My father’s birthday

My father, Bertram Camp Bruce, was born on November 19, 1915. Had his heart been healthier, he might have lived until his birthday today, but instead he died on December 12, 1969, almost 40 years ago. His death punctuated a tumultuous decade, for the world, for the country, and for my family and me.

This week I’ve been hearing 60’s music everywhere–Ray Charles, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Supremes. There’s no need to make that time more vivid, but the music amplifies it for me. My father loved opera, musicals, symphony, classical and romantic chamber music, big band, jazz, and popular singers of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. But his wide-ranging love of music didn’t extend to 60’s pop and folk. He enjoyed talking with the young people who visited Bruce Piano Co., and was of course happy to sell guitars or amps, as long as he didn’t have to attend the next concert using them.

I enjoyed, and still do, 60’s music. I even listened to it while working in the shop during the summer at Bruce Piano Co., since Fred, the technician, liked it too. But I’m very glad that my father taught me to enjoy other kids of music as well.

I wish we could listen to music together again.

The birth of computer networking

I had arrived at Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) in the summer of 1971, knowing of the important work there in artificial intelligence, computer simulations in psychology, and natural language understanding. But I understood only vaguely the explosive potential of the work on computer networking.

Computer Networks – The Heralds of Resource Sharing was a movie made to accompany the public demo of the ARPANET at the 1st International Conference on Computer Communications in Washington DC in October, 1972, about a year after my arrival. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t finished in time for the demo, but it was released before the end of that year. I didn’t have anything to do directly with the movie or the work described, but knew many of the people and projects that are featured.

The movie represents both a thoughtful account and a primary source itself for the general history of computing and communication. It also tells us about successful collaboration–how participants at the time themselves described it. I think it also gives a good account of the motivations behind the ARPANET, forerunner of the Internet, and a good basic description of how it works.

Raccoon invasion

raccoon-4_0previewI awakened around 3 am last night to a large racket inside our house. Being the only one there at the time, it didn’t take long for even my groggy brain to understand that there was an intruder. Actually it sounded like a large gang of clumsy intruders, perhaps those who flunked Stealth in burglary school.

Although I sensed a problem quickly, it took me a longer time to get my body to move to do anything about it. How many were there? Mightn’t a wise response be to pull the covers over my head? Probably the best response would have been to call 911, but in my state I couldn’t think that far.

So, I pulled on some shorts and moved cautiously in the direction of the last sound I’d heard. I was relieved, and then distressed, to see the large screen from a skylight lying on the floor. This meant I was probably dealing with a raccoon and not a person. On the other hand, I didn’t relish dealing with a raccoon at that time of night, either.

potteryI then saw that a large, iron plant stand had been toppled, breaking pottery and seashells. But there was no raccoon. I moved to our dining room, where I saw that he/she/they had upended a candle chandelier. But where was the culprit? There was no sign of the offender, so I started systematically searching, closing off each room once I’d determined that it was intruder-free. Finally, I found him, pretending to be a bear rug next to the fireplace. I say “him” not based on a close inspection, but because he was huge! It’s no wonder that he managed to force the screen through.

By now, I was mostly awake, but also clueless about what to do next. I had a broom, and considered a frontal attack, but then remembered that he might carry rabies or distemper, not to mention large teeth and claws. I tried reasoning with him, but he just stared back at me. Finally, I decided on a lure-him-out approach. I cut up an apple and left sections, one near him and others 10 feet apart leading to the front door, which I’d propped open, and then some on the porch. It did occur to me that I’d just created a delightful invitation for his buddies to come join him. Still, it seemed worth the risk.

Despite all the apple sections, he just stared back. I couldn’t tell whether he was hurt or just frightened. I know I was the latter and worried about the former.

I was pretty sure that he wouldn’t move while I was standing there. So I went upstairs and then online, checking out phone numbers for animal control and websites on raccoon management. I came down to check on him, but still no movement. I did it again a half hour later. And again. That probably slowed the process, because the next check showed that he had left. Or at least left his fireplace rug position.

I closed up and went to bed. I made sure the bedroom door was firmly shut, because I wasn’t convinced that he was really gone, or that he was the only one.

Morning showed that the evacuation procedure had worked. But it also revealed that he’d made an amazing mess in a short time. There was raccoon scat in two different places. Objects were overturned. raccoon scratches and smell everywhere.

plant-standI’m sure that my nighttime visitor was from the clan that earlier invaded our pool house. They had cut a hole in the roof on the back side where it was hidden by trees. They then settled in to a project of chewing rafters, destroying electrical work, and embedding their odor in the wood. It took a major construction job to recover from that.

This visit was probably notice that if we close off one option, they can just move in to share our quarters. I don’t know what they have planned next, but I’ll be ready.

