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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Nevius Time Travel - On Foot, in NYC

Michelle and James Nevius. Photo by JT Marlin.
Unlike Midnight in Paris, where the time travel plan is a bit mysterious, the time travel of the Neviuses is straightforward.

They do their research and take you on a walking tour of neighborhoods that they know well, covering one of the periods of the last four centuries of New York City's history.

They have a book out on it, Footprints in New York, which is why I met them at the BookExpo America. They also have "private  walking tours" they have been guiding as they have been doing their research.

Their idea is not new. Joyce Gold has been conducting walking tours for it must be 30 years, and she has produced guides along the way.

But having a couple take on the task is smart. Their enthusiasm for the city and its history has to be a big plus in attracting a following. I look forward to the possibility of getting on one of their tours.


BEA14 | Rick Robinson–Indie Star

An Indie Winner - Six-Figure
Movie Option. Rick Robinson.
Rick Robinson has shown the way for an "indie" author–i.e., an author who is self-published or is published by a small independent publisher–to succeed.

He has been winning prizes and actively inserting himself in book fairs. His payoff, apart from book royalties, is a six-figure movie option.

I stopped by Rick's book signing today at the BookExpo America. He starts by writing suspenseful stories, four of them so far. His first was Alligator Alley.

His political thriller Writ of Mandamus was named the grand prize winner of the London Book Festival. He was named 2013 Indie Author of the Year. Published by Headline Books Inc., the novel takes the reader from Washington, DC–where Robinson used to work for a Congressman–to the Irish countryside. The fictional  Congressman Richard Thompson works with the CIA as they chase shadowy Middle Eastern moguls and Kentucky horses.

He is decked out in baseball gear because he has a new book out, Advance Man, about baseball.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 22 - An 80th Birthday Party in New York City

They said it was an 80th birthday party.  I couldn't find anyone there that looked nearly old enough to be 80. Where's Waldo?

Captions to follow when I confirm that I was at the right party. I may have shown up on the wrong day.
 

Friday, May 23, 2014

BIRTH | May 23–Edward Lorenz, Chaos Theorist

Edward Norton Lorenz,
Chaos Theorist Who Gave
the Name to the Butterfly
Effect. 
This day in 1917 was born Edward Lorenz, in West Hartford, Connecticut. Originally trained in mathematics, he became a weather forecaster in the US Army, following which most of his career was spent in MIT's Meteorology Department.

He is responsible for chaos theory and for popularizing its explanation through what he called "the butterfly effect".  Lorenz originally used the image of a gull flapping in trying to explain how small actions in the atmosphere could trigger vast and unexpected changes.

The concept actually predates Lorenz's discovery and name. Sci-fi writers had been aware of this idea in time-travel or sci-fi stories, when a hero goes back in time. A seemingly insignificant choice ends up changing the course of history.

Lorenz showed how mathematics supports the idea that tiny changes can have huge effects. His discovery of this effect in the 1960s occurred when he tried to save time entering values in a computer weather-prediction program. He rounded off six decimal places to three. The resulting weather pattern was completely different. He changed the image from a gull to a butterfly in his 1972 presentation, "Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?"

The paradigm shift caused by Lorenz's work rivals that of relativity theory. The complex or seemingly random behavior of many physical or biological systems does not require that equations which describe these systems are themselves highly complex or random. They indicate the presence of the fractal geometry of the strange attractor. Ian Stewart says in his book Does God Play Dice? (Stewart, 1997):
When I read [Lorenz’s] words I get a prickling at the back of my neck and my hair stands on end. He knew! Thirty-four years ago, he knew! And when I look more closely, I’m even more impressed. In a mere 12 pages, Lorenz anticipated several major ideas of non-linear dynamics before it became fashionable, before anyone else had realized that new and baffling phenomena such as chaos existed.
What Lorenz achieved can only be explained in terms of his predecessors. He studied highly truncated versions of the equations for the Rayleigh-Benard convection problem. Following a thread started by Saltzman, he theorized that much of the irregularity of these equations was contained in a three-dimensional core. He used linear stability analysis to focus on Rayleigh numbers that make the system linearly unstable. To investigate the non-linear behavior of this linearly unstable system, he coded his truncated equations on a digital computer. After an initial period, when the system evolved in a regular way away from an unstable fixed point, it then behaved completely irregularly.

