I love a good story

The best stories not only tell a cracking good yarn, but also make you insatiably curious about the stories hinted at within the tale that aren’t told. The Makers of Things is such a story (plus, lovely pictures).

Some of things I wondered about…

Wanting to watch the men at work. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a city, especially the big ones, and not marveled that we built this. Even more amazing to look at enormous, essential structures that were constructed long before drywall and Caterpillars. Hell, we’re still trying to figure out just how the Egyptians and Mayans did it.

In the late 1800s, we were capable of designing and building a bridge that still stands and ferries umpteen tonnes of vehicle traffic daily (despite being built before most of these vehicles were invented), and yet we didn’t have the antibiotics that could well have saved Roebling’s life. I wonder what else he would have achieved had he lived? I wonder what else any number of great and visionary people would have achieved had they had a chance (thanks to modern medicine, etc.) to live up to their potential.

I wonder how Roebling’s son, Washington, felt about taking over the project after his father’s death. Was he intimidated? Excited? Simply accepting duty? And how frustrating must it have been to end up bedridden, feebly watching the progress and wondering about the on-site details, some of which, one imagines, his wife Emily didn’t necessarily tell him.

Emily Roebling pretty much project managed almost the entire building process — over a decade. What a remarkable woman she must have been. Not only possessed of an advanced education in mathematics and engineering, but with a personality and will that made all the various parties (often, presumably, at odds with each other) listen to her. And this was in the 1870s when ladies simply didn’t do… well, much, a lot of the time. (Happy Ada Lovelace Day, Emily.)

Could you ever get used to working inside a caisson? How many men went to work and spent their days terrified with claustrophobia or of drowning or contracting “caisson disease”, but had little choice because they had families to support? Mentally comparing a job physically working in a giant, pitch-dark, wooden box, under a river, to sitting on my ass in front of a computer all day is… a bit mind-boggling.

Many of these men would have been Union soldiers a few years prior. There wasn’t really any post-combat reintegration or therapy back then. How did these men manage life? Did they just get on with it, trying to hide the difficult times as best they could? Was there some group therapy inherent in being involved in a project so massive, of such grandeur and scale, with so many other people, that might have helped them forget and manage a little?

How would it have felt to be the one man to make the decision to stop digging on the New York side of the bridge? To decide to build on sand, despite engineering and, hell, biblical misgivings. I wonder if Roebling knows that, still today, he was right.

How did it feel to the people who worked on the bridge to finish it, to see the traffic start to cross it, linking the cities? How many of them — those who survived and those who didn’t — made their mark on the bridge or in its foundations somewhere, intentionally, with carved initials, or unintentionally, with spilled blood?

How much confidence would it have given the engineers and construction crews who began work scant years later on the Williamsburg and then Manhattan bridges. Doing something that had never been done to that scale before. Changing the face of a city. Surely they knew what Yes we can truly feels like.

Neil Gaiman on religions possibly much better than ours…

As with many things, seeing what a cock-up we’ve made of many facets of organized religion, one can only hope that Mr. Gaiman’s suggestion is correct. 🙂

Picked up my copy of New Scientist over breakfast this morning (along with Fortean Times, my favourite publication) and found myself puzzling over an article that began

That a complex mind is required for religion may explain why faith is unique to humans.

Which left me amazed and potentially delighted that journalists at New Scientist had succeeded in interspecies communication to the point of being certain that dolphins and whales have no belief in things deeper than themselves, that ants do not imagine a supreme colony at the centre of everything, and that my cats only believe in what they can see, smell, hunt and rub up against (except for Pod, of course, who when much younger would react in horror, with full fur-up, to invisible things), and that there are no Buddhist Pigs, Monkeys or whatever-the-hell Sandy was.

Imaginary friends

I have been on the internets about half my life now (!) and as a result have met a goodly number of people via that medium. Friends, lovers, co-workers, partners in crime… From assorted countries and continents and backgrounds and futures. This is my normal. (People who still cringe and act all embarrassed about “admitting” they met someone “on the internet” annoy the ever-lovin’ crap outta me.)

I’ve been thinking about these internet people a fair bit the last couple of months, mostly because I’ve been meeting more of them in a shorter span of time than usual. And as of next week, thanks to SXSW, I’ll be meeting more of them in one place than I’ve ever met before (and that includes the year spent in Sydney).

It’s certainly a great deal easier to meet people in person if you already know them via online interactions and shenanigans. As long as you recognize a face you’re off to the races — head over, say hi, and the conversation starts itself. I do not hug “real life” strangers within seconds of meeting them, but I do that with internet people all the time. (Because the internets? That’s real life, too. In many ways to an even starker degree than face to face real life.)

Continue reading “Imaginary friends”

A little less conversation? I think not.

Once upon a time Mom mentioned that she liked my brother and I more once we got a bit older. I.e. neither of us had been “easy” babies, health- or personality-wise, and so once we got to be a little more self-sufficient and interactive, it was easier to enjoy our company.

(One thing I love about Mom is that she’s honest about things like that in a way many parents aren’t.)

I’m starting to understand what Mom meant first hand these days. My niece has reached 18 months of age, has long mastered the walking and running and climbing, and is now rapidly expanding her repertoire of speaking skills.

Certainly, much of it is toddler gibberish, which I can’t parse for the life of me, but which I nonetheless find fascinating because I can tell she’s talking about things and explaining things and making conversation, even if I don’t know what it is. Though I just know other toddlers would be able to understand her.

