February 24 2016

A cold, windy, snowy day has come our way. Too much so for birding, so our birding group met for coffee and pastries and conversation at the bakery this morning, and it seemed as though everyone had a very pleasant time. The bakery even had birdsong on the audio for our regular group of birders to enjoy.

Apropos of birding, every year Jane Masterson does an illustrated calendar “Wildlife in Hyde Park” that has the most wonderful photographs of  wildlife that she herself has taken. What a talented photographer! I have one of her calendars hanging beside my computer, and throughout the month of February have been enjoying looking at a superb photo that she took last spring of a black crowned night heron perched in a box elder tree that was then in bloom, in the inner harbor area of Jackson Park.

Yesterday afternoon, Leo had what appeared to be a TIA . That’s a transient ischemic attack, a sort of ministroke, in which blood flow to a part of the brain stops for a short period of time, and stroke-like symptoms appear and disappear within 24 hours. We considered going to the emergency room, but went home instead. This morning he was much better, well enough to go out for coffee. He had had some difficulties prior to this episode, and he is by no means fully recovered, but is so much better than yesterday.

In the early afternoon, I went to the bank to get some cash, and then spent it on a big shopping so as to get what we needed and also to lay in supplies to see us through what remains of the snowstorm.

Because of the snow, we stayed in for the evening, and had dinner at home. And  a delicious dinner it was, too, courtesy of Treasure Island. We started with avocados (or, as Leo calls them, ‘paltas,’ as that was what avocados were called in Bolivia, where he grew up.  Followed by selections from mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted potato wedges, fried onion rings (one of my favorite unhealthy foods), green bean almondine, fresh onion and potato latkes, and spanakopita (spinach pie). Yummy!


“Rosy-fingered dawn appeared, the early-born”  – Homer,  The Iliad

February 23 2016

Today, February 23 is Georg Friedrich Handel’s birthday. May there  be more beautiful music, more great musicians and composers like him.

Very early this morning I woke again to moonlight streaming through the venetian blinds, and walked over to the window to look up at the full moon, before going back to sleep again.

Today I seem to be recovered from the diarrhea that took me out of commission much of yesterday, so I expect to be busy getting caught up and running some errands and dealing with other activities.  Hopefully also have time for some reading and feel up to some thinking. We will see.

A few days ago, my therapist like blessed me, with his hand on the top of my head, in support of my hopes of getting back to thinking more about physics.  And the rest of science. Again, wish me luck!

This afternoon we will be going over to Rockefeller Chapel to attend the weekly organ concert.  I’m hoping that there will be some of Handel’s music played.

Later this evening there will be a book club meeting. Up for discussion will be Jimmy Carter’s new book, which I have not read yet. I’m a fan of Jimmy Carter, he seems to me to be really one of the greater men that our society has produced in recent times. I found it quite frustrating that his efforts during his presidency were so often stymied by politics.  I’m looking forward to the conversation this evening.


“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.”  – Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream




February 21 2016

Last night I woke up as I usually do, but had the pleasure of seeing moonlight streaming into the room through the venetian blinds. And of course I got up, and peeked out to see the not-quite-full moon up in the sky.

Today early we had low clouds being driven by a north wind and largely overcast skies above but with high fair weather clouds being visible in breaks in the overcast. Then there were more peeks of blue sky and fairer weather over Lake Michigan with a bit of shift in the wind direction. Then overcast again, but without the hurrying low altitude cloud pack racing south. Seemed like a tussle between two weather systems, with us human beings watching the spectacle.

At noon, Leo and I drove over to University Church. There was a party going on after the services, and  we were invited in, so we got some refreshments and sat down with John. For a while we just enjoyed  the party and talking to members of the congregation. Then, some couples therapy, which has been turning out to be helpful.

In a review by Daniel Mendelsohn of the new book “Better living through criticism,” A. O. Scott has been quoted as saying something to the effect that both art and criticism originate in the urge to master and add something to reality, and that both are characterized by a transformation of awe into understanding. It seems to me that much the same thing can be said about science.