Lorenz analyzed this irregularity. He plotted trajectories of the system in the three-dimensional state space on a geometric subset of state space. This geometry actually had the shape of a butterfly with two wings at the back (hence perhaps Lorenz's reference to a butterfly in 1972), but merged into a single layer at the front. Lorenz knew that the trajectories of a deterministic differential equation cannot merge. What looked like a single sheet at the front must really be two sheets together. But that meant that each sheet at the back was double, too. He wrote:
We conclude that there is an infinite complex of surfaces each extremely close to one or the other, of two merging surfaces.
Lorenz had discovered the fractal structure associated with the attractors of chaotic systems. He wanted to study a piece of the solution in greater detail. He re-ran the equations from a saved “dump”. But the numbers in the dump had been truncated and he found that the solution diverged totally from the original solution. The irregularity of the solutions also gave rise to an inherent unpredictability. Lorenz provides a layperson’s account of chaos theory in his book The Essence of Chaos, 1993.

He married Jane Loban in 1948 and they had two daughters and a son.

 (Thanks to Garrison Keillor for noting Lorenz's contribution. He is one of the sources for this summary.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

BALDWIN | 125th Anniversary Celebration


The greeting to Baldwin's visitors alerts them to the
importance of the Residence building, erected in 1890.
Photos by JTMarlin.
May 22, 2014–My wife Alice attended The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., graduating in 1962. She was a boarder.

Her mother, a graduate of Barnard College, looked for the most academically excellent boarding school for girls within driving distance of their home on the Jersey Shore.

Baldwin is reputed to be the most academically challenging of the girls' schools in the Philadelphia area.

A few years after Alice graduated, the boarders' dormitories were converted into teaching and office areas and Baldwin is now all day students.

This year is Baldwin's 125th anniversary (its Quasquicentennial, don't you know).  I joined Alice at the celebration.

George Thomas on Frank Furness

Appreciation of Furness is expected to lead to
restoration of Baldwin's main building.
The school's main building, the Residence, is of unusual architectural and historical interest. It is widely viewed as the most significant surviving building of prominent Philadelphia architect Frank Furness.

The main speaker at the celebration was Dr. George E. Thomas, author of  Frank Furness: Making Architecture in the Age of Great Machines.” Thomas was principal organizer of the 2012 Philadelphia-wide celebration of the centennial of Furness’s death. Thomas is a partner in CivicVisions, a consulting firm, and teaches at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. He has studied the work and life of Furness for nearly half a century.

The Residence marks the special time for Philadelphia when its location in the midst of a major coal- and iron-producing state made it a center of industry and the engineering. New industries centered on steel (like the Jackson & Woodin factory in Berwick that grew into a major railway-car enterprise) created demand for train stations and other new buildings.

Baldwin celebrates its anniversary with fireworks behind
the main building, the Residence, designed by Furness.
Furness approached design problems with an eye first for how space will be used, and with no shame in the steel he used.  The Residence's central tower of the Residence has been likened to a castle, but Thomas argues that Furness's concept was more like a lighthouse to orient travelers coming to the area by train. The original purpose of the Residence in 1871 was as a hotel for the Pennsylvania Railroad. So was the current building that replaced it in 1890.

Thomas describes the pathbreaking nature of Furness's architecture by contrasting it with New England and New York. He argues that the architecture of New England was, with some exceptions, about history. Like the people who settled New England, the style of architecture was imported from England and the residents of New England found no reason to change it.

The main staircase at Baldwin's main building. It is supported by steel beams
 that remain, properly for their style, exposed.
The New England communities were centered around a church or two and the houses were built the same way. Some modest innovation occurred in institutional buildings in Boston and Cambridge.

Although the Pilgrims left England because they did not want to conform to the Church of England, they ended up being highly conformist once they got here.

New York, other than the East End of Long Island, which still marched to the tune of New England, was different. It was nourished by news that came with goods and passengers in the busy port at the mouth of the Hudson.

The Philadelphia Main Line is abuzz with stories about the
main building. "Baldwin Looks Back at its 125-year history."
New Yorkers were up to date on the latest fashions in Europe. They experimented with different styles of architecture. The northwest part of the state came under the influence of Chicago architects, but New York City and the area around it was fashion-driven.

What distinguished the architecture of Furness and a few colleagues in Philadelphia was that they neither adhered slavishly to traditional architecture, nor went for the latest architectural or design fashion.