Miss Dierdorf and the mythology newspaper

I was asked to write about a favorite teacher for a project in a philosophy of education course. The person who asked me plans to use the lenses of John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and Pádraic Pearse to look at the responses from various people. Here’s mine:

I remember many good teachers, but no one that stands out far above the rest. But I’ll pick one: Miss Dierdorf at W. P. McLean Junior High School cared about literature and history in an infectious way. She organized a class newspaper project in which we wrote and illustrated stories from Greek (and Roman) mythology. The antics of the ancient heroes and gods became as real to us as the day-to-day events around the school.

As I recall, every student felt that he or she had a vital contribution to make to the newspaper. We designed the paper, wrote and drew, because we too cared about the stories and the characters. I think that the sense of becoming engaged with the ideas and feelings of the past or faraway has stayed with me ever since.

It was interesting to see that the majority of the responses were about English teachers.

I should add that there are many mythology newspaper curriculum units available on the web and other formats, such as Greek Mythology Newspaper, by the children’s book author, Bernard Evslin. They all seem to be more sharply defined in terms of skill development and assessment than I remember the class to be.

Thoughts for today

“Books are no substitute for living” (May Hill Arbuthnot), but “Life without books is empty” (Isaac Asimov)

“To feel the meaning of what one is doing, and to rejoice in that meaning; to unite in one concurrent fact the unfolding of the inner life and the ordered development of material conditions–that is art” (John Dewey)

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers” (James Thurber), but “The best way to find things out .. is not to ask questions at all…if you sit quite still and pretend not to be looking, all the little facts will come and peck round your feet, situations will venture forth from thickets, and intentions will creep out and sun themselves on a stone” (Elspeth Huxley)

“One’s work should be a salute to life” (Pablo Casals, from “Salute to Life”)

Christmas in Kilcrohane

sheep on Sheepshead Wayme in KilcrohaneWe had a wonderful Christmas in Kilcrohane on the Sheepshead Peninsula in West Cork. We went with Stephen, over from St. Petersburg, Russia; Emily, from Minneapolis; and Matt, one of their friends, from Saint-Raphael, France. Our week included a visit to Fitzpatrick’s one evening, several to the O’Mahony store, and stops in Durrus, Bantry, Ahakista, and other charming towns.

swan lakeWe also had winds, fog, sleet, and torrential rain. Locals call it “rain,” even though it blows horizontally, rather than falling sensibly from the top down. There were several terrific gales (or was it one long one?), which made us thankful for the stone walls of Betsy and Michael’s cottage. Sitting by a warm fire, we could look out on gorgeous Dunmanus Bay with sunny skies one time and am awesome storm the next.

Lough HyneDespite the general theme of winter storm, we had frequent sun and glorious skies. That allowed us to manage several good walks. One was in the ancient forest above Glengariff; another around Lough Hyne south of Skibbereen; and others on the Sheepshead Way. We made good use of Kevin Corcoran’s West Cork Walks.Mizen peninsula

Emily was a writing dervish, thus missing some of the walks. Her friend Matt played his guitar, while posed on the large window seat. Stephen had a swim down at the end of the road. He was inspired in part by Frank O’Mahony, who had done the St Stephen’s Day charity swim at the pier. Perhaps it was warmer for the swimmers to be in the water than in the air, given the sleet and winds. And we played a fair bit of bridge.

Photos by Susan Porter Bruce.


Barsana Monastery church I’m attaching a couple of photos from Romania, where we went in September. One is a wooden church in the Maramureş style. It’s part of the Barsana Monastery. Another was one of many hitchhikers we picked up. Our old Dacia wasn’t much as a car, but it beats walking or horse-drawn cart when you’re tired. We had learned enough Romanian to figure out that the man is 82, has 9 children, and knows the woman who works in the post office and runs our B&B. We also saw what may be the oldest, and is certainly the longest-running Unitarian Church (in Cluj-Napoca). I spent an hour with the pastor, learning about their history and the church building and furnishings.

In Maramures, we saw Elie Wiesel’s home/museum. As you friend in Botizamay know, Maramureş was one of the worst holocaust sites, with over 20,000 Jews from Sighetu-Marmaţiei alone sent to Auschwitz. Later, Communists in Romania sent tens of thousands of “Saxons” (ethnic Germans) to work and die on the Danube canal construction. Roma people managed to be persecuted throughout, and still suffer from prejudices today (although projects such as Şanse Egale are working to improve opportunities).

We also saw the museum sometimes called the “Museum of Suppressed Thought”, which made me aware that my imagination is limited in conceiving all the ways people can oppress one another, and all the different ethnic prejudices that can be realized. Maramureş and Transylvania in general have seen more than their fair share. That’s especially disturbing to think about in a country which is otherwise so beautiful, friendly, and welcoming.

I gave a talk on Dewey, Hull House, and Paseo Boricua at the Philosophy of Pragmatism: Salient Inquiries conference at Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. I’d certainly value any comments or suggestions on the draft.