Pinkerton Over Timberlane

I took a vacation day today to see my nephew Matt play his last home volleyball game at Pinkerton Academy. The team is in second place, and they were playing the first place Timberlane Athletics. The Astros won 3 games to 1; all four games were very close.

Me being me, I took some pictures. Well, OK, 183 pictures to be exact. Here are a few:

Matt Erb spiking

Matt Erb spiking

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Matt

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Matt Erb and Matt O'Hara

Matt Erb and Matt O’Hara

Seniors

Seniors

Shirt Banners

Shirt Banners

Focus 40

I attended the Focus 40 event at Northeastern tonight. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, it was designed to focus on envisioning the state of transportation in the Greater Boston and 2040. Although a planning session for the T, the panel discussion actually said very little about the MBTA. It was more about what the role of government vs private enterprise should be, how climate change will potentially affect the transportation system, and potentially how new technologies such as Uber or Lyft, or self driving cars are the way of the future.

It was all very interesting, and there were a number of very well known people there. Transportation Secretary Pollack and another state Cabinet officer opened the talk, and I saw the new General Manager of the T there. Former Transportation secretary (and father of the Big Dig) Fred Salvucci spoke from the floor, and former Governor Dukakis was there.

For me though, it was a little too orientated toward transit advocates. A couple of panelists, when asked for a headline from 2040, announced the last of the private automobile. I’m not having it, at least not entirely. I don’t dispute the appeal of on-demand ride sharing programs like Uber, but I’m not as bullish on autonomous vehicles. For one thing, if everyone has their own self driving car, that’s still a ton of congestion on the road. More importantly, though, they overlook how enjoyable and empowering it is to drive oneself.

I like to drive, and I know my brother likes to drive even more than I do. They say things like you could read or relax while on the train or in a self driving car, but I’d much rather be the driver than a passenger.

I’ve been a rail fan since I discovered the subway commuting to BC. But we moved our office from Newton to downtown Boston in December, and I’ve been chafing at riding the commuter rail since. It’s a lot more expensive than driving to Newton, and a lot more inconvenient in many ways. Driving, I could be a few minutes late and not worry; taking the train, if I’m a couple of minutes late, I’ll miss the train, and have to take the next one — and the gaps between trains are long. I used to work late quite often; now I have to drop things in the middle in order to be sure of catching the train — after 6:15, the gaps between trains are even longer. The trains are too crowded to read easily*. And paradoxically, I’m riding my bicycle much less. I used to keep it in the back of the car and go for a ride after work; now, I don’t have the bike with me, and I don’t have the time to go someplace after getting back to the station.

Personally, I suspect transportation in 2040 will be much like transportation now. There will still be people driving themselves, either because they can afford to, or they like to, or are going someplace the system doesn’t easily serve. I think the rapid transit and commuter rail systems will still be vital, simply because of their capacity to move a lot of people at once. I do think ride sharing programs like Uber and Lyft will pick up a lot of the “last mile” traffic, and bleed some usage from the bus system. I suspect buses will be routed much more dynamically than they are now,  and possibly even on demand. I think a bus route could be managed by an autonomous vehicle, but I also believe that the unions will be able to block it from happening for a while. And hanging over all these trends is the risk of catastrophic weather caused by climate change causing heavy damage.

* On the reverse commute to Providence this was not the case.  

Hornblower

My new copy of The Hornblower Companion, by C. S. Forester, arrived last week. It’s a companion book to the Horatio Hornblower series of books about a British naval officer during the Napoleonic era. Besides containing a set of maps showing where each of Hornblower’s adventures took place, Forester describes his writing style, and explains how each of the books was written. It replaces my very well worn original copy.