“The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.”  –  Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

February 20 2016

This morning was a beautiful morning, blue skies and sunshine, and quite warm for February. We joined the Saturday morning birding group at 8 am where we usually meet to go birding in Jackson Park. That is at the very south end of the parking lots east of the Museum of Science and Industry, just a bit north of the bridge west of the boat harbor, which is devoid of boats at this time of the year. We walked south from the parking lot over the bridge through a slightly wooded area and then through the meadow and carried on to the golf practice area, walked around a bit there, and returned. In winter of course not so many birds, but as usual we saw lots of Canada geese, both flying and on the water or ice; also gulls, mallards, wood ducks, cardinals, chickadees, a northern harrier and some other species.  Pat kept a record for the group, and I expect that as usual will be sending out an email about the walk and the birds we saw, to the group. After walking to and fro, Leo and I were tired from the exercise and returned home, but some of the others drove to the harbor to the south which provides another habitat and generally some more and different birds to observe.

We have been letting books and papers and many other things collect over the years, and the apartment really needs a major reduction in content. Today we took some stuff over to the University Church as contributions to their monthly resale shop. Our contributions included the old microscope (a monocular compound microscope, originally professional quality, but from long ago) with some associated material including some interesting slides. A man who very kindly helped us carry the stuff into the church sounded quite enthusiastic about the microscope, so I expect there will be no difficulty in selling it. Also, but unlikely to interest anyone else but me, but you never know,  a large heavy empty brass cartridge, about 2 feet long and extensively perforated, which had apparently been used for preemptively creating avalanches to protect skiers on the slopes; – I found it when I was hiking years ago in the Rocky Mountains and hauled it home as a souvenir, and it became another more unusual household pet together with the more petlike toy elephant on rockers and colorful toy stuffed parrot and soft toy stuffed grey rabbit. It seems so painful to give these things up!

We had a quiet dinner at home this evening. I heated up some tomato soup and Leo set the table. We supplemented with bread and butter and cheese sandwiches, and had some of the remaining Valentine’s day chocolates for dessert. Later in the evening, maybe try out some of the pastries that we picked up from the bakery at the church when we brought in the contributions to the resale shop.

Later this evening the plan is to watch the new documentary “Telescope” on the Discovery channel. It’s about the making of the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the 25 year old Hubble Space Telescope. The Webb telescope has been described as about 100 times as powerful as the Hubble, and it is expected to examine planets far outside our solar system, and of course look for evidence of life.


“In completing one discovery we never fail to get an imperfect knowledge of others of which we could have no idea before, so that we cannot solve one doubt without creating several new ones.”   – Joseph Priestley


February 18 2016

Well, I have had more problems with getting blog entries in without losing them. On Tuesday, I wrote up a fairly long draft entry about my  recent activities and other topics, and lost it when I tried uploading it to the blog. Now I’m planning on trying to systematically and carefully save draft material all along the way, and hope that does it. Wish me luck!

We live on the south side of Chicago, close to Lake Michigan, and when the wind blows from the southeast, it brings in airborne pollution from a very large BP refinery and various other industrial plants in northern Indiana. The refinery in Whiting, Indiana was rebuilt after an explosion a few years ago, and now it is BP’s largest refinery; it has a production capacity of nearly half a million barrels per day, and it processes heavy sour crude oil extracted from tar sands in Canada. Lots of emissions, and I seem to be more sensitive to them than most people are. Today we had a southeast wind blowing much of the day, and I was fairly miserable for a good part of the day.

Leo and I are both getting on in years, and in thinking about planning for the future we are looking into retirement communities with independent living arrangements. Depressing, but necessary it seems. We had received an invitation from Montgomery Place, a continuing care retirement community in Hyde Park, to come over for lunch and presentations and tours, and we did so. Montgomery Place is located nearby, just a couple of blocks away, so we walked over. They served a delightful lunch, and then there was a panel discussion by four residents, moderated by Linda Yu, ABC 7 news anchor and reporter. We really enjoyed the conversations with others who sat at our table, and afterwards we saw some other areas of the building, from an elegant apartment on the  top floor, to the parking garage in the basement. Now, if only we could figure out how to cover the costs!

This evening,we joined several friends and acquaintances for Thursday evening dinner and conversation at Valois restaurant on 53rd Street. It was a lively conversation, mostly about politics and national affairs, but branching off onto a variety of other topics also. Thursday evenings are always enjoyable!


The setting sun, and music at the close, As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last,Writ in remembrance more than things long past. – Shakespeare, King Richard II



February 14 2016

Valentine’s Day 2016! A day for love and gratitude. Those of us who have a spouse or dear companion in life are so fortunate.

