a little campier like him for comparison.

Next year offers another ultra-conservative season of three Italian operas that it’s hard to generate much enthusiasm for. The only reason to celebrate is that they decided not to do L’Italiani in Algieri, which I don’t ever have to see again. Meanwhile, the recently renamed company formerly known as Boston Academy of Music is doing Nixon in China and Luisa Miller next year, and Candide instead of a G&S around Thanksgiving, which sounds much more appealing to me. Maybe I’ll just go to the Symphony more instead.

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May 6, 2003

Working from home today, but its kind of a drab, dreary day and very uninspiring to get much of anything accomplished. I’m only half way through Vanity Fair with only eight days to go, so that’s the only motivation I have today.

Got a lightning fast turnaround from on four Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories volumes, which I think I ordered on Friday night and they showed up yesterday. Although the guy gouged a little bit on shipping, the books were so cheap it more than made up for it. For some reason this series, consisting of I think 25 books and published in the early ’90’s, is ridiculously difficult to find, and the later numbers are going for $15 and up. Even eBay doesn’t list many of them (plus the title is so convoluted it makes it hard to search for it). I’ve been able to find a few at conventions in the last few years, but both the most recent Readercon and Boskone turned up zilch, not even ones I already had. So abebooks seemed like a good alternative, although it takes a little cross-referencing to figure out who to buy from. I bought two a couple of months ago from two different dealers. One actually sent me the wrong book, one that he had listed for even more money than the one I wanted, but since I didn’t have it that was no problem (for me, anyway). To find four of them from the same dealer for a total of $10 (plus shipping) was extremely unusual, even for the low-numbered ones that are a little more common and not as expensive. They were generally in better shape than I expected, too. Five or six years back I set about to find all the Ballantine Best Of’s, of which I think there are 21, and within about two years just going to conventions I found them all, some in better shape than others, some overpriced, some underpriced, but not particularly difficult, and I still seem them fairly frequently. For some reason, though, this Asimov series is a tough customer, I would assume partly because not nearly as many of them were printed. Much like how specific comics of the ’70’s are much easier to find than comics from the ’90’s because they printed about 10 times as many of them back then. So now I have 12 of the 25, albeit mostly the more prevalent ones. One of the books in this latest batch was the illusive #7 covering stories from 1945, which includes 2 Retro-Hugo nominees I’ve been missing, so that page should be getting an update soon, too.

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May 4, 2003

Just when I was getting over feeling guilty for not mentioned Tyler Hamilton’s impressive win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege last weekend, he goes and wins the Tour de Romandie today in equally decisive fashion. What a week for this guy, definitely one of the nice guys of American cycling (and cycling in general), always self-deprecating, always giving all the credit away to his team and coaches. Got to meet him once a couple of years ago at a bike swap thing over at Mount Wachusett (which they don’t do any more), seemed like a very nice person, and of course he’s the local guy. Sadly, his second-place finish in the Giro last year registered exactly zero coverage from the mainstream media in these parts, which is too bad. But I suppose you don’t get into professional cycling as an American for the fame and fortune. The fact that he’s on such a roll now, and obviously at the top of his form, makes it almost too bad that he’s not competing in the Giro which starts next weekend, as he’d definitely be a favorite. On the other hand, if was planning on competing in the Giro, he probably wouldn’t have done at least one if not both of these classics that he ended up winning. But the Tour de France is the big enchilada, so you can’t fault him or his team, CSC, or his coach, former Tour winner Bjarne Riis, from focusing on that race instead. Is Lance actually vulnerable this year for once? Still doesn’t seem like Ullrich is much of a threat. A handful of other guys look promising, but the team is as important as the individual when it comes to the three weeks of the Tour, and Hamilton may be right in saying that they have the best team out there right now. I’d still like to see Lance win #5, but if he can do it with Tyler coming in second, that would really show the French a thing or two.

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May 3, 2003

I have half a dozen or so of the Doctor Who Annuals, all but one of which I acquired from eBay a couple of years ago. Most of them aren’t particularly hard to find if you’re not interested in pristine condition. Since they tend to have puzzles and such inside, even the interior isn’t always in the best shape, but that’s ok, I wasn’t planning on doing the puzzles anyway. I did notice that, since most of them aren’t dated on the outside, there was some difference of opinion as to which annual corresponded to which year, so you’d see a line-item on eBay that said “Doctor Who Annual 1985” and then you’d look at the picture and it was the one from 1984. So I put together a list of all the known annuals and yearbooks and as I came across pictures on eBay I’d grab it and save it into the list as kind of a visual concordance to the complete Doctor Who Annuals. Some of them I never did find, which leads me to wonder if they truly exist, but I should take up the chase again. I thought this might be something handy for the web page, since I don’t know if anyone else has done it (although I have to confess I haven’t looked). If I come across a better one I’ll accede to it, but in the meantime it’s my menial contribution to Doctor Who, and I didn’t have to scan anything myself. I could put up covers of all 120+ issues of Doctor Who magazine, but who wants to sit there and scan them all? All this web space is a blessing and a curse.

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