But her intelligible conversation continues to grow by leaps and bounds. My sister-in-law notes that Cadence adds multiple new words to her vocabulary pretty much daily, and she’s constantly asking, “Wha dat?” We spent a good chunk of the evening on Monday going through her books and picture cards with either myself or Grandma identifying everything from “umbrella” (which she can say with surprising clarity) to “yellow”. (Two-word sentences are about as fancy as she gets at this point.)

It’s fascinating to observe and participate in her learning, and what she knows and how she speaks seems pretty normal to me for someone her age, given what I know about toddlers (which is, admittedly, next to nothing).

But then Mom (my Mom, her Grandma) made an observation about her in relation to me, which I’d heard many times before, but which now had actual real-life context for me. She mentioned how engaged Cadence seems to be, and how fast she learns, but then noted that at the same age I wasn’t using “toddler-speak” anymore, but spoke in complete, multi-word, polysyllabic sentences. Which, frankly, weirds me out.

Imagining adult-style conversation coming out of my niece’s mouth is just… bizarre to contemplate. But I’d never thought anything of it til now, since I didn’t connect myself or concrete stages of development to Mom’s 30+ year-old anecdotes until I had a close point of comparison. Before it was just abstract, and a number of my friends have similar stories of precociousness, so not really worth pondering, y’know?

But on Monday night, I thought back to the recording my parents have of my brother and I reciting our ABCs, and imagined that voice (and the substitution of “B” for a couple letters that escaped my recollection) coming from my niece as we hung out on the couch looking at books. And it just seemed really weird for someone that little to potentially be able to converse at that level.

I suppose you wouldn’t notice it as directly, having been present for the child’s development from day one, but can you imagine how strange it would be the first time your toddler busted out the multi-word sentences? “Indubitably, mother, I would prefer the boiled carrots to the pureed beets for this evening’s repast…”

I should check on when I was potty trained, because it seems like it would have been an even greater disconnect to have that command of language while still pooping my pants. 🙂


This is a picture I did not take of a middle-aged man walking down the sidewalk toward me, utterly nondescipt except for the fact that his small, frameless tinted glasses made it look like he had empty, black pits instead of eyes.

Fancypants dining

I am a terrible friend and have been remiss in not reporting on the splendiferous dinner to which Melissa (here she’s professional; here she’s casual) invited Sherry and I two Sundays ago.

Melissa has a delightful tradition wherein she invites friends to a fancypants dinner for her birthday (which was on the 22nd of last month). And this year the location of choice was Langdon Hall.

We arrived early-ish for dinner, and spent a few moments warming ourselves by the fire while they took our coats and whatnot. Mmm… fire… (Really, it’s not possible to look good AND be really warm on a frosty winter’s evening…)

The dining room is as lovely as the rest of the place, and the view from the surrounding windows is very peaceful (even if we were there during late winter, which is not known for its aesthetic value).

We joked a couple times during the course of the meal at how stereotypically Canadian everyone was being. Every time one of the staff came by the table, each of us thanked them, and they thanked each of us. (I remembered to keep my elbows off the table, too.) 🙂

The wine list was a vast tome, though with the sommelier’s assistance and Sherry’s thorough perusal, we ended up with a lovely Three Gardens by Langmeil Winery. Fortunately, all three of us are of a mind about our reds, and fruit is always welcome.

The amuse bouche was duck for Sherry and I, and a “soused” tomato for Melissa. The duck was interesting and quite tasty, though not what I expected and the texture put me in mind of my grandpa’s head cheese.

I started with the Sesame Tuna, which was as delicious as it was intriguing to look at. Sherry had the Tartar of King Prawns, which was equally delicious and had some fascinating disparate elements. Melissa had the Roasted Garden Beets, but I won’t let my lack of love for the beet make me judge her. 🙂

For dinner I had the Beef Tenderloin, and everything on the plate was incredible. (And you could have cut the beef by blowing on it.) I bet Sherry’s choice was going to be between the Bison Mignon and the Lamb. She went with the bison. I had a schnibble of that (as my Dad would say), and it was fabulous. Melissa had the vegetarian tasting menu, which had all manner of fascinating elements, and pulses done waaaaaay fancier than I’ve ever tried.

For dessert I had the Tortoni, and it was beyond wonderful. (Especially after not eating sugar for a month — long story.) Sherry had the Three Textures, which did some really fantastic things with apples (especially the sorbet) and a scotch. (We were amused when they offered to send the sommelier over to help her choose one.) Melissa had the Chocolate, Hot and Cold, so needless to say there was sharing among plates.

(Dinner menu)

All in all, a thoroughly wonderful dinner with the finest of company. It was also kinda funny how it worked out that every time one of the staff came by the table, we were talking about something that made us sound incredibly pretentious. Like when Melissa describing her ultimate alternative career. Heh.

Having someone else fetch my car was great, and made much more fun by the fact that he brought in a pair of Bernese Mountain Dogs with him when he came back. 🙂 Our lack of familiarity with the 401 in that area resulted in some… detouring on the way home. (Note to self: never attempt a shortcut if you don’t know EXACTLY where you’re going.) But hey, we got to see a truck stop near Drumbo and drive through Guelph. Ahem.

Sadly, though, our next birthday opportunity for fancypants dining isn’t til June. I’m sure we’ll find some excuse before then…