When I got up this Sunday morning after sleeping rather late as I usually do on Sundays, I found that Leo had placed a package of heart-shaped chocolates with a Happy Valentine’s Day note at my place on the dining room table. Sweet, and sweet!

We sat around the house throughout the morning, talking and reading. We have subscriptions to both the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, so there’s plenty of new stuff to read, on Sundays especially.

This morning, it was cold and overcast here in Chicago. In late morning, it started snowing, and it has been snowing lightly ever since. A high of 22 degrees Fahrenheit, and a low of 17 degrees indicated on the internet.

We drove over to University Church and found a parking place immediately; – it is so much easier to park so close to campus on weekends than on weekdays when all of the university and medical center employees have taken over the parking spaces. John Houck was right outside the church, and waved to us as we parked. He has sold his house in Hyde Park and he and his wife have moved to his wife’s house in Skokie, in the northern suburbs, but he comes back to Hyde Park to attend the services at University Church, and after the services he conducted a couples’ therapy session with us.

During the couples therapy session, John gave me a bit of encouragement to consider getting back into doing or at least thinking about some physics, of which I have done vanishingly little since I retired. I conducted my graduate work as an experimentalist,  but that was back before such extensive use of computers in research, and my work was all applied in later years, and now I have no access to facilities, and no equipment available. I do follow new developments to a limited extent (although not much beyond the level of popular science) mostly by attending physics colloquia and seminars and reading. Hearing about and reading about and discussing the new results on the direct detection of gravitational waves has been a big thrill. BTW, Leo’s cousin, Bruce Allen, who is managing director of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, is one of the physicists who was working on the experiment.

Tonight, Leo fixed us dinner by combining some Aidells smoked chicken sausages with roasted garlic and gruyere cheese that I had brought home a few days ago with some leftover cooked asparagus and cooked carrots from yesterday and sauteed them together, and it turned out really delicious.

“Make us heirs of all eternity” – Shakespeare , The Two Gentlemen of Verona




February 13 2016

Still enjoying the thrill of  the direct experimental observation of gravitational waves!

Yesterday, I was at Argonne National Laboratory (where I used to work before I retired) and attended the physics colloquium that started at 11 am. The colloquium was about human caused earthquakes, like those induced or triggered by drilling or fracking, and in particular by injection of waste fluids into deep wells. The presentation was given by Cliff Frohlich of the University of Texas at Austin, and his talk was entertaining as well as informative. Afterwards, I enjoyed lunch and conversation with several colleagues (Gordon and Jerry and Don and Sigurd, all of whom also attended the physics colloquium, and all of whom who like me have affiliations with Argonne. We talked about earthquakes and gravitational waves and a wide range of other topics until about 3 pm.

Today, it was so cold this morning that the Saturday birding was cancelled. Now, in the evening, it is a good deal warmer, 20 degrees Fahrenheit is the reading on the outdoor thermometer in the window a little while ago, but its reading seems sometimes to be affected by its proximity to the single-pane windows having metal frames. The official temperatures were a low of 10 degrees and a high of 16 degrees in Chicago today.

So we stayed home all day. But that was very pleasant because it was a lovely clear blue-skied sunny day with great views of the lake and the city and, during the afternoon, sunlight streaming in all the west windows to please our plants and us.

“Think not the king did banish thee, but thou the king.”  – Shakespeare, King Richard II. Act 1. scene 3

February 11

Wow – an historic first in physics today. Gravitational waves have been detected directly for the first time ever. The LIGO gravitational wave observatory had a press release today, February 11, to announce this discovery. You will read about it in the morning papers tomorrow. If you live in the Chicago area, come to the University of Chicago to hear the Physics Department colloquium at 4pm today in the lecture hall KPTC 106, at 5720 S. Ellis Ave., in the building on the southwest corner  of Ellis and 57th Street.

Today, February 11, has been designated International Darwin Day. It’s the birthday of Charles Darwin, the evolutionary biologist, who was born on February 11 1809. In addition to celebrating Darwin’s contributions to science, Darwin Day provides a special day for the consideration of science, and the promotion of the advancement of science. On a personal level, it provides a day to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual courage, a scientific approach to thinking, encouragement of curiosity, and the search for truth. And by the way, on next Thursday, February 18, from 2 to 3:30 pm, there is a scheduled presentation on the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin’s great voyage, with Tim Andrews at Renaissance Court at the Chicago Cultural Center.