Instead, Furness looked for ways to make use of new industrial techniques and materials. Rather than hide the steel behind plaster, he left it bare, covered only with paint. Many architects in the 20th century followed his example.

Harvard and Penn Professor George E.
Thomas with Alice Tepper Marlin.
Thanks to a tip passed on in a post-tennis-game chat with Dr. Tom Gouge, I looked up a 1979 book that contrasts Frank Furness with his contemporary in Boston, Henry Hobson Richardson. Written by Philadelphian Edward Digby Baltzell (1915-1996), it is entitled Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia: Two Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Class Authority and Leadership. A notable quote from the book is that when a Puritan hanged a Quaker, both were happy.  Baltzell is also credited with popularizing the term WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Baltzell says that both Furness and Richardson:
...were “romantics at heart; both had architecture in their bones and were never theorists like Olmsted, Wright or Sullivan. But Richardson was gregarious and forward-looking; Furness was a curmudgeon who fled from his critics and the crowd to his country estate. … Richardson was a success from the beginning whereas Furness is now only coming back into vogue. [At the time of the book's writing, Furness was being resurrected by the Philadelphia school of “romantic brutalists” and in 1973 by James O’Gorman of Boston.] (E. Digby Baltzell, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, 1979, p. 329.) 
As a result of the new reverence for Furness, Baldwin's mistakes (there is no other word that would express the feeling of Furness's admirers), in covering over the steel girders as it redecorated its interior, will be reversed. The plan is to restore the steel beams to the architect's original vision.

Baldwin's "Circle of Achievement"

Alice accepts award from John Dewey, parent of two recent
Baldwin students and Chair of Baldwin's Board of Trustees.
Every 25 years, Baldwin recognizes a batch of its alumnae who are role models for its students. Alice was elected to this "Hall of Fame" as part of the 125th Anniversary celebration.

I must say, as I listened to the descriptions of what each of these women has achieved, this is genuinely based on merits. The women in this Circle of Achievement belong there.
The Circle of Achievement award.

There is no attempt to limit the number of awards in a particular class. The class of 1970 was clearly a vintage year, with three nominees. On the other hand, there are long stretches of years in which no one was given an award. That is the way it really happens.

The award itself is handsome indeed. Baldwin is a classy place. This is the formal statement on its website about the award from the school. It is for
The inductees into the Baldwin Circle of Achievement. Alice Tepper Marlin
 is fourth from the left in the front row. Baldwin's Head of School, Sally 
Powell, is in red at the center of the row.
service to the school, exemplification of Baldwin's core values, or their outstanding personal accomplishments.  
The program distributed at the brunch for the honorees reads:
The Baldwin Circle of Achievement Award recognizes alumnae who have accomplished outstanding success in their chosen professional field or who display an exceptional commitment to Baldwin through consistent long-term support for the School and its mission.
Alice in front of the poster
about her achievements, to
inspire Baldwin students
Here are the current honorees, from the earliest class (1918) to the latest (1986):

1918-1958: Cornelia Otis Skinner ’18*, Marjorie Lindsay Reed ’39, Dorothy Dannenbaum Rudolph ’39,  Suetse Li Tung '46, Margaret "Peg" Fritz Schneider ’50, Abigail Adams Silvers '52*, Charlotte Heuer Watts ’53, Margaret "Peggy" Dewey Hicks '55, Meta Lewis Neilson ’56, Robin Blum Smith '57, Mary Ann Whelan ’57, Gwinnie Heilner Scott '58. 


Alice (left) and Sally Powell, Baldwin's Head of School, 
at Alice's talk on the organization, Social Accountability
 International, that Alice founded and serves as President.
1960-1986: Nancy Corbit Lewars ’60,  Alice Tepper Marlin '62, Margaret Walton Ralph ’64, Elizabeth Atchley Rowland '64, Susan Bunting Larson ’65, Elizabeth Swoope Sweetow ’65, Cynthia Freyman Lepofsky '66,  The Honorable Henrietta Holsman Fore '66, Janet Lee Beach ’67, A. Steffen Wright Crowther '68, Ruth Hochberger, Esq ’68, Margaret "Scottie" Robinson '69, Dola Davis Stemberg ’70, Kathryn Taylor '70, Marjorie Yang ’70,  Paula Boyer Kennedy '74, Carolyn Simpson Scott ’74, Jody Gerson ’79, Alexis Denny Kaufmann '79, Farah Griffin ’81, Alexis Egan McCarthy '81, Mary Dockray-Miller ’83, Rachel Gerstenhaber Stern '83, Stephanie Cohn Schaeffer ’85, Michelle Karbiner-Ball ’86. 
*posthumous
The Portrait of Pamela Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins

We took a look at the portrait by Brigid Marlin of Pamela L. Travers, creator of "Mary Poppins" and the subject of the 2013 movie Saving Mr. Banks. Several years ago we donated it to the Baldwin School lower library. It is nicely marked with two plaques, one with Travers's bio and the other with the provenance of the painting. The location was temporarily crowded by the need to relocate some copying equipment. Someone had an idea for a different place to hang the painting... Stay tuned.

The only extant painting of P. L. Travers, by my sister
Brigid. Alice and I bought it and donated it to Baldwin in
1998. Photo by JT Marlin, posted by permission of the artist.
The portrait itself is not as flattering as the glamorous photos of P. L. Travers when she was an actress in her teens and 20s. But it presents her as a smart, critical, and decent person.

This is a useful antidote to the negative reports about her from the children of the son she adopted, Camillus. They are quoted as saying that P. L. Travers loved no one in her declining years, and no one loved her.

But that was nonsense. She was disappointed in Camillus because he became an alcoholic, following in the footsteps of Camillus's birth father and Travers's own father. Not to mention Camillus's twin brother.

Travers in fact had many friends in London. My sister has testified to that. She has written up her experience painting P. L. Travers, and Travers comes across as, yes, a person with high standards, but also as someone who is very human and warm. (Read the engaging story yourself.)

That is a reason Alice and I thought that Baldwin is a perfect repository for the Travers painting.

Alice and Classmates (1962)

L to R: Alice Tepper Marlin, Cinnamon Liggett Rinzler,
Cathy Higgins and Anne Eglin Allen, all Baldwin '62. This 

and next photo by JT Marlin.
Four classmates from the class of 1962, class of blue, are shown in the photo at left. Others were at the 125th celebration at various times during the weekend.

For example, we went with Fran Headley Hundt, Baldwin '63, to the Chanticleer garden the first afternoon.

Cathy Higgins hosted an event for her classmates at her house in Bryn Mawr, where she proudly displayed some of the orchids she has grown in her greenhouse.

L to R: Alice Tepper Marlin, Cathy Higgins and Cinnamon
Liggett Rinzler looking at Cathy's prize-winning orchids.
Several of her orchids have won prizes. Cathy herself has qualified as a judge of orchid competitions at the end of a rigorous competitive process.

Cathy gave us a tour d'horizon of the Orchidaceae family, orchids to the uninitiated. The family name comes from the Greek word ὄρχιςmeaning testicle (I'm not kidding, look it up).

Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants, with the possible exception of the Asteraceae, of which I will say no more, because that's what Cathy did.

Orchids come in a range of possibly as many as 26,000 species. The experts are still checking on possible duplications, as new ones come in every day. There are 800 genera, starting with Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species).

Baldwin '62 (in 2012) - L to R (names to be added): x, x, Cathy Higgins, x, Cinnamon Rinzler, x, x, x, x, Alice Tepper Marlin, x, x, x, x
So how big is 26,000 species? It's about the same number of species as there are bony fishes, twice the number of bird species, and four times the number of amphibia and mammals. Humans, of course, are a pathetically small share of the mammal species–70 percent of mammals are composed just of rodents, bats, moles and shrews. But homo sapiens uses a vastly bigger share of the world's resources than the other mammals.

All this has a way of putting us in our proper place. And that, I have to say after three days at the school, is very Baldwin.

Monday, May 19, 2014

WILLEM VAN STOCKUM | Sci Fi Bio: "Time Bomber"

The cover of Time Bomber.
May 19, 2014–The print edition of a time-travel novel by Robert P. Wack has just been published, titled Time Bomber.  (An earlier edition was available, only as an eBook, under a different name and cover.)

Time Bomber is based on the life and research of a real person, Dr. Willem Jacob van Stockum, son of Captain Bram van Stockum and Olga Emily Boissevain.