When I think back, a quote from the Companion was among the first words I read about the series. I was eleven or twelve, and had found a Reader’s Digest volume of condensed books; among them was a condensed version of Beat To Quarters, the original volume in the series. The preface contained Forester’s comments from the Companion describing the setting. And then I dove into Beat To Quarters:

It was not long after dawn that Captain Hornblower came up on the quarterdeck of the Lydia. Bush, the first lieutenant, was officer of the watch, and touched his hat but did not speak to him; in a voyage which had by now lasted seven months without touching land, he had learned something of his captain’s likes and dislikes. During this first hour of the day, the captain was not to be spoken to, nor his train of thought interrupted.

The book is about a British sea captain who has been sent on a mission to support a rebellion in Central America against Spain. To prevent the Spanish from finding out, he has orders to avoid sighting land until he arrives in the Gulf of Fonseca, to meet with the leader of the rebellion. He accomplishes his orders, and after seven months at sea, manages a perfect landfall, only to find the leader is a madman who has decreed himself to be El Supremo (the Almighty). Nonetheless, he carries out his orders, is able to capture a much larger Spanish ship, the Natividad by surprise, and turn her over the rebels. After the two ships part, Hornblower finds out that during the time he was out of communication with the Admiralty that a treaty has been signed with the Spanish, they are now allies, and he now has to fight the larger Natividad – in open waters, without the benefit of surprise. Complicating matters, he has provide passage back to England to an English lady, (the sister of the Duke of Wellington) who has been stranded in Panama.

I just lapped that book up. My father had passed down his love of nautical lore to me, and Forester has an admirably clear and easy to read style. There’s plenty of adventure, and Hornblower is very human too – he’s quite self conscious, and has no self confidence. For example, he would rather lead than drive, and then condemns himself for being too soft.

I finished the condensed book, but didn’t realize exactly what I was missing, or that what I’d just read was the first book in a series. Then, one day, about a year later, I was cleaning up downstairs and found a boxed set of Captain Horatio Hornblower: Beat To Quarters, Ship of the Line and Flying Colors in one set. It’s easy for me to date the time I read them: Christmastime when I was in the 8th grade. I distinctly remember being buried in Ship of the Line during the week before Christmas; the rest of the class was making a lot of noise, and I was just absorbed by the adventures of HMS Sutherland. Sister Theresa Ann came in, and I was the only one who didn’t get in trouble, because I was too wrapped up in Hornblower to get into trouble.

After finishing those books, I went to the library and read the other books in the series. And much later, I bought my own copies of all eleven books, plus the Companion. I’ve reread them all dozens of times. For a while, it was a personal Christmas tradition to reread Ship of the Line at Christmas time.


I have a special fondness for the Companion. Forester and Isaac Asimov are my two favorite authors, and in the latter part of the Companion, Forester describes his writing process. First, he comes across something that he recognizes as the basis of an idea:

…It happens that…the initial stimulus is recognized for what it is. The causal phrase dropped by a friend in conversation, the paragraph in a book, the incident observed by the roadside, has some special quality and is accorded a special welcome. But having been welcomed, it is forgotten, or at least, ignored. It sinks into the horrid slime of my subconscious like a waterlogged timber into the slime at the bottom of a harbour… [At some point] the original idea reappears in my mind, and it has grown.

From there, he describes how the plot gradually comes together for him. Unlike Asimov, he did all his plotting ahead of time. Gradually the plot starts to demand more and more of his attention. And then it comes time to actually write. Unlike Asimov, who was incredibly prolific because he enjoyed the process of writing, Forester found writing to be painful and fatiguing:

The happy-go-lucky methods of the jellyfish have to be abandoned for the diligence of the ant and the endurance of the mule. For me, personally, the change of state occasioned by starting to write is abrupt and violent. It is the difference between standing at the top of the  toboggan slide and starting the descent. It is taking the plunge, swallowing the pill, walking through the door marked “Abandon All Hope.”

In I, Asimov, his (third) autobiography, Asimov described how he enjoyed reading his own writing:

A prolific writer… has to love his own writing.

I do. I can pick up one of my own books, start reading it anywhere, and immediately be lost in it and keep reading until I am shaken out of it by some external event.