Earlier this week while I was at the Chicago Cultural Center I went to see the visiting exhibit “The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen”. If you are in the vicinity of Chicago, by all means come by and don’t miss it.  Theo Jansen has built these wholly distinct “Strandbeests+ – or beach creatures, which, as the exhibit says, blur the lines of art, engineering, science, and performance. These are kinetic objects that move, some on articulated legs. Some are larger than human size. Although they are referred to as sculptures, they are built mostly out of plastic rods that look from a distance like poles of cane. I attended a live demonstration of one of the Strandbeests walking along on its multiple and  multiply articulated legs. I expect to return to see this exhibit a number of times while it is in Chicago, until May 1.

This evening Leo and I will be at our Thursday evening “Cafe Society” dinner and discussion group. So called because it started out a number of years ago as one of the local Cafe Society discussion groups organized under the auspices of the Illinois Humanities Council  , and has continued ever since. Join us any Thursday evening at 6pm at Valois Restaurant on 53rdStreet in Hyde Park for food and conversation.

Tomorrow, February 12, there is scheduled  to be a first meeting of Pope Francis with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in Havana. This will be a truly historic event, as a meeting of the Pope, who heads the western Catholic Church, with the head of the Russian Orthodox church or with the heads of other Eastern orthodox churches, has not taken place in over 1000 years.

Also, tomorrow is  Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but since I will be going out to Argonne National Laboratory to attend the physics colloquium and have lunch with colleagues, I’m going to be thinking a bit about Abraham Lincoln today. Mostly seriously, but not all. For instance, if you thought Lincoln was all about law and politics, take a look at this quotation from Abraham Lincoln: “Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.”






February 9 2016

Yesterday was the lunar new year, the Chinese New Year.  So now, in the Chinese calendar, a lunar/solar calendar with a 12 year cycle, we have entered the Year of the Monkey. As I was born many years ago during an earlier year of the monkey, this sounds promising to me – a good year.

And today, February 9, is Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday – Mardi Gras ( “Fat Tuesday”), is the last (uh-oh!) day of feasting before the fasting of Lent begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday.  So enjoy those last great meals today, if this is your guidance. Being an escapee from church guidance, I will probably continue to fatten up throughout Lent.

And speaking of fattening up, last night we enjoyed meals at The Medici, a well-known and well-regarded neighborhood restaurant on 57th Street right here in Hyde Park.

Today, Isabel has been with us, helping us with the housework. Later this afternoon I expect to be going over for  a haircut and then Leo and I plan to drive to Rockefeller Chapel for the weekly organ concert. Mardi Gras music on that great organ, yet!

And thinking about culture and in particular literature: What do we need from a story? Movement through time, from start to finish. An intelligible, understandable, not-too-complicated narrative for the readership. Emotional satisfaction in the culmination of the narrative., so that you’re not left with a feeling of “so what” at the end.

And politics: It seems to me that the United States has been suffering from a form of national decay, civic decay during and originating from the increasing militarization of the United States, since about 1945, since the end of World War II. That is, over most of my lifetime. While the United States has created an empire, it has been losing anything resembling a truly democratic government.

Here’s Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic:   “What vexes me are substantive endorsements by non-hawk Clinton supporters who proceed as if war just doesn’t rank very high among substantive issues . . . That’s exactly backward . . . I’ll vote for Sanders over Marco Rubio, or Chris Christie, or Jeb Bush, because those men are much more likely to start a dumb war of choice that costs billions and needlessly kills tens of thousands.” Unfortunately, I think Friedersdorf is correct in his judgment of these presidential candidates.

8 February 2016

Yesterday, Sunday, was a quiet day. We went to University Church, and met with our couples’ therapist, John Houck. Evening meal was at home, some tasty Greek food from our local Greek restaurant, Salonica. It’s at 1440 E. 57th Street, good food, and very affordable, and on some weekend evenings a harpist comes and plays during the dinner hour.

Today it’s the dark of the moon, the new moon. And it’s  the beginning of the lunar new year, the Chinese New Year. Happy New Year! We can celebrate for a whole month! And I expect  that  there will be/has been a special New Year’s celebration and a parade in Chinatown  today.

“What you cannot as you would achieve, you must perforce accomplish as you may. ”    – Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus II, i, 106   (By the way,  a number of people including myself tend to believe that the writings attributed to the actor William Shakespeare were actually written by a woman who was a member of the English nobility.)