Dr. van Stockum, a brilliant University of Maryland mathematics professor who had previously worked with Einstein at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, becomes frustrated with American indifference about the war in Europe before Pearl Harbor. He abandons his promising academic career to join, first, the Royal Canadian Air Force and then a bomber pilot in Britain's Royal Air Force. Van Stockum flies RAF missions over Nazi-occupied France, behind the Normandy lines, before and after D-Day. On June 10, 1944, his plane is shot down.

All this is factual.

In the novel, van Stockum is not killed when his plane is shot down. Instead, he is rescued by stranded American paratroopers. While they fight for survival in the French countryside, they meet up with ruthless French Resistance fighters and two strangers who are not what they appear to be.

Willem’s pioneering academic work on time travel and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity pose intriguing “what if?” questions compelling him to face the implications of his academic work and the consequences of choices in a universe of infinite possibilities. These questions can be posed and answered only in a sci-fi context, which is what attracted Wack to the subject.

The paperback book, nearly 400 pages, is published by Boissevain Books and can be purchased from Amazon USA for less than $12.50 plus shipping. The book can be purchased from Amazon UK for £8.19, with Free Delivery in the UK on orders that exceed £10.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

BIRTH | May 8–Edmund Wilson (Comment)

The young Edmund Wilson.
This day in 1895 was born in Red Bank, NJ, the writer and literary critic Edmund Wilson. He was an editor in the 1920s at Vanity Fair and The New Republic, and later a book reviewer for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.

Garrison Keillor provides the following samples of Wilson's acerbic attacks on writers he didn't like:
The cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since being shot by Booth was to have fallen into the hands of Carl Sandburg. 
[Another writer's] style has the desperate jauntiness of an orchestra fiddling away for dear life on a sinking ship.
Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Wilson called "juvenile trash" and Kay Boyle's Avalanche "a piece of pure rubbish." In 1959, he wrote to Lionel Trilling:
In my opinion, [Robert] Frost is partly a dreadful old fraud and one of the most relentless self-promoters in the history of American literature.
He said that his friend and fellow Princetonian F. Scott Fitzgerald
has been given imagination without intellectual control of it; he has been given a desire for beauty without an aesthetic ideal; and he has been given a gift for expression without very many ideas to express.
Comment (JT Marlin):

Wilson's To the Finland Station, which I had to study for an exam at Harvard, was a good read. While I was an undergraduate, I wrote Wilson a letter and then called on him to try to persuade him to speak to a group of students. He was sitting on a sofa with Mary McCarthy, drinks in their hands, in their ancient two-story house in Cambridge. He said–"Wait a second"–and he made his way to the upstairs floor. There were sounds of rummaging around, and he returned downstairs with a card that said, at some length:
Mr. Edmund Wilson does not write introductions to books, read manuscripts, give speeches etc. etc.
It was neatly printed on a postcard flyer. Having established the principle, he then said he would be glad to have a meal with a group of us, which was a fine prize for my aggressiveness.

I did not know then, nor did he, that the woman he was once passionate about, Edna St. Vincent Millay, was my great-aunt. She married my mother's uncle. In her letters, she refers to him affectionately as "Bunny". He was mad for her body and her lyric poetry. Maybe the first influenced the second. She was grateful for his interest in her poetry but unflattering about his desirability as a lover. When she married, in 1923, it was a blow for him.

In his book on the 1920s, he expresses disappointment that she would marry someone he described as  a "Dutch importer". It was an accurate enough description, but he could have added "successful Dutch importer" which has a slightly more interesting ring to it. Boissevain & Company had a fleet of ships operating between Java and New York City delivering coffee.

Furthermore, Eugen Boissevain had already won over Inez Milholland and had established his credentials as a ladies' man twice over. Other men gave Eugen more credit. William Marconi, inventor of the radio and finance for several months to Inez, told Eugen that Inez needed a stronger man, someone like him. Max Eastman, who fancied both Inez and Edna, gave an admiring appraisal of Eugen Boissevain in his book Great Companions, identifying in Eugen the qualities that made him appealing.

Having lost his first wife to an illness, Eugen was totally dedicated to Edna's well-being. She once regretted not having their satin sheets at their home in Austerlitz. So he got in his car and drove to New York City to get them...

Edna herself paid the ultimate tribute to her husband after he died in 1949, a year before she did. She wrote: "The only thing I ever did for you was survive you. But that was much."