By contrast, Forester was deeply self critical of his writing. In the Companion, he compares reviewing his own work to an “ugly woman” looking at her make-up in the mirror to see if anything can be done, and asks, “Can a finished book ever be as good as the book the writer dreamed of before he started writing it?”

And yet, as an adult, part of the reason I still enjoy the series is Forester’s command of the language. He clearly has a sense of the sound and the rhythm of his words.  I love this passage describing the tactics of composition:

The words must be chosen, the sentences devised, which most accurately and most economically – and most suitably – describe the scene I am witnessing…An awkward sentence may bring the reader back to reality, just as a breaking stick may alert the feeding deer.


Hornblower has served as the inspiration for a lot of writers, among them Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, and Nicholas Meyer, the writer and director of Star Trek II, the Wrath of Khan. Captain Kirk was modeled on Hornblower.

So if I’ve convinced you to read the series, where should you start?  There are two ways to do it. You can read them in the order in which they were written, as I did, starting with Beat To Quarters. Beat To Quarters was originally intended to be a standalone novel, so it’s more self-contained. It also means there are more inconsistencies with the rest of the series. As he filled out Hornblower’s life, Forester became more aware that he was writing a series and paid more attention to continuity. Or you could read them chronologically, starting with the beginning of his career as a seasick seventeen year old in Mr Midshipman Hornblower, continuing all the way to Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies. Whichever way you decide, you’re in for a treat.

Restoration

I was looking through my old negatives to see if I could find the negative of the picture of my Dad that I posted last September, when I came across yet another box of slides. The box contained a bunch of rejected slides, pictures that were either too light or too dark to be part of a slide show. That was then. Now, we can edit pictures digitally, so I figured they were worth a second look. I found about fifteen that looked like they might be worth a quick scan to see if there was anything worth the work of fixing them.

Of the first four, this was the most promising. It’s a picture of my sister and me from 1963, taken by my father.

Nancy and Me - before

Nancy and Me – before

It looks like it was from the tail end of a roll — light fogged at the right and top, and covered with fungus.

Nancy and Me - After

Nancy and Me – After

Not bad at all. So what did I do?

  1. I cropped much of the fogged area out of the picture. (The ‘Before’ picture is actually cropped).
  2. I added an initial overall Curves adjustment to make the darks darker and the lighter areas lighter, and adjust the color.
  3. I added a second Curves adjustment on top of the first, masked with a layer mask with a very soft bottom edge, over the top half of the picture. This layer makes the top part of the picture darker and more contrasty, and further adjusts the colors.
  4. Used the Spot Healing Brush to clean up the biggest bits of dirt on the scan. Things like hairs and especially large clumps of mold.
  5. Cleaned up some (but not anywhere near all) of the mold tendrils on the faces. Just the very largest spots — there was way too much mold damage on this picture to spot them all away individually.
  6. Dealt with the blue mold spots. These occur where the fungus has eaten through the yellow dye layer of the emulsion. For some, like the blue spot on my face, and some of the blue spots on the couch, I used the Clone Stamp Tool. In other places, like along the back wall and the spot in my sister’s hair, it was sufficient to use the Sponge Tool to desaturate the blue away.
  7. I used the Sponge Tool and Burn Tool to desaturate and darken the edge fogging on the right side of the picture.
  8. Finally, I duplicated my layer, ran the Dust and Scratches filter on it, masked it, and then removed the mask away from any edges.

The problem with the Dust and Scratches layer is that it works by blurring the spots away, and can also blur away detail. Usually, I only need to unmask the Dust and Scratches layer where there are dust spots. Usually, if there are particularly bad areas, they’re confined to the sides, which are out of focus anyway. Not this picture. I had to accept this image was not going to be as clean as I’d like.The fungus damage was way too extensive, and covered every square millimeter of the film. So I unmasked everything away from any sort of edge. For example, I unmasked the skin if the faces, but left the edge of the lips and eyes from the base layer showing, to retain the sharpness of the edges.

Overall, though, considering the state of the original image, not too shabby, even if I do say so myself.